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McQueen v. State, Department of Transportation

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

June 5, 2018




         This action is assigned to the undersigned magistrate judge to conduct all proceedings and order entry of judgment by consent of all the parties pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). See Docs. 18-19. Now pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Doc. 25, filed December 18, 2017). The motion is fully submitted and ripe for review. After a careful review of all the written pleadings, motions, responses, and replies, the Court GRANTS Defendant's motion to dismiss for the reasons articulated below.

         I. Parties and Jurisdiction

         Plaintiff Claude McQueen (“Plaintiff” or “McQueen”) asserts claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (federal question jurisdiction) as he brings claims under 42 U.S.C. §§2000e et seq (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964). Defendant is the State of Alabama Department of Transportation. Though the Defendant styles its motion as one under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), that assertion is on the basis of res judicata and not a general statement that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to address Title VII violations. Therefore, the Court determines that no party contests general subject matter and adequate support exists for its determination.

         II. Factual and Procedural Background

This Title VII action has its genesis in a prior Title VII/§ 1983 action filed by McQueen and adjudicated in this court. Defendants argue that res judicata forecloses McQueen from reigniting the dispute surrounding his race discrimination and retaliation claims. McQueen disputes the application of res judicata and argues that this racial discrimination and retaliation claim could not have been brought in the prior lawsuit. To understand the cases, it is helpful to outline the salient facts of both lawsuits.

         A. The prior lawsuit (McQueen I)

         It is undisputed that Plaintiff previously filed a lawsuit on October 1, 2014 in the Middle District of Alabama related to claims of racial discrimination and retaliation against his employer ALDOT and three supervisors. See Civ. Act. No. 2:14-cv-1016-DAB, Doc. 1. McQueen was originally pro se in that particular lawsuit. After a motion to dismiss was filed, Plaintiff obtained counsel who appeared on his behalf and amended the complaint. See Docs. 26, 30, 33. Subsequently, the claims brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 were dismissed and the case proceeded with discovery. See Docs. 43-44, 50-51. ALDOT eventually filed a motion for summary judgment with brief in support and evidentiary attachments. See Docs. 56-63. After the parties had the opportunity to fully brief the issues, the Court granted the motion for summary judgment on June 30, 2017. See Doc. 82.

         McQueen asserted claims for unequal pay, hostile work environment, and retaliation pursuant to Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Doc. 33; Doc. 82 at p. 9-16.[1] As part of the Court's opinion for the retaliation claim it stated as follows:

Although not raised in his Second Amended Complaint, McQueen additionally testified that Boothe threatened to reprimand him which he believes was in retaliation of his protected activity. (Doc. 77 at 12). As a preliminary matter, this exchange could not have served as the basis for McQueen's complaint for retaliation because the reprimand occurred after McQueen had filed the lawsuit. (Doc. 58-4 at 153:23-154:2). Additionally, there is no indication Boothe was aware of the EEOC charge at the time of the filing of the lawsuit. (Doc. 59-2, ¶ 23). Moreover, a “threatened reprimand” is not an ultimate employment decision such as “termination, failure to hire, or demotion, ” see Crawford, 529 F.3d at 970, nor is there any evidence that the “threatened reprimand” altered the terms and conditions of his employment.
McQueen offers the Declaration of Barron who states Boothe questioned Barron about McQueen's job performance after McQueen filed his EEOC charge and this lawsuit. (Doc. 77 at 12) (referring to Doc. 78-2 at 2-5). Thereafter, McQueen claims that Boothe gave him a low job rating. The Eleventh Circuit has recognized that “a poor performance evaluation that directly results in the denial of a pay raise of any significance clearly affects an employee's compensation and thus constitutes an adverse employment action under Title VII.” Crawford, 529 F.3d at 971 (citing Gillis v. Ga. Dep't of Corr., 400 F.3d 883, 888 (11th Cir. 2005)). However, again, this was not raised in his pleadings or his deposition as a basis for his retaliation claim, but even assuming McQueen could establish that the low job rating was an adverse employment action, that Boothe was aware of McQueen's statutorily protected activity at the time the low rating was given, and that there was a causal connection between the two such that McQueen can establish a prima facie case of retaliation, his claim nevertheless fails.
In this circuit, courts apply the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework to analyze retaliation claims. Gerard v. Bd. of Regents of State of Ga., 324 Fed.Appx. 818, 825 (11th Cir. 2009) (citing Holifield v. Reno, 115 F.3d 1555, 1564-66 (11th Cir. 1997) (per curiam)). Under McDonnell Douglas, a plaintiff bears the initial burden of presenting sufficient evidence to allow a reasonably jury to determine that he has satisfied the elements of his prima facie case. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973). If plaintiff is able to establish a prima facie case, the burden then shifts to the defendant to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the employment decision. Id. If defendant provides such reason, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to show that the defendant's stated reason was pretextual. Id. at 804.
Defendants have filed the affidavit of Jason Boothe who has been McQueen's supervisor since 2009. (Doc. 59-2, ¶ 19). He has disciplined McQueen on four separate occasions for violation of ALDOT's policies and procedures. Id. Three of the four disciplinary incidents occurred prior to the incident in the truck with Grissett. The one reprimand that occurred after McQueen filed his May 2014 EEOC charge of discrimination occurred nearly two years later in April 2016. Id. Boothe states that none of his discipline of McQueen was in retaliation for McQueen filing the EEOC charge or this lawsuit. Id., ¶ 20. Rather, any disciplinary action taken was due to McQueen's violation of ALDOT's policies and procedures. Id. Thus, Defendants have articulated a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the action.
To show that Defendants' stated reason is a pretext, McQueen must present sufficient evidence “to permit a reasonable fact finder to conclude that the reasons given by the employer were not the real reasons for the adverse employment decision.” Combs v. Plantation Patterns, 106 F.3d 1519, 1528 (11th Cir. 1997) (citation omitted). McQueen has failed to come forward with any evidence that the reason given is a pretext, and therefore, his retaliation claim fails.

See Civ. Act. No. 2:14-cv-1016, Doc. 82 at p. 14-15.

         B. The Present Lawsuit (McQueen II)

         The instant lawsuit (hereinafter “McQueen II”) was filed on April 17, 2017. See Doc. 1. It asserts claims against ALDOT pursuant to Title VII for race discrimination and retaliation as they relate to a March 2016 poor evaluation from Jason Boothe (supervisory defendant from McQueen I). Id. After ALDOT filed a motion to dismiss, Plaintiff filed two motions to amend his complaint. See Docs. 15, 17. Over the Defendant's objection, the Court permitted Plaintiff to file an amended complaint which is the current complaint for the Court to evaluate. See Docs. 22, 23. The complaint alleges that since 2009, McQueen has filed three EEOC charges against the defendant for various incidents of race discrimination in the denial of promotions and other terms and conditions of employment. See Doc. 23 at ¶ 7. The relevant facts and claims stated in McQueen II are as follows:

5. McQueen has been employed by the State of Alabama for approximately 24 years. He works in the Alabama Department of Transportation.
6. McQueen currently works on a five-man crew where he is the only African-American crew member. Since becoming a member of this five-man crew, McQueen has been subjected to race discrimination and retaliation.
7. Since 2009, McQueen has filed approximately three EEOC charges against the Defendant for various incidents of race discrimination in the denial of promotions and other terms and conditions of employment.
8. Specifically, in 2010, McQueen received a job evaluation score of 26.70 and a raise. In 2011, McQueen received a job evaluation score of 13.33 and no raise for which he filed a charge of discrimination. ...

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