United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
JOHN A. WILLIAMS, JR., Plaintiff,
STATE OF ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, et al., Defendants.
DAVID PROCTOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
case is before the court on Motions for Summary Judgment
filed by Defendant State of Alabama Department of Corrections
("ADOC") (Doc. # 32) and Defendant Talandria Nation
(Doc. # 37). The motions have been fully briefed (Docs. # 33,
38, 45, 49, 52), and are ripe for decision. After careful
review, with the benefit of oral argument,  and for the
reasons explained below, the court concludes that
Defendants' motions for summary judgment are due to be
granted in part and denied in part.
August 2005, Plaintiff, a male, began working for ADOC as a
stock clerk in the prison canteen at Donaldson Correctional
Facility. (Doc. # 34-1 at 34-36). In October 2010, Plaintiff
received a warning and a reprimand for tardiness.
(See Doc. # 39-7) (describing tardiness incidents
that occurred on October 6, 2010 and October 20, 2010). And,
in July 2013, Plaintiff received a formal warning for not
approving his time card as required. (Doc. # 39-9).
August 2013, ADOC hired Defendant Talandria Nation to manage
the canteen. (Doc. # 34-6 at 18). Bonita Pharr worked as a
stock clerk in the canteen, and Marcus Chaney also was
assigned to the canteen even though he was a corrections
officer cadet. (Docs. # 34-1 at 38; 34-6 at 25-26). Pharr,
Chaney, and Plaintiff testified that Nation discussed her sex
life at work. (Docs. # 34-1 at 54-60; 34-2 at 3; 45-4 at 2).
Plaintiff stated that Nation began discussing her sex life at
work in September 2013 and estimated that she made
sex-related comments every day. (Doc. # 34-1 at 54, 57). For
example, Nation disclosed to her coworkers that she had
divorced her husband because he had impregnated a female
friend with whom they both were involved romantically.
(Id. at 45-46). According to Plaintiff, no one
reported Nation's salacious statements because she was
"the new authority figure" and she could be
vindictive to employees who questioned her authority.
(Id. at 60).
September 2013, Plaintiffs wife passed away. (Id. at
15). Thereafter, according to Plaintiffs testimony, Nation
asked him whether he had started having sex again.
(Id. at 73). Plaintiff responded that he had not.
(Id.). Nation then inquired whether he had received
oral sex, and Plaintiff ended the conversation. (Id.
at 73-74). Plaintiff perceived that Nation was propositioning
him by initiating the conversation. (Id. at 74).
Plaintiff has recounted that he reported Nation's
"very questionable" professionalism and lack of
"professional etiquette" to a higher-level
supervisor, but he did not report specific details of
Nation's explicit statements to that supervisor.
(Id. at 75-77). Plaintiff also testified that Nation
pinched his face and complimented his haircut as
"nice" sometime between September and December
2013. (Id. at 91-92).
Rule 56 record indicates that Plaintiff made a few complaints
about Nation's behavior. Plaintiff told Nation that her
conduct was unprofessional. (Id. at 124-25).
Plaintiff also met with Donaldson's Equal Employment
Officer and asked her about the protocol for filing a
harassment complaint. (Id. at 126). The Equal
Employment Officer explained to Plaintiff the process for
submitting a complaint. (Id. at 130). Plaintiff
could not recall during his deposition whether he filled out
ADOC's harassment and discrimination complaint
form. (Id. at 124-26).
October 24, 2013, Defendant Nation issued Plaintiff a
corrective memorandum regarding his tardiness. (Doc. # 39-8).
Nation recounted in the memorandum that Plaintiff had failed
to clock in on time on October 17 and October 21, 2013, and
had failed to follow the prison's call-in procedures on
October 1, October 2, October 10, October 11, and October 23,
2013. (Id.). Nation instructed Plaintiff to
"report to work daily by your designated shift
schedule" and to report any absence at least an hour
prior to the beginning of the shift. (Id.).
