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J.F. Ingram State Technical College v. Carter

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

January 6, 2017

J.F. Ingram State Technical College
v.
Stanley Carter

          DONALDSON, Judge.

         J.F. Ingram State Technical College ("the college") appeals from the decision of a hearing officer overturning the decision of the acting president of the college to reassign Stanley Carter's employment with the college. This proceeding is governed by the Students First Act of 2011 ("the SFA"), § 16-24C-16, Ala. Code 1975. The decision of the hearing officer was appealed directly to this court pursuant to § 16-24C-7(f), Ala. Code 1975. For the reasons discussed herein, we reverse the decision of the hearing officer and render a judgment in favor of the college.

         Facts and Procedural History

         The college is a part of the Alabama Department of Postsecondary Education, but it operates within a correctional-facility environment. Carter has been employed with the college for approximately 25 years and had been employed as the dean of instruction for the college for 1 year, earning $112, 000 annually. Pursuant to largely undisputed events discussed below, the college reassigned Carter to the position of center director. As a result of the reassignment, his annual salary was reduced to $96, 803. Pursuant to subsections (e) and (f) of § 16-24C-6, Ala. Code 1975, which governs the demotion and/or termination of nonprobationary classified employees of two-year educational institutions, Carter appealed that decision.

         On January 19, 2016, a hearing was held on Carter's appeal before Dr. James S. Klauber, who, for the limited purpose of conducting a hearing in this matter, was acting as president of the college ("the acting president"). The acting president was appointed after Dr. Hank Dasinger, the actual college president, recused himself from the proceedings due to his involvement in the underlying investigation that led to Carter's reassignment. Dr. Dasinger, Carter, and LaTonya Porterfield, an employee of the college, testified at the hearing.

         On February 1, 2016, the acting president entered a written order, finding as follows:

