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Saulsberry v. Saint Mary's University of Minnesota

United States District Court, Eighth Circuit

December 12, 2013


John H. Saulsberry, pro se.

Robert L. McCollum and Cheryl A. Hood Langel, McCOLLUM CROWLEY MOSCHET MILLER & LAAK, LTD, , for defendant.


JOHN R. TUNHEIM, District Judge.

Plaintiff John Saulsberry challenges the termination of his employment by Defendant Saint Mary's University of Minnesota ("Saint Mary's"), bringing claims for defamation, age discrimination, racial discrimination, and retaliation. The matter is before the Court on the motion by Saint Mary's for summary judgment. On September 24, 2013, United States Magistrate Judge Franklin L. Noel issued a Report and Recommendation ("R&R") recommending that the Court grant the motion for summary judgment. Saulsberry made timely objections to the R&R, asserting that summary judgment should be denied on his defamation, racial discrimination, and retaliation claims.[1] Having conducted a de novo review of those portions of the R&R to which Saulsberry objects, see 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); D. Minn. LR 72.2(b), and having carefully reviewed the submitted materials, the Court overrules Saulsberry's objections and adopts the R&R because it finds that there are no genuine disputes of material fact and Saint Mary's is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on all claims raised by Saulsberry.


Saulsberry's position as Director of Security was eliminated and Saulsberry's employment at Saint Mary's was terminated when Saint Mary's outsourced its campus security needs to a private company. (Aff. of Ann Merchlewitz, Ex. 8, May 3, 2013, Docket No. 20.) Saulsberry's claims arise out of his belief that (1) Saint Mary's investigated complaints that were made against him, as a black employee, more rigorously than complaints lodged against white employees, and (2) the decision of Saint Mary's to outsource its security needs was a retaliatory response to Saulsberry's complaints about this alleged discrimination. (Pl.'s Mem. in Resp. to Mot. for Summ. J. at 1, June 10, 2013, Docket No. 29; Objection to R&R at 3-4, Oct. 9, 2013, Docket No. 33.)


Saulsberry began working at the Twin Cities campus of Saint Mary's in 1995. (Compl. ¶ 11, May 1, 2012, Docket No. 1.) From 1996 to November 7, 2011, Saulsberry served as Director of Security. ( Id.; Pl.'s Mem. in Resp. to Mot. for Summ. J. at 4.) During the year leading up to the events in question, Saulsberry's responsibilities included assigning shifts to security guards, patrolling campus grounds, providing escorts, conducting safety orientations, training personnel, responding to emergencies, ensuring functioning alarm systems, documenting security incidents, and advising Saint Mary's administrators on security issues. (Aff. of Robert L. McCollum, Ex. 2 (Dep. of John Saulsberry ("Saulsberry Dep.") 57:4-18), May 3, 2012, Docket No. 21.) The job description for Saulsberry's position also included "arrang[ing] for outside security service when required." ( Id. at 50:10-54:14, 135:22-136:1.) Saulsberry testified that arrangements for outside security were required when there was a staffing shortage or a special event. ( Id. at 55:21-25.) But, Saulsberry could not recall a time that it was necessary to arrange for additional security staff for any reason between 2009 and 2011. ( Id. at 56:1-12.)


Between 2009 and 2011, employees managed by Saulsberry filed several formal complaints against Saulsberry. (Merchlewitz Aff., Exs. 1-5.) The complaints involved both Saulsberry's scheduling of work hours and alleged unprofessional treatment of the employees he managed. ( Id. ) The 2009 complaints were resolved with a written warning instructing Saulsberry to treat his staff with respect. ( Id., Ex. 1.) Saint Mary's investigated complaints made in 2010 and provided Saulsberry feedback about employee scheduling concerns, but no finding was made regarding the complaints. (McCollum Aff., Ex. 1 at 11-12.)

In June 2011, two security employees, Corey Walthers and William Oatis, made complaints regarding Saulsberry's management to Saulsberry's supervisor and the university's Department of Human Resources. (Merchlewitz Aff., Ex. 3 at 9) Corey Walthers asserted that Saulsberry promised but did not provide him part-time employment instead of on-call employment, that Saulsberry swore at him and "invaded his personal space, '" and that Saulsberry treated the security staff with disrespect. ( Id. ) William Oatis complained that his work hours were reduced and that Saulsberry yelled at him and called him "an idiot' and a liar'" when Oatis approached Saulsberry about the reduction. ( Id., Ex. 3 at 10.) Saint Mary's was unable to substantiate any of the allegations raised by Walthers or Oatis. ( Id., Ex. 3 at 9-10.) But, the investigation of these complaints did reveal that "nearly every campus security guard and some Twin Cities campus staff reported that [Saulsberry] treat[ed] them with disrespect and [was] unprofessional in [his] communication with them." ( Id., Ex. 3 at 11.) No disciplinary action was taken as a result of the investigation into Walthers' and Oatis's complaints, but Saint Mary's required that Saulsberry work with a human resources employee to improve his supervisory and leadership skills and that Saulsberry treat all employees with respect. ( Id., Ex. 3 at 5.)

Saulsberry alleges that during the investigation of the 2011 complaints, a Saint Mary's employee reported that Saulsberry stated he "could kill about half the security staff' like Larry Hoover would, " that Larry Hoover is a Chicago gangster, and that Saint Mary's published these statements in Saulsberry's employment record. (Pl.'s Mem. in Resp. to Mot. for Summ. J. at 21-23, Ex. 1 at 9; Compl. at 6.) Saulsberry denies making any statements about Larry Hoover. (Saulsberry Dep. 120:18-121:23.)

On July 18, 2011, Saulsberry filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") regarding the investigation into the 2011 complaints. (Merchlewitz Aff., Ex. 6.) Saulsberry alleged that Saint Mary's "investigates complaints against Black employees differently than it ...

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