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Hill v. The University of Alabama Board of Trustees

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

January 31, 2018

JASON HILL, Plaintiff,



         The court has before it the February 17, 2017 motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant The University of Alabama Board of Trustees (“UA”). (Doc. 25). Pursuant to the court's initial order (Doc. 14) and March 9, 2017 extension (Doc. 32), the motion was under submission as of March 31, 2017. After consideration of the briefs and evidence, the motion is due to be granted for the following reasons.


         Plaintiff Jason Hill began his employment with Defendant on March 7, 2011. (Hill Dep. at 31). Hill worked at UA's Working On Womanhood Program (“WOW”) which operates at the Girls Intensive Education and Treatment Facility. (Tippey Aff. ¶ 5). The facility houses female juvenile offenders (“the students”) with behavioral and mental health needs who have been adjudicated delinquent in the juvenile justice system and are committed to the custody of the Alabama Department of Youth Services. (Id. ¶ 7). The students often have a history of trauma, abuse, and neglect. (Hill Dep. at 36; Tippey Dep. at 19).

         WOW operates a residential program providing students with gender-specific, outcome-driven interventions to help build coping skills and promote self-control of their emotions and behavior. (Tippey Aff. ¶ 8). WOW and its employees must follow certain guidelines and policies required by the Alabama Department of Youth Services and the American Corrections Association, including maintenance of a specific staff to student ratio, male to female ratio, and facility security. (Id. ¶ 9). WOW is also governed by the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) which precludes males from entering the bedrooms of female students without accompaniment of a female staff member. (Id. ¶ 11).

         During the relevant time, Hill worked as a direct care safety worker. (Hill Dep. at 32-33). Hill's duties were to operate the facility and to supervise and care for its female students. (Id. at 33). Hill began by working the first shift from 6:45 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. but in the summer of 2013, he worked the third shift, from 10:45 p.m. until 7:00 a.m. (Tippey Aff. ¶¶ 15, 17). Shifts are scheduled with a fifteen minute overlap to provide incoming employees time to communicate with outgoing employees on matters arising during the previous shift. (Id. ¶¶18-19). WOW also maintains a log book where employees record a general summary of the shift and highlight any significant incidents or issues. (Id. ¶¶ 20-21).

         Hill directly reported to the direct care supervisor for his shift. (Hill Dep. at 16). The direct care supervisors reported to the care manager, who during all relevant times was Shaun Patterson. (Id.; Patterson Dep. at 10). The care manager reports to the program director, who was Dr. Jacalyn Tippey[1] during all relevant times. (Tippey Aff. ¶ 16; Tippey Dep. at 11). The program director is the highest ranking employee at the facility. (Tippey Dep. at 10, 14). The program director reports to the executive director of the Youth Services Institute, a position held by Jill Beck since February 2014. (Tippey Aff. ¶ 16; Beck Dep. at 7, 19-20).

         WOW utilizes progressive discipline. In the absence of an act warranting immediate termination, discipline generally begins at a lower level and increases with each additional disciplinary counseling. (Tippey Dep. at 31-34). Although counselings never roll off an employee's record, after a certain time has passed, disciplinary issues are generally discounted as they age. (Id.; Beck Dep. at 118).

         During Hill's employment, he received eleven formal and/or information disciplinary counselings, detailed as follows:


Time and attendance.


Time and attendance. Hill called in or was tardy 49 times in a three month period.


Failure to follow a supervisor's instructions and disrespectful communications.


Report made by an outside dental office employee of unprofessional communications in front of a student; disrespectful communications to a supervisor; specifically, calling Patterson a “shithead.”


Safety violation - knife was used in a student demonstration.


Inattentive to duty and interfering with the work assignments of others.


Walking off the job without approval or notice.


Time and Attendance.


Time and Attendance.


Time and Attendance.


Failure to secure facility doors and being inattentive to duty; three other females were also disciplined.[2]


Hill termination.

(Beck Aff. ¶ 6; Exhs. A-K to Beck Aff.). Other than his termination, none of Hill's disciplinary counselings resulted in a loss of pay, demotion, suspension, or change of job duties. (Beck Aff. ¶ 6). Although Hill spends much time in his brief outlining the events surrounding the April 11, 2013 counseling for a safety violation and the November 25, 2014 counseling for failure to secure the doors and being inattentive, none of that information is relevant to the claims before the court. (See infra at III.A.1.). The court limits its recitation of the facts to the events surrounding Hill's termination. (Id.).