"1. At the end of October and prior to October 27, 2015, President Dasinger received a report from employee Malinda Baynard that a male employee had taken pictures of a female employee. President Dasinger inquired further as to who the specific parties were and was informed it was Stanley Carter and LaKerri Gill. He was advised that LaKerri Gill was very upset about the incident.
"2. On October 27, 2015, President Dasinger met with LaKerri Gill to discuss the reported allegations. Jon Klarren, Dean of Administration, also attended these meetings with the President and transcribed notes from this meeting.
"3. LaKerri Gill reported to President Dasinger that, about a month prior, she was with Stanley Carter, Lucian Ward, Alexis Owens, LaTonya Porterfield in a conference room. Stanley Carter made a comment about her wearing a full dress and he had made comments like that in the past. Stanley Carter took three photos of her with his cell phone, one of her legs, one of her middle, and one of her top. She felt 'like a whore' and 'nasty.' The incident was reported to Malinda Baynard.
"4. LaKerri Gill reported to President Dasinger that she was engaged in avoidance behaviors around Stanley Carter. Stanley Carter denied that LaKerri Gill tried to avoid him.
"5. LaKerri Gill reported another picture-taking event by Stanley Carter that occurred around October 23, 2015, and she reported immediately walking out. There was no testimony contradicting a second picture-taking event.
"6. LaKerri Gill reported to President Dasinger that she had been cursed by Stanley Carter, 'I don't want to hear that sh[i]t.' There was no contrary testimony to this behavior.
"7. On October 27, 2015, President Dasinger met with LaTonya Porterfield to discuss the reported allegations. Jon Klarren, Dean of Administration, also attended with the President and transcribed notes of this meeting.
"8. LaTonya Porterfield reported to President Dasinger that she believed Stanley Carter had taken pictures of LaKerri Gill and wondered why Stanley Carter would take a picture of LaKerri Gill and didn't know what kind of relationship Stanley Carter and LaKerri Gill had.
"9. On October 27, 2015, President Dasinger met with Lucian Ward to discuss the reported allegations. Jon Klarren, Dean of Administration, also attended with the President and transcribed notes of this meeting.
"10. Lucian Ward reported to President Dasinger that 'several weeks ago' Stanley Carter joked about LaKerri Gill's attire and took out his cell phone and took three pictures of LaKerri Gill starting with her legs. Lucian Ward reported the conduct to be strange but thought Stanley Carter, as an administrator, would know better than to do something inappropriate. LaKerri Gill approached him and was upset afterwards and he cautioned her not to file a complaint.
"11. Based on the report and the three interviews conducted, on October 30, 2015, President Dasinger drafted a proposed suspension without pay and reassignment memorandum to Stanley Carter and also drafted a notice of voluntary resignation from Dean of Instruction to Center Director position to discuss with Stanley Carter.
"12. The October 30, 2015, proposed memorandum noted that
"a. Stanley Carter was proposed for suspension for 15 work days and the suspension was not subject to appeal; and
"b. Stanley Carter was proposed to be removed from his position as Dean of Instruction and reassigned and transferred to a Center Director position (without supervisory responsibilities) and proposed to have his pay decreased to the Center Director salary because Stanley Carter 'on at least two occasions, used a cell phone to take pictures of a female employee, to include photos of her from head to toe. Further, you made comments to this employee about her attire/appearance. Not only did your actions offend and cause extreme discomfort to this employee, but it also raised questions among employees who witnessed your behavior about the nature of your relationship with the offended employee. Regardless of your intention, these actions subject to the College to claims of hostile work environment and/or sexual harassment. Additionally, these actions are inconsistent with the values of the College and are completely unacceptable for a person in a leadership position of the College.'
"13. President Dasinger stated that he presented Stanley Carter with this draft October 30, 2015, memorandum and allowed Stanley Carter to take it home, but Stanley Carter testified that he did not receive this memorandum until November 2, 2015, at a later meeting with the President.
"14. There is no dispute that President Dasinger met with Stanley Carter face-to-face on October 30, 2015.
"15. There is no dispute that, on October 30, 2015, President Dasinger orally notified Stanley Carter of the employee report that Stanley Carter had engaged in inappropriate picture-taking of a female employee, that the female employee was upset, and that others had witnessed the conduct.
"16. President Dasinger testified that Stanley Carter was offered an opportunity to provide argument or defense to his actions, Stanley Carter originally denied taking pictures but eventually admitted to 'simulating' picture-taking. Stanley Carter further discussed his friendship with LaKerri Gill and that, because she was often sad, he told her she needed a man in her life and showed her a male picture on his phone.
"17. President Dasinger testified that he believed Stanley Carter had originally misspoken and/or was dishonest about his role in the alleged picture-taking incident during this meeting.
"18. Stanley Carter testified that he did not know who the alleged victim of the alleged picture-taking was, while the President stated that he expressly told Stanley Carter that the incident involved pictures of LaKerri Gill on October 30, 2015. Stanley Carter's testimony did not seem credible in light of the conversation he admitted having with the President about the incident and admitting he 'simulated' picture-taking.
"19. Stanley Carter was allowed to think about the matter over the weekend and return on November 2, 2015, around 1:00 pm or 2:00 pm to discuss the matter again with the President.
"20. On November 2, 2015, Stanley Carter arrived and announced that he intended to fight the President's proposal. This was another face-to-face and scheduled meeting with the President.
"21. There was undisputed evidence that Stanley Carter never asked for a lawyer or asked for more time (other than over the weekend, which he was given) to present evidence or argument related to the 15-day suspension.
"22. The Students First Act (Alabama Code [1975, ] ยง 16-24C-6(i)) provides: 'An employee may be suspended for cause with or without pay on the written recommendation of the president of a two-year educational institution alone .... The suspension of a ... nonprobationary employee for no more than 20 work days without pay is not a termination of employment that is subject to review under this chapter. Adequate notice of the reason or reasons for the proposed suspension and an opportunity to present evidence and argument, either in person or in writing, to the president of a two-year ...

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