United States District Court, D. Kansas
KENNETH W. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
CORECIVIC, INC., et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
L. TEETER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Kenneth Williams sued his former employer, Defendant
CoreCivic, Inc., for race discrimination and harassment under
42 U.S.C. § 1981, and retaliation under Kansas common
law and the False Claims Act. His claims arise from his
termination in January 2017.
moves for summary judgment on all claims. Doc. 112. As
discussed below, the Court finds that Williams has not
demonstrated that the employment actions he complains of were
taken because of his race, nor has he demonstrated that he
engaged in protected conduct sufficient to state retaliation
claims. Further, he has not demonstrated that the stated
reason for his termination was a pretext for discrimination
or retaliation, or that he was subjected to a racially
hostile work environment. Accordingly, the Court grants
runs the Leavenworth Detention Center (“LDC”) in
Leavenworth, Kansas. Doc. 119 at 7. Williams, who is African
American, worked as a shift supervisor (also referred to as a
captain) at the LDC from April 4, 2011, until he was
terminated on February 8, 2017. Doc. 111 at 2. As a
shift supervisor, Williams reported to the chief of security,
who reported to the assistant warden, who in turn reported to
the warden. Doc. 119 at 8. The chief of security during the
relevant period was Roger Moore, who is white. Id.
at 15-16. The assistant warden was Dwight Fondren, who is
African American. Id. at 16. In 2016, Linda Thomas
became warden at the LDC. Id. Thomas is African
American. Id. Before that, the warden was Isaac
Johnston, who is also African American. Id.
has worked in the prison setting for 27 years, and, before
Thomas became warden, he never filed any complaints for
discrimination or retaliation and had an excellent employment
record. Doc. 131-2 at 1.
September 2015 PSN
discipline at CoreCivic is documented on Employee Problem
Solving Notices (“PSNs”). Doc. 119 at 11. In
2015, Williams received a PSN for allowing two correctional
officers under his supervision to exceed a 16-hour work day.
Doc. 119 at 18. Chief of Unit Management Kenneth Daugherty
issued the 2015 PSN, and Fondren and Johnston approved it.
Id. During that time, it was not uncommon for
employees to exceed 16 hours in a work shift due to
understaffing. Doc. 131-2 at 2. But no other shift supervisor
was disciplined for allowing this, other than Williams.
January 2017 PSN
was scheduled to complete some training on September 19-22,
2016. Doc. 119 at 21. On September 22, Williams arrived at
work but told trainers that he had to leave for a previously
scheduled appointment. Id. Fondren later spoke with
Williams about his absence and asked him to provide a
doctor's note. Id. at 21-22. Williams later
acknowledged that he was aware of the training on those days,
and that he never mentioned his doctor's appointment
before arriving on September 22 because he intended to attend
at least some of the training that day. Id. at 33.
a PSN was created around the time Williams missed the
training, it was not served or issued to him at the time.
Id. at 22-23. On November 8, 2016, Williams filed a
grievance regarding the missed September training and alleged
that he had been given a PSN in retaliation for various
activities. Id. But the PSN for the September 22
absence was not finalized and served by Fondren until January
19, 2017. Id. at 24.
later testified that he filed the November 8 grievance
because he had learned that there was an outstanding PSN on
his record, and he believed it prevented him from getting a
promotion. Id. at 22-23. Williams could not recall
the promotion he had missed out on, but it was
“maybe” in Phoenix, or at the very least, in the
state of Arizona. Id. at 23.
February 2017 Termination
operates the LDC under a contract with the United States
Marshals Service (“USMS”), as well as other state
and local government agencies. Id. at 9.
CoreCivic's contract with the USMS requires CoreCivic to
perform in accordance with various standards, including the
Performance-Based Detention Standards. Id. at 9-10.
One of those standards, A.10.7., sets forth 40 hours of
management and supervision training for supervisors in their
first year of employment, and 24 hours each year thereafter.
Doc. 119 at 12-13; Doc. 113-5 at 6.
to comply with the Performance-Based Detention Standards
could result in a reduction of the contract price. Doc. 119
at 10. CoreCivic's contract with the USMS requires
CoreCivic to “establish an overall written training
program for all employees which incorporates, at a
minimum, the training requirements set forth in the . .
. Performance-Based Detention Standards.” Id.
at 11-12 (emphasis added). The CoreCivic Learning and
Development Policy 4-1 states that management and supervisory
staff are to receive at least 24 hours of management training
each year after their first year, referencing
Performance-Based Detention Standard A.10.7. Id. at
13-14. In 2012, Williams also signed a document stating that
“[r]equired training hours for those positions are
specifically outlined in CCA Policy 4-1” and that
“unexcused absences for required training are causes
for immediate separation of employment.” Id.
Learning and Development Manager at the LDC is Sandra
Elliott. Id. at 21. On October 4, 2016, Elliott sent
an email to Williams and another CoreCivic employee stating,
“Due to scheduling issues, AW Fondren has directed that
you be assigned the 24 hour supervisory training tract
instead of attending the SFLL seminar. You can find these
courses in LMS under Assigned Curriculums. . . . These
classes need to be completed prior to December 1st. Let me
know if you need anything.” Id. at 36-37
(ellipses in original). This meant that Williams and the
other employee would have to complete the 24 hours of
supervisory training online instead of attending a training
course in person. Williams did not respond to
Elliott. Id. The LMS system referenced in
Elliott's email is available 24 hours a day, though
Williams contends that employees were not expected to
complete training courses at home or when they were not at
work. Id. at 37. Online courses on LMS could also be
paused and returned to at a later time. Id.
followed up with Williams on November 21, 2016, stating that
“you have not completed any of your Supervisor training
tract as notified on October 4th. The deadline to have these
completed is December 1st - this is USMS audit
required training and is not optional. Please
get on this immediately.” Id. at 37-38
(emphasis in original). Williams again did not
respond. Id. at 38.
