United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
CEDRIC M. COLEMAN, Plaintiff,
CITY OF IRONDALE, Defendant.
G. CORNELIUS U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
an employment discrimination case brought by the plaintiff,
Cedric M. Coleman, against the City of Irondale. The parties
have unanimously consented to magistrate judge jurisdiction
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 10). Presently
pending is the City's motion for summary judgment (Doc.
20), which is fully briefed and ripe for adjudication (Docs.
21-22). For the reasons that follow, the motion for summary
judgment will be granted in its entirety.
December 2004, the City hired Coleman, who is black, as a
rookie Police Officer. (Doc. 20-1 at 2). During the relevant
time period, Jerry McIntosh was the City's Chief of
Police ("Chief McIntosh"); Jason Wiggins and Paul
Wiggins were Lieutenants; and Kyle Roberson ("Sgt.
Roberson") was initially a fellow officer who was later
promoted to be Coleman's shift supervisor. (Id.;
Doc. 20-10 at 3). For approximately one month, Coleman
received on-the-job training by riding along with Officer
Kennedy on patrols. (Doc. 20-1 at 2; Doc. 20-2 at 12).
Coleman then attended the police academy for approximately
three months; after successfully completing the police
academy, Coleman trained on the job with Officer Ronnie
Melton for four to six weeks. (Doc. 20-1 at 2; Doc. 20-2 at
11-12; see Doc. 21 at 3). Coleman testified his
training with Melton included patrolling with him, responding
to calls, and issuing citations. (Doc. 20-2 at 11, 13).
Although he did not contemporaneously report any problems
regarding his training, Coleman testified that Melton
"didn't really do any training." (Doc. 20-2 at
13). Coleman notes that an unnamed white rookie officer hired
three months after Coleman received training from Sgt.
Roberson, who Coleman describes as a "highly regarded
training officer." (Doc. 21 at 4).
a year after Coleman was hired, he received his first
reprimand for a policy infraction for liability arising from
interactions with intoxicated drivers; Coleman attended a
class on the subject. (Doc. 20-1 at 3). Over the next seven
years, Coleman received nineteen additional verbal and
written reprimands for various violations, including:
repeated failure to turn in paperwork, participate in legal
proceedings, or attend hearings incident to citations,
warrants, and arrests; repeated tardiness; absenteeism;
releasing information to unauthorized persons; failure to
report to training; failure to maintain his vehicle; and
failure to respond to a call for two and a half hours when he
was at his residence during his shift. (Id. at 3-5).
For the vast majority of these incidents, Coleman did not
contest the City's findings and simply signed the
reprimands. (Doc. 20-1 at 3). As discipline, Coleman
received: (1) a one-day suspension without pay on November 9,
2006, for failing to complete a complaint and probable cause
hearing within 48 hours, failing to verify a traffic
citation, and failing to attend a trial on a speeding ticket
for which he had been subpoenaed; (2) a thirty-day suspension
from all off-duty employment on August 25, 2010, for failing
to attend court, despite being subpoenaed, resulting in
dismissal of the charges; and (3) a three-day suspension
without pay on March 17, 2011, for failure to answer a
dispatch call during the night shift. (Doc. 20-1 at 3-4, 6).
response to the City's recitation of his employment
disciplinary history, Coleman characterizes his 2006
infractions-regarding interactions with DUI suspects and
failure to participate in a probable cause hearing-as
training issues, rather than disciplinary issues. (Doc. 21 at
4). Coleman relies on his testimony that he received "no
training" during the four to six weeks he spent
accompanying Officer Melton after the police
City's police officers are required to submit monthly
productivity reports quantifying traffic enforcement efforts,
felony and misdemeanor arrests, accident reports, and
issuance of warnings, parking tickets, and traffic citations.
(Doc. 20-1 at 6). Officers submit the monthly productivity
reports to supervisors for approval. (Id.). During
2012 and 2013, nine of Coleman's monthly productivity
reports were disapproved by at least one supervisor.
(Id. at 6). On December 4, 2013, Coleman met with
Sgt. Roberson and Lt. Wiggins regarding his monthly reports,
and Coleman was informed he would lose his off-duty job
privileges if his productivity did not improve.
