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Williams v. Alabama Department of Corrections

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

July 2, 2014

IRAN B. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS and KIM T. THOMAS, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

W. KEITH WATKINS, Chief District Judge.

Plaintiff Iran B. Williams brings this action against his former employer, the Alabama Department of Corrections ("ADOC") and Commissioner Kim T. Thomas, alleging a racially discriminatory termination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2000e-17 ("Title VII"), and 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, and 1985. Before the court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment (Doc. # 24) to which Mr. Williams has filed a response in opposition (Doc. # 26). After careful consideration of the arguments of counsel, the appropriate law, and the evidence, the court finds that the motion for summary judgment is due to be granted.

I. JURISDICTION AND VENUE

Subject-matter jurisdiction is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, 28 U.S.C. § 1343(a)(3), and 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3). The parties do not contest personal jurisdiction or venue.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

To succeed on summary judgment, the movant must demonstrate "that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The court must view the evidence and the inferences from that evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. Jean-Baptiste v. Gutierrez, 627 F.3d 816, 820 (11th Cir. 2010).

The party moving for summary judgment "always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). This responsibility includes identifying the portions of the record illustrating the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Id. Or a movant who does not have a trial burden of production can assert, without citing the record, that the nonmoving party "cannot produce admissible evidence to support" a material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(B); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 advisory committee's note ("Subdivision (c)(1)(B) recognizes that a party need not always point to specific record materials.... [A] party who does not have the trial burden of production may rely on a showing that a party who does have the trial burden cannot produce admissible evidence to carry its burden as to the fact."). If the movant meets its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to establish - with evidence beyond the pleadings - that a genuine dispute material to each of its claims for relief exists. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. A genuine dispute of material fact exists when the nonmoving party produces evidence allowing a reasonable fact finder to return a verdict in its favor. Waddell v. Valley Forge Dental Assocs., 276 F.3d 1275, 1279 (11th Cir. 2001).

III. BACKGROUND

Mr. Williams has had two stints of employment with the ADOC as a correctional officer: a period from July 19, 1997, to September 2, 1999; and a period from June 16, 2009, to November 18, 2011. Both stints ended in termination. In this lawsuit, Mr. Williams, a black male, alleges that his second termination was racially discriminatory.

During his second stint of employment, Mr. Williams worked at Staton Correctional Facility in Elmore County, Alabama, under the supervision of Warden Leon Forniss. Although his performance reviews during this time generally yielded ratings of "Meets Standards, " Mr. Williams accumulated five disciplinary actions within a nineteen-month period. He received two warnings and one written reprimand for tardiness (February 26, 2010, March 11, 2011, and September 26, 2011), a written reprimand stemming from a verbal altercation between Mr. Williams and an onsite nurse (August 24, 2010), and a three-day suspension for use of excessive force against an inmate (September 12, 2010). He also had a pending suspension for reporting late to work on July 2, 2011, which presumably remained unresolved in light of his subsequent termination. It was Mr. Williams's second offense for the use of excessive force against an inmate, compounded by his cumulative disciplinary record, that got him fired.

Each of the two incidents involving Mr. Williams's use of excessive force against an inmate was the subject of an internal investigation.[1] As to the first incident, which occurred on March 30, 2010, the investigation concluded that Mr. Williams struck an inmate with a baton in the leg without justifiable cause and failed to file an incident report documenting his use of force. Mr. Williams received a three-day suspension for this offense, effective September 12-14, 2010. The second excessive force incident occurred on July 17, 2011. An investigation concluded that, during a confrontation with an inmate concerning the inmate's possession of contraband ( i.e., a cell phone charger), Mr. Williams hit the inmate on the side of his head with an open hand three times and also failed to file an incident report. (ADOC Investigative Report (Doc. # 24-2, at 16-17).) The use of force again was found to be unjustified.

Both investigations concluded that Mr. Williams had violated multiple standards under the ADOC's Administrative Regulation No. 208 and, in particular, that he had committed the infraction set out in Annex H, Number 30, prohibiting "[a]busive or excessive physical force in dealing with inmates." (ADOC Admin. Reg. No. 208 & Annex H (Doc. # 24-3).) Administrative Regulation No. 208, Annex H, provides that the next step in progressive discipline for Mr. Williams's second infraction for the use of unjustified force against an inmate is dismissal.[2]

After the investigation of the July 17, 2011 incident, and having obtained the required approval from his superiors, Warden Forniss set in gear the disciplinary machinery for Mr. Williams's dismissal. ( See Exhibits (Doc. # 24-5, at 7-10).) On October 3, 2011, Warden Forniss issued Mr. Williams a Notice of Pre-Dismissal Conference, outlining Mr. Williams's July 17, 2011 misconduct, his overall disciplinary record, the ADOC standards allegedly violated, and that the recommendation for dismissal was based upon "[a]busive or excessive physical force in dealing with inmates." (Notice of Pre-Dismissal Conference (Doc. # 24-2, at 18-19); ADOC Admin. Reg. No. 208.) At the conference held on October 12, 2011, Mr. Williams submitted written documentation in mitigation of the proposed dismissal. Warden Forniss nonetheless maintained that the "recommendation for dismissal be upheld based on the fact that this is Officer Williams[s] second offense of abuse or excessive force used in dealing with inmates." (Oct. 12, 2011 Mem. from Warden Forniss to Comm'r Thomas (Doc. # 24-2, at 20-24).) Subsequently, Commissioner Thomas notified Mr. Williams in a letter dated November 9, 2011, of his termination. In the letter, Commissioner Thomas articulated that he had reviewed the warden's recommendation and supporting documentation, as well as Mr. Williams[s] "overall work record." (Nov. 9, 2011 Letter from Comm'r Thomas to Mr. Williams (Doc. # 24-5, at 13-15).) The termination was effective November 18, 2011.

Mr. Williams appealed his dismissal to the Alabama State Personnel Board and received a hearing before an administrative law judge on March 20, 2012. On May 9, 2012, the administrative law judge recommended to the State Personnel Board that it uphold Mr. Williams's dismissal. On June 20, 2012, the State Personnel Board affirmed Mr. Williams's termination. Adopting the administrative law judge's findings of fact and conclusions of law, the State Personnel Board highlighted the facts that Mr. Williams struck an inmate "on the side of the head with an open hand" multiple times on July 17, 2011, and then unsuccessfully tried to persuade a witnessing officer "to lie about what he had seen, " "did not file an incident report, " and "initially denied using any force against the inmate when questioned about the incident." (State Pers. Bd. Order (Doc. # 24-1, at 181-82).) Based upon the totality of the evidence, which also included ...


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