United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
MARY E. LISENBY, Plaintiff,
JOHN WILLIAMS, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
K. KALLON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Lisenby originally filed this action pursuant to Title VII of
the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 stat. 253, as amended, 42
U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., against the Lowndes
County Sheriff's Department, the Lowndes County
Commission, the Lowndes County Sheriff, John Williams, and
several other employees of the Lowndes County Sheriff's
Department. Lisenby, who is Caucasian, alleges that the
Department was a hostile working environment tainted by
pervasive racial and sex harassment, that she was
discriminated against because of her race, and that Sheriff
Williams retaliated against her by discharging her when she
complained about her treatment. The court has already granted
two previously filed motions to dismiss, docs. 13 and 15, and
only Lisenby's hostile work environment and racial/gender
harassment claim, count one, and her discrimination claim,
count two, against Sheriff Williams are before the court.
Doc. 23 at 7. Sheriff Williams has now filed a motion for
summary judgment arguing that Lisenby has failed to establish
the requisite severe or pervasive harassment necessary to
prevail on a hostile environment claim. Doc. 29. That motion
is now fully briefed, see docs. 30; 33; and 34, and
ripe for review. After carefully considering the
parties' briefs and the record, the court concludes that
questions of material fact preclude it from granting summary
judgment. Accordingly, Sheriff Williams' motion, doc. 29,
is due to be denied.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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(a). 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). Thus,
“a party opposing a properly supported motion for
summary judgment . . . must set forth specific facts showing
that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id.
at 256. However, “[t]he evidence of the non-movant is
to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be
drawn in [her] favor.” Id. at 255. It is
explicitly not the role of the court “to weigh
conflicting evidence or to make credibility
determinations.” Mize v. Jefferson City Bd. of
Educ., 93 F.3d 739, 742 (11th Cir. 1996); see also
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255 (explaining that
“[c]redibility determinations, the weighing of the
evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the
facts are jury functions, not those of a judge”).
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)). Nor will “a . .
. ‘scintilla of evidence in support of the nonmoving
party . . . suffice to overcome a motion for summary
judgment.'” Melton v. Abston, 841 F.3d
1207, 1219 (11th Cir. 2016) (quoting Young v. City of
Palm Bay, 358 F.3d 859, 860 (11th Cir. 2004)). Instead,
if “the record taken as a whole could not lead a
rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party,
there is no genuine issue for trial, ” and summary
judgment is appropriate. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v.
Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (quotation
Williams hired Lisenby in June 2015 as a deputy sheriff in
the Lowndes County Sheriff's Department. Docs. 30-1 at 2;
33-1 at 6. During her term of employment, Lisenby was the
only white female officer in the Department. Doc. 33-1 at
Department employees, including Lisenby and her fellow
officers, were directed to refrain from “divisive
criticism of . . . supervisory personnel” and were
prohibited from engaging in insubordinate behavior. Doc. 30-3
at 4, 7, 11-12. Sheriff Williams managed the Department
closely by specifically assigning particular tasks to each
officer and expecting officers to exclusively focus on those
duties. Doc. 30-2 at 3. As relevant here, Sheriff Williams
relegated traffic control responsibilities only to the
officers issued Uniform Traffic Ticket and Complaint books.
Id. All other officers were expected to focus on
their assigned tasks and to issue only verbal warnings if
they noticed traffic violations, absent some basis for
effectuating an arrest. Id. at 3-4.
the course of Lisenby's employment, Sheriff Williams
repeatedly singled out and insulted her, particularly when
she conducted traffic stops. See Doc. 33-1 at 18,
20, 26, 31. Among other things, Sheriff Williams commented on
Lisenby's breasts while discussing bulletproof vests with
her, id. at 23, called her “a stupid
bitch” on several occasions, id. at 18, 31,
commented to other officers that dealing with Lisenby was
like dealing with a “fucking five year old, ”
id. at 18, called her a “typical white female
[who] can't do a damn thing right, ” id.
at 19, and, when Lisenby had trouble understanding him on the
radio, commented that he just did not “know what it is
about you females.” Id. When Lisenby asked
Sheriff Williams to stop speaking to her in such a derogatory
manner, he told her to resign if she could not tolerate his
behavior. Id. at 18. Sheriff Williams also
purportedly locked Lisenby out of a meeting for several
minutes because “her dumb ass was late.”
Id. This pattern of harassment allegedly became so
severe that Lisenby avoided the Sheriff's Office and the
county jail to reduce her interactions with Sheriff Williams.
Id. at 26, 31, 33.
issues with Sheriff Williams apparently reached a tipping
point on August 5, 2016. Id. at 10. That day,
Lisenby, who was not assigned to traffic duty at the time,
id. at 11, pulled a motorist over for running a stop
sign and nearly colliding with Lisenby's vehicle.
Id. at 10. The motorist was irate about the stop and
aggressively confronted Lisenby. Id. The motorist
then proceeded to call Sheriff Williams during the stop and
to complain directly to him regarding Lisenby's conduct.
Id. at 11. Using the motorist's phone, Sheriff
Williams instructed Lisenby to release the motorist without
writing a ticket even after Lisenby purportedly explained
that the motorist was impaired. Id. at 11-13. During
the call, Sheriff Williams berated Lisenby for pulling the
motorist over and called her “a stupid bitch, ”
among other things. Doc. 33-1 at 13, 31. Although Lisenby
felt that her life was in danger when the motorist confronted
her, she complied with Sheriff Williams' instructions.
Id. at 13-15. An official investigation was
subsequently initiated into the incident and Lisenby was
terminated a few days later, allegedly without proper notice
of the disciplinary proceedings or an opportunity for an exit
interview. Id. at 15-17, 30; Doc. 30-6 at 2-4.
complaint pleads two counts-a hostile environment claim she
titles “racial/gender harassment and hostile
environment, ” count one, and a discriminatory
discharge claim she titles “Title VII, ” count
two. The court will address both counts in turn, beginning
with the hostile environment claim.
Count I-Hostile Work Environment
order to prevail on a hostile environment claim brought under
Title VII, Lisenby must show that:
(1) [she] belonged to a protected group, (2) [she] was
subjected to unwelcome harassment, (3) the harassment was
based on a protected characteristic, (4) the harassment was
sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the terms and
conditions of [her] employment and create an abusive working