(Id.). Coleman testified that reports, showing
similar productivity, submitted by Officer Hay, who is white,
were accepted by supervisors. (Doc. 20-2 at 40). The City
contends Officer Hay was more productive over time and had
legitimate reasons for lower productivity months, such as
being on vacation. (Doc. 20-1 at 6-7).
shift assignments, Officers request their desired shifts and
days off in September of each year, and the City assigns
shifts based on seniority. (Id. at 7). Although the
parties' briefs do not include a timeline regarding
Coleman's assigned shifts, it appears he was initially
assigned to a night shift before the City accepted his
request to move to a day shift at some point. (Doc. 20-1 at
7). Coleman testified that after initially working a night
shift for two to four years, he was transferred to the day
shift. (Doc. 20-2 at 14-15).
City contends it issues new equipment based on a number of
factors, including productivity, seniority, driving history,
and officers' maintenance and care of their equipment.
(Doc. 20-1 at 7). Vehicle assignment can change during the
year based on the occurrence of "at fault
accidents" and "maintenance issues."
(Id.). From 2011 through his resignation, Coleman
was assigned a 2005 Ford Crown Victoria. (Id.). In
2014, the City purchased a Chevrolet Tahoe and six new Dodge
Chargers. (Id.). At some earlier point, the City
purchased five 2006 Crown Victorias and three 2008 Crown
Victorias. (Id.). The City contends Coleman was not
assigned one of these newer vehicles because of maintenance
issues with his assigned vehicle, lack of productivity, and
"poor job performance generally." (Id. at
7-8). As to maintenance issues, the City notes that in March
2014, despite previous instructions to the contrary,
Coleman's vehicle went 5, 000 miles beyond its scheduled
maintenance and the oil level to dropped to one quart.
(Id. at 8). The City also notes that white officers
with Coleman's level of seniority were not assigned new
vehicles: (1) Officer Pauly was assigned to a 2005 Crown
Victoria due to his driving history, before being reassigned
to a 2008 Crown Victoria in 2014; and (2) Officer Hay was
assigned to a 2005 Crown Victoria "due to lack of
City's officers typically utilize laptop computers while
on patrol. Coleman alleges he was denied access to a laptop
for approximately one year and did not receive a laptop until
he contacted his attorney in this matter. Relying on the
affidavit of Sgt. Roberson, Coleman's shift supervisor,
the City contends Coleman's computer was sent to be
serviced in December 2013. (Doc. 20-1 at 8-9). The
computer's return was delayed, first because "a new
air card had to be ordered" and subsequently because the
computer crashed and "could not be recovered."
(Id.). Roberson averred that he "kept Coleman
apprised of the process as it was ongoing." (Doc. 20-10
at 3). It is unclear when the laptop was returned to Coleman,
but it was at some point after he hired an attorney. (Doc.
20-2 at 28). Emails attached to the affidavit support
Roberson's version of events concerning the laptop
maintenance. (Doc. 20-11 at 7-9). The City also notes that
the time during which Coleman's computer was unavailable
coincided with a period when Coleman was restricted to light
duty and, thus, not assigned to patrol. (Doc. 20-1 at 8-9;
Doc. 20-2 at 28). Accordingly, the City contends Coleman was
not denied access to a laptop for use during patrol. (Doc.
20-1 at 8-9). Coleman does not dispute the City's version
of events concerning his laptop. (See generally Doc.
Jefferson County Personnel Board handles hiring and
advancement within the City's police department. (Doc.
20-1 at 9). When a position becomes available, the Chief
requests a list of eligible candidates, which includes the
candidates who have passed the Personnel Board's
promotional exam. (Id.). The promotional exam, which
is given every two to three years, determines each
officer's eligibility for certain positions and ranks.
(Id.). The City contends selection for open
positions is based on job performance, leadership qualities,
the Personnel Board's ranking, and employment history.
contends he applied for a K-9 position in 2007; the position
was awarded to Sgt. Roberson. Coleman acknowledged that Sgt.
Roberson had more seniority but contends he should have
gotten the position because he lived in Irondale, while
Roberson lived outside the jurisdiction. (Doc. 20-1 at 9-10).
