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Irvin v. Gadsden State Community College

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

April 24, 2015

BILLY RAY IRVIN, Plaintiff,
v.
GADSDEN STATE COMMUNITY COLLEGE, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

KARON OWEN BOWDRE, Chief District Judge.

This matter comes before the court on defendant Gadsden State Community College's "Motion for Summary Judgment, " (Doc. 17), and plaintiff Bill Ray Irvin's "Motion to Strike Material Presented in Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, " (Doc. 25).

Irvin, a maintenance employee at Gadsden State, applied for a supervisor position in Gadsden State's maintenance department. Gadsden State awarded the position to another maintenance employee, Cory Carter. Irvin alleges that Gadsden State did not award him the position because he is disabled and in retaliation for asking for reasonable accommodations of his job responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The court finds that Gadsden State had legitimate, non-discriminatory, non-pretextual reasons for promoting Carter instead of Irvin and, thus, will grant Gadsden State's motion for summary judgment.

I. Motion for Summary Judgment

A. Facts

The facts below, for purposes of summary judgment, are taken in the light most favorable to Plaintiff Bill Ray Irvin. These facts may not be the true facts proved at trial.

1. Before April 16, 2012

Irvin injured his feet while in the Army when a tank grill door fell on and crushed Irvin's feet. Irvin eventually required surgery on his feet. Irvin also has gout and back problems and has used a cane on an as-needed basis for more than 20 years. Additionally, Irvin has panic attacks.

Irvin earned two associate's degrees from Harry M. Ayers State Technical College, a two-year community college, in 1993 and 2004 respectively. Irvin also holds an ESCO universal refrigeration certificate.

Irvin began working at Ayers Technical in 1993 in the maintenance department. Ayers Technical eventually promoted Irvin to supervisor in the maintenance department. In 2000 or 2001, Irvin moved from the maintenance department to the bus repair shop at Ayers Technical. In July 2003, Ayers Technical merged with Defendant Gadsden State Community College, another two-year community college. Irvin moved to Gadsden State with other Ayers Technical staff.

Stewart Davis, Gadsden State's Director of Maintenance and Grounds until 2012, supervised Irvin from 2005 through 2011. Davis reports to Dr. Jim Prucnal. Dr. Prucnal has served as the Dean of Financial and Administrative Services at Gadsden State since the late 1990s. Dr. Prucnal reports to the president of Gadsden State. Dr. Raymond Staats served as president of Gadsden State in 2012.

On September 1, 2005, Gadsden State re-assigned Irvin to work in the maintenance department as the sole maintenance technician at Gadsden State's Valley Street campus. On October 24, 2005, Irvin sent a letter to Dr. Prucnal, which discussed Irvin's panic attacks. Dr. Prucnal had known of Irvin's panic attacks since 2005. Davis has also been aware of Irvin's foot problems, back problems, and panic attacks since he met Irvin in 2005. (Doc. 19-10, 20).

Irvin has received a salary increase and favorable employment evaluations from his supervisors every year since 2005.

2. April 16, 2012

On April 16, 2012, Irvin came to work using a cane because of his disability. Davis saw Irvin and called him into his office. Davis, at Dr. Prucnal's direction, told Irvin "you know we don't have light duty and you need to go on home." (Doc. 19-10, 21-22). Davis and Dr. Prucnal thought a maintenance department policy existed that an employee had to be at full strength to work. Irvin objected because he had never seen the policy. Davis and Irvin called Kimberly Cobb, Director of Human Resources at Gadsden State. Cobb told Davis that Gadsden State did not have a policy requiring its employees to be at full strength to work. Davis acknowledged his mistake and asked Irvin to return to work. However, Irvin "took the rest of the day off anyway because [he] wanted to check his [ADA] packet." (Doc. 19-12, 6).

Later that day, Irvin visited Cobb and reviewed his personnel file. "And there was nothing in there [from Ayers Technical] about any of [his] disabilities or anything." (Doc. 19-12, 6). Irvin then went to the Ayers campus to see if Ayers Technical transferred his personnel file when the two colleges merged in 2005. Irvin spoke with the records keeper at the Ayers campus, who confirmed that Ayers Technical transferred Irvin's file to Cobb when the two colleges merged.

3. Request for Accommodation

Irvin then asked Cobb what he should do about his missing disability paperwork. Cobb told Irvin to file a Request for Accommodation with Gadsden State, which Irvin did on May 2, 2012. Irvin described his disability as "Panic characterized by shortness of breath, [increased] anxiety, [increased] pulse, sense of impending doom, and withdrawal." (Doc. 19-14, 24). On May 3, 2012, Irvin filed another Request for Accommodation with Gadsden State. Irvin described his additional disability as "Multiple torn disks in lower back causing pain in lower back, legs, and feet." (Doc. 19-15, 1). Irvin requested several accommodations.