         A. January 6, 2015 Incident

         On January 6, 2015, a student, T.B., did not attend school because she displayed behavior characterized in various notes as aggressive, threatening, and volatile. (Hill Dep. at 53; Tippey Dep. at 71; Anders Dep. at 41-51). At some point during the day, Dr. Tippey made an agreement with T.B. that if her behavior improved, she could sleep in her own room that night, rather than a safe room.[3](Tippey Dep. at 84). Before Dr. Tippey left the facility for the night, T.B.'s behavior improved and stabilized. (Id. at 84-85).

         Dr. Tippey spoke with Octavia Anders, a member of the second shift, and informed her T.B. had been upset earlier that day but “turned her behavior around, was stable, and therefore was allowed to sleep in her room that night” with Anders on sentry duty[4] during the second shift.[5] (Tippey Dep. at 84-85). Additionally, Dr. Tippey left an entry in the log book requiring T.B. to be monitored by sentry duty because of her earlier behavior. (Hill Dep. at 54-55; Tippey Dep. at 86).

         T.B went to her bedroom in the C-pod[6] for the night at around 8:30 p.m. (Anders Dep. at 47). As instructed, Anders performed sentry duty outside T.B.'s door from the majority of the time between 8:30 p.m. and 11:00 p.m., when the second shift ended. (Id.). Hill arrived at the facility that night at 10:43 p.m. for third shift. (Hill Dep. at 52). Other members of the third shift included two females, Giselle Royal and Jackie May, and two males, Michael Jelks and Jace Peaden. (Hill Dep. at 50-51). Hill reviewed the log book when he arrived and read Dr. Tippey's entry relating to T.B. (Id. at 52-55).

         As the second and third shifts conferred during the shift change, according to Hill, Anders told the third shift employees T.B. had expressed she wanted to kill herself, she wanted to die, and she was going to harm herself. (Id. at 60-62). Another second shift employee told Hill the control room attempted to call Dr. Tippey but was unsuccessful. (Id. at 62-64). Additionally, it was noted there were only two female employees on third shift, they would be needed in other areas during the shift, and it would not be appropriate for a male employee to be alone on sentry duty. (Peaden Decl. ¶ 9). There was also some concern about the lack of visibility into T.B.'s bedroom at night. (Exh. D to Tippey Aff.). As such, according to Hill, the group[7] decided the safest course of action was to move T.B. from her room to the safe room where she could be monitored on camera to prevent any incident during the shift. (Hill Dep. at 68, 70-72, 105-06, 286-88; Jelks Dep. at 41-42).

         Anders was on sentry duty by T.B.'s door when Hill, Peaden, and Jelks entered the C-pod at 10:47 p.m., four minutes after Hill arrived at the facility. (Hill Dep. at 109; Tippey Dep. at 122-24; Pl. Exh. 23). Jelks carried regular linens for T.B. to make her as comfortable as possible and walked toward the safe room. (Jelks Dep. at 49-50; Pl. Exh. 23). Peaden walked to the safe room and removed the safety blanket. (Jelks Dep. at 70; Pl. Exh. 23). Anders asked whether the men had received permission from Dr. Tippey to move T.B., and Jelks replied “no.” (Jelks Dep. at 48, 49, 78; Hill Dep. at 109-10; Pl. Exh. 23). Geraldine Smith, a second shift employee, also asked whether anyone had permission to move T.B. (Hill Dep. at 113-14; Pl. Exh. 23).

         Peaden and Hill approached T.B.'s door, and Anders called out “Suite 9” to tell the control room to open the door to T.B.'s room. (Jelks Dep. at 71-72; Peaden Decl. ¶ 7; Pl. Exh. 23). Hill then waved his hand above his head to signal to the control room to open the door. (Pl. Exh. 23; Jelks Dep. at 72-73). Anders again called out “Suite 9” and “lights on” as the door to T.B.'s room was opened. (Jelks Dep. at 73-74; Peaden Decl. ¶¶ 7, 10; Pl. Exh. 23). Peaden and Hill entered T.B.'s room, and the men escorted her from her room to the safe room. (Hill Dep. at 110). No females entered T.B.'s room, although there were three females in the common area of the C-pod when T.B. was moved. (Jelks Dep. at 71-80; Pl. Exh. 23). Jackie May documented the move in the log book as follows: “Upon arrival all girls were asleep in assign [sic] room. T.B. was place[d] in SR2 for observation due to sentry duty. No problems noted at this time.” (Pl. Exh. 22).

