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Martin v. Shelby County Board of Education

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

March 6, 2018

SHARON D. MARTIN, Plaintiff,
v.
SHELBY COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Sharon Martin is an interventionist for the Shelby County Board of Education. In that role, she works with at-risk students at Vincent Middle High School.[1] In April 2014, Ms. Martin applied for a registrar/data manager position at the school. The Board did not select Ms. Martin for the position. Ms. Martin contends that in making the hiring decision for the registrar position, the Shelby County Board of Education, the individual members of the Board, and the district superintendent discriminated against her because she is African-American. Ms. Martin asserts a Title VII claim against the Board and § 1983 claims against the individual defendants in their individual and official capacities.

         Pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the defendants ask the Court to enter judgment in their favor on all of Ms. Martin's claims against them. (Doc. 12). The parties also ask the Court to strike various evidentiary submissions. (Docs. 20, 22). For the reasons explained below, the Court grants the defendants' motion for summary judgment.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         “The court shall grant summary judgment 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(a). To demonstrate that there is a genuine dispute as to a material fact that precludes summary judgment, a party opposing a motion for summary judgment must cite “to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). “The court need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in the record.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3). When considering a summary judgment motion, the Court must view the evidence in the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. White v. Beltram Edge Tool Supply, Inc., 789 F.3d 1188, 1191 (11th Cir. 2015). In this opinion, the Court describes the evidence accordingly.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Ms. Martin has worked for the Shelby County Board of Education for nearly 20 years. Ms. Martin received an associate's degree in computer science in 1988 and worked in computer programming from approximately 1988 to 1994. (Doc. 12-1, pp. 5, 9-10, 47). In 1999, the Shelby County Board of Education hired Ms. Martin as a substitute teacher, and she later became a library aide at Vincent Middle High School. (Doc. 12-1, pp. 12, 58). In 2004, Ms. Martin moved to the interventionist position at Vincent Middle High School. (Doc. 12-1, pp. 12, 58). She has held that position ever since. (Doc. 12-1, pp. 13, 58-59).

         As an interventionist, Ms. Martin monitors at-risk students assigned to in-school detention. She collects the students' assignments from teachers, gives the assignments to the students, and then returns the completed assignments to the teachers. (Doc. 12-1, p. 13). Ms. Martin monitors the students until they complete the assigned detention time. (Doc. 12-1, p. 14). As an interventionist, Ms. Martin has limited access to INOW, the school's student information software. Ms. Martin uses the software to look up students' schedules. (Doc. 12-1, p. 14; see Doc. 12-7, p. 3).

         By all accounts, Ms. Martin is an effective interventionist. Clint Dixon, the principal at Vincent Middle High School for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years, testified that Ms. Martin is an “asset to Vincent Middle/High.” (Doc. 12-2, p. 12). According to Mr. Dixon, Ms. Martin “did a great job in the role of interventionist, ” and he “never had to correct her for anything.” (Doc. 12-2, p. 17). Ms. Martin asserts that she has received “stellar evaluations” and that her supervisors have acknowledged that she has “a great work ethic, ” is “well- organized, ” and “relate[s] well to peers and students.” (Doc. 19-1, ¶ 2).

         Ms. Martin's 2013 and 2014 performance evaluations are consistent with this assertion. Mr. Dixon completed Ms. Martin's 2013 performance evaluation. (Doc. 19-9, pp. 1-2). Mr. Dixon indicated that Ms. Martin demonstrated excellence in 13 of 15 identified categories, and she showed strength in the two other categories. Mr. Dixon did not report that Ms. Martin needed improvement or performed unsatisfactorily in any category. (Doc. 19-9, p. 1). Under a section of the 2013 evaluation titled “Strength and Superior Performance, ” Mr. Dixon wrote:

Ms. Martin does an outstanding job as our ISD Interventionist. She communicates effectively with teachers to ensure students are doing their assigned tasks, and she effectively monitors students in ISD to make sure they are actively working. Students have great respect for Ms. Martin because she develops positive relationships with students.

(Doc. 19-9, p. 1). Mr. Dixon wrote “N/A” under the section of the 2013 evaluation titled “Deficiencies or Inappropriate Behaviors.” (Doc. 19-9, p. 2). With respect to goals or improvement programs, Mr. Dixon made two recommendations. He stated that Ms. Martin should “[c]ontinue to foster positive relationships with students and work with them on making positive choices so they can remain in class, ” and he asked Ms. Martin to “[f]ind time while students are in ISD to work on Ripple Effects software.” (Doc. 19-9, p. 2).

         Mr. Dixon also completed Ms. Martin's 2014 performance evaluation. (Doc. 19-10, pp. 1-2). Mr. Dixon indicated that Ms. Martin demonstrated excellence in nine of 15 categories and showed strength in the six other categories. Mr. Dixon did not find that Ms. Martin's performance in any category was unsatisfactory or needed improvement. (Doc. 19-10, p. 1). Under the section of the 2014 evaluation titled “Strength and Superior Performance, ” Mr. Dixon wrote:

Ms. Martin is outstanding. She monitors student behavior in ISD and ensures they complete their assignments. She treats them with respect while holding them accountable for their actions and their behavior in ISD. Ms. Martin communicates as needed with administrators to ensure student success. She is respected by students and staff alike.

