United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
QUENTON L. NUNN, Plaintiff,
CITY OF HUNSTVILLE ALABAMA, et al., Defendants.
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Quenton Nunn is a former employee of the City of Huntsville,
Alabama and the Huntsville Madison County Mental Health
Center. After working part-time for the City as a bus driver,
Mr. Nunn worked for the Mental Health Center as a full-time
bus driver pursuant to the terms of a contract between the
Mental Health Center and the City of Huntsville. Under the
agreement between the Mental Health Center and the City, Mr.
Nunn transported Mental Health Center clients to and from the
center, and he also drove City residents who participated in
the City's Handi-Ride program.
Mental Health Center terminated Mr. Nunn's employment in
July 2014 because Mr. Nunn did not get a leave request form
signed before he took time off to attend a religious
conference. According to Mr. Nunn, the City, as his
joint-employer, failed to accommodate his request for time
off to attend the conference and retaliated against him for
attending the conference by terminating his employment or
causing the Mental Health Center to do so. Mr. Nunn asserts
claims against the City for failure to accommodate his
religious beliefs under Title VII and § 1983, First
Amendment retaliation under § 1983, and retaliatory
discharge under Title VII.
to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Mr. Nunn
and the City have filed cross motions for summary judgment.
(Doc. 67; Doc. 71). For the reasons explained below, the
Court grants in part and denies in part both motions, and the
Court asks the parties for supplemental briefing with respect
to Mr. Nunn's Title VII retaliation claim.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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).
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
practice, cross motions for summary judgment may be probative
of the nonexistence of a factual dispute, but this procedural
posture does not automatically empower the court to dispense
with the determination whether questions of material fact
exist.” Georgia State Conference of NAACP v.
Fayette Cty. Bd. of Comm'rs, 775 F.3d 1336, 1345
(11th Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks and brackets
omitted) (quoting Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake
Superior Chippewa Indians v. Voigt, 700 F.2d 341, 349
(7th Cir. 1983)). “If both parties proceed on the same
legal theory and rely on the same material facts . . . the
case is ripe for summary judgment.” Georgia State
Conference of NAACP, 775 F.3d at 1345 (internal
quotation marks omitted) (quoting Shook v. United
States, 713 F.2d 662, 665 (11th Cir. 1983)).
the movant bears the burden of proof on an issue, because, as
a defendant, it is asserting an affirmative defense, it must
establish that there is no genuine issue of material fact as
to any element of that defense.” International
Stamp Art, Inc. v. U.S. Postal Service, 456 F.3d 1270,
1274 (11th Cir. 2006).
Nunn is a Jehovah's Witness. (Doc. 66-7, pp. 17-18). He
has been an elder at his Kingdom Hall for 10 years. (Doc.
66-7, pp. 18-19, 23). As an elder, Mr. Nunn has
administrative responsibilities that require, for example,
that he work as an attendant at district conventions. (Doc.
66-7, pp. 20-21). Annual district conventions take place in
June or July. (Doc. 66-7, pp. 22, 81). Mr. Nunn has a
“spiritual obligation” to participate in district
conventions. (Doc. 66-7, p. 81).
2009, the City of Huntsville hired Mr. Nunn as a part-timer
driver for one of the City's Handi-Ride buses. (Doc.
66-7, p. 84; Doc. 66-8, p. 116). The City's Department of
Parking and Public Transit operates the Hand-Ride paratransit
program which is a public transportation service for
individuals with disabilities who cannot use the City's
traditional shuttle service. (Doc. 66-1, p. 39; Doc. 66-2, p.
23). In September 2011, pursuant to the terms of a contract
that the Huntsville Madison County Mental Health Center
entered with the City, the Mental Health Center hired Mr.
Nunn as a full-time bus driver to transport center clients to
and from daily treatments at the facility and to transport
City Handi-Ride customers. (Doc. 66-5, pp. 29-30; Doc. 66-6,
pp. 3-4; Doc. 66-7, pp. 50-52, 84). The contract that was in
effect when the Mental Health Center hired Mr. Nunn in 2011
is not in the record, but the 2012 and 2013 agreements are,
and those agreements between the Mental Health Center and the
City outline each party's responsibilities under the
agreement and each party's relationship to and
responsibilities for supervision of Mr. Nunn. (Doc. 66-2, pp.
the contract between the Mental Health Center and the City,
the City's Public Transit department provided Mr. Nunn
with the bus that he drove. (Doc. 66-2, pp. 8, 17). The
Mental Health Center agreed to employ Mr. Nunn and was
“responsible for all withholding taxes, any health
insurance, workmen's compensation insurance and any other
employee benefits.” (Doc. 66-2, pp. 9, 18). The Mental
Health Center also agreed that Mr. Nunn “will meet the
same employment criteria established by the policies and
procedures of Public Transit.” (Doc. 66-2, pp. 9, 18).
