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Murray v. Williams

United States District Court, D. Nevada

September 11, 2014

Michael Murray, Plaintiff
Brian Williams Jr., Cheryl Burson, and Tanya Hill, Defendants

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For J. Michael Murray, Plaintiff: Julie Cavanaugh-Bill, LEAD ATTORNEY, Cavanaugh-Bill Law Offices, LLC, Elko, NV.

For Bryan Williams, Tonya Hill, Cheryl Burson, Defendants: Charles A. Mackey, LEAD ATTORNEY, Office of the Attorney General, Las Vegas, NV.


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Jennifer A. Dorsey, United States District Judge.

Order Dismissing Equal Protection Claim and Denying Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 56]

This civil-rights and employment-discrimination action arises out of the termination of Michael Murray's employment as a casework specialist in the Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC). Murray pleads what the parties brief, and this court construes, as three federal claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Title VII: a First Amendment retaliation claim, an Equal Protection claim based on race and gender discrimination, and a constructive-discharge claim.[1] Defendants move for summary judgment on all three counts. Murray asks to withdraw his Equal Protection claim, but defends his remaining claims.[2] Having carefully considered the record and law, I grant Murray's request to voluntarily dismiss his Equal Protection claim, and I find that genuine issues of material fact preclude summary judgment on his remaining claims.[3]


These facts are stated in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, who is the non-moving party, and will not serve as a finding of facts in the event this case reaches a jury. Where the parties disagree as to material facts, their disagreement is addressed in the analysis sections below.

In February 2008, Michael Murray had worked at the NDOC's Indian Springs Boot Camp (ISBC) for six years.[4] Brian Williams, the warden at Southern Desert Correctional Center (SDCC), instructed him to conduct classes for the benefit of SDCC inmates.[5] Murray told his direct supervisor, Tanya Hill, that this was an illegal misappropriation of resources from ISBC.[6] Sometime during that month, Murray also commented on the lack of diversity among ISBC drill instructors, who were mostly white males.[7] Warden Williams responded by commenting on the number of pick-up trucks parked outside the ISBC;

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Murray took this response to imply bias against white, non-urban males.[8]

On March 13, Warden Williams gave Murray a " temporary reassignment for training" to SDCC.[9] This was a 90-day transfer for cross-training.[10] Murray contends he was cross-trained before the transfer and that no other ISBC employee was required to cross train.[11] On April 2, Warden Williams issued a memorandum indicating that Murray was " fully trained." [12] The next day, the plaintiff was assigned to an SDCC unit rather than returned to ISBC.[13] Murray maintains that he received " conflicting instructions and orders" from Hill during this time.[14]

In June, Murray received a below-standard evaluation from Hill, to which he responded in a point-by-point written rebuttal.[15] On July 2, Murray filed a complaint with the Nevada Department of Personnel Discrimination Unit because he believed that he was being isolated and discriminated against.[16] Three months later, he was notified that the Unit could not sustain the complaint.[17] On July 30, Murray filed a grievance for his below-standard performance evaluation, in which he expressed concern that he was under the ISBC's budget but was assigned by Warden Williams to work at SDCC.[18] He intended this grievance to ultimately reach the Employee Management Committee, and he filed a charge with the Nevada Equal Rights Commission--both agencies outside the NDOC.[19]

In September, Murray received a standard evaluation, though it was barely standard.[20] He filed a response claiming he was the victim of a hostile work environment.[21] Later that month, Warden Williams notified Murray that he was permanently reassigned to SDCC.[22] On December 20, the defendants were notified that Murray had filed a discrimination charge with the Nevada Equal Rights Commission and Equal Employment Opportunity program.[23]

In February and March 2009, Hill issued two written reprimands to Murray: one regarding a note about inmate grievances and one regarding inmate-review statistics.[24] Murray filed grievances in response, which said that assigning him as one caseworker to over two units violated American Correctional Association standards.[25] He argued that the reprimands were retaliatory actions for his EEO charges and for his administrative appeal regarding his transfer to SDCC.[26] That

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April 3, the defendants gave Murray another negative performance evaluation for what Murray calls " unsubstantiated conduct" and his rightful use of sick leave.[27] Murray again responded, this time stating that the bad review was in retaliation for his EEO filing.[28] The defendants referred Murray to the Employee Assistance Program because of the stress he was experiencing.[29]

Murray states that he repeatedly asked Warden Williams and Burson to transfer him to other institutions, but they denied his requests.[30] Warden Williams told Murray that he spoke with wardens at these other institutions and that they declined to take Murray; but Murray claims that staff members at High Desert State Prison and Florence McLure Women's Correctional Center told him they were eager to have him ...

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