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Williams v. State of Alabama Department of Corrections

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

June 13, 2018

JOHN A. WILLIAMS, JR., Plaintiff,



         This 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, [1] 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.

         I. Factual Background[2]

         In 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).

         In 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).

         In 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).

         The 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.[3] (Id. at 124-26).

         On 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.).

         In 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.).

         On December 10, 2013, Plaintiff clocked in late for work. (Doc. # 39-10). He received a formal warning for this offense in February 2014. (Id.).

         At some 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).

         In 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.).

         On 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."[4] (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 reprimand. (Id.).

         On 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).

         In 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.[5](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).

         On June 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.[6] (Id. at 2).

         In 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.).

         On 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).

         In 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).

         After 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.).

         Later 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, 60-63).

         On 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.[7] (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).

         Warden 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 previous incidents.

(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 ...

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