United States Court of Appeals
February 22, 2011
PUBLISH Elisabeth A. Shumaker
Clerk of Court
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
v. No. 09-1420
NANCY MCCALLIN, in her
individual and official capacity;
BARBARA MCDONNELL; WANDA
COUSAR; LEDY GARCIA-
ECKSTEIN; JENNIFER HOPKINS;
BARBARA MCKELLAR; JERRY
NICKELL; JOHN TREFNY; TAMRA
J. WARD; KRISTIN CORASH;
APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLORADO
(D.C. No. 07-CV-02704-WDM-MJW)
Nora V. Kelly of Nora V. Kelly, P.C., Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff""Appellant.
Douglas J. Cox, Senior Assistant Attorney General (John W. Suthers, Attorney
General, with him on the brief), Denver, Colorado, for Defendants""Appellees. Before MURPHY, McKAY, and TYMKOVICH, Circuit Judges. McKAY, Circuit Judge.
In this employment case, Plaintiff Purnendu Sarkar appeals the district
court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendants, who are various
officials affiliated with Plaintiff's former employer, the Colorado Community
College System. Plaintiff also appeals the entry of a protective order regarding
his Rule 30(b)(6) notice of deposition.
In late 2004, Plaintiff was hired as the chief information officer of the
Colorado Community College System by Dr. Nancy McCallin, the CCCS
president. According to his own deposition testimony, Plaintiff's responsibility
as the chief information officer was to manage CCCS's contract with SunGard,
the vendor of a new computer system CCCS was implementing, and to ensure
SunGard was delivering according to the contract. It is undisputed that
SunGard's software had some inherent deficiencies, and it is also undisputed that
the relationship between Plaintiff and SunGard was frequently quite adversarial.
On August 18, 2006, Dr. McCallin informed Plaintiff his employment was being
terminated based on vendor relations, among other concerns. 1
Plaintiff then filed suit, alleging that his termination was motivated by his
public statements about SunGard, in violation of the First Amendment, and by
discriminatory animus against him as a native of India, in violation of 42 U.S.C.
Plaintiff argues he was only asked to resign and did not know until some
time after August 18 that he would be terminated if he refused to resign.
However, his contemporaneous e-mail statements make clear that he was aware
his employment was being ended, whether by his resignation or not.
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§ 1981. He also alleged that Defendants retaliated against his complaint of racial
discrimination by terminating his employment, accusing him of stealing a laptop,
and contacting his prior employers to verify his resume information. We review
de novo the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendants on
all of these claims.
As an initial matter, we consider the question of our appellate jurisdiction.
Although Plaintiff brought suit against Dr. McCallin in both her individual and
her official capacities, the district court entered judgment in favor of Dr.
McCallin only in her official capacity. Thus, the judgment technically did not
terminate all matters as to all parties and causes of action, which could call its
finality and appealability into question. See Utah v. Norton, 396 F.3d 1281
(10th Cir. 2005). However, the record makes it abundantly clear that the district
court intended to enter judgment in favor of all Defendants, including Dr.
McCallin in her individual capacity. Under similar circumstances, where a
district court clearly intended to enter a final judgment as to all claims and all
parties but failed to do so because of "a clerical mistake or a mistake arising from
oversight or omission," Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(a), our sister circuits have treated the
district court's judgment as if it had been amended to correct the mistake. See,
e.g., In re U.S. Healthcare, Inc., 193 F.3d 151
, 158 & n.2 (3d Cir. 1999) (treating
as final an order that did not dismiss all claims although it expressly set forth the
intention to do so); Brown v. Moore, 247 F.2d 711
, 714 n.2 (3d Cir. 1957)
[End Page 3]
(treating the appeal as going to both causes of actions considered below although
the district court erroneously entered only one judgment); Crosby v. Pacific S.S.
Lines, Ltd., 133 F.2d 470
, 474 (9th Cir. 1943) (treating the district court's order
as if it were amended to dismiss the petition because the intent to dismiss was
clear and the error arose from oversight or omission); see also 11 Charles Alan
Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Mary Kay Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure:
Civil 2d § 2856, at 251-52 (2d ed. 1995) (noting that "in other cases the appellate
courts simply have treated clerical errors, oversights, and omissions as if they had
been corrected and have not required the formality of a correction by the district
court"). As the Third Circuit reasoned in Brown, where a deficiency results from
"an obvious clerical error which could have been corrected at any time prior to
the filing of the notice of appeal," there seems little point in "vacat[ing] the
judgment and remand[ing] to a presently very much overburdened United States
District Court for technical correction." 247 F.2d at 714 n.2. We thus treat the
district court's judgment as if it had entered judgment in favor of Dr. McCallin in
her individual capacity, in accordance with the court's clearly expressed
intention, and we consider the judgment to be a final, appealable judgment as to
all claims and all parties.
