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Lawrence v. Lawson State Community College

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

March 6, 2018

CRAIG D. LAWRENCE, SR., Plaintiff,
v.
LAWSON STATE COMMUNITY COLLEGE, ET AL, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ABDUL K. KALLON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Dr. Craig Lawrence, Ph.D., alleges that his employer, Lawson State Community College, and his supervisors, Dr. Perry Ward, Ph.D., and Sharon Crews, in violation of Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 623, failed to promote him, subjected him to a hostile work environment because of his race, age, and/or gender, and retaliated against him when he complained. Doc. 15. The Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment, doc. 20, which is fully briefed and ripe for consideration, docs. 21; 26; & 28. After reading the briefs, viewing the evidence, and considering the relevant law, the court finds that the motion is due to be granted.

         I. LEGAL STANDARD FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

         Under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper “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. “Rule 56[] mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (alteration in original). The moving party bears the initial burden of proving the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party, who is required to “go beyond the pleadings” to establish that there is a “genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324 (internal quotations omitted). A dispute about a material fact is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         At summary judgment, the court must construe the evidence and all reasonable inferences arising from it in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970); see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. Any factual disputes will be resolved in the non-moving party's favor when sufficient competent evidence supports the non-moving party's version of the disputed facts. See Pace v. Capobianco, 283 F.3d 1275, 1276, 1278 (11th Cir. 2002). However, “mere conclusions and unsupported factual allegations are legally insufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion.” Ellis v. England, 432 F.3d 1321, 1326 (11th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (citing Bald Mountain Park, Ltd. v. Oliver, 863 F.2d 1560, 1563 (11th Cir. 1989)). Moreover, “[a] mere ‘scintilla' of evidence supporting the opposing party's position will not suffice; there must be enough of a showing that the jury could reasonably find for that party.” Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1577 (11th Cir. 1990) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252)).

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Dr. Lawrence is a 61 year old Caucasian male currently employed as the Director of Financial Services and Risk Assessment at Lawson State. Doc. 26 at 9. Dr. Lawrence started his career as a professor at Bessemer State Technical College, where he ultimately became the Chief Financial Officer. Docs. 21 at 7; 26 at 9-10. He joined Lawson State when it merged with Bessemer Tech in 2005 and hoped to oversee general accounting, auditing, and auxiliaries as the Director of Financial Services. Docs. 21 at 6-7; 22-1 at 26-27; 22-3 at 13; 22-5 at 8; 26 at 9-11. Instead, Lawson State made Dr. Lawrence the “Director of Financial Services - Auxiliaries, ” charging him with operation of the bookstores, cafeterias, copy centers, and post offices. Docs. 21 at 7-8; 26 at 10-12.

         Lawson State named a younger African American woman as Director of Accounting, a position that oversaw the college's accounting functions. Docs. 21 at 8; 26 at 12. This woman had served as Internal Auditor at Lawson State prior to the merger. Doc. 22-5 at 24-26. When she resigned in 2010, Lawson State hired another African American woman as her replacement. Docs. 21 at 9; 26 at 12.

         Dr. Lawrence believes that the President and Vice President of Lawson State, Dr. Perry Ward and Sharon Crews, who are both African American, relegated him to auxiliaries oversight to “ostracize” him from the college's main business affairs. Doc. 26 at 11. For their part, Dr. Ward and Crews testified that Vice Chancellor Debbie Dahl instructed them not to involve Dr. Lawrence in the business office affairs or financial operations of the merged institution. Docs. 22-3 at 13; 22-5 at 8. Crews claims that Dahl had cited Dr. Lawrence's “non-responsiveness” as the reason for her directive, doc. 22-5 at 8, while Dr. Ward cites problems with the audits at Bessemer Tech, doc. 22-3 at 13. However, Dr. Lawrence's relevant evaluations note that he led Bessemer Tech to three straight successful audits. Doc. 22-6 at 27.

         In 2014 Dr. Lawrence applied for the posted position of Dean of Career and Technical Education.[1] Docs. 21 a 9; 26 at 18. Instead of reviewing any of the roughly thirty applications, Dr. Ward closed the search and requested authorization to reorganize existing positions to cover the duties of the vacant position. Docs. 21 at 9; 26 at 19. As justification for his decision, Dr. Ward claims that the posting created a disruption:

It got to be a problem for me because a number of our personnel on campus started what I call posturing for the position saying-from what I heard, they were going to get the position, they needed the position, they weren't going to work for this particular person if they got it. It started to be extremely disruptive to the campus community.

Doc. 22-3 at 5. As a result of the reorganization, Dr. Ward changed the title and respective duties of two employees: Donald Sledge (a sixty four year old African American man)-from Assistant Dean of Career and Technical Education, to Associate Dean of Career and Technical Education; and Nancy Wilson (a fifty year old Caucasian woman)-from Chairperson for Manufacturing and Engineering, to Assistant Dean of Career and Technical Education. Docs. 21 at 10; 26 at 19-20.

         Dr. Lawrence believes that racial animus motivated Dr. Ward's decision to close the search and to reorganize the duties instead. Doc. 26 at 31-32. Dr. Lawrence also alleges that in 2015 Dr. Ward excluded him for racial reasons from the group of eighteen “backups” Dr. Ward selected for higher level employees (at least sixteen of whom were African Americans). Docs. 15 at 13; 26 at 13, 34.

         As for Crews, Dr. Lawrence maintains that she “undermined” his authority daily by ignoring the chain of command in the bookstore. Doc. 26 at 16. Allegedly, when one of Dr. Lawrence's subordinates repeatedly directed her questions and work-related issues to Crews instead of to Dr. Lawrence, Crews reprimanded him instead of the employee.[2] Doc. 26 at 17. Also, Crews apparently excluded Dr. Lawrence from meetings and decisions about the bookstore, including whether to outsource the operations. Docs. 15 at 14-15; 22-5 at 44. Crews also purportedly assigned Dr. Lawrence “demeaning” duties, such as maintaining the student information kiosks and answering the suggestion boxes. Doc. 15-1 at 5; 21 at 11-12. Finally, in an email to Dr. Lawrence regarding his absence from the bookstore on one occasion, Crews warned Dr. Lawrence that she could review the surveillance camera to verify his response. Docs. 15 at 15; 22-1 at 39; 22-5 at 37; 22-6 at 123. Dr. Lawrence contends that race, gender, and/or age based animus motivated Crews' actions, noting in support that Crews' “cabinet” is “made up exclusively of African Americans, ” that Crews has hired mostly African American women for the business office, and that Crews made a “negative racial comment” in a meeting that another white male employee “was not going to push this black girl around.” Doc. 26 at 18, 34.

         In addition to these alleged instances of discrimination, Dr. Lawrence contends that Dr. Ward and Crews retaliated against him for filing a charge with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission by engaging in “further harassment and discrimination.” Doc. 15-2. Allegedly, Crews (1) removed him from an email chain about a grant project, (2) directed him to conduct an internal audit without first informing the affected employees to expect a call ...


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