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Gray v. City of Montgomery

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

April 11, 2018

GWENDOLYN GRAY, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF MONTGOMERY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          W. KEITH WATKINS, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the court are Defendant City of Montgomery's motion for summary judgment (Doc. # 52), which is supported by a brief (Doc. # 53), Plaintiff's response (Doc. # 62), and Defendant's reply (Doc. # 63). Upon consideration of the arguments of counsel, the relevant law, and the evidence, the court concludes that the motion is due to be granted.

         I. JURISDICTION AND VENUE

         Subject-matter jurisdiction is exercised pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and 28 U.S.C. § 1343. Personal jurisdiction and venue are not contested.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         To succeed on a motion for summary judgment, the moving party must demonstrate “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). The court views the evidence, and all reasonable inferences drawn from it, in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Jean-Baptiste v. Gutierrez, 627 F.3d 816, 820 (11th Cir. 2010).

         “[A] party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion . . . .” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). This responsibility includes identifying the portions of the record illustrating the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Id. Alternatively, a movant who does not have a trial burden of production can assert, without citing the record, that the nonmoving party “cannot produce admissible evidence to support” a material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(B).

         If the movant meets its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to establish-with evidence beyond the pleadings-that a genuine dispute material to each of its claims for relief exists. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324. A genuine dispute of material fact exists “if the nonmoving party has produced evidence such that a reasonable factfinder could return a verdict in its favor.” Waddell v. Valley Forge Dental Assocs., 276 F.3d 1275, 1279 (11th Cir. 2001).

         III. FACTS[1]

         Plaintiff Gwendolyn Gray is an African-American female who was born in 1967. She has worked for Defendant City of Montgomery since before 2006. Plaintiff contends (1) that she was subjected to race discrimination[2] in October 2014[3]when Defendant did not allow her to interview for a promotion; (2) that she was subjected to race and gender discrimination when she was denied an award for Dispatcher of the Year in 2016; (3) that, since 2006, she has been subjected to a hostile work environment on the basis of her age, race, gender, and protected activities; and (4) that, at the end of May 2014, she was denied equal protection based on her race and gender when she was suspended from work for one day. (Doc. # 26 at ¶¶ 30-31, 38, 55-74.)

         Finally, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant denied her rights guaranteed under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601, et seq., by refusing to grant twenty-six hours of earned sick leave after incorrectly applying FMLA leave to an earlier health-related absence.

         IV. DISCUSSION

         A. Title VII/§ 1983: Race and Gender Discrimination Claims (Failure to Interview)

         Plaintiff brings her race and gender discrimination claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., and the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause as enforced by 42 U.S.C. § 1983. She seeks to prove these claims with circumstantial evidence. “The elements of a section 1983 claim of race or gender discrimination are the same as the elements of a Title VII disparate treatment action.” Rice-Lamar v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 232 F.3d 836, 843 n.11 (11th Cir. 2000) (citing Cross v. Alabama, 49 F.3d 1490, 1507-08 (11th Cir. 1995)); see also Harris v. Shelby Cnty. Bd. of Educ., 99 F.3d 1078, 1082-83 (11th Cir. 1996) (“We evaluate Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 race discrimination claims supported by circumstantial evidence using the framework set out by the United States Supreme Court in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 . . . (1973).”); see also Quigg v. Thomas Cty. Sch. Dist., 814 F.3d 1227, 1236-37 (11th Cir. 2016) (noting that “Title VII and [§] 1983 claims have the same elements [of proof] where the claims are based on the same set of facts”).

         Based on the foregoing, Plaintiff's race and gender discrimination claims under Title VII and § 1983 are subject to the three-step burden-shifting analytical framework outlined in McDonnell Douglas, and its progeny. (See Doc. # 62, at 8 (invoking the McDonnell Douglas framework for the analyses of Plaintiff's discrimination claims).) First, a Title VII plaintiff “must carry the initial burden . . . of establishing a prima facie case of racial discrimination.” McDonnell Douglas Corp., 411 U.S. at 802. Second, if the plaintiff establishes such a prima facie case, “thereby raising an inference that [s]he was the subject of intentional race [or gender] discrimination, the burden shifts to the defendant to rebut this inference by presenting legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for its employment action.” Holifield v. Reno, 115 F.3d 1555, 1564 (11th Cir. 1997) (per curiam) (citing Tex. Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248 (1981)). Third, “[w]here the defendant meets this burden, the plaintiff has the opportunity to demonstrate that the defendant's articulated reason for the adverse employment action is a mere pretext for discrimination.” Id. at 1565 (citing McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 804; Roberts v. Gadsden Mem'l Hosp., 835 F.2d 793, 796 (11th Cir. 1988)). “Put another way, once the employer succeeds in carrying its intermediate burden of production, the ultimate issue in the case becomes whether the plaintiff has proven that the employer intentionally discriminated against h[er] because of h[er] race” or gender. Id. (citing Turnes v. AmSouth Bank, N.A., 36 F.3d 1057, 1061 (11th Cir. 1994)).

         1. Title VII and § 1983: Failure to Interview

         In Counts I and VI, Plaintiff asserts a claim pursuant to Title VII and an equal protection claim pursuant to § 1983, alleging that Defendant discriminated against her on the basis of race[4] when, in October 2014, she was not interviewed for a promotion to sergeant. (Doc. # 26 at ¶¶ 30, 77.)

         Defendant, in its opening brief, argues that Plaintiff cannot demonstrate a prima facie case because she is unable to “identify an individual not of her protected class who was treated more favorably than she was.” (Doc. # 52, at 2; accord Doc. # 53, at 13.) This argument hones in on the fourth element of the prima facie case; hence, for purposes of this opinion, it is assumed arguendo that Plaintiff meets the other elements of the prima facie case.[5]

         To satisfy the fourth element of the prima facie case in a failure-to-promote case, the plaintiff must show that “other equally or less-qualified employees outside her class were promoted, ” Brown v. Ala. Dep't of Transp., 597 F.3d 1160, 1174 (11th Cir. 2010), or that, “after her rejection, the position remained open and the employer continued to seek applicants from persons of complainant's qualifications, ” Wall v. Tr. Co. of Georgia, 946 F.2d 805, 809 (11th Cir. 1991). But, as here, “[o]n a defendant's motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff need not come forward initially to present its prima facie case. Rather, the defendant carries the burden of demonstrating that the plaintiff lacks evidence which could establish a prima facie case.” Dickson v. Amoco Performance Prod., Inc., 845 F.Supp. 1565, 1569 (N.D.Ga. 1994) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323); see ...


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