Submitted: April 18, 2019
from United States District Court for the Eastern District of
Arkansas - Pine Bluff
COLLOTON, GRUENDER, and ERICKSON, Circuit Judges.
COLLOTON, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
Ridgell sued the City of Pine Bluff and City Mayor Debe
Hollingsworth under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that they
discriminated against him based on race in violation of 42
U.S.C. § 1981. A jury returned a verdict in favor of
Mayor Hollingsworth but against the City. The City appeals on
the ground that once Hollingsworth was adjudged not liable,
there was no basis to find the City liable for
discrimination. On the record in this case, we agree with the
City, and therefore reverse the judgment.
an African-American, was hired in June 2007 to be the City
Collector for Pine Bluff. Debe Hollingsworth, a Caucasian
woman, won the November 2012 mayoral election and took office
in January 2013. Over the next few months, Ridgell failed to
meet various deadlines related to the implementation of a new
software system in the Collector's office. On July 31,
Hollingsworth terminated Ridgell for "unsatisfactory
work performance," based on his failure to meet these
appealed his termination to the eight-member City Council.
Six votes were required to override the mayor's action.
See Ark. Code Ann. § 14-42-110(a)(1). Six
members of the Council voted to reinstate Ridgell and two
voted to uphold the mayor's decision. One councilman
testified that he and the five others who voted to override
the mayor's action did so because Ridgell did not have
full authority to make the necessary changes to the new
software system, and there was a lack of documentation as to
what assigned tasks Ridgell had failed to complete.
returned to work on August 26. Over the next month,
Hollingsworth twice disciplined Ridgell for
"unsatisfactory work quality." On September 11, she
gave him a written warning after he failed to produce a
report that she had requested. Two weeks later, Hollingsworth
suspended Ridgell for five days based on his continued
inability to meet deadlines and his failure to make progress
on collecting taxes from delinquent businesses.
October 15, Ridgell arrived at work at least thirty minutes
late. Hollingsworth terminated Ridgell for
"insubordination." At trial, Hollingsworth
testified that her decision was about more than just
Ridgell's tardiness that day; it was based on "the
whole picture" of Ridgell's deficient work
performance since he had returned to work in August.
once again appealed to the City Council, but this time only
five members voted to override the mayor's action, and
her decision was sustained. The only member to vote
differently than the first time was Lloyd Holcomb, who voted
to uphold Ridgell's second termination.
sued the City and Hollingsworth under 42 U.S.C. § 1983,
claiming that they had racially discriminated against him in
violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. At trial, Ridgell
presented evidence of alleged comparator employees. Steve
Miller, the Caucasian head of the City's Finance
Department, had been disciplined, but not terminated, for
failing to comply with one of Hollingsworth's directives,
for going to the gym while taking leave under the Family and
Medical Leave Act, and for tardiness. Ridgell testified that
Robert Tucker, a Caucasian male, regularly arrived late to
work but had never been disciplined.
conclusion of Ridgell's case-in-chief, the City and
Hollingsworth moved for judgment as a matter of law on the
claims of race discrimination. The district court denied the
motion. At the close of all evidence, the City and
Hollingsworth again moved for judgment, and the court took
the motion under advisement.
jury returned a verdict in favor of Hollingsworth but against
the City on Ridgell's claims of race discrimination and
awarded damages of $24, 080. The court dismissed the claim
against Hollingsworth, denied the City's pending motion
for judgment as a matter of ...