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Murillo v. Travis County

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, Austin Division

March 26, 2018

LEO E. MURILLO, Plaintiff,
v.
TRAVIS COUNTY, TEXAS, Defendant.

          ORDER

          SAM SPARKS, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         BE IT REMEMBERED on this day the Court reviewed the file in the above-styled cause, and specifically, Defendant Travis County, Texas's Motion for Summary Judgment [#16], Plaintiff Leo Murillo's Response [#20] in opposition, and Travis County's Reply [#22] in support. Having reviewed the documents, the relevant law, and the case file as a whole, the Court now enters the following opinion and order.

         Background

         In January 2015, Travis County hired Murillo as a mailroom assistant. Resp. Mot. Dismiss [#20-1] Attach. 1 at 5 (Murillo Dep.).[1] Murillo found the mailroom to be a jarring place to work, with "loud and intense verbal arguments, insults, and profanity." Resp. Mot. Dismiss [#20] at 7; id. [#20-1] Attach. 1 at 65, 69-70 (Investigation Report). More troublingly, Murillo's supervisor, Gary Russell, and coworker, Kim Moore, regularly used racial slurs and offensive language in the mailroom. Id. Russell and Moore referred to Murillo as a "meskin" many times "[b]ehind Murillo's back, " and on at least four separate occasions, Russell told Murillo he was a "meskin" and referenced Murillo's "meskin" family. Resp. Mot. Dismiss [#20] at 5, 18; id. [#20- 2] Attach. 2 at 10 (Frederick Aff.); id. [#20-1] Attach. 1 at 54-58 (Murillo Aff.); Murillo Dep. at 11. Additionally, Russell told Murillo the mailroom was "English only" and that he could not speak Spanish with a Hispanic summer intern. Murillo Aff. Murillo also repeatedly witnessed Russell and Moore using racial slurs to refer to an African American coworker, Leroy Frederick. Investigation Report; Murillo Aff.

         Once, when Murillo had a disagreement with Russell at work, Murillo told Russell "I'm not afraid of you." Murillo Aff; Murillo Dep. at 11-12. In response, Russell pulled out a large knife and showed it to Murillo. Id. On another occasion, Murillo heard Russell tell Frederick that Russell was not afraid of Frederick because "I've got a knife." Murillo Dep. at 11-12. Murillo interpreted these comments as implied threats of violence. Murillo Aff.

         Murillo complained to Travis County on multiple occasions about Russell and Moore's conduct in the mailroom. Murillo initially followed Travis County's established complaint procedure and contacted Travis County Human Resources (HR) Representative Tony Robertson and HR Manager Tom Ashburn, on at least two occasions in the spring and summer of 2015, to complain about the racial slurs used in the mailroom as well as Russell's brandishing of a knife. Murillo Dep. at 12, 33-34. At some point, Frederick also reached out to Robertson and Ashburn to complain about the use of racist language in the mailroom. Frederick Aff. No. action was taken with respect to these complaints. Murillo Aff.

         Then, on August 18 or 19, 2015, Murillo delivered an anonymous letter detailing his complaints about the mailroom environment to various Travis County Commissioners, Director Steven Broberg, and Robertson. Resp. Mot. Dismiss [#20-2] Attach. 2 at 12-13 (August 2015 Letter); Investigation Report at 63. Travis County quickly initiated an investigation into the allegations described in Murillo's letter. Investigation Report at 63. On September 9, 2019, after the investigation had already begun, Murillo delivered a second letter to the same officials and employees which identified Murillo as the author of the first, anonymous letter. Id. The investigation determined Murillo's allegations of racial slurs, derogatory language, and profanity in the workplace were accurate and concluded the mailroom had become a hostile work environment as defined by the EEOC. Id. at 69-70.

         On September 10, 2015, the mailroom staff was directed to attend mediation to address the concerns raised in Murillo's letter. Resp. Mot. Summ. J. [#20-2] Attach. 2 at 46-47 (Ashburn Aff). On September 30, 2015, Travis County delivered a memo to Murillo informing him the County had completed its investigation and "appropriate corrective action will be taken." Id. [#20-2] Attach. 2 at 50 (Concluding Memo). This corrective action included verbally counselling Russell regarding his behavior in the workplace and holding two trainings in October 2015 on discrimination, harassment, and workplace civility. Ashburn Aff.

         Eventually, Russell discovered Murillo was responsible for lodging the complaints with Travis County. Resp. Mot. Summ. J. [#20-2] Attach. 2 at 52. On October 2, 2015, Russell confronted Murillo about the complaints and asked why Murillo had "stab [bed] [him] in the back." Id. When Murillo explained he was offended by Russell's frequent use of racial slurs, Russell laughed and told Murillo "this is far from over." Id.

         After the investigation and remediation concluded, Russell began to contact people to whom Murillo delivered mail and asked them to inform him if Murillo made a mistake. Murillo Aff. Additionally, Russell and Moore stopped speaking to Murillo except when necessary, and Ashburn no longer went out of his way to have conversations with Murillo. Murillo Aff; Murillo Dep. at 29. Ultimately, Murillo reported Russell's behavior to Robertson and Broberg. Murillo Aff. Travis County took no action in response to this report from Murillo, and in February 2016, Murillo submitted a letter of resignation. Id. Upon receiving the news Murillo would be retiring, Ashburn emailed Broberg and remarked, "This is good news for everyone." Resp. Mot. Summ. J. [#20-2] Attach. 2 at 57.

         On February 15, 2017, Murillo filed this Title VII lawsuit alleging Travis County discriminated against him on the basis of his national origin and then retaliated against him for complaining. Compl. [#1] at 6. Travis County now moves for summary judgment. Mot. Summ. J. [#16]. This pending motion is ripe for review.

         Analysis

         I. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment shall be rendered when the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that 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, 323-25 (1986); Washburn v. Harvey, 504 F.3d 505, 508 (5th Cir. 2007). A dispute regarding a material fact is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in favor of the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court is required to view all inferences drawn from the factual record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio,475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Washburn, 504 F.3d at 508. Further, a court "may not make ...


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