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Reddy v. State of Alabama Department of Education

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

September 28, 2018

KRISHNA REDDY, M.D., et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
STATE OF ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [1]

          STACI G. CORNELIUS, U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         The plaintiffs, Krishna Reddy, M.D., and Gloria Sellman, M.D., commenced this action against the defendant, the State of Alabama Department of Education, stating counts for sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., and a violation of the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d). (Doc. 1). Pending before the undersigned are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment and the defendant's motion to strike portions of the plaintiffs' briefs in support of their summary judgment motions. For the reasons discussed below, the plaintiffs' motions for summary judgment (Docs. 30, 31) are due to be denied, the defendant's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 24) is due to be granted, the defendant's motion to strike (Doc. 35) is due to be denied as moot, and this action is due to be dismissed with prejudice.

         I. Material Facts[2]

         The plaintiffs are female Disability Determination Physicians employed by Disability Determination Services, a division of the State of Alabama Department of Education. (Doc. 26-1 at 3). Their comparator, Peter Sims, M.D., is a male Disability Determination Physician employed by the same state agency. (Id.). The position of Disability Determination Physician is assigned to Pay Grade 91 in the State's pay plan. (Doc. 32-2). Pay Grade 91 has eighteen steps. (Id.). Typically, appointment to the position is at Step 1. (Doc. 25 at 5 (citing Rule 670-X-8-.02 of the Alabama Administrative Code)). However, appointment above the minimum step is possible. (Doc. 26-1 at 2; Doc. 26-2 at 6). Dr. Reddy received an appointment to the position effective October 1, 2009, at Step 3, earning $122, 232.00 annually. (Doc. 26-1 at 3-4). Dr. Sellman received an appointment to the position effective September 1, 2010, at the same step, earning the same annual salary. (Id. at 4). Dr. Sims received an appointment to the position effective December 16, 2014, at Step 14, earning $160, 440.00 annually. (Id. at 4-5). On completion of a six-month probationary period following their respective appointments, Drs. Reddy, Sellman, and Sims each advanced two steps on the applicable pay grade. (Doc. 1 at 7; Doc. 26-3 at 15; Doc. 32-10 at 19-22). Thereafter, they each received a two-step merit raise each year those raises were not frozen for budgetary reasons. (Doc. 1 at 7; Doc. 26-1 at 6, 9-71; Doc. 26-2 at 7). Two steps is the maximum number of steps that may be awarded as a merit raise.[3] (Doc. 26-1 at 6; Doc. 26-2 at 7). Dr. Sims “topped out, ” reaching Step 18 of the applicable pay grade, on June 1, 2016. (Doc. 32-10 at 20). Drs. Reddy and Sims continue to climb the steps on that pay grade. (Id.).

         Dr. Reddy is a board-certified neurologist. (Doc. 32-4 at 4). She practiced neurology at Birmingham Neurology, P.A. from July 1980 to her retirement in August 2005. (Id. at 3). During that time, she intermittently performed physical examinations for Disability Determination Services. (Doc. 32-24 at 3). Between 2007 and 2008, she was employed by the Association of Retarded Citizens, St. Clair County as a residential worker caring for three mentally disabled men[4]and by Pell City Parks and Recreation as an office worker. (Id. at 2-3). In May 2008, Dr. Reddy began working as a clinical research coordinator in the Department of Nephrology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. (Doc. 27-2 at 10, 15). Dr. Reddy testified the position would normally be staffed by a registered nurse. (Id. at 10). In describing her responsibilities, Dr. Reddy testified she looked at patient records, talked to patients, collected lab data and input it into a database, collected patient specimens, and performed cost studies. (Id. at 15). Additionally, in the latter half of 2008, Dr. Reddy began examining Veterans for neurological conditions every other Saturday for the Veterans Administration. (Id. at 12).

         As part of the application process for the position of Disability Determination Physician, Dr. Reddy submitted a Form W-2 indicating she earned $77, 908.65 during the last six months she practiced neurology at Birmingham Neurology, P.A. (Doc. 26-1 at 4; Doc. 27-2 at 10). Dr. Reddy did not submit any information regarding the pay she received as a clinical research coordinator or examining Veterans. (Doc. 27-2 at 12). She testified her salary as a clinical research coordinator was $57, 000.00 annually and that she earned $230.00 per hour working approximately six hours every other Saturday for the Veterans Administration. (Doc. 27-2 at 13-14).

