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Lamb v. Montrose County Sheriff's Office

United States District Court, D. Colorado

July 3, 2019

BRAD LAMB, Plaintiff,
MONTROSE COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE, RICK DUNLAP, in his individual and official capacities, and JASON GRUNDY, in his individual and official capacities, Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 77). The motion has been fully briefed. (ECF Nos. 81, 86.) The Court has reviewed the pleadings, case file, and applicable law. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants the motion.


         Summary judgment is appropriate only if there is no genuine dispute of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Gutteridge v. Oklahoma, 878 F.3d 1233, 1238 (10th Cir. 2018). Applying this standard requires viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and resolving all factual disputes and reasonable inferences in its favor. Cillo v. City of Greenwood Vill., 739 F.3d 451, 461 (10th Cir. 2013). Whether there is a genuine dispute as to a material fact depends upon whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986); Stone v. Autoliv ASP, Inc., 210 F.3d 1132, 1136 (10th Cir. 2000). “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.” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007) (citation omitted). A fact is “material” if it pertains to an element of a claim or defense; a factual dispute is “genuine” if the evidence is so contradictory that if the matter went to trial, a reasonable jury could return a verdict for either party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.


         Plaintiff worked as a deputy for the Montrose County Sheriff's Office (“MCSO”) from September 2014 until September 2015, when he was fired. Upon hearing his coworkers use racial slurs and make racist remarks without being reprimanded by their supervisors, Plaintiff inferred that “a racist culture was accepted and condoned” at the MCSO. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 30.) In November 2014, Plaintiff reported his concerns to Sergeant Taramarcaz, specifically mentioning remarks by Deputy Collins that Plaintiff found offensive. (Id. at ¶¶ 42, 43.) Plaintiff “was extremely disappointed to hear that Sergeant Taramarcaz was not as outraged with the racism in the Sheriff's Office as he was.” (Id. at ¶ 48.) Months later, Sergeant Taramarcaz was suspended for a day for mishandling Plaintiff's complaints (ECF No. 86-1 at ¶ 45); Deputy Collins was suspended for three days for unbecoming conduct (id. at ¶ 46).

         Before working for the MCSO, Plaintiff worked for the City of Delta Police Department. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 23.) The police chief of that department was a friend of his. (Id. at ¶ 50.) In December 2014, Plaintiff sent a text message to the police chief in which he complained about the MCSO: “Just wanted to stay in touch. REALLY big mistake coming to work here. Racism, good Ole boy, no professionalism. Let me know if you and Angie are still up for poker.” (Id.)

         In February 2015, Plaintiff was investigated by the MCSO for sending the text message. The MCSO investigation concluded Plaintiff had violated MCSO rules by contacting another law enforcement agency and communicating defamatory opinions of the MCSO. (ECF No. 86-1 at ¶¶ 3, 9.) Plaintiff was disciplined with a one-day suspension for unbecoming conduct (id. at ¶ 10), and a letter about the investigation was placed in his personnel file (ECF No. 77-6 at 10). As part of the investigation, Plaintiff submitted a written statement in which he reiterated his concerns about racism at the MCSO, again citing specific remarks by Deputy Collins that offended him. (Id. at 5-7.) He also reported other misconduct, including sexual harassment and removal of ammunition from another deputy's weapon. Additional investigations ensued, prompting the discipline mentioned above against Sergeant Taramarcaz and Deputy Collins.

         In June 2015, Plaintiff was written up by Defendant Grundy for his conduct while the MCSO was responding to a call about a suicidal subject. (Id. at ¶ 11.) An investigation into that incident concluded Plaintiff had demonstrated unsatisfactory performance by clearing from a call and then involving himself back into the call without notifying dispatch or other crew members, by disregarding radio traffic several times, and by placing crew members and the suicidal subject at risk. (Id. at ¶ 12.) Plaintiff argues that because the incident ended successfully with Plaintiff getting the subject to the hospital, his failure to follow proper procedures was not the real reason for the write-up. (ECF No. 81 at 17.) The write-up also stated that Plaintiff had not formatted his report about the incident according to Deputy Grundy's instructions. (Id. at ¶ 13.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Grundy never instructed him on how to format the report and that the write-up was retaliation for Plaintiff's complaints about Deputy Collins, who was a close friend of Defendant Grundy's. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 81-82.) Nonetheless, the investigation concluded Plaintiff had demonstrated, and even admitted to, insubordination.

         In September 2015, Plaintiff was again written up by Defendant Grundy-this time for disobeying an order for Plaintiff to present an affidavit he was preparing to Defendant Grundy for his review before submitting it to the court. (Id. at ¶ 84.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Grundy never asked him to do this. (Id. at ¶ 85.) An investigation into that incident found that when Defendant Grundy did finally review the report, he found mistakes, including the location of the offense and the suspect's address, and he directed Plaintiff to amend the affidavit. (ECF No. 77-9 at 1.) The investigation also identified other errors Plaintiff had made, including failing to complete two reports before leaving his shift, misidentifying a subject who should have been arrested rather than issued a summons, and using an incorrect case number. (ECF No. 86-1 at ¶ 21.) The investigation concluded Plaintiff demonstrated unsatisfactory performance and insubordination. (Id. at ¶ 22.)

         Later that month, Defendant Dunlap terminated Plaintiff's employment with the MCSO. (Id. at ¶¶ 25, 26.) The disciplinary report supporting the notice of termination stated there were many issues regarding Plaintiff's unsatisfactory performance and his failure to conform to the standards of the MCSO. (ECF No. 77-10 at 1.) The report cited Plaintiff's three documented allegations of misconduct in less than a year of employment and concluded that due to his multiple sustained allegations, Plaintiff could no longer be an effective, trustworthy employee. (Id. at 1, 4.)

         After filing a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Colorado Civil Rights Division, Plaintiff obtained a right-to-sue letter. (ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 13-14.) He then filed this action in December 2015. The complaint asserts three claims for relief: (1) retaliation for engaging in protected activities in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act against the MCSO; (2) retaliation for engaging in protected activity in violation of the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (“CADA”) against the MCSO; and (3) retaliation in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Grundy and Dunlap, individually and in their official capacities.[1] The complaint identifies three alleged acts of protected conduct that prompted retaliation by the MCSO and its employees: Plaintiff's November 2014 complaint to Sergeant Taramarcaz about racism at the MCSO, Plaintiff's December 2014 text message to the police chief, and Plaintiff's February 2015 written statement about misconduct at the MCSO that he submitted in connection with the investigation into the text message. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 101.) In Claims One and Two, Plaintiff alleges that the MCSO retaliated against him by suspending him for one day in February 2015 and by firing him in September 2015. (ECF No. 81 at 19.) In Claim Three, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Grundy retaliated against him by writing him up in June 2015 and that Defendant Dunlap retaliated against him by firing him. (Id. at 3.)

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. ...

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