November 30, 2016, Moore emailed Williams and six other
supervisors and reminded them that they needed to complete
their online supervisor training by December 1. Id.
at 38. In response, Williams and Moore had the following
Moore: “As a reminder supervisors needs [sic] to
complete their online supervisor training by December 1st.
There is no exception there has been plenty of time given to
complete it. In addition I believe Mr. Lawson still has some
online training that needs completed.”
Williams: “Will be completed by end of the year.”
Moore: “The suspense date given is December 1st. It was
sent out in October that is when it needs to be done
Williams: “As discussed in your meeting on Tuesday and
again tonight before you left for the day you asked when it
will be completed.”
Moore: “Sir the e-mail makes it clear when it is due. I
am done discussing this.”
Williams: “You are the one that requested at your
meeting when it will on line computer work would be completed
[sic]. Again before you left on Wednesday you asked me when
it was going to be completed and I again I informed you of
the completion date. It is you that followed up with an
e-mail about the same issue.”
Moore: “Let me clarify this Training Manager Elliott
put out a completion date of December 1st back in October.
The email I sent out after the meeting on Tuesday was to
reiterate the required completion date she set.”
Doc. 113-26 (CoreCivic Exhibit 37); see also Doc.
119 at 38-40.
December 28, 2016, Elliott emailed Williams and asked him to
complete his required supervisor training before midnight on
December 31, 2016, “as required.” Doc. 119 at 42.
Williams did not respond. Id. at
42-43. As of January 1, 2017, Williams had only
completed 6 of the 22 assigned supervisor training courses.
Id. at 43. Of the 52 supervisors at the LDC,
Williams was the only one who failed to complete the
training. Id. at 44-45. On January 3, 2017,
Elliott told Moore and Thomas that Williams had failed to
complete his supervisor training, and Williams was placed on
administrative leave. Id. at 46-47.
subsequently investigated Williams's failure to complete
the supervisor training. Id. at 47. During the
investigation, Williams admitted he did not complete the
training assigned by Elliott in October 2016. Id. at
48. On February 8, 2017, CoreCivic terminated Williams.
Id. Thomas made the decision based on
Williams's failure to comply with the training
requirements. Id. at 49. Thomas was also aware of
Williams's failure to respond to Elliott's emails
about the training and his email exchange with Moore.
Id. at 50.
Williams's Complaints About LDC Management
Ellis is the Managing Director of Operations for several
CoreCivic facilities. Id. at 25. In September 2016,
Williams emailed Ellis to set up a time to talk about staff
safety and the facility “not using sound correctional
practices.” Id. At some point after that
email, Williams and Ellis spoke by phone about “a
gamut” of issues, including integrity, “unequal
treatment of minorities and the diverse staff members,
” inmate safety, staff safety, discipline, shift
assignment, and falsification of documents. Id. at
October 4, 2016, Ellis sent Thomas a list of concerns that
had been raised to him, but he never identified Williams as
the source of the concerns. Id. at 27-28. Although
Ellis never identified Williams as the source of the
complaints, Thomas suspected that Williams might have been
the one who spoke to Ellis. Id. at 28-29. Williams
again emailed Ellis on October 23, alleging retaliation by
Thomas and that leadership at the LDC had gone “from
bad to worse.” Id. at 29. But Williams does
not recall if he talked to Ellis again after that second
point, Williams also discussed “unsafe
conditions” at the LDC with someone named Lieutenant
Elmer Grayson, though it is not clear where Grayson works or
who he is affiliated with. Id. Grayson gave Williams
a business card for someone with the Bureau of Prisons.
Id. Sometime between September 2016 and December
2016, Williams contacted the BOP employee and spoke about
unsafe conditions at the LDC. Id. at 29-30. Thomas
was not aware that Williams spoke to anyone from BOP.
Id. at 30. Williams also claims he talked to USMS
employees. Specifically, when Marshals came to drop off
inmates, Williams claimed that “we would just be
talking, I discussed items with them.” Id. at
31. There is no evidence Thomas was aware of these
conversations either. Id.
October 24, 2016, Williams called the CoreCivic Ethics
Hotline and complained about an unresolved grievance, denial
of a leave request, and the unserved PSN (which was later
served in January 2017). Id. at 32. He also alleged
that he believed Thomas was retaliating against him for
contacting Ellis. Id. Williams's allegations
were investigated, but no evidence of retaliation was found.
Id. at 33. Specifically, the actions that Williams
challenged as retaliatory were determined to be legitimate
and warranted management responses. Id. The
investigation also concluded that, although Williams had
alleged that several supervisors had conspired to retaliate
against him, Williams provided no statements or corroborating
evidence. Id. at 33-34.
judgment is appropriate if there is “no genuine dispute
as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The
moving party bears the initial burden of establishing the
absence of a genuine issue of fact. Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The burden then
shifts to the nonmovant to demonstrate that genuine issues
remain for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith
Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986). To carry this
burden, the nonmovant “may not rely merely on . . . its
own pleadings.” Nahno-Lopez v. Houser, 625
F.3d 1279, 1283 (10th Cir. 2010) (internal quotations and
citations omitted). “Rather, it must come forward with
facts supported by competent evidence.” Id.
The inquiry turns on “whether the evidence presents a
sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or
whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a