         Dr. Sellman is a board-certified anesthesiologist. (Doc. 32-30 at 5). From 1986 to 1996, she held concurrent academic appointments and clinical positions at Georgetown University School of Medicine, the National Institutes of Health, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine, and the Children's Hospital of Alabama. (Doc. 32-30 at 6). Between 1998 and 2007, she was employed as the chief executive officer of VectorLogics, Inc., a biotechnology company. (Id. at 5). From August 2008 to September 2010, she worked under contract as a medical consultant for the Department of Disability Services. (Id.). As part of the application process for the position of Disability Determination Physician, Dr. Sellman submitted her medical consultant contract with the Department of Disability Services. (Doc. 26-1 at 4). That contract allowed her to earn up to approximately $140, 000.00 annually, although in 2009 and the first eight months of 2010 she only worked enough hours to earn $101, 232.00 and $71, 854.00, respectively. (Doc. 26-1 at 4; Doc. 27-4 at 17; Doc. 32-31 at 3).

         Dr. Sims is a board-certified psychiatrist. Prior to his appointment to the position of Disability Determination Physician, he worked under contract as a part-time medical consultant for the Department of Disability Services for approximately fourteen years. (Doc. 27-5 at 2). Additionally, he had maintained a private practice in psychiatry since the early- to mid-1990s. (Id. at 3; Doc. 29-1 at 31-32; Doc. 32-10 at 11-12). As part of the application process for the position, Dr. Sims submitted documentation showing a cumulative salary in excess of $198, 950.00. (Doc. 26-1 at 4).

         Tommy Warren was the Director of Disability Services at the time Drs. Reddy and Sellman were appointed to the position of Disability Determination Physician. (Doc. 27-3 at 2). He recommended their appointments, as well as the step at which each should be appointed. (Id.). Norman Ippolito was the Director of Disability Services at the time Dr. Sims was appointed to the position of Disability Determination Physician. (Doc. 27-5 at 2). He recommended Dr. Sims appointment and the step at which Dr. Sims should be appointed. (Id.). Jim Methvin is the current Director of Disability Services. (Doc. 28-3 at 1). He interviewed Drs. Reddy, Sellman, and Sims for the position of Disability Determination Physician. (Id. at 2). He also investigated the grievances Drs. Reddy and Sims lodged regarding their salaries. (Doc. 32-24 at 4; Doc. 32-31 at 1-5). He sent a letter to each of the plaintiffs informing her he had determined her grievance was unfounded. (Doc. 32-24 at 4; Doc. 32-31 at 1-5).

         Warren, Ippolito, and Methvin testified that appointment above the minimum step of the applicable pay grade involves consideration of several factors, including an applicant's current work and past experience with Disability Determination Services and other employers. (Doc. 27-3 at 2; Doc. 27-5 at 2; Doc. 28-3 at 2). They testified that whether, at the time of his or her appointment, a physician is working in a clinical setting, providing medical treatment to and interacting with patients, is extremely important in considering an above-the-minimum appointment. (Doc. 27-3 at 2; Doc. 27-5 at 2; Doc. 28-3 at 2). Ippolito testified it is difficult to recruit and retain psychiatrists to work for Disability Determination Services. (Doc. 27-5 at 2). He further testified he felt it was important for Disability Determination Services to have a full-time psychiatrist on staff to evaluate mental health claims and that it would be a great benefit to the operation of Disability Determination Services to employ a psychiatrist with Dr. Sims' experience evaluating these types of claims. (Id. at 2-3). It was Ippolito's understanding Disability Determination Services had never employed a psychiatrist full-time before Dr. Sims. (Id. at 2). Methvin echoed Ippolito's testimony that Disability Determination Services has difficulty recruiting psychiatrists and further testified Drs. Reddy and Sellman did not have a specialization that was difficult to recruit. (Doc. 28-3 at 3). Warren, Ippolito, and Methvin testified an applicant's current salary is another factor relevant to an above-the-minimum appointment but is considered only in conjunction with other factors. (Doc. 27-3 at 2; Doc. 27-5 at 2; Doc. 28-3 at 2).

         II. Standard of Review

         A district court must grant summary judgment if the movant shows there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The movant bears the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the pleadings or filings it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp., 477 U.S at 323. Once the movant has met its burden, the non- movant must go beyond the pleadings and identify specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324.

         The substantive law identifies which facts are material and which are irrelevant. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The court should resolve all reasonable doubts about the facts, and draw all justifiable inferences, in the non-movant's favor. Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1115 (11th Cir. 1993). A dispute is genuine if the evidence would allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-movant. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted. Id. at 249. Moreover, mere conclusions and unsupported factual allegations are not sufficient to defeat summary judgment. Ellis v. England, 432 F.3d 1321, 1326 (11th Cir. 2005).

         III. ...


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