The Mental Health Center agreed that the City's
Paratransit Coordinator would supervise Mr. Nunn. (Doc. 66-2,
pp. 9, 18) (stating that “the day-to-day management of
the driver under this agreement will be the responsibility of
contract contained a provision regarding Mr. Nunn's work
schedule and leave. That portion of the agreement states:
The Center agrees that the driver will work the established
Public Transit work schedule which may include some holidays
that the Center may be closed. In the event the Center
employed driver is unavailable because of scheduled leave,
holiday approved off, alternate duty assignments required by
the Center or during the interim between the termination of
employment and hiring an acceptable replacement, Public
Transit will assign a substitute driver in his or her place
and will bill the Center at a substitute driver's
established wage rate for the hours of service provided in
place of the Center employed [d]river. The Paratransit
Coordinator must be consulted and have prior concurrence with
the approval of scheduled leave including Center holidays
when the driver may normally be assigned to work. The
Paratransit Coordinator must be notified as soon in advance
as possible but at least two weeks in advance of any
alternate duty assignments that will temporarily remove the
driver from active participation [in his or her duties under
(Doc. 66-2, pp. 9, 18).
with the terms of the contract, Mr. Nunn began his work day
at the City garage where he picked up his bus and received
information about his daily route. (Doc. 66-7, pp. 55-57).
Public Transit provided Mr. Nunn with a daily manifest
listing each Mental Health Center passenger and each City
Handi-Ride passenger with a corresponding pick up and drop
off time. (Doc. 66-2, ¶ 7; see Doc. 66-2, pp.
25-36; Doc. 66-7, pp. 56-57). Mr. Nunn dropped off Mental
Health Center clients by 9:00 or 10:00 a.m. each morning.
(Doc. 66-7, p. 58). Mr. Nunn then dropped off City Handi-Ride
passengers at various locations, including a municipal gym,
dialysis centers, and doctors' offices. (Doc. 66-7, pp.
60-61). Mr. Nunn returned to the Mental Health Center to take
those passengers home. Then, Mr. Nunn transported other City
riders. (Doc. 66-7, pp. 65-66). At the end of his shift, Mr.
Nunn returned to the City garage where he parked his bus at
4:00 p.m. each day. (Doc. 66-7, pp. 66-67, 71).
Willige, the City's Paratransit Coordinator, was Mr.
Nunn's supervisor with respect to the duties he performed
for the City. (Doc. 66-1, p. 81; Doc. 66-3, p. 56; Doc. 66-7,
p. 74). Maxie Kirk, the Mental Health Center's Recovery
Services Program Manager, was Mr. Nunn's supervisor with
respect to the duties he performed for the Mental Health
Center. (Doc. 66-3, pp. 87-88; Doc. 66-5, pp. 18, 23; Doc.
66-7, p. 54).
2013, Ms. Kirk approved Mr. Nunn's request for time off
the following month on June 20, June 21, and June 24. (Doc.
66-5, pp. 203-04, 262). Ms. Kirk told Mr. Willige that Mr.
Nunn would be off on June 24, but she did not tell him that
Mr. Nunn also would be off on June 20 and June 21. (Doc.
66-5, p. 262).
20, 2013, Mr. Willige emailed Ms. Kirk. The email reads,
“Hi: Quenton did NOT come to work today, when we got
him on the phone he told us he was on vacation! Do you know
anything about this? I have no knowledge of this, the only
thing I have is he is off on 6/24/2013.” (Doc. 66-5, p.
262). Ms. Kirk emailed Mr. Willige. Her message states:
I contacted my HR department concerning Quenton's time
off. It was turned in on May 1st. When I sent the email to
you, I failed to list all dates: 20th, 21st, and 24th. I
apologize for failing to overlook dates as requested [sic].
I will be sure to discuss a new procedure with Quenton when
requesting time off. Procedure will be:
1) fill out [Mental Health Center] leave request form
2) turn into [Mr. Willige] for approval and signature
3) turn into [Ms. Kirk] for approval and signature 4) turn
into [Mental Health Center] HR department
I will coordinate transportation for Friday.