Turning now to the merits, we first consider Plaintiff's claim that he was
terminated in violation of the First Amendment based on his public criticisms of
SunGard. The district court concluded that Plaintiff's criticisms were not
[End Page 4]
protected by the First Amendment because they were all made pursuant to his
official duties of enforcing the SunGard contract and representing CCCS in his
capacity as chief information officer. The First Amendment does not apply to
"speech that owes its existence to a public employee's professional
responsibilities," Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410
, 421 (2006), and the district
court concluded that Plaintiff's criticisms of SunGard were classic examples of
this type of speech.
After thoroughly reviewing the record on appeal, we agree with the district
court's conclusions. Nothing in the record suggests Plaintiff criticized SunGard
in his capacity as a citizen or taxpayer rather than in his capacity as a managerial
employee with the responsibility of overseeing and enforcing CCCS's multi-
million-dollar contract with SunGard. See Brammer-Hoelter v. Twin Peaks
Charter Academy, 492 F.3d 1192
, 1203 (10th Cir. 2007) ("The ultimate question
is whether the employee speaks as a citizen or instead as a government employee .
. . ."). The fact that Plaintiff was "trying to focus attention on apparently
misguided actions or improper situations" does not change this analysis, and
neither does the fact that his supervisors were unhappy with the specific
statements he made regarding SunGard and its performance under the contract.
Green v. Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs, 472 F.3d 794
, 801 (10th Cir. 2007); see also
Doucette v. Minocqua Hazelhurst, Lake Tomahawk Sch. Dist. No. 1, 2008 WL
2412988, at *8 (W.D. Wis. 2008) ("After all, there will be few cases in which an
[End Page 5]
employee is disciplined for doing exactly what he is told; there will usually be a
determination that the employee has stepped "˜out of bounds' in some way.").
Plaintiff was paid to manage the SunGard contract and oversee the
implementation of the new computer system at CCCS, and his criticisms of
SunGard were made pursuant to these managerial duties. Cf. Brammer-Hoelter,
492 F.3d at 1204 (concluding that school teachers' complaints regarding the
school's curriculum, budgetary decisions, and expectations of student behavior
were all made pursuant to their inherent duties as teachers to execute the
curriculum, ensure they had adequate materials to educate their students, and
regulate student behavior).
We are unpersuaded by Plaintiff's argument that his speech was not made
pursuant to his official duties because he spoke to individuals outside the chain of
his command. It is clear from the record that all of these individuals""other state
officials concerned with the implementation of new computer systems at state
schools""spoke with Plaintiff in his capacity as CCCS chief information officer,
not as a private citizen, and that their discussions stemmed from Plaintiff's
official duties to oversee the contract with SunGard and to serve "as the
representative and/or liaison for [CCCS] with the staffs of the Legislature . . . and
other colleges, universities, agencies and organizations on information technology
matters of mutual concern." (R. at 749); see Chavez-Rodriguez v. City of Santa
Fe, 596 F.3d 708
, 716 (10th Cir. 2010) ("Thus, even though Chavez-Rodriguez
[End Page 6]
may have been stepping outside the chain of command when speaking with Lujan,
the nature of the conversation indicates the speech was not undertaken as a
private citizen, but rather in Chavez-Rodriguez's role as the Director.").
Although Plaintiff argues he spoke to the press on issues outside of his official
duties, the evidence he cites in support is conclusory and non-specific. Plaintiff's
general allegation that he spoke with the press at some unspecified time about
SunGard's overbilling practices is insufficient to create a genuine dispute of
material fact as to whether he engaged in protected speech prior to his
termination. We thus conclude that the district court did not err in granting
summary judgment to Defendants on Plaintiff's First Amendment claim.
