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Andrews v. Sperry Rail, Inc.

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

June 21, 2017

ALEXANDRIA ANDREWS, Plaintiff,
v.
SPERRY RAIL, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ABDUL K. KALLON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Alexandria Andrews filed this lawsuit against her current employer, Sperry Rail, Inc., alleging race discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Count I), and sex discrimination and retaliation under Title VII (Counts II and III). Doc. 1. Presently before the court is Sperry Rail's motion for summary judgment, doc. 20, which is fully briefed, docs. 21; 32; 35, and ripe for review.[1] For the reasons stated more fully below, the motion is due to be granted.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), summary judgment is proper “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.” “Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, 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) (alteration in original). The moving party bears the initial burden of proving the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Id. at 323. The burden then shifts to the non-moving party, who is required to go “beyond the pleadings” to establish that there is a “genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324 (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). A dispute about a material fact is “genuine” if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         The court must construe the evidence and all reasonable inferences arising from it in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970); see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 244 (all justifiable inferences must be drawn in the non-moving party's favor). Any factual dispute will be resolved in the non-moving party's favor when sufficient competent evidence supports that party's version of the disputed facts. But see Pace v. Capobianco, 238 F.3d 1275, 1276-78 (11th Cir. 2002) (a court is not required to resolve disputes in the non-moving party's favor when that party's version of events is supported by insufficient evidence). However, “mere conclusions and unsupported factual allegations are legally insufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion.” Ellis v. England, 432 F.3d 1321, 1326 (11th Cir. 2005) (citing Bald Mountain Park, Ltd. v. Oliver, 863 F.2d 1560, 1563 (11th Cir. 1989)). Moreover, “[a] mere ‘scintilla' of evidence supporting the opposing party's position will not suffice; there must be enough of a showing that a jury could reasonably find for that party.” Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1577 (11th Cir. 1990) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252).

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Andrews, who is female and African-American, currently works as a driver mechanic for Sperry Rail - a company that “conducts nondestructive testing for the railroad industry by scanning steel to check for integrity and defective conditions utilizing a fleet of specialized test vehicles.” Doc. 21 at 3; see also doc. 22-3 at 5. The test vehicles are operated by a driver and a chief operator, who supervises the driver. Doc. 22-3 at 6.

         Prior to her promotion to her current position, Andrews held the position of a driver and reported to Chief Operator Jamarion Warren. Id. at 9. On one occasion, when Warren purportedly provided Andrews unclear instructions regarding a tire repair, Andrews “had a confrontation” with Warren, see doc. 32 at 7, which resulted in Warren issuing Andrews a written reprimand for being “verbally aggressive, ” see doc. 33-1 at 8.

         Sometime after this incident, Field Operator Shawn Numeracki purportedly observed Andrews's hostility and insubordinate interaction with Warren. See doc. 22-1 at 7. As a result, the company decided to transfer Andrews to a different Chief Operator. See doc. 22-2 at 2-3. When explaining the decision to Andrews, Numeracki mentioned that Sperry Rail could potentially transfer Andrews (who at that time worked in the Southeastern United States) to the Minnesota area. See doc. 22-3 at 22. Although Andrews had known from the start of her employment that Sperry Rail regularly transferred employees to other areas, [2] Andrews filed a charge of discrimination and retaliation with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission challenging her potential transfer to Minnesota. See Id. at 23; doc. 1-1 at 3-4. The company ultimately transferred Andrews to the Baltimore, Maryland area, where she currently works for Chief Operator Russell Yelverton. Doc. 22-3 at 9, 23. Andrews describes her current employment situation as “ideal” and hopes to continue working for Yelverton until his retirement. Id. at 29.

         III. ANALYSIS

         In a nutshell, Andrews maintains that Sperry Rail discriminated against her based on her race and gender by denying her promotion to the positions of chief operator and driver trainer, and retaliated against her for filing an EEOC charge after her proposed transfer to the Minnesota area. The court analyzes Andrews's claims separately below.

         A. Race Discrimination (Count I)

         Title VII and Section 1981 make it unlawful for an employer to “discharge any individual . . . because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1); see also 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Where, as here, Andrews is attempting to prove intentional discrimination through circumstantial evidence, the court utilizes the McDonnell Douglas Corporation v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), burden-shifting method of proof. Under this method, Andrews bears the burden of establishing a prima facie case of race discrimination. See Burke-Fowler v. Orange County, Fla., 447 F.3d 1319, 1323 (11th Cir. 2006) (citation omitted). If Andrews satisfies her initial burden, “then [Sperry Rail] must show a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its employment action.” Id. (citation omitted). “If it does so, then [Andrews] must prove that the reason provided by [Sperry Rail] is a pretext for unlawful discrimination.” Id. (citation omitted). However, “[t]he ultimate burden of persuading the trier of fact that [Sperry Rail] intentionally discriminated against [Andrews] remains at all times with [Andrews].” Springer v. Convergys Customer Mgmt. Group, Inc., 509 F.3d 1344, 1347 (11th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted).

         Andrews contends that Sperry Rail discriminated against her “by refusing to promote her [to the position of chief operator or driver trainer[3] while advancing white employees with less qualifications.” Doc. 1 at 5. To establish a failure to promote, Andrews must show that she is (1) a member of a protected class, (2) was qualified for and applied for promotion to chief operator or driver trainer, (3) was rejected, and (4) that other equally or less qualified employees who were not members of her protected class were promoted. See Evans v. McClain, Inc., 131 F.3d 957, 963 (11th Cir. 1997). Sperry Rail contends that Andrews cannot establish a prima facie case. Doc. 21 at 21. Among other things, Sperry Rail contends that Andrews is not qualified: it “did not consider [Andrews] qualified for [a promotion] based on her inability to work well with her Field Supervisors and Chief Operators, ” and that Andrews “scream[ed] at her coworkers and supervisors on more than one occasion.” Id. at 21-22. “Whether an employee possesses the qualifications for a position . . . is generally distinct from the issue whether he performed the job satisfactorily.” Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 990 F.2d 1217, 1227 n.3 (11th Cir. 1993). Therefore, in light of Andrews's multiple ...


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