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Dukes v. Shelby County Board of Education

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

February 16, 2018

KENNETH E. DUKES, Plaintiff,



         This case is before the court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. # 18). The parties have fully briefed the Motion for Summary Judgment (Docs. # 19, 21, 23), and the Motion is under submission. After careful review, and for the reasons explained below, the court concludes that the Motion for Summary Judgment is due to be granted.

         I. Factual Background[1]

         This employment discrimination action concerns two promotions granted by Defendant Shelby County Board of Education (the “Board”) in 2012 and 2014, respectively. Plaintiff applied for the positions, was qualified for them, and interviewed for the positions, but was not selected for either position. He claims the failure to promote him was discriminatory. The court begins its review of the facts by discussing Plaintiff's work history and leadership activities. Then, the court will discuss each promotion, in turn.

         A. Plaintiff's Work History and Leadership Activities

         Plaintiff began working for Shelby County Schools (“SCS”) in 1986 as a substitute bus driver. (Dukes Deposition at 13-14).[2] SCS hired him as a permanent bus driver in 1988. (Id. at 15, 20). Plaintiff also served as a volunteer football and basketball coach for several years, before transitioning to an assistant coach in the early 1990s. (Id. at 28). From 1989 to 1994, Plaintiff worked as a bus driver for Shelby County Area Transportation during summers and weekends. (Doc. # 20-1 at 61). In that position, he drove Shelby County residents to various appointments and transported soccer camp attendees from an airport to the University of Montevallo. (Dukes Deposition at 28-29).

         Since the beginning of his career with SCS, Plaintiff has consistently driven a bus route transporting students to Montevallo High School. (Id. at 23). Plaintiff also has driven a morning bus route transporting students from Montevallo High School and Calera High School to the College and Career Center in Columbiana, Alabama. (Id. at 23-24, 35). He has transported students from the Career Center to Montevallo High School each morning as well. (Id. at 35). Finally, he has driven afternoon routes that transport elementary, middle, and high school students in Montevallo to the Wilton community. (Id. at 37-38). Plaintiff has been a bus driver in the same community for more than twenty years, although he drives different routes from year to year. (Id. at 38). Plaintiff has served on a committee of bus drivers who make recommendations to the SCS administration about “bus routes, bus equipment and apparatus needs, policies with respect to bus drivers, and other matters.” (Doc. # 22-2 at 3).

         In 2008, Plaintiff obtained a bachelor's degree from the Birmingham Easonian Baptist Bible College. (Dukes Deposition at 16-18). He has served as a pastor at two churches. (Id. at 31-32). And, he has held the position of “dean” for an extension of the Birmingham Easonian Baptist Bible College located in Shelby County. (Id. at 33-34). As dean, Plaintiff registers students for classes, manages the facility and secretary, and helps fundraising for the bible college. (Id.).

         In addition to his employment positions, Plaintiff has served as the president of the Shelby County Education Support Professionals, a division of the Alabama Education Association for SCS support personnel. (Id. at 49; Doc. # 22-2 at 1-2). As a union representative, Plaintiff has helped SCS bus drivers handle problems related to bus transportation and has been consulted by SCS administrators about “bus routes, equipment, purchasing, and policies[.]” (Doc. # 22-2 at 3). As of the date of his deposition, Plaintiff served as president of the Shelby County chapter of the NAACP. (Dukes Deposition at 37).

         B. The 2012 Transportation Route Supervisor Promotion

         On February 22, 2012, the Board posted a notice of vacancy with two proposed transportation route supervisor positions. (Doc. # 20-1 at 57). At the time they were posted, neither position had been budgeted for. (See id.) (mentioning that an assistant band director position was budgeted for, but not indicating whether the route supervisor positions were budgeted for). Thirty-nine candidates, including Plaintiff, applied for the job. (Doc. # 20-2 at 33-35).[3] In March 2012, SCS interviewed eleven applications, including Plaintiff, for the job. (Doc. # 22-11 at 1). The SCS interview panel considered all eleven candidates to be qualified for the job. (Doc. # 20-13 at 2). Four SCS employees interviewed the route supervisor finalists: (1) Kevin Snowden, SCS's transportation coordinator; (2) Tom Ferguson, a deputy superintendent; (3) Rick Vines, a transportation supervisor; and (4) Mary Howard, a human resources coordinator. (Doc. # 20-4 at 16).

         SCS's job description for a transportation route supervisor contains five qualifications: (1) a preference for a bachelor's degree; (2) “a complete understanding of bus route and safety issues”; (3) at least five years of school transportation experience; (4) a Class B commercial driver's license with certain bus driver endorsements, which could be obtained within six months of hiring; and (5) computer literacy. (Doc. # 22-16 at 1). A route supervisor performs several functions related to bus transportation, including:

1. Assist[ing the] Transportation Coordinator and Transportation Supervisor in the routing of buses and other operations of the [SCS] Transportation Department.
2. Mak[ing] recommendations for establishing or changing bus stops.
3. Keep[ing] records and mak[ing] reports as required. . . .
5. Assist[ing] in investigating reports of road hazards.
6. Monitor[ing] and operat[ing] two-way radio equipment in a professional manner.
7. Assist[ing] in responding to requests on route problems from bus drivers, parents, and principals.
8. Assist[ing] in training bus drivers.

(Doc. # 22-16 at 1-2).