Again, I apologize for the confusion.
(Doc. 66-5, p. 262).
Kirk also approved Mr. Nunn's request for leave on June
28, 2013, so that Mr. Nunn could attend his annual religious
convention. (Doc. 66-7, pp. 86-87; Doc. 66-5, pp. 265-66). On
June 27, 2013, Ms. Kirk asked a Public Transit employee for
Mr. Nunn's June 28, 2013, manifest because she had
“a staff member filling in for Quenton.” (Doc.
66-5, p. 266). When Mr. Willige learned that Ms. Kirk
expected Mr. Nunn to be off on June 28, 2013, Mr. Willige
emailed Ms. Kirk. (Doc. 66-5, p. 265). The email reads:
Quenton has NOT put in to be off for tomorrow!!! I am the one
and only person that handles that, Quenton wants to be off
tomorrow because of a convention, the same convention that I
have 7 drivers off for!! If you are letting Quenton off you
will have to cover what he is to be doing, for I don't
have anyone to cover it, that is the Senior center [sic]
66-5, p. 265). Ms. Kirk responded to Mr. Willige. Her
I have Quenton documented off and I remember a personal phone
conversation with you approving Quenton's day off (it was
several months ago). We will provide transportation to Day
Treatment clients annotated on Quenton's manifest on
I apologize for the confusion and if I can assist you further
please don't hesitate to contact me.
(Doc. 66-5, p. 265).
arrange other drivers to cover Mr. Nunn's routes on June
20, 2013 and June 28, 2013, Mr. Willige gave Mr. Nunn's
manifests to Public Transit dispatchers who evaluated which
other drivers had time in their schedules to pick up some of
Mr. Nunn's riders. (Doc. 66-10, ¶ 12). The
dispatchers then contacted the drivers to inform them of the
changes, and the drivers evaluated their schedules to
determine the most efficient way to complete their manifests.
(Doc. 66-10, ¶ 12). Some drivers had to work involuntary
overtime. (Doc. 66-10, ¶ 16).
Nunn testified that no one told him about the new leave
approval process that Ms. Kirk implemented in June 2013, but
between July 2013 and October 2013, Mr. Nunn requested and
received written approval for leave from both Mr. Willige and
Ms. Kirk on at least six occasions. (Doc. 66-5, pp. 268-273;
Doc. 66-7, pp. 94-95).
to the City, Public Transit approves leave requests based on
a “first come, first serve” policy. (Doc. 66-1,
101; Doc. 66-10, ¶ 9). Mr. Willige testified that he can
approve leave for only a certain number of drivers on a given
day. This number fluctuates depending on the availability of
part-time and fulltime drivers to cover all routes. (Doc.
66-10, ¶ 11).
December 11, 2013, and January 10, 2014, Mr. Willige received
leave requests for five drivers for July 3, 2014, and/or July
7, 2014. Mr. Willige granted these leave requests. (Doc.
66-10, ¶¶ 17-25; Doc. 66-10, pp. 9, 11, 13, 15,
17). Four of those five drivers were attending the
Jehovah's Witness conference for which Mr. Nunn also
requested leave. (Doc. 66-8, pp. 131-133). Mr. Willige
allowed a sixth driver to change his work schedule to
accommodate his attendance at the conference. (Doc. 66-10,
January 13, 2014, Mr. Nunn presented a written leave request
form to Mr. Willige in which Mr. Nunn requested approval for
leave to attend the Jehovah's Witness annual religious
conference in July 2014. (Doc. 66-7, p. 90; Doc. 70-7, p. 1;
see also Doc. 70-6, p. 1). Mr. Nunn asked to be off
on July 3, 2014 and July 7, 2014. (Doc. 70-6, p. 1; Doc.
70-7, p. 1). Mr. Willige did not approve Mr. Nunn's
religious leave request for July 2014, and he did not sign
Mr. Nunn's leave request form. (Doc. 70-2, pp. 158-59;
Doc. 70-7, p. 1). According to Mr. Nunn, Mr. Willige told him
that he could not sign the form “because if he did,
that meant he was taking full responsibility for that route.
But if Ms. Kirk and I could find a driver for the route, the
same way we did the year prior to that, that he had no
problem with [it].” (Doc. 66-7, p. 91).
January 15, 2014, Mr. Willige sent an email to Ms. Kirk.
(Doc. 70-6). The email reads:
Hi Maxi: Quenton came to my office on 1/13/14 requesting off
for 7/3/14-7/7/14. This is their annual church gathering that