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Torres-Sanchez v. Jefferson County Board of Health

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

April 5, 2017

CARLOS J. TORRES-SANCHEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
JEFFERSON COUNTY BOARD OF HEALTH, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          R. DAVID PROCTOR, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This action arises from Plaintiffs failure to obtain a promotion to a health services administrator position. Plaintiff insists that he did not receive this promotion because Defendants Jefferson County Board of Health ("Health Board") and Jefferson County Department of Health ("Health Department") discriminated against him due to his race and national origin. Plaintiff also claims that Defendants denied him this promotion in retaliation for filing grievances with the Personnel Board of Jefferson County ("Personnel Board") and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC").

         On December 14, 2016, the Magistrate Judge entered a Report and Recommendation (Doc. # 39), recommending that Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 21) be granted in part and denied in part. Specifically, the Magistrate Judge recommended that the court grant Defendants summary judgment on Plaintiffs hostile work environment claim and deny summary judgment on Plaintiffs race discrimination, national origin discrimination, and retaliatory failure to promote claims.[1] (Doc. # 39 at 12, 19-20). The Magistrate Judge provided the parties fourteen days in which to file objections. Defendants have objected to the Magistrate Judge's recommendation and argue that the court should grant summary judgment as to Counts One, Two, and Four. (Doc. # 40 at 1). The parties have fully briefed the objections. (Docs. # 40-1, 42, 43). After careful review, and with the benefit of oral argument, the court concludes that Defendants' objections are due to be sustained in part and overruled in part.

         I. Standard of Review

         The court reviews Defendants' objections, which contest the Magistrate Judge's legal conclusions, de novo. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). Since Defendants have not objected to the Magistrate Judge's factual findings, they are adopted and incorporated herein. Certain facts are re-stated here for emphasis, and additional facts relevant to Plaintiffs Title VII retaliation claim are discussed.[2]

         II. Statement of Facts[3]

         In 2006, the Health Department hired Plaintiff as an international program manager. (Doc. # 39 at 3). It assigned Plaintiff to the Community Health Service Center ("Community Health"). (Id.). Dr. Teri Chafin supervised Plaintiff while he worked for Community Health. (Id.).

         In October 2011, Dr. Mark Wilson was appointed as the health officer for the Health Department. (Id. at 4). Dr. Chafin recommended during a January 2012 meeting that Plaintiff, Charline Whyte, and Tammie Sawyer be promoted to new positions in Community Health. (Id. at 5). Sawyer was an African-American employee, while Plaintiff and Whyte were Latino employees. (Id. at 6). Dr. Wilson attended the meeting with Dolores Johnson, a health services administrator for the Health Department, and Judy Madison, the Health Department's chief accountant. (Id. at 5).

         Sawyer was interviewed for a nurse practitioner position and promoted to nurse practitioner in January 2012. (Doc. # 21-1 at 16). Dr. Chafin requested Sawyer's promotion, and her promotion was approved by the Health Department in January 2012.[4] (See Docs. # 22-3 at 2-3; 22-11 at 4).

         The parties strongly dispute whether the Health Department approved a health services administrator position for Community Health in its 2013 budget, whether a request for that position was properly submitted by the Health Department, whether the Health Department implemented a hiring freeze, and when the Health Department decided to not approve a health services administrator position for Community Health. When viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the Rule 56 record indicates that Madison informed Chafin on June 22, 2012 that the Health Department had approved a budget for Community Health that included a new health services administrator position.[5] (Doc. # 22-15 at 3-6). The approved budget proposed that Plaintiff would be promoted to the administrator position. (Id. at 5).

