Dispatcher Terminated Over False Claims Against Police Officer

In August 2011, Valinda Carter, a dispatcher for the Columbia County, Florida Sheriff’s Department, was at home when she received a phone call from her brother. Columbia County Deputy Sheriff Joshua Latimer had just stopped Carter’s brother for a traffic violation. The apparent purpose of the brother’s call was to maintain an “open line” so that Carter could hear what was happening during the traffic stop.

At some point, Carter and Latimer spoke to each other on the phone. According to Latimer, Carter yelled at him and accused him of racial profiling. After the stop concluded, Latimer submitted a report to his supervisor along with a recording of the traffic stop from his dash mounted camera and body microphone.

Carter received a copy of Latimer’s report and wrote a rebuttal statement. In her rebuttal, Carter indicated that Latimer conducted himself in an unprofessional and “hostile” manner, yelling and engaging in an “arrogant, snide, tirade” during which she was not allowed to speak. When Carter drafted her rebuttal, she was not aware that the traffic stop had been recorded by Latimer’s dash camera and body microphone.

County officials reviewed the recordings and Carter’s rebuttal and concluded that Carter’s rebuttal was “blatantly false.” As a result, the County terminated Carter for dishonesty.

Carter sued the County under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, alleging she was the victim of race discrimination. To establish discrimination, Carter had the burden of establishing four things: That she was a member of a protected class; that she was qualified for the position that she held; that she was terminated from that position; and that in terminating her employment, the County treated her less favorably than a similarly situated employee outside of her protected class. Carter easily established the first three elements, but she failed to prove that the County treated her differently than employees who were not members of a protected class.

Carter’s sole evidence of disparate treatment was the case of another dispatcher, Tiffany Aderholt. The County suspended but did not terminate Aderholt, who used foul language toward a deputy and refused to answer his duty-related calls. The federal Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals distinguished this conduct from Carter’s dishonesty and found that the two dispatchers were not similarly situated. The Court stated: “Aderholt is not a proper comparator because she was not similarly situated to Carter. Contrary to Carter’s suggestion, there is no evidence that Aderholt falsified documents or asserted fabricated misconduct allegations against another employee.”

Even if Carter could have made a stronger argument for disparate treatment, it is not likely that would have prevailed because the County had presented sufficient evidence of Carter’s unfitness for duty. As the Court put it, Carter’s “false statements called into question her trustworthiness, an essential quality for a dispatcher. These explanations constitute legitimate nondiscriminatory reasons for Plaintiff’s termination.”

Carter v. Columbia County, Florida, 2014 WL 7388797 (11th Cir. 2014).