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Bowman v. City of Birmingham

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

March 21, 2018

CALVIN BOWMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF BIRMINGHAM, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ABDUL K. KALLON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Calvin Bowman, proceeding pro se, asserts claims against the City of Birmingham, Kevin Moore, and Jarvis Patton under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983. Specifically, Bowman alleges that the Defendants retaliated against him for complaining about alleged mistreatment in the workplace, presumably in violation of his rights under the First Amendment. Presently before the court is the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, doc. 44, which is fully briefed, docs. 45, 52, 53, [1] and ripe for review. For the reasons stated more fully below, the motion is due to be granted.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), 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.” “Rule 56(c) 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). The moving party bears the initial burden of proving the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Id. at 323. The burden then shifts to the non-moving party, who is required to go “beyond the pleadings” to establish that there is a “genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324 (internal citations and quotation marks 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).

         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 244 (all justifiable inferences must be drawn in the non-moving party's favor). Any factual dispute will be resolved in the non-moving party's favor when sufficient competent evidence supports that party's version of the disputed facts. But see Pace v. Capobianco, 238 F.3d 1275, 1276-78 (11th Cir. 2002) (a court is not required to resolve disputes in the non-moving party's favor when that party's version of events is supported by insufficient evidence). 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) (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 a 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).

         Additionally, because the Plaintiff is pro se, the court must construe the complaint more liberally than it would pleadings drafted by lawyers. Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980). “Pro se pleading are held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by attorneys and will, therefore, be liberally construed.” Boxer X v. Harris, 437 F.3d 1107, 1110 (11th Cir. 2006).

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Bowman is an African American man currently employed by the City in the Birmingham Crossplex Department. Doc. 45 at 7. In 2011, Patton, the Chief of Operations, transferred Bowman into a management position in charge of accounting duties within the Crossplex Department. Id. at 8-9. Subsequently, Moore, an African American, received a promotion to director of the department, and became Bowman's direct supervisor. Id. at 7-8. Bowman made a series of complaints against Moore, which the court will outline in sequential order. Basically, this lawsuit stems from Bowman's contention that Moore and Patton retaliated against him for complaining that Moore was engaging in racially discriminatory and retaliatory employment practices.

         In February 2013, Bowman learned that an event caterer had not yet received disbursements from the City, and met with Moore to discuss this issue. Id. at 9-10. At the time, no formal procedure existed for making payments on this contract. Id. Bowman blamed Preston Kirk, a white employee in charge of booking events, for the payment delay. Id. at 10. Moore disagreed, finding instead that disbursements to event caterers were an accounting function, and as a result, he assigned Bowman the responsibility for that task going forward. Id. When Moore took no disciplinary action against Kirk, id., Bowman accused Moore of “showing Kirk favoritism, ” and asserted that Moore was “quick to discipline the black employees but he refrain[ed] from disciplining the white employees when they [did] something wrong, ” docs. 45 at 10-11; 52 at 6. As a result of this complaint, Moore purportedly retaliated against Bowman by assigning Bowman tasks normally done by administrative staff and other additional tasks, admonishing Bowman for staying inside his office during events and for leaving the office without telling others where he was going, allowing other employees to supervise Bowman, reducing Bowman's supervisory authority, and downgrading Bowman's performance evaluations. Doc. 45 at 11.

         The allegedly retaliatory conduct led Bowman to file a complaint (Bowman's second complaint) with the City's human resources department, alleging that Moore had engaged in racial discrimination and retaliation and created a hostile work environment. Docs. 45 at 11; 52 at 17; 52-1 at 17. The City hired outside counsel to investigate the allegations. Doc. 45 at 11. In the interim, Patton reassigned Bowman to the Finance Department. Docs. 45 at 11; 52 at 17. Ultimately, the investigation concluded in a result of “no findings, ” and the City took no action against Moore. Doc. 45 at 12. Patton transferred Bowman back to the Crossplex Department after the investigation. Doc. 52 at 23. Bowman expressed his disagreement with the “no findings” result (Bowman's third complaint) due to Patton's failure to give him a written copy of the report. Docs. 52 at 22; 52-1 at 23.

         After Patton transferred Bowman back to the Crossplex Department, Moore removed Bowman's supervisory duties and decision-making authority. Doc. 52 at 23. Bowman informed Patton that Moore was still engaging in retaliatory conduct (Bowman's fourth complaint). Id. at 25. A month later, Patton demoted Bowman from manager and relegated Bowman to doing accounting work solely. Docs. 52 at 25; 52-1 at 33. This lawsuit followed.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Bowman asserts a First Amendment retaliation claim against all Defendants and a retaliatory hostile work environment claim against the City under §§ 1981 and 1983. Doc. 1 at 55-57. Relevant here, the Defendants seek summary judgment on the grounds that (1) § 1981 claims do not apply to state actors, (2) Bowman cannot show a City policy of discrimination, and (3) Moore and Patton are entitled to qualified immunity.[2] Doc. 45 at 14-34. The court addresses each issue in turn.

         A. The ...


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