(Doc. 19-10, p. 1). Under the section of the 2014 evaluation titled “Deficiencies or Inappropriate Behaviors, ” Mr. Dixon wrote, “none.” (Doc. 19-10, p. 2). With respect to goals or improvement programs, Mr. Dixon stated that Ms. Martin should “[c]ontinue to foster positive relationships with students in ISD and help them develop strategies to avoid disciplinary actions.” (Doc. 19-10, p. 2).[2]

         In March 2014, Ms. Martin received the “Shining Star” award. (Doc. 12-1, p. 15; Doc. 19-1, ¶ 2). The Alabama Education Association presents the award to an association member who works in a support staff position at a local school. (Doc. 12-1, p. 15). The award recognized Ms. Martin “as the state education support professional of the year” for “outstanding service.” (Doc. 19-1, ¶ 9). In May 2014, the student government association at Vincent Middle High School recognized Ms. Martin as a staff member who demonstrates “good spirit with the teachers, the co-workers, the community, and [who] show[s] good leadership skills.” (Doc. 12-1, p. 16).

         According to Ms. Martin, over her many years of service to the Shelby County Board, she has asked for an opportunity to help in the front office, but she has not been allowed to work there. (Doc. 19-1, ¶ 5). Nor have other African-Americans. (Doc. 19-1, ¶ 6). After Ms. Martin filed this lawsuit in 2015, the Board hired an African-American employee as a bookkeeper in the Vincent Middle High School front office. (Doc. 19-1, ¶ 7). To Ms. Martin's knowledge, the bookkeeper is the first African-American individual who the Board has hired in a support position in the front office at the school. (Doc. 19-1, ¶¶ 6, 7).

         In 2014, Ms. Martin applied to fill a vacant position in the front office at Vincent Middle High School. Generally, to fill a vacancy within the Shelby County school district, a school administrator from the school with the vacancy asks the district's human resources department to post an open position. (Doc. 12-2, p. 5; Doc. 12-5, ¶ 4). For a 12-month contract position, like a registrar/data manager, the human resources office posts the vacancy for 10 business days, and candidates apply online. (Doc. 12-5, ¶ 4; Doc. 12-2, p. 5). The school with the vacancy assembles a team to review the online applications, select candidates to interview, and conduct interviews. (Doc. 12-2, p. 5; Doc. 12-5, ¶ 5; Doc. 12-6, p. 7). The superintendent occasionally has input into which candidates to interview for principal and central office positions at the schools in the district, but the superintendent does not select candidates to interview for positions within particular schools. (Doc. 12-6, p. 7).

         During interviews, the interview panel at the school with the vacancy asks each candidate the same questions, and panel members make notes about the answers. (Doc. 12-5, ¶ 6). In 2014, the template form for assessing interviews included a place for the panel to assign a numerical rating to each answer. (Doc. 12-5, ¶ 6). The panel members then discuss the qualities of the candidates who they interviewed and rank the candidates before determining which candidate they will recommend to human resources to fill the vacancy. (Doc. 12-5, ¶ 7).

         After an interview panel submits a recommendation for hire to human resources, the human resources office provides the recommendation to the district's superintendent. (Doc. 12-4, p. 4; Doc. 12-5, ¶ 8; Doc. 12-6, pp. 11-12). The superintendent then recommends the candidate to the Board. When the superintendent recommends a candidate for a 12 month-position, the Board members do not receive information about unsuccessful applicants for the available position. (Doc. 12-5, ¶ 9). The Board members vote on the candidate who the superintendent recommends. (Doc. 12-5, ¶ 9). The Board rarely declines the candidate who the superintendent recommends. (Doc. 12-6, p. 13). Under state law, the Shelby County school system officially hires a candidate only after the Board votes. (Doc. 12-5, ¶ 9).

         On April 25, 2014, the Board posted a vacancy for the registrar/data manager at Vincent Middle High School. (Doc. 12-2, p. 5; Doc. 12-5, ¶ 10). According to the job description, applicants had to have at least a high school diploma, working knowledge of basic office procedures and business machines, 30 words per minute typing proficiency, computer experience in data entry, proficiency with Microsoft Excel and Word, proficiency with email and Windows XP, good organizational skills, good phone and public relations skills, and visual acuity. (Doc. 19-4, p. 1). The registrar/data manager job description is a universal document that applies to the registrar/data manager position at each school in the Shelby County school system. (Doc. 12-6, p. 6).

         The job description states that the responsibilities of a registrar/data manager are as follows:

1. Be familiar with and follow the Shelby County Board of Education and local school policies.
2. Be responsible for maintaining data management program(s) for the local school.
3. Enter data on student, staff, scheduling and other information, as assigned.
4. Process enrollment and withdrawal of students including processing of associated paperwork, records, transcripts, etc.
5. Assist parent/guardians in completing and submitting all required registration materials.
6. Perform daily, monthly, and routine tasks as required for the efficient operation of data management program(s) such as:
• Maintaining accurate enrollment, attendance with withdrawal information on all students.
• Maintaining accurate personnel information.
• Maintaining accurate course, class, and scheduling information.
• Entering other data as assigned.
• Resolving and correcting data conflicts.
7. Attend training as required.
8. Adhere to all directives regarding proper data codes and formats.
9. Assist in preparing, printing and distributing reports such as:
• Student progress reports and ...

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