In addition to noting that Coleman already had multiple
violations by 2007-Sgt. Roberson had no violations at the
time-the City also notes that Coleman lived in an apartment
at the time, which is "not ideal for a K-9
position." (Doc. 20-1 at 10).
also alleges that Larry Fowler-a white officer with less
seniority-received a detective position in 2008. The City
notes that Fowler was a veteran of the Birmingham Police
Department with experience performing the duties of a
detective. (Doc. 20-1 at 10). The City also notes that
Coleman never complained to anyone regarding Fowler's
selection for the detective position in 2008.
response to Coleman's allegations that he was denied
training and educational opportunities, the City contends he:
(1) had the same opportunities as all other officers; (2) was
never denied any training; and (3) was granted every
educational opportunity he requested. (Doc. 20-1 at 10).
Coleman's testimony support's the City's
contentions in this regard. (Doc. 20-2 at 28). In particular,
the City notes that Coleman requested a modified schedule in
2013, so that he could attend classes at Virginia College.
(Doc. 20-1 at 10-11). It is true that Lt. Wiggins initially
denied Coleman's request because the City disfavored
modified schedules for all officers. (Id. at 11).
However, after Coleman met with the Chief, the City granted
Coleman's request for a modified schedule.
(Id.). Coleman does not contest the City's
recitation of facts concerning training, educational
opportunities, or his 2013 request for a modified schedule to
accommodate his educational aspirations.
City maintains policies and procedures regarding duty
requirements, grievances, equipment, equal employment
opportunities, and harassment. (Doc. 20-1 at 11). The
harassment policy provides "the employee shall
immediately notify his or her supervisor of the harassment,
as soon as possible, so that steps may be taken to protect
the employee from further harassment, and appropriate
investigative and disciplinary measures may[ ]be
initiated." (Doc. 20-1 at 11). Coleman received the
policy when he was hired and was familiar with the grievance
9, 2014, Coleman met with the City's mayor and Chief
McIntosh, where he complained about workplace harassment,
including issuance of equipment, his patrol vehicle, and
racially charged incidents, including: (1) a 2011 text
message; and (2) a screensaver on a computer in the squad
room. (Doc. 20-1 at 11). Regarding the text message, in 2011
Sgt. Roberson sent Coleman a message including the
"N-word." (Doc. 20-1 at 12). Sgt. Roberson
contended that he accidently included Coleman as a recipient
of the message and contemporaneously apologized to Coleman
when he realized his mistake. (Id.). The City
contends Coleman did not file a grievance or report the text
message until the May 9, 2014 meeting. (Id.). In
response, Coleman contends he did contemporaneously report
the text message to Sgt. Meadows, who in turn reported it to
Lt. Wiggins. (Doc. 21 at 6). On summary judgment, this
factual dispute will be resolved in Coleman's favor. In
any event, following the May 9, 2014 meeting, the City
investigated the 2011 text message and sent Roberson to
sensitivity training. (Doc. 20-1 at 12).
the screensaver, during the May 9, 2014 meeting Coleman
complained about a computer in the squad room with a
screensaver depicting a black man with an afro and the NBA
logo, which had been manipulated to read "pimps, players
and hustlers." (Doc. 20-1 at 12). The timing of the
screensaver's appearance is unclear, but it appears
Coleman noticed it during the Spring of 2014; the May 9, 2014
meeting was the first time Coleman mentioned it to anyone at
the City. (Id.). Following the meeting, the City
investigated the complaint, conducted training, and on June
13, 2017, issued a memorandum banning screensavers displaying
images or messages of a political, personal, religious,
sexual, or offensive nature. (Id.; Doc. 20-9 at 3).
Coleman did not observe any additional inappropriate
screensavers after the meeting. (Doc. 20-1 at 12-13; Doc.20-2
at 32). Coleman does not contest the City's version of
events surrounding any offensive screensaver.
13, 2014, Coleman found a picture taped to the outside of his
locker door. (Doc. 21 at 6). Coleman's locker was located
with the other officers' lockers in the squad room where
officers met at the beginning of shifts. (Doc. 20-2 at 34).
Coleman immediately complained to the City, describing the
picture as a photo of a black man with a noose around his
neck. (Doc. 20-1 at 13). Lieutenant Kellogg immediately
investigated, and on June 14, 2014, Officer Chip Arrington
admitted to posting a photo of the 1980s-era professional
wrestler, Junkyard Dog, on Coleman's locker.