Gadsden State formed a committee to reviewed the requests. Dr. Prucnal and Davis considered the process of determining what accommodations to offer Irvin an "investigation." On June 27, 2012, Cobb; Danny Wilborn, the ADA Coordinator; and Michele Bradford, the Title IX Coordinator and Director of Legal Affairs, evaluated Irvin's requests. On July 9, 2012, Cobb spoke with Davis regarding Irvin's accommodations.

On July 12, 2012, Cobb discussed the accommodations with Irvin. Gadsden State agreed to all of Irvin's requests including the following accommodations: (1) Irvin did not have to work above ground level outside until Gadsden State purchased a new 40-foot lift; (2) Irvin could use a walking cane as needed; (3) Gadsden State purchased movable steps for Irvin to work above ground level inside; and (4) Irvin could take sick leave when experiencing symptoms of panic disorder. On July 16, 2012, Cobb memorialized the accommodations in a letter and Dr. Prucnal and Davis received a copy of the letter.

4. Supervisor - Facility Maintenance I Position

In June, 2012, Dr. Staats asked the Chancellor of the Alabama Department of Postsecondary Education to approve two reorganizations within the Gadsden State maintenance department. First, Gadsden State asked to combine Davis's position, Director of Facility Maintenance, with the duties of the Director of Safety and Security and to rename the position Director of Physical Plant. Second, Gadsden State asked to reassign the duties of coordinating daily building maintenance and custodial services to an existing maintenance technician position and to rename the position Supervisor - Facility Maintenance I. Gadsden State classified the Supervisor - Facility Maintenance I position as a Salary Schedule E position. On July 19, 2012, Gadsden State received approval to implement the reorganization.

On August 6, 2012, Gadsden State advertised the Supervisor - Facility Maintenance I position and left the position posted internally for 14 days. On August 20, 2012, Gadsden State stopped accepting application packets. Only Irvin and Cory Carter, another maintenance technician, applied for the Supervisor - Facility Maintenance I position. Carter is not disabled. Cobb certified that both Irvin and Carter met the minimum requirements for the position. Cobb then set up interviews for Irvin and Carter with Davis and Dr. Prucnal.

On August 21, 2012, Dr. Prucnal and Davis each interviewed Irvin and Carter separately for 15 minutes each. Irvin interviewed with Dr. Prucnal at 9:00 a.m. and with Davis at 9:15 a.m; Carter interviewed with Dr. Prucnal at 9:15 a.m. and with Davis at 9:30 a.m. Dr. Prucnal told Irvin to keep his responses brief and Irvin felt that Dr. Prucnal did not give him an opportunity to discuss his accomplishments because of the brevity of the interview. Irvin saw Carter and Davis talking in a conference room at 9:15 a.m. after he finished his interview with Dr. Prucnal. Dr. Prucnal and Davis asked each candidate the same interview questions and both took detailed notes. However, regarding one question Davis found Irvin answered incorrectly and Carter answered correctly; Davis told Irvin "[w]ell me and Cory [Carter], the guy we used to work for... used to ask people that [question] all the time.... Me and Cory [Carter] were the only two, I think, that had worked for that particular guy." (Doc. 19-12, 17).

Dr. Prucnal found that Carter performed better during the interview. Dr. Prucnal thought "[Carter] had better qualifications" such as his HVAC contractor's license and work as a journeyman sheet metal worker. (Doc. 19-16, 29). Dr. Prucnal found these qualifications important because "it tells me that [Carter is] able to complete a series of or parts of education and then take exams and then do the work of a contractor, which involves a lot of diagnostics, a lot of installations, a lot of design, recommendations, all of which he would face on the job.... I consider that very valuable." (Doc. 19-16, 30-31). Dr. Prucnal also thought "[Carter had] better communication skills" because Carter "described projects in-depth. He described work experiences, what he had accomplished in-depth. He discussed team leadership." (Doc. 19-16, 29). In contrast, Irvin gave short, often one word answers. Finally, Dr. Prucnal thought "[Carter had] a wide range of experience." (Doc. 19-16, 29).

Davis also thought Carter the better candidate. Davis considered Carter a good manager because Carter had served as an informal point of contact in Davis's absence from the maintenance department for several years. Davis also considered favorably that Carter had overseen major projects for Gadsden State including the installation of a boiler system that "saved probably six hundred thousand dollars." (Doc. 19-10, 13). Further, Davis thought that Irvin answered two technical interview questions incorrectly that Carter answered correctly. Davis also believed Carter had a better rapport with the other maintenance technicians.

Dr. Prucnal and Davis discussed their separate interviews of Irvin and Carter immediately after the interviews and agreed to recommend Carter to Dr. Staats for the Supervisor - Facility Maintenance I position. Dr. Staats stated in a July 16, 2012 email that he planned to interview the applicants for the position, but ultimately he did not interview anyone. Instead, on August 23, Dr. Staats ...


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