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Kitchens v. Jefferson County Board of Education

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

October 19, 2017




         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Angela Kitchens (“Kitchens”) brings this action against her employer, Jefferson County Board of Education (“the Board”), alleging that she suffered discrimination on the basis of her gender in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”). Before this Court is the Board's Motion for Summary Judgement. (Doc. 14.) For the reasons explained herein, the Board's motion is due to be GRANTED.

         II. Factual Background

         A. Summary of Relevant Facts

         Kitchens is a physical education teacher at McAdory Middle School (the “Middle School”) and has been employed by the Board since 2004. In addition to teaching, Kitchens was the head softball coach at the Middle School and the assistant volleyball coach at McAdory High School (the “High School”); she is also a school bus driver. In May 2015, Jennifer Smith (“Smith”), the head varsity softball coach at the High School, informed Brent Shaw (“Shaw”), who was the principal of the High School at the time, that she was not going to continue coaching softball in the following school year. In order to hire a new varsity softball coach for the High School, Shaw “posted” the position on “SearchSoft, ” which is an intranet system used by the Alabama Department of Education. Shaw eventually received three applications for the position from (1) Kitchens, (2) Joshua Coffelt (“Coffelt”), and (3) K.R. Battles (“Battles”). At the time of the application, Coffelt was a science teacher as well as the assistant varsity softball coach and the assistant boys' basketball coach at the High School. Battles was an English teacher and the head varsity volleyball coach at the High School.

         After conducting an initial round of interviews with other employees of the Board, Shaw chose Coffelt to be the interim varsity head softball coach for the High School during the summer. Prior to this recommendation, Shaw had informed his superior that he had been hired to be a principal at a different high school. Shaw wanted the new principal for the upcoming year to make a final hiring decision for the softball coach position.

         Tod Humphries (“Humphries”), a former assistant principal at Pleasant Grove High School, was chosen to be the new principal at the High School in July 2015. Humphries interviewed the same three candidates and received recommendations from Shaw, Kane, Powell, and Storie about who they thought should have the position. He ultimately decided to hire Coffelt as the varsity softball coach and informed Kitchens of his decision on or about August 6, 2015.

         Kitchens then filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on September 25, 2015, alleging she was not selected to be the head softball coach on account of her sex. She was mailed her right to sue letter from the EEOC on May 2, 2016, and then instituted this suit.

         B. Hiring Practices by the Board and at the High School

         The Board has no standard process for the hiring of coaches for the schools in the district. Instead, the principal of each school is given discretion to post jobs, conduct interviews, and make initial hiring recommendations. (Storie Depo. at 19.) The Board typically only advertises head varsity football or basketball coaching positions, as these positions have a teaching position attached to them. Id. For other coaching positions, the general practice is for the school administrator to first look to current faculty of the school to fill the position, but teachers are often hired from other schools to fill coaching vacancies. Id. at 19-20. At the High School in 2015, there were coaches who taught at other schools in the Jefferson County school system. The Board's only qualification to be a coach was for the applicant to have a teaching certificate. (Doc. 16. ¶ 4.)

         Once a principal makes hiring decisions for coaches, he submits a list of his selections to the Board so they may receive a monetary supplement for coaching. Upon the principal's submission, the Board's athletic department reviews the candidates and assigns them a supplemental salary based on an internal pay schedule. (Storie Depo. at 27.) The athletic department gives the list to the Board's human resources department, who forwards the list to the superintendent who in turn recommends the coaches to the Board for approval. Once approved, the coaches receive a supplemental salary for performing their coaching duties. In Kitchens' case, the Board did not independently investigate or interview any of the candidates for the position. (Doc. 16 ¶ 14.) In regards to Board approval of principals' coaching assignments, the director of athletics, Ken Storie (“Storie”), does not recall an instance where a principal's recommendation for a coaching supplement was denied by the Board. (Storie Depo. at 33.)

         C. The Shaw Interview

         The first interview of candidates for the head varsity softball coach position was conducted by Shaw, David Powell (“Powell”), Kim Kane (“Kane”), and Storie. At the time of the interview, Shaw was principal of the High School, Powell was the High School Athletic Coordinator; Kane was the Board Athletic Department Supervisor; and Storie was the Board Athletic Director, among other roles. (Doc. 16 ¶ 5.) The interview began with the same six questions that were asked to each applicant, followed by an opportunity for the interviewee to ask questions or make additional statements. (Kane Aff. ¶ 4.) The four interviewers took notes on the interviewees' answers and additional questions the interviewers wished to ask the interviewees.

