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McGirt v. College

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

March 28, 2017

QUINTON L. McGIRT, Plaintiff,
v.
BROWARD COLLEGE; LINDA A. WOOD, individually and in her official capacity; CITY OF CORAL SPRINGS; and ANTHONY PUSTIZZI, individually and in his official capacity, Defendants.

          ORDER

          DARRIN P. GAYLES, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS CAUSE comes before the Court on the Defendants City of Coral Springs (the “City”) and Anthony Pustizzi's Joint Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 81]. The Court has carefully considered the parties' briefs, the exhibits attached thereto, and the applicable law and is otherwise fully advised in the premises. For the reasons that follow, the motion shall be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual History

         Plaintiff Quinton McGirt, a thirty-two-year-old African-American man, was employed during the relevant time period by the City of Coral Springs Police Department (the “Police Department”). In early 2012, McGirt was hired by the Police Department for the position of Traffic Accident Investigator/Police Service Aid (“PSA”), a civilian position whose duties include providing ancillary support to the police officers at the scenes of motor vehicle accidents. Defs.' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts [ECF No. 82] (“Defs.' Statement”) ¶ 3. After McGirt submitted several unsuccessful applications to become a law enforcement trainee/police cadet, Defendant Anthony Pustizzi, the City's Chief of Police, ultimately promoted McGirt to the position in December 2013. Id. ¶ 8. Pursuant to City administrative policy, after his promotion, McGirt became a positional probationary City employee subject to a one-year probationary period during which time he could be terminated with or without cause. Id. ¶ 9.

         The City sponsors and pays for its cadets to attend the police academy, so McGirt attended Police Academy Class #291 at Broward College (the “Academy”). Id. ¶¶ 1, 10. But shortly after McGirt began, the City began to hear negative feedback about McGirt from the Academy. Id. ¶ 11. First, a class supervisor removed McGirt from class for being disrespectful. Id. Second, McGirt was involved in a near-altercation with another cadet during a physical training session. Id. ¶ 18. Finally, McGirt was accused of disrupting the class by making a comment during a break that two female cadets perceived to be sexual in nature. More specifically, a detective gave Class #291 a presentation on gangs and informed the class that he had appeared on an episode of the television series Gangland. Id. ¶ 22. A female cadet stated something along the lines of “Wow Sir. You really have done everything, ” after which McGirt immediately started singing “five dollar foot long” (from commercial advertisements for Subway restaurant), which the two female cadets took as sexual innuendo. Id. ¶ 23. At the same time, another cadet, Elliott Nieves, was observed by classmates making an inappropriate hand gesture perceived to be of a sexual nature. Id. ¶ 25.

         Chief Pustizzi directed Captain Chris Depalma and Sergeant David Kirkland to respond to the complaints about McGirt's behavior at the Academy. Id. ¶ 18. Depalma and Kirkland interviewed McGirt about the allegations arising out of the third incident. McGirt denied any wrongdoing and claimed that the phrase “five-dollar foot long” referred to someone “kissing up” to or flirting with another person, as in kissing up to the sandwich preparer at Subway to get a free sandwich. Id. ¶ 29. At the conclusion of the investigation, the City determined that the “five-dollar foot long” statement did not constitute a violation of the City's express sexual harassment policy, but it ultimately determined that McGirt's overall behavior amounted to unbecoming misconduct and improper demeanor in violation of the City's Administrative Police and the Police Department's Rules and Regulations. Id. ¶ 30.

         Chief Pustizzi recommended that McGirt's employment with the City be terminated. Id. ¶ 31. The City's Director of Human Resources, Dale Pazdra, reviewed Chief Pustizzi's recommendation with the City Attorney and fully concurred in the decision. Id. Pazdra issued correspondence to McGirt advising him that he was being recommended for termination and that he had a right to an informal pre-determination hearing before City Manager Erdal Donmez, the official who makes the final decision with respect to the termination of all City employees, including police officers. Id.

         McGirt exercised his right to this hearing, and he appeared (represented by counsel) on April 14, 2014. Id. ¶ 32. McGirt and his counsel presented argument and evidence in opposition to the proposed termination. Id. One month after the hearing, and two weeks after the completion of the investigation, Donmez terminated McGirt's employment, effective May 15, 2014.[1] Id. ¶ 33. In his correspondence to McGirt, Donmez explained the basis (in part) for his decision:

• On February 18, 2014, you were told to leave class by Deputy Hunt for being disruptive. The email from Deputy Hunt stated “I threw him out and told him that if he disrespects me or another instructor again, I am sending him back to the PD and he will not be welcome until the Chief requests it”. The following day Sergeant Kozlowski and Officer King met with you in person to discuss the email that was received. Similar to the conversation Sergeant Kozlowski had with you prior to entering the Academy, he explained again the type of appropriate behavior that was expected of you and that he would advocate for termination of your employment for continued inappropriate behavior. This counseling was documented in a memo to file dated February 19, 2014.
• On March 28, 2014, Sergeant Kozlowski received a phone call that on March 27, 2014, you were being disruptive in class again by counting out of sequence during a Physical Training session which frustrated another cadet at the Academy. Based upon the City's Investigation, it was deter- mined you provoked another Cadet to such an extent that it nearly resulted in a physical altercation.
• Before arrival at the Police Academy to discuss the March 27, 2014 incident with you, Sergeant Kozlowski received another phone call on March 28, 2014. Sergeant Kozlowski was informed that you disrupted class by making the comment “five dollar foot long.” Other Cadets perceived this comment as being sexual in nature, making them feel uncomfortable and embarrassed. You claim, however, that this phrase refers to someone “kissing up” to or “flirting” with another person. Regardless of the meaning of your comment, the comment disrupted class and was inappropriate.
In addition to the incidents summarized above; I have reviewed the complete Investigation Report (#14-01). The report contains statements from Academy Instructors, Deans, and other cadets. The report illustrates in detail that during the three months you attended the Academy you exhibited an ongoing pattern of inappropriate behavior, poor decision making, and a general unwillingness to adhere to Academy conduct standards. Your inappropriate behavior was so severe that your actions were characterized as “bullying” by other cadets.
The expectations for your conduct and appropriate behavior while attending the Academy were clearly communicated by both Sergeant Kozlowski of the Coral Springs Police Training Unit and Academy Instructors. Yet you disregarded those instructions, resulting in your removal from the program. . . .
Based on the severity of your conduct as a whole at the Academy and in addition to the specific instances of conduct cited in this letter, whether deemed serious misconduct or extreme conduct, termination is warranted pursuant to City policy. . . .

         Letter from Erdal Donmez, City Mgr., City of Coral Springs, Fla., to Quinton McGirt (May 15, 2014) [ECF No. 83-21 at 211-12].[2]

         McGirt exercised his right to a formal post-termination arbitration, which was held on August 29, 2014, before Hearing Officer Jack Martin Coe. Defs.' Statement ¶ 35. McGirt, again represented by counsel, testified, called his own witnesses, and cross-examined the City's witnesses. Id. On September 10, 2014, Coe issued an opinion in favor of the City upholding McGirt's termination. Id. ¶ 35.

         B. Procedural History

         Following the arbitration, McGirt filed a charge of racial discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) against the City and Broward College. Am. Compl. ¶ 47. On August 14, 2015, the EEOC issued McGirt right-to-sue letters for both the City and Broward College. Id. ¶ 48; see also Am. Compl. Ex. H.

         McGirt filed a Complaint in this Court on November 3, 2015 [ECF No. 1], and amended it on May 3, 2016 [ECF No. 37]. Now, following two orders from this Court on motions to dismiss [ECF Nos. 30 & 64] and a stipulation by the parties (adopted by the Court) to the dismissal of all claims against Broward College and Dean Wood [ECF No. 74], four claims now remain: race discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., against the City (Count I); procedural due process and equal protection violations against the City and Pustizzi (Count III); violations of Florida's Public Records Act, Fla. Stat. § 119.01 et seq., against the City (Count V); and common law defamation against the City (Count VII). The City and Pustizzi have jointly moved for summary judgment on all claims. McGirt opposes the motion.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), “is appropriate only if the movant shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Tolan v. Cotton, 572 U.S. -, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1866 (2014) (per curiam) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Alabama v. North Carolina, 560 U.S. 330, 344 (2010). “By its very terms, this standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).

         An issue is “genuine” when a reasonable trier of fact, viewing all of the record evidence, could rationally find in favor of the nonmoving party in light of his burden of proof. Harrison v. Culliver, 746 F.3d 1288, 1298 (11th Cir. 2014). And a fact is “material” if, “under the applicable substantive law, it might affect the outcome of the case.” Hickson Corp. v. N. Crossarm Co., 357 F.3d 1256, 1259-60 (11th Cir. 2004) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). “Where the material facts are undisputed and all that remains are questions of law, summary judgment may be granted.” Eternal Word Television Network, Inc. v. Sec'y of U.S. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 818 F.3d 1122, 1138 (11th Cir. 2016).

         The Court must construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. SEC v. Monterosso, 756 F.3d 1326, 1333 (11th Cir. 2014). However, to prevail on a motion for summary judgment, “the nonmoving party must offer more than a mere scintilla of evidence for its position; indeed, the nonmoving party must make a showing sufficient to permit ...


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