         On June 30, 2012, Community Health prepared a request for position form for the health services administrator position. (Doc. # 22-4 at 2). The Health Department's human resources division approved the request. (Id.). Johnson confirmed that she approved the request. (Id.). The Personnel Board assigned a certification number for the position. (Id.). On September 6, 2012, Johnson requested that the Personnel Board cancel the certification for the health services administrator position because it allegedly had been "entered in error." (Doc. # 22-5 at 2). The Personnel Board cancelled this certification before October 2012. (See Doc. # 21-2 at 147 ("I called the Personnel Board and talked to Jim Austin. . . . Mr. Austin said that the [Health Department's] request to fill the position has been withdrawn and has not been reinstated.")). Johnson informed Dr. Chafin on September 24, 2012 that the position request had been removed because it was entered in error. (Doc. # 22-2 at 8). Nevertheless, Johnson also told Dr. Chafin that Community Health's health services administrator position had been placed on hold while the deputy health officer determined whether she needed a health services administrator. (Id. at 3, 9). The Personnel Board determined that Plaintiff was qualified for the health services administrator position on October 22, 2012. (Doc. # 22-17 at 2-3).

         On October 5, 2012, Plaintiff met with Johnson and Rodney Holmes. (See Doc. # 21-2 at 142-43 (referring to statements made by Plaintiff during the meeting)). At that meeting, Plaintiff complained that Johnson had "a personal agenda" against him. (Id. at 143). Most significantly, Plaintiff claimed that Johnson abused "her position of power at the Health Department to promote her personal agenda and to advance people of her own racial background while excluding others who are not black." (Id.). During a deposition, Johnson recalled a meeting where Plaintiff had "called me a racist and incompetent." (Doc. # 22-1 at 30-31).[6] After the meeting, Holmes stated that he needed to discuss time and attendance issues with Plaintiff and had intended to discuss them during the October 5th meeting, but declined to discuss those issues without Johnson being present. (Doc. # 21-2 at 142).

         Plaintiff filed a grievance with the Personnel Board on October 8, 2012. (Doc. # 22-19 at 2-3). In his grievance, Plaintiff complained that Johnson had created a hostile work environment and that Holmes refused to meet with him without Johnson being present. (Id. at 3). According to Plaintiff, supervisors at the Health Department were instructed to not contact African-American employees after those African-American employees presented discrimination complaints. (Id.). Plaintiffs contention in the grievance was that Holmes only mentioned the time and attendance issues after Plaintiff had raised his complaints against Johnson. (Id.). On October 8th, Johnson informed Dr. Chafin that approval of the health services administrator position would be delayed "due to the need for structured interview training." (Doc. # 22-2 at 9).

         Dr. Wilson appointed an Executive Management Team that began meeting in July 2012. (Doc. # 21-2 at 6, 9). Johnson was a member of the Executive Management Team. (Doc. # 22-1 at 33). Holmes was also a member of the executive team. (Doc. # 22-2 at 11). On October 9, 2012, Holmes asked Dr. Chafin to present an organizational chart of her proposal for Community Health and a business justification for all of her new proposed positions. (Id. at 9-10). Dr. Chafin met with the Executive Management Team on October 23rd. (Id. at 11). The management team primarily discussed the proposed promotions for Plaintiff and Charline Whyte during that meeting. (Id. at 11-12). Dr. Chafin also met with Dr. Wilson on October 24th. (Id. at 12). Dr. Wilson asked Dr. Chafin whether she believed Johnson discriminated against Plaintiff; Dr. Chafin responded that Johnson had discriminated against Plaintiff and Whyte. (Id).

         In late October 2012, Dr. Wilson asked the Executive Management Team to review the Community Health center and make independent recommendations to him. (Doc. # 21-2 at 10). The Executive Management Team recommended that Dr. Wilson dissolve Community Health and reassign its employees to other divisions. (Doc. # 22-1 at 12). Dr. Wilson informed Dr. Chafin of his decision to dissolve Community Health on November 15th. (Doc. # 22-2 at 12). Dr. Wilson said that Dr. Chafin's proposals for new positions were still being considered, but Plaintiff and Whyte probably would not be promoted. (Id.). Dr. Wilson commented on some ongoing investigations by the Health Department into Community Health and Plaintiffs grievance during that meeting. (Id. at 12-13).

         The Health Department reassigned Plaintiff to the Quality Improvement/Decision Support Service Center. (Doc. # 21-2 at 11-12). It is undisputed that, after this transfer from Community Health, Plaintiff remained in the same job classification, received the same salary, and continued to perform the same duties. (Id. at 12, 18).

         III. Analysis of ...


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