(Id.). Arrington stated that in February 2014, he
posted photos of various professional wrestlers on various
officers' lockers-including Coleman's-in an effort to
"boost morale." (Id.). The photo depicts
Junkyard Dog holding a chain attached to a dog collar on his
neck, his signature attire in the ring. (See id.;
Doc. 20-13 at 12). Coleman testified that although he noticed
pictures of other wrestlers taped to other officers'
lockers, he did not see the picture of Junkyard Dog on his
locker until June 13, 2014, the day after his attorney wrote
a letter to the City regarding racial discrimination and
disparate treatment. (Doc. 20-2 at 34; see Doc. 21
at 6; Doc. 1-4). Coleman testified he never asked anyone why
the photo was placed on his locker because he was scared.
(Doc. 20-2 at 34-35). The Junkyard Dog photo was removed-as
were the other photos of professional wrestlers on other
officers' lockers-when the City concluded its
investigation. (Doc. 20-12 at 3). After the Junkyard Dog
photo was removed, Coleman did not notice any other pictures
on his locker.
12, 2014, Coleman's counsel wrote a letter to the City,
summarizing Coleman's allegations of disparate treatment
and a racial discrimination. (Doc. 1-4). On July 9, 2014,
Coleman filed his EEOC charge, alleging retaliation and a
racially hostile work environment. (Doc. 1-1). The EEOC
charge: (1) alleged that almost immediately following his
hiring in 2004, he was subjected to racially offensive
conduct by white coworkers and supervisors; (2) described the
offensive 2011 text message from Sgt. Roberson; and (3)
alleged Coleman "was denied new equipment, favorable
assignments, and opportunities to extend [his] education or
advance within the department." (Id.). The EEOC
charge also notes the May 9, 2014 meeting with the mayor and
Chief McIntosh and alleges no actions were taken as a result.
The charge further contends that following the meeting,
Coleman noticed the offensive computer
screensavers and the photo of Junkyard Dog.
(Id.). The EEOC issued a right to sue letter on
March 18, 2015. (Doc. 1-2).
Coleman resigned on September 12, 2014. (Doc. 21 at 6; Doc.
20-1 at 13). In his letter of resignation, Coleman stated he
suffered from nearly ten years of psychological abuse and
discrimination and he feared for his safety. (Doc. 20-1 at
13). During his deposition, Coleman testified the picture of
Junkyard Dog was the incident that made him fear for his
safety. (See id.; see also Doc. 21 at 6).
On June 17, 2015, Coleman initiated the instant lawsuit.
(Doc. 1). The complaint asserts claims under Title VII for
constructive discharge, retaliatory hostile work environment,
addressing the merits of the motion for summary judgment, the
undersigned will address the City's objection to
Coleman's reliance on excerpts of his journal to support
his opposition. (Doc. 22 at 2). These handwritten journal
excerpts were attached as an exhibit to Coleman's
deposition and, thus, appear on the record in this matter.
(Doc. 20-4 at 18-39). At his deposition, Coleman testified
that he keeps a journal "[o]ff and on" and wrote
the excerpts at issue sometime before he met with Chief
McIntosh and the mayor; he testified he probably wrote the
entries "around the beginning of  2014." (Doc.
20-2 at 39). Coleman has not responded to the City's
objection or sought leave to file a sur-reply regarding
reliance on the journal.
response in opposition to the motion for summary judgment
relies heavily on the journal. Coleman cites the journal as
the sole basis of support for the following assertions: (1)
an unnamed white rookie officer, hired shortly after Coleman,
was trained by Sgt. Roberson, "a highly regarded
training officer;" (2) at an unspecified time, a
less-senior white rookie officer was assigned a newer patrol
car than Coleman, despite being involved in numerous
accidents; (3) this same white rookie officer's patrol
car had a computer, while Coleman's did not; (4) unnamed
white officers with less seniority were assigned new patrol
cars; (5) at some unspecified point, Coleman was assigned to
the "midnight shift;" (6) the City had an unwritten
"two o'clock rule, " meaning officers were
discouraged from ...