December 2013, Chaney, the correction officer cadet, invited
Plaintiff to accompany him to a strip club. (Doc. # 34-1 at
80-81, 83). Plaintiff initially agreed to attend the outing,
but declined to attend when Nation "overheard that
conversation and invited herself." (Id. at 83).
Plaintiff did not report the invitation to a higher-level
supervisor at ADOC. (Id. at 83-84). According to
Plaintiff, on the day after he declined the invitation to the
strip club, Nation disciplined him for failing to complete
the bagging of prisoners' grocery orders. (Id.
at 84-85). That morning, Plaintiff worked to complete the
bagging, but Nation asked him why he had failed to complete
it the prior day. (Id. at 87). Plaintiff informed
Nation that he had left before completing the bagging because
he was unsure whether he had clearance for overtime.
(Id.). Nation instructed Plaintiff and Pharr to
write statements discussing why they had failed to finish
bagging the groceries before leaving the canteen the prior
day. (Id. at 87-88). While discussing the incident
with Chaney, Plaintiff commented that he had only failed to
finish "four damn bags." (Id. at 168).
Warden Cheryl Price determined in April 2014 that Plaintiff
had committed work rule infractions in December 2013 during
the incident discussed above. (Doc. # 39-11). Price found
that Plaintiff had been insubordinate towards Nation when
responding to her questions. (See Id. at 2).
Plaintiff submitted a rebuttal to Warden Price, but she
upheld the reprimand. (Id. at 1). Although Price
recognized that Plaintiff made his insubordinate comment to a
coworker, she noted that "the fact remains that the
statement was made." (Id.).
December 10, 2013, Plaintiff clocked in late for work. (Doc.
# 39-10). He received a formal warning for this offense in
February 2014. (Id.).
point, Plaintiff stopped communicating with Nation about
matters unrelated to work. (Doc. # 34-1 at 89-90). He
testified that Nation disciplined him fifteen to twenty times
for failing to communicate properly, even though he continued
to discuss job-related matters with her. (Id.). He
asked Nation about her plan for operating the canteen, but
she responded that he needed "to shut [his] mouth."
(Id. at 90-91). Pharr has testified that Nation
treated all of the canteen workers poorly, and unfairly
punished all of them. (Doc. # 34-2 at 2).
January 2014, Nation discovered that Plaintiff had
"keyed items into the system that were not listed on the
hand written store slips submitted by the inmates."
(Doc. # 39-13 at 2). Plaintiff testified that an earlier
supervisor taught him that it was permissible to include
additional small items in a prisoner's order at the
pick-up so that the prisoner would receive their weekly limit
of canteen goods. (Doc. # 34-1 at 177-78). Plaintiffs former
supervisor permitted this practice "[i]n order to speed
up the process" of distributing orders to prisoners.
(Id.). Plaintiff has denied that Nation instructed
him to cease that practice before January 2014. (Id.
at 179). In May 2014, Warden Price conducted a hearing
regarding the infraction, during which Plaintiff explained
his account of the incident. (Id. at 179-80). Price
found Plaintiff guilty of the infraction and recommended a
two-day suspension. (Doc. # 39-13 at 2). In August 2014, Kim
Thomas, ADOC's former commissioner, reviewed the record
of the hearing and Plaintiffs "overall work
record." (Id. at 3). She approved Price's
recommendation and suspended Plaintiff for two days for
failing to follow his supervisor's instructions and not
complying with policies and procedures. (Id.).
February 3, 2014, Plaintiff clocked in one minute late
because he could not get through security in time. (Doc. #
39-12 at 2). According to an ADOC letter, "[a] review of
KRONOS reflects that [Plaintiff] clocked in at approximately
7:01 a.m." (Id.). During his deposition,
Plaintiff explained that, previously, employees at Donaldson
had been allowed to clock in before being searched, but
Warden Price moved the time clocks so that employees had to
go through the daily search before clocking in. (Doc. # 34-1
at 156-57). In April 2014, Plaintiff received a written
reprimand for his tardiness. (Doc. # 39-12). Plaintiff did
not submit a rebuttal to the reprimand within five days.
