Court Opinions: 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion for April 4

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals

Editor’s Note: Law Week Colorado edits court opinion summaries for style and, when necessary, length.

Smith v. McDonough, et al.

Eric Smith is a longtime employee of the Oklahoma City U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, where he works as a laundry foreman. He was diagnosed in 2007 with PTSD and identifies as Black, African-American and male.

Around Aug. 31, 2017, Smith was granted permission to work a “detail” in California. Smith traveled to California on Sept. 6, 2017. Although the detail was slated to last 120 days, the VA terminated it early on Sept. 30, 2017, for “performance reasons,” namely that he failed to complete important job duties before leaving for California. Performance issues included his failure to complete several reports on laundry operations, income earned and performance reviews. 

According to Smith, he couldn’t complete these reports because they covered a future time period. He said it would’ve been impossible to complete all the reports prior to his termination but he did complete all tasks possible within the time parameters. 

Smith needed the California detail to become eligible for permanent promotion to the California VA. He alleged he experience open workplace threats to his transfer by his first-level supervisor, Darryl Lynch, who’s also a Black man, according to court documents. Smith alleged Lynch told another employee he was going to stop Smith’s transfer and ask management to fire him, among other things. 

Smith said he complained about Lynch’s behavior on several occasions to the Oklahoma City VA leadership. As a result, Smith alleged he was punished with a three-day suspension, reassigned to different job duties, issuance of disciplinary results and early termination of his California detail. 

Smith compared his workplace treatment to that of his colleagues in his complaint and said he was treated less favorably. He used the example of another employee getting granted leave often and receiving favorable assignments that didn’t require her to perform certain tasks because she was a woman and asserted she wasn’t disciplined for an incident. He also said other male employees, both Black and white, were granted leave requests months in advance. 

After the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission entered judgment in favor of the VA, Smith filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma against the VA and its secretary Denis McDonough. Smith asserted in the suit he was discriminated against based on sex or gender and national origin and color in violation of Title VII, discriminated against based on disability in violation of the Rehabilitation Act as well as asserting a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII. 

The district court granted a motion for failure to state a claim and entered an order dismissing Smith’s complaint with prejudice. Smith appealed, arguing the district court erred in dismissing his claims at the pleadings stage.

A 10th Circuit Court of Appeals panel out of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the case, stating Smith’s complaint didn’t plausibly allege the conduct or actions were discriminatory in violation of Title VII and the Rehabilitation Act.

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