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Rumley-Cunningham v. The Resource Group

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

September 13, 2018




         This cause is before the court on the motion for summary judgment filed October 9, 2017, by the defendant, The Resource Group (“Defendant”). (Doc. 35). The Resource Group seeks dismissal of all of Helen Rumley-Cunningham's (“Plaintiff”) claims arising from Defendant's alleged race discrimination in failing to hire her for a management position. This matter has been fully briefed, and the court has considered the evidence and arguments set forth by both parties. The parties have consented to the exercise of dispositive jurisdiction by the undersigned magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 21).


         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), summary judgment is proper “if the movant shows 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 party asking for summary judgment “always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of ‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 47 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (quoting former Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). The movant can meet this burden by presenting evidence showing there is no dispute of material fact or by showing that the nonmoving party has failed to present evidence in support of some element of its case on which it bears the ultimate burden of proof. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. There is no requirement, however, “that the moving party support its motion with affidavits or other similar materials negating the opponent's claim.” Id. at 323.

         Once the moving party has met its burden, Rule 56 “requires the nonmoving party to go beyond the pleadings and by her own affidavits, or by the ‘depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file,' designate ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Id. at 324 (quoting former Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). The nonmoving party need not present evidence in a form necessary for admission at trial; however, he may not merely rest on his pleadings. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. “[T]he plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Id. at 322.

         After the plaintiff has properly responded to a proper motion for summary judgment, the court “shall” grant the motion if there is no genuine issue of material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The substantive law will identify which facts are material and which are irrelevant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. at 248. “[T]he judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 246. His guide is the same standard necessary to direct a verdict: “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Id. at 251-52; see also Bill Johnson's Restaurants, Inc. v. N.L.R.B., 461 U.S. 731, 745 n. 11 (1983).

         However, the nonmoving party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). The evidence supporting a claim must be “substantial, ” Marcus v. St. Paul Fire and Marine Ins. Co., 651 F.2d 379 (5th Cir., Unit B, 1981); a mere scintilla of evidence is not enough to create a genuine issue of fact. Young v. City of Palm Bay, 358 F.3d 859, 860 (11th Cir. 2004); Kesinger ex rel. Estate of Kesinger v. Herrington, 381 F.3d 1243, 1249-50 (11th Cir. 2004). If the non-movant's evidence is so thoroughly discredited by the rest of the record evidence that no reasonable jury could accept it, the evidence fails to establish the existence of a genuine issue of fact requiring a jury determination. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 1776, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007) (“Respondent's version of events is so utterly discredited by the record that no reasonable jury could have believed him. The Court of Appeals should not have relied on such visible fiction; it should have reviewed the facts in the light depicted by the videotape.”); Lewis v. City of West Palm Beach, Fla., 561 F.3d 1288, 1290 n. 3 (11th Cir. 2009). If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249 (citations omitted); accord Spence v. Zimmerman, 873 F.2d 256 (11th Cir. 1989). Furthermore, the court must “view the evidence presented through the prism of the substantive evidentiary burden, ” so there must be sufficient evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. The non-movant need not be given the benefit of every inference but only of every reasonable inference. Brown v. City of Clewiston, 848 F.2d 1534, 1540 n. 12 (11th Cir. 1988).


         Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, in this case the plaintiff, the following facts are relevant to the motion for summary judgment.

         The Resource Group was formed in 2012 and provides services to health systems, including St. Vincent's Health System (“St. Vincent's”). Plaintiff is an African-American female who was employed by St. Vincent's from 2012 to2016. Plaintiff began her employment with St. Vincent's as a purchasing agent. It is undisputed that plaintiff excelled in her capacity as a purchasing agent and received a very complimentary performance evaluation. On July 10, 2012, plaintiff was evaluated by her supervisor, David Edwards, who gave her a glowing personnel evaluation.

         In 2012, when The Resource Group began its work with St. Vincent's, the plaintiff was notified that her position as a purchasing agent would be phased out. Plaintiff applied for and received the position of Supply Store Supervisor at St. Vincent's East in July of 2013. As Supply Store Supervisor, plaintiff remained an employee of St. Vincent's, but she was directly supervised by the Associate Manager over the Warehouse, who was an employee of The Resource Group. The Associate Manager over the Warehouse was directly supervised by Beth McMillian, the Manager of Operations, an employee of The Resource Group. McMillian was in turn supervised by David Edwards, Area Director for the Supply Chain for the Southeast, who reported to John Eaker, Area Vice President and Chief Resource Officer. McMillian, Edwards, and Eaker all were employees of The Resource Group.

         During her tenure as Supply Store Supervisor, plaintiff also served as the Interim Associate Manager over the Warehouse because of a vacancy in that position. Plaintiff directly reported to McMillian in this capacity. Both parties agree that the relationship between plaintiff and McMillian was strained, and there was frequent conflict. Plaintiff testified that McMillian constantly raised her voice to her, belittled her in the presence of her subordinates, and checked behind her.

         On or about January 7, 2014, plaintiff submitted her application The Resource Group for the permanent position of Associate Manager over the Warehouse. She had been notified of the job listing and encouraged to apply by John Eaker. Plaintiff had a phone interview with a recruiter and a follow-up in- person interview with Edwards and Eaker[1] on January 17, 2014. During the application period, plaintiff continued to work as the Interim Associate Manager. In June of 2014, plaintiff received an email from David Edwards detailing some areas of needed improvement. Beth McMillian was copied on the email. This email instructed the plaintiff to communicate potential issues to management, attend morning “huddle” meetings, and to work toward accomplishing performance goals with a sense of urgency. Plaintiff admittedly did not attend morning “huddle” meetings on a regular basis.

         Around mid-2014, not having heard anything for six months since her interview, plaintiff went to speak with Edwards and Eaker about the status of her application. At that time, plaintiff was informed that the company was going to hire another applicant for the Associate Manager over the Warehouse position. Edwards and Eaker were complimentary of the plaintiff's work. In November of 2014, a team inspected the Central Supply Store, where plaintiff was the supervisor, and gave a satisfactory report. McMillian, Edwards, and Eaker all offered the plaintiff congratulations in an email chain.

         On December 23, 2014, plaintiff was evaluated by Beth McMillian. In the evaluation, she was rated as meeting expectations and requirements in her capacity as the Central Supply Store Supervisor. Also in December 2014, Eaker and Edwards visited the Warehouse. While they were there, plaintiff spoke to Eaker and Edwards and secretly recorded their conversation. Plaintiff learned at that time that The Resource Group was in the final stages of hiring another candidate. The Resource Group first sought to hire a white male; however, due to failed salary negotiations, he turned down the job. The Resource Group then offered the job to Carrie Roberts, a white female, who accepted the job and began her employment in April of 2015.

         Plaintiff states that Edwards and Eaker were responsible for making the decision to hire Roberts instead of her.[2] At The Resource Group, the supervisors tasked with making the hiring decision would each submit a form to Human Resources stating which candidate they believed should be awarded the job. Human ...

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