United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. BORDEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Ronald Hope filed this lawsuit on March 3, 2017, alleging
discrimination on the basis of his race during the course of
his employment with the Alabama Department of Transportation
(“ALDOT”). Doc. 1. Now pending before the court
is Defendant ALDOT's Motion for Summary Judgment. Doc.
28. After careful consideration of the parties'
submissions, the applicable law, and the record as a whole,
it is ORDERED that the Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 28)
is GRANTED, and the claim asserted by Plaintiff Ronald Hope
is DISMISSED with prejudice.
JURISDICTION AND VENUE
court has subject-matter jurisdiction over the claims in this
action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3) and 28
U.S.C. § 1331. The parties do not contest personal
jurisdiction or venue, and the court finds adequate
allegations to support both.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Hope is a 58-year-old black male and a resident of
Montgomery, Alabama, who has been employed at ALDOT since
1982. Docs. 13 at 2 & 29-1 at 2. He is currently employed
as a materials engineer in the Southeast Region, Montgomery
Area office, at the level of Professional Civil Engineer II
(“PCE II”). Docs. 13 at 2 & 29-1 at 5-6. As a
PCE II, Hope is “responsible for the supervision and
management” of the Southeast Region's materials
section, which includes “pavement design, materials
testing and the control of asphalt and concrete for 10
counties.” Doc. 13 at 2.
1998, Hope was promoted to the position of Transportation
Administrator (“TA”). Doc. 29-1 at 3. In this
position, Hope became the materials engineer
“responsible for the administrative work in the
planning, maintenance, and/or construction of highway
facilities and other structures, ” which included
“the production of asphalt, concrete and also geo-text
styles.” Docs. 29-1 at 4-6 & 29-4 at 2. Hope did
not need a Professional Engineer (“PE”) license
for this position. Doc. 29-4 at 2. However, on December 15,
2011, Hope earned his PE license by passing an examination.
Doc. 29-4 at 2. This enabled Hope to transfer laterally into
the PCE II classification, which does require a PE license.
Doc. 29-4 at 2. Prior to December 2015, the salary for TAs
and PCE IIs was equivalent, so whenever TAs obtained their PE
licenses, they were eligible to be classified as PCE IIs.
Doc. 29-4 at 2 & 4-5. Hope was not eligible for an
increase in pay with the transfer because of an Alabama State
Personnel Board rule prohibiting salary increases for lateral
transfers. Doc. 29-4 at 2 & 7.
to ALDOT's records, Hope received a
“mid-appraisal” on November 21, 2011; December
19, 2012; November 21, 2013; May 8, 2015; July 7,
2016; and February 22, 2018. Doc. 45-2 at 2.
Mid-appraisals are mid-year performance evaluations designed
to provide documented feedback on an employee's
performance and to suggest opportunities for improvement.
See Docs. 13 at 3-4, 16 at 2 & 36-1. The
evaluations should take place “[m]idway through the
appraisal year” and involve a “discussion of
strengths, development needs, and action plans.” Doc.
36-1 at 1.
5, 2016, Hope received both a mid-appraisal and annual
appraisal (for the June 1, 2015 through June 1, 2016 time
period) demonstrating inadequate performance. Doc. 14-1 at 1.
Specifically, Hope received an overall performance score of
24.40, which fell within the “Meets Standards”
range, but earned an unsatisfactory grade in the category of
“Cooperation with Coworkers.” Doc. 29-1 at 34. He
also earned a 1 (“Partially Meets Standards”) on
a 0-4 scale for “communicates with individuals both
orally and written” and “attends and participates
in area meetings, etc.” Doc. 29-1 at 35. The appraisal
form indicated that no disciplinary actions were taken
against Hope during this time period and included two
additional “tasks” as part of a Performance
Improvement Plan. Doc. 29-1 at 35-36. Hope received annual
raises each year from 2014 to 2017, but was downgraded from a
two-step raise to a one-step raise. Docs. 29-1 at 22 &
29-2 at 2-11.
