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Gunn v. Elmore County Board of Education

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

March 8, 2018

FREDDIE GUNN, Plaintiff,
v.
ELMORE COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, Defendant.

          RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          WALLACE CAPEL, JR. CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On July 6, 2016, Freddie Gunn (“Plaintiff”) filed a complaint (Doc. 1) alleging that the Elmore County Board of Education (“Defendant”) discriminated against him because of his race when he was overlooked for the position of Shop Foreman. Pending before the court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 29) and its Brief in Support (Doc. 30) thereof; Plaintiff's Response in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 32) and his Brief in Support (Doc. 33) thereof; and Defendant's Reply (Doc. 35). Defendant's motion is ripe for recommendation to the United States District Judge.[1] For the reasons that follow, the undersigned finds that Defendant's motion for summary judgment is due to be GRANTED.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a reviewing court shall grant a motion for “summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).[2] Only disputes about material facts will preclude the granting of summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). “An issue of fact is ‘genuine' if the record as a whole could lead a reasonable trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party. An issue is ‘material' if it might affect the outcome of the case under the governing law.” Redwing Carriers, Inc. v. Saraland Apartments, 94 F.3d 1489, 1496 (11th Cir. 1996) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248).

         Under Rule 56, summary judgment is appropriate “if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The party asking for summary judgment “always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of ‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, ' which it believes demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Id. at 323. The movant can meet this burden by presenting evidence showing there is no dispute of material fact, or by showing the non-moving party has failed to present evidence in support of some element of his case on which he bears the ultimate burden of proof. Id. at 322-23.

         Once the movant has satisfied this burden, the non-moving party must “go beyond the pleadings and by his own affidavits, or by the ‘depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, ' designate ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Id. at 324. In doing so, and to avoid summary judgment, the non-movant “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). The parties must support their assertions “that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed” by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations[], admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials” or by “showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A) & (B).

         If the nonmovant “fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact” as required by Rule 56(c), then the court may “consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion” and “grant summary judgment if the motion and supporting materials- including the facts considered undisputed-show that the movant is entitled to it.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2) & (3).

         In determining whether a genuine issue for trial exists, the court must view all the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant. McCormick v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 333 F.3d 1234, 1243 (11th Cir. 2003). Likewise, the reviewing court must draw all justifiable inferences from the evidence in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. 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). Furthermore, “[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); see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50 (“If the evidence [on which the nonmoving party relies] is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted.”) (internal citations omitted).

         A reviewing court is restrained during summary judgment proceedings from making the sort of determinations ordinarily reserved for the finder of fact at a trial. See Strickland v. Norfolk S. Ry. Co., 692 F.3d 1151, 54 (11th Cir. 2012) (citations and quotations omitted) (“Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge, whether he is ruling on a motion for summary judgment or for a directed verdict.”). After the nonmoving party has responded to the motion for summary judgment, the court must grant summary judgment if there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a).

         III. STATEMENT OF FACTS

         In 1999, Plaintiff, a black male, started working for Defendant in the transportation department with six other mechanics, four of whom were white and two of whom were black. Doc. 31-1 at 19:11-12; 20:13-20; 132:6-9. Specifically, Plaintiff worked as a bus mechanic and as a bus driver. Id. at 19:18-20. During his employment with Defendant, Plaintiff applied for the position of bus Shop Foreman on three occasions, and applied for the last time in May 2014.[3] Id. at 124:18-125:22; Doc. 31-3 at 32:17-23. Plaintiff and Frank Hysmith, a white male, were the only candidates who interviewed for the job. Doc. 31-4 at 6:10-21; Doc. 31-2 at 35:2-3:36:8-10.

         The 2014 interviews were conducted by a panel of four interviewers: (1) Ray Mullino (white male), who currently serves as the Transportation Coordinator for Defendant; (2) Gary Gregory (white male) who was the maintenance department supervisor; (3) Nick Townsend (black male) who was an assistant principal; and (4) Gina Sanders (black female) who was an elementary school principal. Id. Doc. 31-2 at 7:4-14; 36:11-17; 46:17-47:16; Mullino Aff. (Doc. 31-3) at ¶ 1, 6. All interviewers scored Hysmith higher than Plaintiff. Doc. 31-12. Hysmith was subsequently selected as the candidate to be recommended for hire. Doc. 31-2 at 39:15-20.

         After Hysmith was promoted to bus Shop Foreman, Plaintiff filed an EEOC charge alleging racial discrimination on October 14, 2014. Doc. 13. In his EEOC charge, Plaintiff states that he was overlooked for the Shop Foreman position twice, and the position was filled by white males who either did not possess the required certifications or had violations within their personnel file. Doc. 31-13.

         Plaintiff resigned from his job with Defendant in April 2015 and started working at Montgomery Public Schools. Doc. 31-1 at 37:21-38:1; 6:6-7; 7:11-12; see also Gunn Resignation Letter (Doc. 31-5). Plaintiff testified that it is possible that he told other people he was leaving his job with Defendant because he could make more money in Montgomery. Doc. 31-1 at 85:23-86:3. In his resignation letter he stated: “While I have enjoyed working with the Transportation Department, I feel like I must move into a new phase in my life. I wish you and the Elmore County Board of Education continued success.” Doc. 31-5.

         IV. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff's amended complaint sets forth a claim of race-based discrimination in violation of Section 703(a) of Title VII. See Doc. 12 at 4. Plaintiff states that Defendant discriminated against him on the basis of his race when they did not promote him to Shop Foreman, even though he was qualified for the position, and instead promoted a white male, Hysmith, who was not qualified for the position. Id. Plaintiff also alleges that the claim of discrimination is based upon Defendant's decision to promote a white male that was racially biased to supervise black employees, and for retaliating against Plaintiff after he complained of the discrimination. Id. at 4-5.

         Although it is not exactly clear to the undersigned, the amended complaint may also be attempting to set forth a claim for retaliation. Plaintiff's complaint states that Defendant retaliated against him by accusing him of wrongdoing and placing negative statements in his personnel file for doing the same actions that white employees were allowed to do. Id. at 4. Plaintiff alleges that these actions occurred after he complained of discrimination and different treatment of black employees to his supervisor. Id.

         The undersigned turns to address both claims against Defendant's motion for summary judgment.

         A. Plaintiff's race-based ...


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