         During the interviews, the panelists asked Plaintiff and the other finalists about their training backgrounds and experiences, their perceptions about the most important function of the route supervisor position, and their experiences with software. (E.g., Doc. # 20-13 at 6-7) (listing questions asked during the route supervisor interviews). They asked the applicants to describe what factors should be considered when reviewing a bus route. (E.g., id. at 6). They also asked the applicants to explain how they would handle certain problems, such as angry or feuding parents and overcrowded buses. (Id. at 6-7). The panelists rated the applicants' answers to the questions on a one to five numerical scale. (See id.). During Plaintiff's interview, Howard mentioned Plaintiff's race while confirming his biographical details. (Dukes Deposition at 94-95). Nevertheless, Plaintiff does not recall any inappropriate questions asked during the interview. (Id. at 93).

         Of the eleven interviewed applicants, Brian Miller[4] received the fifth highest interview score at 103.5, and Plaintiff's interview score of 102 was sixth highest. (Doc. # 20-9 at 11). Plaintiff had the most driving experience among the interviewed applicants. (See id.) (recording that Plaintiff had twenty-four years' driving experience as of March 2012 and that Miller had six years' driving experience). Yet, in addition to interview performance, the panelists also considered the applicants' experience and how they thought the applicants would perform as a route supervisor. (Docs. # 20-11 at 3; 20-13 at 3; 20-15 at 3). The panelists ultimately agreed that Miller was the best candidate because he had worked as a full-time substitute bus driver for several years and had driven bus routes in several areas of Shelby County. (Docs. # 20-11 at 3; 20-12 at 3; 20-13 at 3; 20-15 at 3). Vines, the SCS employee who was responsible for route planning at the time, recalls that he believed Miller's experience as a substitute driver “gave [Miller] broader experience than the other candidates and that his knowledge of more routes in the County would give him a head start in the Route Supervisor job.” (Doc. # 20-15 at 3). Significantly, all four panelists mentioned in their interview notes that Miller had worked as a permanent substitute bus driver, and three of those panelists recounted that he had worked in the permanent substitute position for five years. (Docs. # 20-11 at 8; 20-12 at 6; 20-13 at 8; 20-15 at 8).

         Under SCS policy, the interview panel submits a recommended applicant for hire to SCS's superintendent without providing the superintendent information about the unsuccessful applicants. (Doc. # 20-9 at 3). Thereafter, the superintendent makes a formal recommendation to the Board. (Id.). The parties dispute whether the Board receives information about the unsuccessful applicants. Plaintiff asserts that the Board must receive such information because Jimmy Bice, a Board member, once told him that the Board would consider a black applicant for a position in the transportation department “if we ever get a decent resume from a black.” (See Docs. # 22-1 at 2; 22-2 at 1; 20-7 at 13). To the contrary, Jim Miller, SCS's assistant superintendent for human resources, has averred that the Board receives no information about unsuccessful applicants. (Doc. # 20-9 at 3). Moreover, Bice has testified that he was unaware of Plaintiff's applications for the relevant positions because Board members “were never told who applied unless we asked.” (Doc. # 20-7 at 12). In April 2012, the Board voted to approve Miller's promotion from bus driver to route supervisor. (Doc. # 20-9 at 13-14).

         The parties have also addressed the question of why SCS chose to hire one route supervisor, instead of two route supervisors. According to Defendants, SCS's superintendent chose to only fill one route supervisor position because SCS needed to reduce expenses when one of Shelby County's municipalities, Alabaster, created a separate school district. (Doc. # 20-10 at 2-3). Ferguson has recalled that the panel knew there would only be one route supervisor hired by the date the interviews occurred. (Doc. # 20-11 at 2-3). In contrast, Plaintiff has averred that members of the interview panel told him that they were interviewing for two route supervisors.[5] (Doc. # 22-2 at 1). And, Miller has recalled a high volume of hiring in 2012. (Doc. # 20-2 at 66).

         C. Plaintiff's Discussion with a Board Member About Lack of Diversity in SCS's Transportation Department

         After Plaintiff failed to obtain the route supervisor position, he complained to a Board member about the racial makeup of the Transportation Department. (Doc. # 22-2 at 5). As Plaintiff explains in his affidavit,

32. While attending a Shelby County event in 2013, I had a discussion with Aubrey Miller regarding the fact that I was denied a Route Transportation Supervisor position in 2012, and regarding the lack of minorities employed in the Transportation Department. I advised him that there were two vacancy postings, that the second vacancy was pulled and I was not hired. Aubrey Miller advised me to let him know when I applied for a Transportation Supervisor position in the future and he would keep an eye on it.
33. I advised Mr. Aubrey Miller when I was in the process of applying for the Transportation Supervisor position in June of 2014.

(Id.). Bobby Pierson, another SCS bus driver, has affirmed that the conversation between Plaintiff and Aubrey Miller occurred. (Doc. # 22-1 at 2). Pierson also recounts that he discussed “the fact that there are no minorities in the Transportation Department” with Lewis Brooks, an SCS assistant superintendent. (Id. at 1).

         D. The 2014 Transportation Supervisor Promotion

         In June 2014, the Board posted a vacancy notice for a transportation supervisor position. (Doc. # 20-8 at 103). Twenty-two candidates, including Plaintiff, applied for the position. (Doc. # 20-5 at 17-18). SCS officials chose to interview four applicants, including Plaintiff, for the position. (Doc. # 20-14 at 2). Two applicants -- Plaintiff and Debra Cummings -- were interviewed by a panel on June 18, 2014. (Doc. # 22-14). For the other two applicants, the interview panel decided to rely upon the interviews those applicants had completed in connection with a different position, transportation coordinator. (Docs. # 20-9 at 5; 20-10 at 4; 20-14 at 3). Jim Miller has explained that considering a prior interview for a ...

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