(Id. at 1). Therefore, Warden Price affirmed the
March 3, 2014, Plaintiff "clocked into KRONOS" one
minute late. (Doc. # 39-14 at 2). Plaintiff explained that
"unforeseen circumstances" caused his tardiness.
(Id.). In July 2014, Plaintiff waived his right to a
due process disciplinary hearing and accepted a three-day
suspension for the infraction. (Id. at 4). In
September 2014, Commissioner Thomas reviewed Warden
Price's suspension recommendation, Plaintiffs waiver, and
Plaintiffs work record before approving a three-day
suspension. (Id. at 2-3).
April 2014, Nation reviewed tickets keyed in by Plaintiff and
"noticed that two (2) of the tickets reflected that
inmates were given items in excess of the allotted
limits." (Doc. # 39-16 at 2). Specifically, Nation
observed that Plaintiff had given eight bars of soap to a
prisoner when the limit was three per prisoner, and he had
given two bags of Tootsie Rolls to a prisoner when the limit
was one bag. (Id.). Plaintiff requested a
disciplinary hearing for this infraction, and it was held in
August 2014. (Id.). Warden Price served as the
hearing officer. (Doc. #34-1 at 187). Plaintiff denied
receiving written protocols about product limits before the
disciplinary hearing. (Id. at 188). According to
Plaintiff, Nation never distributed such a protocol to the
canteen workers, but "she presented a protocol" at
the disciplinary hearing before Warden Price.(Id.).
Price found Plaintiff guilty of the infractions and
recommended a three-day suspension. (Doc. # 39-16 at 2). In
November 2014, Commissioner Thomas reviewed the record of the
hearing and Plaintiffs disciplinary record before approving
Warden Price's recommendation. (Id. at 3).
Specifically, Thomas's memorandum outlines two
suspensions, two written reprimands, and two warnings that
Plaintiff had received between July 2013 and September 2014.
(Id.). Plaintiff did not appeal Commissioner
Thomas's decision to the State Personnel Board because he
was unaware of his right to appeal. (Doc. # 34-1 at 189-90).
30, 2014, Plaintiff "miscalculated several items"
while conducting an inventory count in the canteen. (Doc. #
39-15 at 2). Nation discovered the miscalculations while
entering inventory adjustments and recounted the inventory.
(Id.). In July 2015, Nation reviewed count sheets
submitted by Plaintiff and "noticed that there was an
unusual amount of long Kool cigarettes being issued. When she
inquired about the increase in long Kool cigarette sales,
[Plaintiff] stated that [he] did not know that there are two
(2) kinds of Kool cigarettes." (Id.). In
September 2014, Plaintiff waived his right to a disciplinary
hearing for the charge and accepted a two-day suspension.
(Id. at 5). In October 2014, Commissioner Thomas
reviewed Warden Price's recommendation, Plaintiffs
waiver, and Plaintiffs work record before approving the
suspension. (Id. at 2).
August 2014, Nation observed that Plaintiff appeared to be
asleep for approximately two minutes. (Doc. # 39-17 at 2). In
a written statement, Plaintiff admitted to nodding off.
(Id.). During his deposition, Plaintiff testified
that he was on a break when Nation observed him sleeping and
that no one had told him that he was prohibited from sleeping
while on break. (Doc. # 34-1 at 192-93). Plaintiff waived his
right to a disciplinary hearing and accepted a two-day
suspension. (Doc. # 39-17 at 4). Warden Price recommended a
two-day suspension to Commissioner Thomas. (Id. at
2). In December 2014, Commissioner Thomas reviewed
Price's recommendation, Plaintiffs waiver, and Plaintiffs
work record before approving the two-day suspension for
sleeping while on duty. (Id.).
