United States District Court, N.D. Florida, Panama City Division
ORDER GRANTING JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW
L. HINKLE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
case presents a management dispute masquerading as a
whistleblower claim. Rarely has a case better illustrated
this long-settled principle: a federal judge and jury do not
sit as a super-personnel board. After three days of trial,
the plaintiff Joey Rabon, a captain in the Jackson County,
Florida Sheriff's Office, proved beyond the shadow of a
doubt what the defendant Sheriff said all along: there was
dissension in the small drug unit that Mr. Rabon managed. Any
competent employer would have addressed the problem, and the
Sheriff did, first by keeping Mr. Rabon in place and
reassigning his employees, and then, when that didn't
work, by reassigning Mr. Rabon. This order confirms the
ruling announced on the record granting the Sheriff's
motion for judgment as a matter of law.
motion for judgment as a matter of law, disputes in the
evidence must be resolved, and all reasonable inferences must
be drawn, in favor of the nonmoving party. The issue is
whether, when the record is viewed that way, a reasonable
jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Judgment
as a matter of law is proper only if the answer is no. This
is a demanding standard. See, e.g., Commodores
Entm't Corp. v. McClary, 879 F.3d 1114, 1130 (11th
record establishes these facts beyond dispute. The Sheriff
removed Mr. Rabon from his position managing the drug unit
and assigned him first to investigate a cold case and later
to a bailiff position. The Sheriff reduced Mr. Rabon's
rank to deputy-he was no longer managing employees or
performing a captain's other duties-and put Mr.
Rabon's pay at the highest level authorized for a deputy.
This was less than his prior captain's pay. Mr. Rabon
says the Department had a sufficient budget to continue to
pay him as a captain, but the Sheriff needed just two
captains and chose to use available funds for other
purposes-including increasing the number of deputies on the
road-rather than provide management pay to a person who was
Rabon says the dissention in the ranks of his unit was not
his fault-that his employees' complaints were unfounded.
But the evidence was undisputed that there was substantial
dissention within the unit and that Mr. Rabon's employees
complained. Assessing fault and choosing a remedy were the
Sheriff's prerogatives, not those of a federal judge and
Eleventh Circuit has said time and again, a federal judge and
jury do not sit as a super-personnel department. See,
e.g., Chapman v. A1 Transport, 229 F.3d 1012,
1030 (11th Cir. 2000); Elrod v. Sears, Roebuck &
Co., 939 F.2d 1466, 1470 (11th Cir. 1991). The Eleventh
Circuit has put it this way: “The employer may fire an
employee for a good reason, a bad reason, a reason based on
erroneous facts, or for no reason at all, as long as its
action is not for a discriminatory reason.” Nix v.
WLCY Radio/Rahall Comms., 738 F.2d 1181, 1187 (11th Cir.
1984) (Wisdom, J.). Here the Sheriff did not fire Mr. Rabon,
but the same principle applies to reassignments and
reductions in rank or pay.
Rabon's position at trial was that the real reason for
the Sheriff's action was not the dissension in the drug
unit that Mr. Rabon managed but multiple other events
involving alleged misconduct by employees Mr. Rabon did
not manage. Some were trivial, and in some Mr.
Rabon's conduct was indefensible. Only three of the
events involved reports by Mr. Rabon arguably protected by
the Florida whistleblower statute. See ECF No. 72 at
4 (draft jury instructions describing the only reports by Mr.
Rabon arguably protected by the statute). That any of the
reports was protected was not an obvious proposition.
See Fla. Stat. § 112.3187 (providing
whistleblower protection and imposing limits). But even if
the reports were protected, they were small drops in a large
bucket of dissension between Mr. Rabon and others; they could
not have made a difference. More importantly, the reports had
nothing to do with Mr. Rabon's relationship with the
employees he managed. The reports speak not at all to the
Sheriff's legitimate, nonretaliatory reason for removing
Mr. Rabon from his position.
the evidence at trial established without genuine dispute
that there was dissention in Mr. Rabon's unit and that
the Sheriff reassigned Mr. Rabon as a result. This was a
legitimate, nonretaliatory reason for the Sheriff's
actions. There was no evidence-none-that this reason was
pretextual. There was no evidence that the Sheriff's
actions resulted from anything Mr. Rabon said or did that was
protected by the Florida public-whistleblower statute.
these reasons and those set out on the record at the
conclusion of the trial, IT IS ORDERED:
Sheriff's motion for judgment as a matter of law is
clerk must enter judgment stating, “This action was
resolved on a motion for judgment as a matter of law at the
close of all the evidence in a jury trial, before submission
of the case to the jury. It is ordered that the plaintiff
Joey Rabon recover nothing on his claims against the