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Isom v. Birmingham Water Works Board

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

July 13, 2017

ALLEN ISOM, Plaintiff,



         Allen Isom alleges claims of race discrimination under Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. (Count I), and violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq. (Count II), against his former employer. The court presently has for consideration the Birmingham Water Works Board's motion for summary judgment, doc. 20, which is fully briefed, docs. 20-1; 28-1; 31, and ripe for review. For the reasons stated herein, the motion is due to be granted as to Count I, and denied as to Count II.


         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).


         Isom, who is African-American, worked for the Board as a District Supervisor. See doc. 27-1 at 2. Isom's duties included “maintaining work order, work order requests, working with customers, inspect[ing] . . . work done, calculat[ing] requirements for concrete and concrete requisition, measur[ing] work and enter[ing] measurements on drawing[s], reading and interpreting blue prints, [and] coordinat[ing] work with other departments, and inspectors.” Id. Relevant here, the Board required Isom to submit time entries for himself and the employees he supervised, and issued Isom a company vehicle equipped with a NavMan GPS system to use for work. Doc. 20-7 at 2. During the summer of 2014, while examining Isom's GPS records, Keith Witt, Isom's temporary supervisor, discovered that Isom had recorded false time entries which showed Isom purportedly at work while Isom was actually in non-work locations. Id. at 2-3. The review showed also that Isom used his company vehicle on days and times when he was not actually working. See doc. 20-4 at 2. Significantly, although the Board permitted supervisors to edit their timesheets, it required them to include a “comment” to explain any discrepancies. See doc. 20-7 at 2. Isom undisputedly did not include the required comments on his timesheets. See doc. 20-7 at 2, 4; see generally doc. 28-1 (not disputing this point). Moreover, during a meeting with Witt, Michael Arrington (Isom's direct supervisor), and Charlotte Harris (Human Resources), Isom was unable to explain the discrepancies. Id.

         Based on Isom's time discrepancies, the Board conducted an audit of all of the supervisors' timekeeping records and discovered that several other supervisors also had “timekeeping discrepancies which required explanation.” Id. at 2-3. Ultimately, after interviewing all supervisors with timekeeping discrepancies, the Board discharged only Isom.

         III. ANALYSIS

         The analysis is divided into two parts. In part A, the court will address Isom's claims of race discrimination, and, in part B, the claim for unpaid overtime compensation.

         A. Race Discrimination (Count I)

         Isom alleges that racial animus motivated his termination, because “he was held to a higher standard of employment than the similarly situated white employees.” Doc. 1 at 4.[1] 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); 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Where, as here, Isom 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, Isom 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 Isom satisfies his initial burden, “then [the Board] must show a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its employment action.” Id. (citation omitted). “If it does so, then [Isom] must prove that the reason provided by [the Board] is a pretext for unlawful discrimination.” Id. (citation omitted). However, “[t]he ultimate burden of persuading the trier of fact that [the Board] intentionally discriminated against [Isom] remains at all times with [Isom].” Springer v. Convergys Customer Mgmt. Group, Inc., 509 F.3d 1344, 1347 (11th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted).

         1. Section 1981

         The Board, a municipal actor, seeks summary judgment on Isom's section 1981 claim based on Isom's failure to demonstrate a widespread policy or custom of discrimination.[2] Doc. 20-1 at 9. Isom counters that “[t]here was a long standing policy that district supervisors were allowed to manually enter time, ” and that “[a] pattern of overlooking alleged time sheet infractions by the white employees can give rise to a policy.” Doc. 28-1 at 9. Isom further asserts that, “[g]iven the audit results, [the Board] cannot claim that it had no knowledge of these other alleged infractions and/or did not tacitly approve them. Isom was the audit's only job loss.” Id. at 10. Isom's contentions are unavailing, because disparate disciplinary treatment arising out of a single audit is not the type of widespread conduct needed to show a custom or policy of discrimination. See Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 823-24 (1985) (“Proof of a single incident of unconstitutional activity is not sufficient to impose liability under Monell [v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978)], unless proof of the incident includes proof that it was caused by an existing, unconstitutional municipal policy, which policy can be attributed to a municipal policymaker.”); Craig v. Floyd Cty., Ga., 643 F.3d 1306, 1310-11 (11th Cir. 2011) (“Proof of a single incident of unconstitutional activity is not sufficient ...

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