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David Buehrle v. City of O'fallon

September 13, 2012


Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri - St. Louis

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Shepherd, Circuit Judge.

Submitted: March 14, 2012

Before MELLOY, SMITH, and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.

David Buehrle brought suit against his employer, the City of O'Fallon, Missouri (the City), alleging the City retaliated against him for exercising his right to free speech guaranteed by the United States and Missouri Constitutions; discriminated against Buehrle on the basis of age by failing to promote him, in violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA) found in chapter 213 of the Missouri Revised Statutes and in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)

found at 29 U.S.C. §§ 621--634; and retaliated against Buehrle for exercising his rights under the Missouri Workers' Compensation Act, in violation of Mo. Rev. Stat. § 287.780. The district court*fn1 granted summary judgment in favor of the City. We affirm.


"We review the grant of summary judgment de novo, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Summary judgment is proper if there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Martin v. E-Z Mart Stores, Inc., 464 F.3d 827, 829 (8th Cir. 2006) (internal citation omitted). Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Buehrle, the facts are as follows.

Buehrle worked for the police department from 1988 to 1996 as a patrol officer, undercover narcotic agent, and detective. In 1996, Buehrle resigned his position with the City to begin work for the Department of Justice as a special agent for the Immigration Department. In 1999, Buehrle was rehired by the City as a police officer and was promoted to sergeant in 2000. Buehrle served as sergeant until 2001, when he resigned from the department to work as a youth pastor. In 2003, Buehrle was again hired as a police officer. In 2005, at the request of the Mayor of the City, Buehrle was assigned to conduct a number of special investigations into questions of corruption and wrongful acts by other City officials and employees at City Hall. The City Administrator, Bob Lowery, asked Buehrle to make a report of his findings to the City's Board of Alderman at a closed session. Lowery told Buehrle to make suggestions on how to change procedures to prevent future misuse of City property. In this presentation, Buehrle read verbatim from a report of his findings, which included Buehrle's recommendations for procedural changes, comments about corruption among local leaders, and Buehrle's opinions and conclusions about the corruption. Buehrle also made comments about the placement and safety of a 9-11 memorial. Buehrle's position as special investigator concluded in 2006, and Buehrle returned to the police department as a patrol officer.

Buehrle's report angered Lowery. In 2007, Lowery hired William Siebert for the position of Major within the police department. In 2008, Seibert was given the responsibility of investigating a complaint that Buehrle lied under oath. This Internal Affairs investigation involved testimony given by Buehrle in federal court in January of 2008, in which Buehrle testified he had not been disciplined as a result of a 1992 Internal Affairs investigation against him. The 1992 investigation-report was missing from city files, but an officer searched the basement of the police department building and found a Personnel Action Form that stated Buehrle had been given his choice of five days of suspension or loss of 40 hours of compensatory time as a result of the 1992 investigation. Though Seibert could not verify the source or authenticity of the form, Buehrle explained that the sanction had been held in abeyance, and Seibert verified that Buehrle did not lose compensatory time as a result of the investigation, Seibert relied on the form and recommended that Buehrle be terminated for lying under oath. Instead, the City issued Buehrle a written reprimand for giving testimony that "could be construed as less than accurate." Lowery later promoted Seibert to interim chief.

Also in 2007, Buehrle ruptured his Achilles tendon while Buehrle was on duty and chasing a suspect. While Buehrle was on crutches following his Achilles tendon surgery, he developed an injury to his elbow for which he received workers' compensation benefits. During his recovery from the tendon injury, Buehrle went on light duty. Buehrle's light duty shift was the day shift; however, when Buehrle returned from light duty, he was assigned the afternoon shift. The afternoon shift is considered less desirable than the day shift, and Buehrle was assigned to the afternoon shift for three years in a row.

In 2008, the City changed the light duty policy and limited light duty to three people. The policy distinguished between those who were injured on the job and those who were not. As a result of this policy, Buehrle was denied light duty twice in July 2008. The City did not follow its own policy in how it counted the number of people on light duty or in how it treated Buehrle's injury.

During the time that Buehrle was recovering from his injuries and following Buehrle's report to the Board of Alderman, Buehrle began seeking a promotion. Lowery had advised the chief of police that Lowery would likely not approve any promotion of Buehrle because Lowery did not trust Buehrle and believed Buehrle was motivated by self-interest. In 2007, although Buehrle applied to be promoted to sergeant and finished first in the sergeant promotion process, he was not promoted. The promotion process allowed the chief of police to promote one of the top three candidates. The second-ranked candidate, who was younger than Buehrle and whom Buehrle had trained, received the promotion. In 2008, Buehrle twice requested to be transferred to the detective unit, but his requests were rejected, even though Buehrle was the first choice of the lieutenant in charge of the detective bureau. Instead of Buehrle, a younger officer was transferred. In 2009, Buehrle again applied to be promoted to sergeant and was ranked highest on the list of applicants. Again, a younger applicant was promoted instead of Buehrle.

In the midst of Buehrle's promotion process, in 2008, a sergeant notified Chief Seibert that a citizen complaint involving Buehrle was forthcoming. Seibert investigated the arrest underlying the complaint and determined that Buehrle did nothing wrong. During the course of the investigation, Buehrle sent Seibert an email accusing Seibert of jumping to conclusions without first consulting Buehrle about his side of the story. However, Seibert reviewed and approved evaluations of Buehrle that said Buehrle had excellent judgment skills and did not jump to conclusions.

While this lawsuit was pending, Buehrle participated in a promotion process and received ...

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