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Ward v. Municpal Utilities Board of Decatur

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division

December 15, 2014

JWAUN WARD, Plaintiff,
v.
MUNICPAL UTILITIES BOARD OF DECATUR, MORGAN COUNTY, ALBAMA, d/b/a DECATUR UTILITIES, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDERS

C. LYNWOOD SMITH, Jr., District Judge.

This action was brought by Jwaun Ward against his former employer, the Municipal Utilities Board of Decatur, Morgan County, Alabama, doing business as the "Decatur Utilities." Plaintiff's complaint asserts claims of race discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and a hostile work environment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1981.[1] Plaintiff's complaint also asserts supplemental state-law claims of wanton and negligent supervision.[2] See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). The case presently is before the court on defendant's motion for partial summary judgment on plaintiff's race discrimination and retaliatory termination claims, and his state-law claims of wanton and negligent supervision.[3] Plaintiff concedes that summary judgment is due to be entered in favor of defendant on the latter, state-law claims.[4] Upon consideration of the pleadings, briefs, and evidentiary submissions as they relate to plaintiff's federal claims for race discrimination and retaliatory termination, this court concludes that the motion should be granted in part and denied in part.

I. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARDS

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that a court "shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows 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). In other words, summary judgment is proper "after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). "In making this determination, the court must review all evidence and make all reasonable inferences in favor of the party opposing summary judgment." Chapman v. AI Transport, 229 F.3d 1012, 1023 (11th Cir. 2000) ( en banc ) (quoting Haves v. City of Miami, 52 F.3d 918, 921 (11th Cir. 1995)). Inferences in favor of the non-moving party are not unqualified, however. "[A]n inference is not reasonable if it is only a guess or a possibility, for such an inference is not based on the evidence, but is pure conjecture and speculation." Daniels v. Twin Oaks Nursing Home, 692 F.2d 1321, 1324 (11th Cir. 1983) (alteration supplied). Moreover,

[t]he mere existence of some factual dispute will not defeat summary judgment unless that factual dispute is material to an issue affecting the outcome of the case. The relevant rules of substantive law dictate the materiality of a disputed fact. A genuine issue of material fact does not exist unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a reasonable jury to return a verdict in its favor.

Chapman, 229 F.3d at 1023 (quoting Haves, 52 F.3d at 921) (emphasis and alteration supplied). See also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986) (asking "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law").

II. SUMMARY OF FACTS

Defendant, Decatur Utilities, provides electricity, natural gas, water, and wastewater services to the residents of the City of Decatur, Alabama.[5] Plaintiff, Jwaun Ward, is an African-American.[6] He was hired as a crewman on one of Decatur Utilities' natural gas crews in January of 2011, and was moved to the same position on a water main crew approximately six months later.[7] Ward obtained a Commercial Driver's License in October of 2011, which allowed him to drive commercial vehicles for his employer.[8]

A. Defendant's Drug Testing Policy

Certain utility employees are subject to random drug testing, depending upon their job duties. For example, federal regulations require utility companies to test employees who maintain a Commercial Driver's License, as well as employees who may be called upon to perform work on a gas pipeline.[9] The Human Resources Manager of Decatur Utilities oversees the company's drug testing procedures: i.e., four times a year, a computer randomly selects a group of employees to undergo drug testing, and those individuals are required to immediately submit to an on-site urinalysis.[10]

The Decatur Utilities drug testing policy defines the following "Levels of Disciplinary Action":

2. Employees who have a [Medical Review Officer] verified positive drug test result will be suspended for ten (10) working days without pay and referred immediately to a [Substance Abuse Professional].
3. Refusal to report for assessment with a [Substance Abuse Professional] is grounds for immediate termination.
4. Refusal to enter or successfully complete rehabilitation or treatment program is grounds ...

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