The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Avern Cohn
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR ABSTENTION AND STAY OF PROCEEDINGS (Doc. No. 14)*fn1
This is an employment discrimination case. Plaintiff Oliver Mathes III (Mathes) is suing defendants David Gorcyca, Mary Larkin and Debra Carley, individually and in their official capacities, claiming that he was wrongfully removed from his position at the Oakland County Prosecutors Office and forced to accept a new position. He claims (1) race discrimination under Title VII, (2) a violation of his right to Equal Protection under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and (3) race discrimination under Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Act, M.C.L. § 327.2301.*fn2
Before the Court is defendants' Motion for Abstention and Stay of Proceedings on the grounds that there is a parallel proceeding in state court where Mathes has sued Oakland County making similar claims. The Court agrees that abstention is appropriate. For the reasons that follow, defendants' motion is GRANTED and this case is STAYED based on the abstention doctrine in Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800 (1976).
In 2006, the Oakland County Prosecutors Office began a reorganization apparently prompted by a problem with insufficient resources in the Juvenile Division, particularly the Juvenile Sexual Abuse Department. Part of the reorganization was a reduction in force. Prior to the reorganization, Mathes worked as an Investigator in the Family Support Unit where he interviewed parents in child custody matters. At that time, there were four investigative units: the Family Support Unit; the Economic Recovery Unit; the Domestic Violence Unit; and the Child Sexual Assault Unit. The reorganization required a reduction in the number of investigators from seven to six.
In April 2006, Mathes and another investigator, Terry Healy, who is Caucasian and had three years less seniority, were asked to submit a list of their experience and training relative to child sexual assault and domestic violence in order to fill a new investigator position. They both did so. On May 16, 2006, defendant Mary Larkin asked Mathes to provide further details of his experience. Mathes did not. Healy was given the new position of Investigator in the Child Sexual Assault Unit. Mathes was offered a new position as a Court Service Officer II, a position which was non-union and paid $15,000.00 less per year than Mathes' investigator position. Mathes accepted the offer but resigned about a year later.
On August 16, 2006, Mathes filed a complaint with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights and on October 18, 2006, Mathes' labor unit filed a complaint with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission.
On October 20, 2008, Mathes filed a complaint in Oakland County Circuit Court, naming Oakland County as the sole defendant, Mathes v. Oakland County, No. 08-095417-NO ('the Oakland County case"). In the Oakland County case, Mathes claims that the County's actions violated Elliot Larsen and Title VII on the basis of race. He specifically claimed that he, not Healy, should have gotten the investigator position.
On September 22, 2009, a judge in Oakland County Circuit Court granted Oakland County's motion for summary disposition. Mathes has appealed the decision to the Michigan Court of Appeals, where the appeal is pending.
Meanwhile, on February 17, 2009, Mathes filed this action in federal court against defendants in which he again challenged the fact he did not get the investigator position. The defendants are all employees of Oakland County, working in the Prosecutor's Office. Specifically, David Gorcyca was the Chief Prosecutor, Debra Carley was the Chief Deputy Prosecutor, and Mary Larkin was the Chief Attorney in Charge of Administration. As noted above, like the Oakland County case, Mathes makes race discrimination claims under Title VII and Elliot Larsen and has added a claim under § 1983 for violation of Equal Protection.
Thereafter, defendants filed the instant motion.
In Colorado River, supra, the Supreme Court held that in "exceptional" circumstances, a federal district court may stay or dismiss an action solely because of the pendancy of similar litigation in state court. Id. at 818. The Supreme Court held that "considerations of 'wise judicial administration, giving regard to conservation of judicial resources' " created a narrow exception to the "virtually unflagging obligation of the federal courts to exercise the jurisdiction given them." Id. at 817. The principles underlying this doctrine "rest on considerations of '[w]ise judicial administration, giving regard to conservation of judicial resources and comprehensive disposition ...