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Morrison v. Fly

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

April 18, 2014

GEORGE E. MORRISON, III, Plaintiff,
v.
CARL ERIC FLY, Sr., et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

HENRY E. HUDSON, District Judge.

THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 8) ("Motion"), filed on February 5, 2014. Both parties have filed memoranda of law in support of their respective positions. The Court will dispense with oral argument because the facts and legal contentions have been adequately presented and oral argument would not aid in the decisional process. For the reasons set forth herein, Defendants' Motion will be denied.

I. BACKGROUND

As required by Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court assumes Plaintif'fs well-pleaded allegations to be true, and views all facts in the light most favorable to him. T.G. Slater & Son v. Donald P. & Patricia A, Brennan, LLC, 385 F.3d 836, 841 (4th Cir. 2004) (citing Mylan Labs, Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993)). Viewed through this lens, the Court finds the following narrative represents the facts as presented in the Complaint. The allegations, if proven, clearly portray a course of discriminatory actions against Plaintiff.

George E. Morrison, III ("Morrison") is an African American male who was employed by the County of Sussex beginning on January 29, 2009, and ending with his suspension on July 20, 2012, and subsequent termination on July 23, 2013. (First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 2, 16, ECF No, 3.) He was hired to serve as the Deputy County Administrator and the Director of Economic Development. ( Id. at ¶ 19.) Defendant Carl Eric Fly, Sr. was a member of the County Board of Supervisors at the time of Morrison's hiring. Though he was a member of the Board's Personnel Committee, Fly did not attend either of Morrison's interviews nor had he met Morrison before joining the unanimous Board of Supervisors' vote to approve Morrison's hiring. ( Id. )

Morrison's hiring was immediately met with disdain once members of the Board, including Fly, discovered his race. ( Id. at ¶¶ 20-24.) At a board retreat, Fly conducted a closed session of the Board in an attempt to remove Morrison. ( Id. at ¶) 22.) Later, in February, 2009, County Attorney Henry Thompson allegedly overheard Fly and other Board members' discussion centered on how to remove Morrison from his position. ( Id. at ¶ 23.) The discussion also touched on ways to remove other senior African American employees of the County. ( Id. at ¶¶ 23-24.) Fly purportedly met with fellow members of the Board on several occasions to discuss ending Morrison's employment. ( Id. at ¶ 25.) Even though Morrison resisted all efforts to interfere with his employment, he received a "superior" evaluation in a performance review on August 11, 2009. ( Id. at ¶¶ 26-27.)

Within a year of his hiring, in August, 2009, Morrison assumed the duties of Acting County Administrator on an interim basis, as well as Director of Human Resources. ( Id. at ¶ 28.) A month later, Fly pulled Morrison aside and said, "the problem with you is that you don't trust us, you only trust those black [supervisors] down there." ( Id. at ¶ 30.) In November, Fly threatened to make a motion to remove Morrison at the upcoming December board meeting. ( Id. at ¶ 31.) Though he did not follow through with the motion at the closed meeting, he did categorize everything happening in the County as "purely racist." ( Id. at ¶ 32.)

On August 19, 2010, Morrison's interim duties were formalized with his appointment as Interim County Administrator effective September 1, 2010, with salary to be determined at the next board meeting. ( Id. at ¶ 33.) At the subsequent meeting, Morrison's salary was increased to reflect his increased responsibilities. ( Id. at ¶ 34.) In a later interview to fill the County Administrator position on a permanent basis, Fly allegedly targeted Morrison with questions calculated to derail Morrison's candidacy. ( Id. . at ¶ 35.)

On May 5, 2011, Fly revealed to Morrison that, though he was unsure if he would seek re-election, he was intent on removing the African American County Attorney. ( Id. at ¶ 36.) It was Fly's belief that the attorney favored the African American members of the Board in an effort to help them get re-elected. ( Id. )

On June 16, 2011, Morrison was told that he had not been selected as the County Administrator, but instead that Defendant Thomas E. Harris ("Harris") had been chosen. ( Id. at ¶ 37.) Shortly after Harris' hiring, he purportedly informed Morrison that he had been hired to "fire the blacks in the County." ( Id. at ¶ 41.)

On June 16, 2011, the Board reassigned Morrison to the position of Assistant County Administrator and Economic Director with a written employment contract, in contrast to his previous employment without a written contract. ( Id. at ¶ 38.) The contract provided that Morrison would report to the Board of Supervisors and be supervised by its Chairman, and could only be discharged by the Board for cause. ( Id. at ¶¶ 40, 58.) The contract was not ratified by the Board until October 20, 2011. ( Id. at ¶ 42.) Fly opposed the Motion to ratify. ( Id. ) At the November 2011, board meeting, a resolution was passed to return Morrison's contract to the Personnel Committee "for modification, " though it was never ultimately changed. ( Id. at ¶¶ 42-43.) Throughout this time, Fly was communicating with other members, outside of formal board proceedings, about Morrison's employment, and, along with Harris, questioned the validity of the contract. ( Id. ) At the same time, Harris' contract was never questioned, modified, or reviewed. ( Id. at ¶ 43.)

Defendant Alfred G. Futrell was elected to the Board in November 2011. ( Id. at ¶ 45.) Futrell is an African American and joined three other African Americans on the Board, in addition to Fly and Defendant Raymond L. Warren, who are Caucasian. ( Id. )

Morrison contends that a political impasse was formed when Futrell caucused with Fly and Warren. ( Id. ) Between November 2011 and June 2012, Fly, Warren, and Futrell allegedly met and/or communicated on several occasions to discuss how to terminate Morrison. ( Id. at ¶ 46.) At the same time, Harris began to undermine and circumvent Morrison while treating him negatively and selectively communicating with him. ( Id. at ¶ 47.) According to the Complaint, Harris followed the same manner of conduct with other African American employees, in contrast to his treatment of their Caucasian colleagues. ( Id. at ¶ 48.) Morrison continually protested the racially-based treatment, though no efforts were made to address or remedy the discrimination. ( Id. at ¶ 59.)

On June 21, 2012, Fly moved to "terminate any and all fixed term employment contracts" with Morrison, effective June 30, 2012. ( Id. at ¶ 52.) Fly proposed that Morrison would continue as a salaried employee but at a lower salary. ( Id. ) The motion did not obtain the required majority vote in order to pass. ( Id. )

On July 20, 2012, Harris, accompanied by the Sheriff, came to Morrison's office and presented him with a letter indicating that he was immediately suspended. ( Id. at ¶ 57.) The letter also advised Morrison that Harris would recommend his full termination to the Board. ( Id. ) Morrison purportedly heard the Sheriff "buzz" his Taser as Morrison packed his belongings. ( Id. ) He was then ...


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