February 2017, Hope recommended to David Bohannon, his
supervisor, that ALDOT hire Derek Lovett to fill an open
Civil Engineer Graduate (“CEG”) position in the
Montgomery Area office. Doc. 29-1 at 37. Bohannon is a PCE
II, Senior with the authority to make final personnel
decisions. Doc. 29-1 at 7-8. Though Hope has no ultimate
authority to hire or promote employees, he has the ability to
make personnel recommendations to Bohannon. Doc. 29-1 at 20.
Hope admitted in his deposition that his authority to
recommend--but not hire or promote--is no different from any
other ALDOT employee in a PCE II position. Doc. 29-1 at 21.
Bohannon did not hire Lovett because Lovett's name did
not appear on the Certificate of Eligibles
(“COE”), a list published by the State Personnel
Department of all candidates eligible to be hired or promoted
to a certain position. Doc. 29-1 at 26-27 & 37. In an
email, Bohannon informed Hope that he could not select Lovett
and directed Hope to “contact all candidates . . . for
availability to interview for the Materials CEG
vacancy.” Doc. 29-1 at 37. Hope also had recommended
Patricia Greene and Cedric Trawick for the position, neither
of whom was ultimately chosen. Doc. 29-1 at 10-12 & 25.
amended complaint, Hope alleges that he received his
mid-appraisals late, which negatively affected his salary by
depriving him of the time necessary to “correct any
deficiencies with work performance.” Doc. 13 at 3. Hope
alleges that white PCE II coworkers received their
mid-appraisals in a timely manner. Doc. 13 at 3. He also
asserts that his annual appraisal scores have been
“systematically lowered” since he obtained his PE
license in 2011. Doc. 13 at 4. His supervisors
“resorted to extremely late” mid-appraisals
because they “could not down grade [sic] [Hope] fast
enough on the Annual Appraisals.” Doc. 13 at 4. This
“greatly diminished” his opportunity for a
promotion, even though he alleges that he qualified for a
promotion to the position of PCE II, Senior. Doc. 13 at 4.
“Moreover, [w]hite engineers received adjustments in
salary after obtaining” their PE licenses. Doc. 13 at
further claims that from October 2013 to the date he filed
suit he was prevented from hiring or promoting any black
employees, while white PCE II coworkers had been permitted to
promote or hire “based on their recommendations or the
results of their interview process.” Doc. 13 at 3.
According to Hope, ALDOT hired or promoted white employees in
his section without his consent on three occasions: (1)
“by forging [his] signature on a legal document at the
request of [his supervisor] Mr. Graben”; (2) when he
was “demanded” to promote a white employee
“without a choice”; and (3) when a white employee
“was promoted in my Section without [Hope] having any
prior knowledge.” Doc. 13 at 3-4.
filed a Charge of Discrimination with the U.S. Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on
August 1, 2016. Doc. 14-1. The EEOC could not conclusively
determine whether Hope's claim had merit, and it issued a
right-to-sue letter in December 2016. Doc. 1-1. Hope then
filed suit on March 3, 2017. Doc. 1. After Hope filed his
amended complaint, ALDOT filed a motion to dismiss on May 9,
2017. Docs. 13 & 14. The court denied ALDOT's motion,
and ALDOT subsequently moved for summary judgment. Docs. 17,
18 & 28.
wake of ALDOT's summary-judgment submission, Hope argued
that he could not adequately respond to the motion because
certain of ALDOT's discovery responses were inadequate.
Docs. 31 & 32. The court held a hearing on this issue,
after which it court ordered ALDOT to supplement its
responses to two of Hope's interrogatories, and ordered
both parties to supplement their briefing on the
summary-judgment motion. Doc. 39. In response, Hope again
asserted that ALDOT's interrogatory responses were
inadequate. Doc. 41. ALDOT replied that, with the exception
of an inadvertent omission,  it has complied with the
court's order and responded satisfactorily to Hope's
discovery requests. Doc. 45. To date, Hope has not ...