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In re Employment Discrimination Litigation against State

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

July 18, 2017

IN RE EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATION LITIGATION AGAINST THE STATE OF ALABAMA, et al.,
v.
STATE OF ALABAMA, et al., Defendants. EUGENE CRUM, JR., et al., Plaintiffs,

          OPINION

          MYRON H. THOMPSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This long-running employment-discrimination case against the State of Alabama and various State agencies is before the court on the defendants' motion for summary judgment on the claims of plaintiffs Katherine Mathews and Wanda Jackson Speights[1] on the basis of judicial estoppel.[2] Also before the court is a renewed motion for summary judgment, or in the alternative, motion to dismiss for want of prosecution against plaintiff Katherine Mathews. Jurisdiction is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. For the reasons below, summary judgment will be granted as to Speights's claims, and the court will dismiss Mathews's claims for failure to prosecute.

         I. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment is appropriate “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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of that party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

         B. Failure to Prosecute

         Courts have authority to dismiss for want of prosecution under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b). “If the plaintiff fails to prosecute or to comply with [the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure] or a court order, a defendant may move to dismiss the action or any claim against it.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(b). “The court's power to dismiss is an inherent aspect of its authority to enforce its orders and ensure prompt disposition of lawsuits.” Jones v. Graham, 709 F.2d 1457, 1458 (11th Cir. 1983) (citations omitted). “The legal standard to be applied under Rule 41(b) is whether there is a ‘clear record of delay or willful contempt and a finding that lesser sanctions would not suffice.'” Id. at 1459 (citation omitted); see also Gratton v. Great Am. Commc'ns, 178 F.3d 1373, 1375 (11th Cir. 1999). “[B]ecause dismissal is considered a drastic sanction, a district court may only implement it, as a last resort[.]” World Thrust Films v. International Family Entertainment, 41 F.3d 1454, 1456 (11th Cir. 1995).

         II. BACKGROUND

         This case began on March 9, 1993, when Ellen Tolbert and Geneice Smith filed suit in this court against the Alabama Department of Corrections ("ADOC") alleging that ADOC had engaged in gender discrimination against them. Tolbert v. State of Alabama, 93cv287. On November 8, 1993, 23 individuals, including plaintiffs Mathews and Speights, filed a motion to intervene in the case. On December 28, 1993, the motion was granted, and a complaint was filed naming Mathews and Speights. In 1994, this court consolidated the Tolbert cases with a number of other cases where the plaintiffs were making employment-discrimination claims against a number of state agencies, and Eugene Crum was made the lead named plaintiff.

         Plaintiff Speights has a law degree and practiced law with Birmingham Area Legal Services before going to work the State of Alabama. She worked for the State both as a Legal Research Aide in the Department of Revenue's legal department and as a Federal Grant Analyst/Planning and Economic Development Specialist for the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.

         In the spring of 1993, Speights met with the plaintiffs' attorneys in this case regarding the alleged employment discrimination by the State that is the basis of her claims in this case. On October 22, 1993, she filed a voluntary petition for Chapter 7 bankruptcy but did not notify the bankruptcy court in her filings of her potential discrimination claim in this case. She did not update her bankruptcy filings after plaintiffs' attorneys filed the motion to intervene or when the complaint was filed naming her as a plaintiff in this case. Speights was discharged from bankruptcy in February 1994.

         Plaintiff Mathews began working for the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs as a computer programmer in 1986. Unlike Speights, she has no background in the law; she studied business administration and has an associate's degree in computer technology. In April of 2013, Mathews filed a voluntary petition for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Mathews did not inform the bankruptcy court of her claim in this case, and she received a no-asset discharge from bankruptcy in August 2013.

         Defendants filed their motion for summary judgment against Speights and Mathews on November 25, 2013. On December 20, 2013, plaintiffs' counsel moved to withdraw from the representation of Speights and Mathews, and the court granted the motion later that month. The court then entered a submission order giving Speights and Mathews an additional two weeks to respond to the motion. As they were unrepresented, the court explained in detail how the plaintiffs should respond. Speights and Mathews did not respond. More recently, defendants filed a renewed motion for summary judgment against ...


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