August 29, 2014, Plaintiff again "clocked in on
KRONOS" one minute late. (Doc. # 39-18 at 2). Although a
February 2015 ADOC memorandum states that Plaintiff had
waived a disciplinary hearing, no waiver is included with the
memorandum, and Plaintiff cannot recall whether he waived the
hearing. (Docs. # 34-1 at 194; 39-18). William Sharp,
ADOC's commissioner, reviewed Warden Price's
recommendation, Plaintiffs purported waiver, and Plaintiffs
work record before approving a three-day suspension for
tardiness. (Doc. # 39-18 at 2-3).
September 2014, Plaintiff submitted a written grievance to
Gary Sullivan. (Doc. # 34-1 at 60-61). Plaintiff testified
that the grievance concerned Nation's harassment.
(Id. at 62). According to Plaintiffs deposition
testimony, he reported to Sullivan that Nation "was
using her position as a position of authority to try to be
dictatorial ... in just trying to run normal work
operations." (Id. at 62-63). And, he informed
Sullivan that "whenever you didn't take heed or you
didn't just go according to what [Nation] wanted, then
she [would] be vindictive and write you up."
(Id. at 63).
the six suspensions referenced above, Plaintiffs termination
resulted from a January 2015 incident. Nation reported to
Donaldson's business manager that Plaintiff refused to
work in the canteen's snack line because he requested
additional training. (Doc. # 34-1 at 199-200). The business
manager discussed the incident with Plaintiff and Nation
after Plaintiff completed passing out bags to prisoners.
(Id. at 200). During this discussion, Plaintiff
"referred to the canteen manager as being conniving,
deceitful, and lowdown as hell." (Id.).
that same month (January 2015), Nation resigned from ADOC
after Warden Price discovered intimate communications between
Nation and a male prisoner. (See Doc. # 34-6 at 43,
March 2, 2015, Warden Price held a pre-termination hearing
regarding Plaintiffs refusal-to-work infraction. (Doc. # 34-1
at 198). During the hearing, Plaintiff explained that he had
asked for a "crash course" on the snack line's
procedures. (Doc. # 34-20 at 1). Plaintiff admitted to
Price that he had described Nation as "conniving,
deceitful, and low down as hell." (Id.).
Plaintiff also asked Price to dismiss "all of the
previous actions that were imposed against him."
(Id.). Plaintiff argued that his disciplinary record
should be cleared because he "did not have any
issues" before Nation became his supervisor.
(Id.). According to Price's memorandum,
Plaintiff "was reminded of the fact that corrective
action had been imposed against him even before Ms. Nation
arrived." (Id.). Finally, Plaintiff disclosed
to Price that he had observed "all of the indications of
an inappropriate relationship" between Nation and a
prisoner. (Id.). Price asked Plaintiff whether he
had reported this information, and Plaintiff responded that
he had included it in grievances submitted to Nation.
(Id.). Nation was not present at the hearing (Docs.
# 34-1 at 198-99; 34-20), and nothing in the Rule 56 record
indicates that Nation testified during the hearing. (See
generally Doc. # 34-20).
Price recommended that ADOC terminate Plaintiff.
(Id. at 2). In the memorandum, she gave the
following reasons for recommending his termination:
While it is correct that Mr. Williams did utilize the
grievance process, it is doubtful that he would turn his
grievance in to his supervisor without at the very least
providing a copy to someone else; especially since the
complaint was about his supervisor. There is no way to
validate this allegation. However, the procedures allow for
Mr. Williams to take his complaint to the next level should
the supervisor fail to respond.
While Mr. Williams is of the opinion that the previous
actions should be expunged from his record, the fact remains
that each infraction was investigated and found to be
legitimate and factual. While there were sufficient
infractions to rise to the level of dismissal, there were
several recommendations that were disallowed by this writer.
There was nothing presented during this conference that would
indicate that Mr. Williams had learned from his past errors.
The discussion during the conference actually confirmed that
Mr. Williams saw nothing wrong in his actions noted in the
(Id.). During her deposition, Price testified that
she recommended Plaintiffs termination due to "[h]is
overall performance and the incidents leading up to whatever
that final incident was." (Doc. # 39-3 at 78). She also
testified that she did not view Plaintiffs conduct to be
severe enough to equal a ...