Evidence, Not Speculation, Needed For Race Discrimination Claim

Timothy Rivers, an African-American, was hired by the Macon, Georgia Police Department in February 2010. Rivers was certified as an Explosive Ordnance Device K-9 handler, and had been assigned to partner with EOD K-9 Arco in August 2013. On January 1, 2014, the City of Macon and Bibb County were consolidated to form a unified governing body known as Macon-Bibb County. As a result of the consolidation, the Macon Police Department merged into the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office and Rivers was sworn in as a deputy sheriff.

In February 2014, the Sheriff’s Department received two complaints regarding traffic stops conducted by Rivers, both of which included citations for obscured license tags on the vehicle. Rivers participated in an employee counseling session with his lieutenant, who suggested that Rivers consider issuing courtesy warnings for obscured tags rather than issuing citations.

In December 2014, Rivers’s ex-girlfriend and her mother filed a Citizen’s Complaint against Rivers relating to domestic disturbances at Rivers’s house. Dispatch records indicated that Bibb County Sheriff’s Office deputies were sent to either Rivers’s residence or Rivers’s mother’s residence, which is next door, six times between November 24, 2014 and December 2, 2014. Pending the investigation of the complaint, Rivers was assigned to desk duty.

The complaint eventually resulted in a written reprimand to Rivers, finding that he had engaged in conduct unbecoming, that he had used his law enforcement authority to intervene in a family dispute, and that he had not properly cared for his dog. In addition to issuing the reprimand, the County reassigned Rivers to the jail.

Rivers sued the County, contending that he was the victim of race discrimination. A federal court disagreed, concluding that Rivers had not provided enough evidence to prove the discriminatory intent of the County.

First, the Court was skeptical that Rivers had suffered the requisite “adverse action” necessary to sustain a race discrimination charge. The Court noted that other courts “have found a loss of prestige and responsibility when the employee showed that the new position resulted in reduced leadership responsibilities, included a shift from technical to administrative work, and when testimony in the record corroborated that the new position was more menial and less prestigious than the prior position.” However, the Court found that while Rivers was no longer assigned a K-9 partner, this change in responsibility did not result in a loss of leadership responsibilities, a shift from technical to administrative work, or otherwise result in Rivers being assigned to menial labor. Thus, as Rivers has failed to establish that his transfer resulted in a loss of prestige or responsibility, his transfer does not constitute an adverse employment action.”

Beyond that, the Court found that Rivers’s evidence of discriminatory intent was weak: “Rivers argues that Defendant had discriminatory intent because he believes that Sheriff Davis and Lieutenant Patterson are members of the KKK. Rivers does not support this allegation with any colorable evidence, other than his own opinion and a photo of Sheriff Davis holding a napkin over his face. Rivers presents no evidence that the photo was in any way related to the KKK.

“There is uncontradicted evidence, however, that Sheriff Davis jokingly made masks for members of the narcotics unit, who had previously complained about the need to be anonymous, on photo day to hide their identities. Rivers also argues that Defendant showed discriminatory intent by giving too much credence to his ex-girlfriend’s complaints. Rivers argues that the Sheriff believed his ex-girlfriend because she is white. Rivers does not point to any evidence in the record that would substantiate such a claim. Moreover, Rivers does not identify any actual behavior by Sheriff Davis or any other employee indicating racial bias or that supports a finding of discriminatory intent. As Rivers has not produced circumstantial evidence that creates a triable issue concerning the employer’s discriminatory intent, summary judgment in favor of the County is appropriate.”

Rivers v. Davis, 2017 WL 2371791 (M.D. Ga. 2017).