         One of the six questions asked to each applicant was “[w]alk us through a typical practice, beginning at 3:00.” (Kane Aff. Ex. A.) As summarized by Kane's notes for the interview, Kitchens answered that the running, stretching, and throwing part of the practice would be directed by an assistant, as Kitchens would be driving her bus route. (Kane Aff. ¶ 4, Ex. A.; Kitchens Depo. at 85.) Kitchens' bus route generally ran from 2:55 PM when she left the Middle School to 3:45 PM when she returned to the Middle School and conducted a post-trip inspection of the bus. (Kitchens Depo. at 56-58.) Both Storie and Shaw's interview notes indicate concern with Kitchens' bus route. (Storie Depo., Ex. 3 “Follow up . . . *Plans to continue bus route.”; Shaw Aff. ¶ 13, Ex. A “Any questions: [Kitchens] [b]rings up bus route. She [Kitchens] plans to still have bus route.”) Coffelt did not drive a bus at the time of his interview or hiring. (Humphries Aff. ¶ 6.)

         The interviewers also asked about the interviewee's previous experience in athletics, with a specific focus on softball. Kitchens listed her extensive experience playing and coaching softball. She played softball while attending the University of Alabama-Huntsville. (Kitchens Aff. ¶ 1.) Before applying for the coaching position at the high school, she had previously been the head softball coach at Calera High School, Shades Valley High School, Bragg Middle School, Bob Jones High School, and co-coached varsity softball at Limestone High School. Id. Kitchens was the head softball coach of the Middle School's team since 2006. Id. at ¶ 2.

         As the assistant coach for the High School varsity softball team for the past two years, Coffelt also had requisite coaching experience in softball, although it does not appear that he had ever played softball. (Smith Aff. ¶ 3.) The outgoing head coach of the softball team, Smith, informed Powell and Shaw that she did not receive any complaints about Coffelt when he was her assistant coach and that “he was ready to be the head varsity softball coach.” (Smith Aff. ¶ 8.)

         After conducting the three interviews, Shaw, Powell, Kane, and Storie all felt that Coffelt should be hired as the varsity softball head coach. Storie recommended Coffelt because he thought that Coffelt was the best fit for the school's students and the program. Specifically, Storie liked that Coffelt was already familiar with the team. (Storie Depo at 105.) Storie additionally felt that Coffelt was a better choice because Coffelt worked at the High School. Id. at 106. The High School runs on a five-period day, and the fifth period is often designated for athletics. Varsity coaches at the High School were able to begin practice during the fifth period, thus allowing the team to complete practice earlier. Id. at 106. Storie felt that early practices were advantageous because it allowed the players to return home, focus on their studies, and rest. Id. In relation to Kitchens, who worked at a different school with a different schedule and drove a bus, Storie believed Coffelt would be able to begin practice hours earlier. Adding to the chances of scheduling problems, Kitchens' employment at the Middle School would not allow her to coordinate as easily with the administrators at the High School and could potentially lead to issues scheduling games with other coaches during playoffs. Id. at 108.

         Storie felt that Kitchens appeared “haughty” during the interview; as though she “felt like she was owed the position.” Id. at 109. Additionally, when asked about her position as an assistant varsity volleyball coach, Kitchens stated that she actually ran the program. Id. Storie felt that Kitchens had overstated her role because the program was actually headed by another coach, Ms. Battles. Id.

         Shaw, Powell, and Kane also recommended Coffelt over Kitchens for the same reasons as Storie. They felt that Kitchens' answer that she would miss part of practice due to her bus route put her at a disadvantage to Coffelt, who would be able to conduct early practices and attend games. (Kane Aff. ¶ 6; Powell Aff. ¶ 6; Shaw Aff. ¶¶ 19-20.) Coffelt was at the High School, whereas Kitchens was at the Middle School. (Kane Aff. ¶ 6; Powell Aff. ¶ 6; Shaw Aff. ¶ 20.) Kane felt that Kitchens came across in the interview as if she felt that she was “entitled to the job and should not have been interviewed.” (Kane Aff. ¶ 7.) Shaw essentially echoes Kane's opinion of Kitchens: he felt that Kitchens did not appear to be a “team player” and that Coffelt had a better interview than Kitchens. (Shaw Aff. ¶ 20.) Shaw and Powell also added that Smith, the former coach, had recommended Coffelt to be the new varsity head coach. Id.

         Kitchens herself felt that the interview was poorly conducted. She stated that the interviewers did not appear to be “sincere or concerned about the program.” (Kitchens Depo. ¶¶ 82, 93.) Kitchens could not recall whether she was asked about the bus route during the interview, but admitted that if she discussed the bus route, it would be in relation to the scheduling of practices. (Kitchens Depo. ¶ 88.) She also disputed the four interviewers' characterization of her answer about her role on the volleyball team. According to Kitchens, her answer that she “basically . . . run[s] the program” was in regards to a question of whether she had any experience running a sports program. (Kitchens Depo. ¶ 85.)

         Kitchens stated that following the interview she texted Shaw to ask him if he would be appointing the new head varsity softball coach. She also wanted to know why no one had asked her during the interview whether she would be willing to give up the bus route. (Kitchens Depo. ¶¶ 97-98.) Shaw said that because he was leaving the school the next principal would decide who would be the head coach. Id. at 97. He also asked whether Kitchens would be willing to give up the ...

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