Plaintiff also argues that his termination was motivated at least in part by
discriminatory animus against natives of India. The parties do not dispute
whether Plaintiff can establish a prima facie case of discrimination, nor do they
dispute whether Defendants have shown facially non-discriminatory reasons for
his termination under the familiar McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting
framework. See McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792
(1973). Rather, both parties focus on whether Plaintiff has shown that
Defendants' proffered reasons were mere pretext for discrimination. See id.
A plaintiff may show pretext by demonstrating "such weaknesses,
implausibilities, inconsistencies, incoherencies, or contradictions in the
employer's proffered legitimate reasons for its actions that a reasonable factfinder
[End Page 7]
could rationally find them unworthy of credence and hence that the employer did
not act for the asserted non-discriminatory reasons." Jaramillo v. Colo. Judicial
Dep't, 427 F.3d 1303
, 1308 (10th Cir. 2005). "A challenge of pretext, however,
requires a court to look at the facts as they appear to the person making the
decision to terminate, not the aggrieved employee." Piercy v. Maketa, 480 F.3d 1192
, 1200 (10th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks and brackets omitted).
Thus, "[t]he relevant inquiry is not whether the employer's proffered reasons
were wise, fair, or correct, but whether it honestly believed those reasons and
acted in good faith upon those beliefs." Rivera v. City & Cnty. of Denver, 365 F.3d 912
, 924-25 (10th Cir. 2004).
Defendants' asserted reason for the termination was their belief that
Plaintiff was not succeeding in his role as chief information officer based on a
variety of different issues that had arisen during the course of his employment,
including problems relating to his management of and relationship with SunGard.
After reviewing the record, we agree with the district court that Plaintiff has
failed to raise a genuine factual dispute regarding pretext. In essence, Plaintiff's
arguments for pretext boil down to a disagreement with Defendants' assessment
of his work performance and his share of the blame for the problems that arose
during his term of employment. However, none of the evidence cited by Plaintiff
demonstrates a genuine dispute of fact as to the relevant inquiry""whether
Defendants honestly believed there were issues with his work performance and
[End Page 8]
acted in good faith upon that belief. We thus conclude that the district court did
not err in granting summary judgment to Defendants on this claim.
Plaintiff's third claim is that Defendants retaliated against his complaint of
discrimination by firing him, accusing him of stealing a laptop and requesting the
Colorado Bureau of Investigation to investigate this accusation, and contacting
his former employers to ask for verification of his employment history. After
reviewing the record, we agree with the district court that Plaintiff has failed to
set forth any evidence of retaliation. The undisputed evidence in the record
shows that the decision to terminate Plaintiff's employment was made before he
ever complained of discrimination. As for the accusation regarding the laptop,
nothing in the record suggests this accusation was based on a retaliatory or
discriminatory motive rather than a good-faith belief that Plaintiff had stolen the
missing laptop. Finally, we agree with the district court that Defendants'
communications with Plaintiff's former employers""short requests for basic
employment information""would not be considered materially adverse by a
reasonable employee. See Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53
, 68 (2006).
Lastly, Plaintiff argues that the magistrate judge erred in granting
Defendants a protective order regarding Plaintiff's Rule 30(b)(6) deposition
notice. The magistrate judge concluded that the deposition notice was defective
on its face because Rule 30(b)(6) applies only to the deposition of organizations,
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not individuals, and only individuals were named in the deposition notice and in
the complaint. Plaintiff argues that this reasoning was flawed because Defendants
were sued in their official capacity as representatives of a state agency and thus
the agency could be deposed as the real party in interest under Rule 30(b)(6). We
are not persuaded. When a state official is named as the defendant in a lawsuit,
"[w]hether the state is the real party in interest turns on the relief sought by the
plaintiffs. Suits that seek prospective relief are deemed to be suits against the
official, while suits that seek retroactive relief are deemed to be suits against the
state." Powder River Basin Res. Council v. Babbitt, 54 F.3d 1477
, 1483 (10th
Cir. 1995). As the district court noted, all of Plaintiff's official-capacity claims
for retroactive relief are barred by the Eleventh Amendment, see Puerto Rico
Aqueduct & Sewer Auth. v. Metcalf & Eddy, Inc., 506 U.S. 139
, 146 (1993), and
thus this action can only be considered as a suit against the individual officials
and not against the state itself. We agree with the magistrate judge that a Rule
30(b)(6) deposition notice naming only individuals is defective on its face, and
we accordingly affirm the entry of a protective order.
The judgment of the district court is hereby AFFIRMED.
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