Win for Burr & Forman in Unique Employment Discrimination Cases
Burr’s Jim Gilliam represented Marlboro County, Marlboro County Sheriff’s Office, and Sheriff Charles Lemon in two cases filed by a former deputy sheriff, Raymond Hall, and the former warden, Earl Hood. Hall and Hood worked for the Sheriff’s Office until Lemon was elected Sheriff of Marlboro County in January 2016. Upon taking office, Sheriff Lemon decided not to recommission Hall and Hood under his administration. Sheriff Lemon made this decision because of his desire to fill the Sheriff’s Office with the type of employees that fit within the platform upon which he campaigned and was elected by the people of the County. Sheriff Lemon determined that Hall and Hood did not fit within that platform.
Hall and Hood subsequently filed lawsuits after Lemon informed them of his decision. Hall and Hood claimed that Sheriff Lemon (an African American) did not recommission them because of their races (Caucasian) and because they supported another candidate for Sheriff of Marlboro County. Hood and Hall thus asserted claims for reverse race discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and for political patronage discharge under the First Amendment.
After extensive discovery, Jim filed a motion for summary judgment, asking the Court to grant judgment in favor of his clients as a matter of law. Jim argued the Court should grant his client’s summary judgment motion because:
- Hall and Hood were not terminated from their employment with the Sheriff’s Office; rather their appointments naturally ended upon the expiration of the prior Sheriff’s term of office. Without a termination, there could be no claim for race discrimination;
- The uncontroverted evidence showed that Lemon made the decision not to commission Hall and Hood based on legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons, not for any improper or illegal reason;
- Lemon as a public official, maintained the Constitutional right to commission or refuse to commission policymaking employees, such as Hall and Hood, on the basis of political affiliation, if he chose; and
- Lemon’s decision-making process not to commission Hall and Hood was not motivated by their political loyalty to another candidate for Sheriff.
The Magistrate Judge recommended granting summary judgment to Jim’s clients. Thereafter, on April 1, 2020, the District Court issued an opinion, adopting the Report and Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge and granting summary judgment to Jim’s clients.
Jim is a Partner in the firm's Greenville, South Carolina office. Jim's practice concentrations are employment law, business law, and appellate practice.