         After Anders' shift ended and she left the facility, at 12:07 a.m., she sent an email to Dr. Tippey notifying her T.B. was moved from her room to the safe room. (Tippey Dep. at 106-08; Pl. Exh. 24). The relevant portion of the email states:

Tonight (Jan. 6th) when 3rd shift came on it was told to them that T.B. was on sentry duty and she was sleeping in rm 9. Shortly after they came over with linen and stated that they were putting her in SR2. I informed them that per you (Dr. Tippey) she was to sleep in rm 9. They stated that they were moving her to SR2. They politely woke her up and put her in SR2. I informed them that the toilet is leaking in SR2, not to turn the water on and if she needs to go she needs to come out. I exited the pod.


         B. The Investigation and Plaintiff's Termination

         Upon arrival at the facility on January 7, 2015, Dr. Tippey met with T.B. (Tippey Aff. ¶ 65; Tippey Dep. at 109, 113). According to Dr. Tippey, T.B. was confused and distressed. (Tippey Dep. at 113). T.B. specifically questioned why she was moved from her room when she complied with her part of the deal and improved her behavior. (Id. at 109, 113). Dr. Tippey apologized for the miscommunication. (Id. at 113).

         Dr. Tippey then initiated an investigation into the incident. (Tippey Aff. ¶ 39). First, she reviewed the video surveillance[8] from the C-pod. (Id. ¶40). She next requested written incident reports from Hill, Jelks, Peaden, Smith, and Jykia Johnson, the individuals shown on the video. (Id. ¶ 48; Exhs. C-G to Tippey Aff.). She did not request anything from Anders because she had her email detailing her recollection of the events. (Id. ¶ 49). The written accounts were consistent and indicated to Dr. Tippey the following: (1) T.B. was sleeping; (2) Hill, Jelks, and Peaden decided to move her; (3) Anders and Geraldine Smith questioned whether Dr. Tippey gave authority for the move; and (4) Hill and Peaden entered T.B.'s room, awakened her, and moved her to the safe room. (Id. ¶ 50; Exhs. C-G to Tippey Aff.). No one contended T.B. was moved because she exhibited behavioral concerns. (Tippey Aff. ¶ 55).

         Dr. Tippey, along with care manager Shaun Patterson and direct care supervisor for the night shift, Mandi Ethridge, [9] conducted interviews with Hill, Jelks, Peaden, Anders, and Smith to further understand what occurred. (Tippey Aff. ¶ 51; Exh. H to Tippey Aff.). The interviews confirmed the facts as seen in the surveillance video and contained in the written incident reports, including that Jelks, Peaden, and Hill decided to move T.B. (Tippey Aff. ¶ 52). No one reported that the move was discussed with Anders or that Anders (or any other female employee) agreed that T.B. should be moved. (Id. ¶ 57).

         Dr. Tippey was concerned about the results of her investigation for three main reasons. First, the trust she sought to build with T.B., which directly affects her ability to provide effective treatment, was violated. (Id. ¶¶ 38, 58; Tippey Dep. at 109, 110-13). Second, two males should not have entered a female student's room but should have requested a female enter with them to avoid a PREA issue. (Tippey Aff. ¶ 59). Finally, T.B. was asleep when the men entered. (Id. at 60). T.B. had been sexually assaulted by men in the past, and to be awakened by two men in her room created a “risk of frightening her, re-victimizing her, and could have caused her to have a behavioral or violent outburst.” (Id.)

         Dr. Tippey met with Executive Director of the Youth Services Institute Jill Beck and Patterson to discuss the incident and the results of her investigation. (Tippey Aff. ¶ 61). Based on the video, written reports, and interviews, Beck and Dr. Tippey concluded Jelks, Peaden, and Hill were insubordinate to Dr. Tippey's orders, showed poor judgment in not consulting with the employee on sentry duty as to T.B.'s current mental state and Dr. Tippey's instructions, and, as males in a non-emergency situation, chose to enter the room of a sleeping female student. (Tippey Dep. at 163, 214, 216-17; Dep. of Beck at 125-26; Beck Aff. ¶20). Dr. Tippey and Beck determined the three men who actively played a role in the relocation of T.B. from her room to the safe room should be disciplined for the incident. (Beck Aff. ¶ 21; Tippey ...

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