United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
DAVID PROCTOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
case is before the court on the Motion for Summary Judgment
(Doc. #49) filed by Defendants the State of Alabama
Department of Human Resources (“ALDHR”) and
Jefferson County Department of Human Resources
(“JCDHR”) on March 8, 2018. The Motion (Doc. #49)
is fully briefed and supported by the parties'
evidentiary submissions. (Docs. #49-52, 56-57). For the reasons
set forth below, the court finds that the Motion for Summary
Judgment (Doc. #49) is due to be granted in its entirety.
Martreece Bell (“Plaintiff” or
“Bell”) filed a Second Amended
Complaint (Doc. #33) in this court on July 21, 2017
alleging racial discrimination in violation of Title VII
(Count I), sex discrimination in violation of Title VII
(Count II), retaliation in violation of Title VII (Count
III), and violation of the Fourteenth Amendment (Count IV).
All claims are asserted against both ALDHR and JCDHR
(collectively “Defendants”). (See Doc.
#33). Defendants argue that they are entitled to summary
judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims because there is no
genuine issue of material fact and Defendants are entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. (Doc. #49, ¶ 6). The court
Relevant Undisputed Facts
facts set out in this opinion are gleaned from the
parties' submissions of facts claimed to be undisputed,
their respective responses to those submissions, and the
court's own examination of the evidentiary record. All
reasonable doubts about the facts have been resolved in favor
of the nonmoving party. See Info. Sys. & Networks
Corp. v. City of Atlanta, 281 F.3d 1220, 1224 (11th Cir.
2002). These are the “facts” for summary judgment
purposes only. They may not be the actual facts that could be
established through live testimony at trial. See Cox v.
Admr. U.S. Steel & Carnegie Pension Fund, 17 F.3d
1386, 1400 (11th Cir. 1994). Asserted “facts”
that are not facts at all will be disregarded. Carter v.
Three Springs Residential Treatment, 132 F.3d 635, 642
(11th Cir. 1998) (conclusory allegations without specific
supporting facts have no probative value).
Plaintiff's Employment at JCDHR
Martreece Bell was appointed to the position of
Administrative Support Assistant I (ASA I) at JCDHR effective
May 3, 2004. (Doc. #51-1, Bell Personnel File at 1083).
Plaintiff regularly scored “Meets Standards” or
“Exceeds Standards” on her annual performance
appraisals and was promoted to Administrative Support
Assistant II (ASA II) on or about May 16, 2007. (Id.
at 1058). From May 2007 until August 2015, Plaintiff received
“Exceeds Standards” scores on all annual
appraisals. (Id. at 1031, 1033, 1036, 1039, 1043,
1046, 1049, 1052, 1055).
regularly worked on the eighth floor of the JCDHR in the
child support unit. (Doc. #51-2, Bell Dep. at 50). Tracie
Hawkins was her immediate Supervisor. (Doc. #51-3, Heath Dep.
at 42; Doc. #51-1, Bell Personnel File at 1031). Yolanda
Boleware, who served as the Program Manager over the Child
Support Program, was her Reviewing Supervisor. (Doc. #51-5,
Witness Statements at 1019; Doc. #51-1, Bell Personnel File
at 1031; Doc. #51-7, McClintock Dep. at 15).
The August 21, 2015 Incident
Friday, August 21, 2015, Plaintiff was working the front
window of child support on the seventh floor of
JCDHR. (Doc. #51-2, Bell Dep. at 50-52). While
she was working behind the glass in the lobby reception area,
Plaintiff was approached by a client, referred to herein as
“DS.” (Id. at 55). Communicating through
the plexiglass that separates employees from clients, DS
asked for an application. (Id. at 55, 58). Plaintiff
spoke through her microphone and asked DS for picture
identification, which is required to receive any services
from child support. (Id. at 55). DS responded that
she did not have picture identification and according to
Plaintiff “started talking loud” and being
“rude and obnoxious” because “she did not
understand why she needed a picture ID just to receive an
application.” (Id. at 55, 67; Doc. #51-5,
Witness Statements at 1018). Plaintiff “tried to
explain [the] policies [of the] department but [DS] would not
listen.” (Doc. #51-2, Bell Dep. at 56). Plaintiff then
turned off her microphone because DS was yelling and notified
Program Manager Yolanda Boleware of the situation.
(Id. at 56; Doc. #51-5, Witness Statements at 1018).
approximately 3:00 p.m., Program Supervisor Cassandra Jones
was approached in the lobby by DS. (Doc. #51-5, Witness
Statements at 1019). DS told Jones that she was having a
problem with “the lady at the front desk.”
(Id.). Jones went to the front desk to ask Plaintiff
about the situation. (Id.). Jones reports that she
“was told the same thing by Martreece [sic] Bell who
was working at the front desk for Child Support. Ms. Bell was
very rude with her tone, and her body language. Her exact
words to me were ‘Like I said she has to have an ID to
obtain an application, or to see a manager.' I asked the
client to have a seat while I tried to contact Child Support
Program Manager Yolanda Boleware. Apparently, [Plaintiff]
contacted Ms. Boleware because she came down to the front
desk before I could call her.” (Id. at 1019,
Boleware arrived, “the client was still out in the
lobby yelling and talking.” (Doc. #51-2, Bell Dep. at
57). Boleware turned the microphone back on and Plaintiff
explained the situation to Boleware. (Id. at 56-57,
65). Boleware spoke with the client. (Id. at 66).
However, after speaking with Boleware the client did not
leave the lobby. (Doc. #51-5, Witness Statements at 1018,
signed out of work at 3:00 p.m. yet continued to work until
4:30 p.m. because no one arrived to relieve her at the child
support window. (Doc. #51-2, Bell Dep. at 71, 73). At
approximately 4:33 p.m., Plaintiff left work for the day and
entered the elevator lobby of the seventh floor.
(Id. at 76-77; Doc. #51-4, Video). A few seconds
later, DS entered the same elevator lobby with one child on
her hip and another small child at her side. (Doc. #51-2,
Bell Dep. at 81, 95-96; Doc. #51-4, Video). The events that
ensued from that point were captured by a security camera.
(Doc. #51-4, Video). The video has no sound. (Id.;
Doc. #51-3, Heath Dep. at 28). Plaintiff testified that when
she entered the elevator lobby, DS mumbled something and then
clearly said, “B**ch, you off the clock now.”
(Doc. #51-2, Bell Dep. at 80). After some back and forth, the
argument escalated. As Plaintiff testified:
[S]he told me I had a smart mouth. I told her she had a smart
mouth, and then she said, I got you. I got something for you.
She threw her hand up. I threw my hand up in protection,
because her hand up.
Yes, I saw that she had her child on her hip, but her hand
went up first. Once her arm went up, mines did, too. So when
she kept telling me that she had something, I've got
something for you, I've got something down in the car for
you. I got you. I got you. And then she kept saying it. She
said, I'm going down to the car to get something for you.
I got you. I got you.
Katiua was getting in between us. The elevator door did open.
I turned to go towards the elevator, but it's 4:30. The
elevators, you have to wait on the elevators several times
when you're standing out in the hall at 4:30, because
they're crowded. So when Katiua got in between us, I
looked in the elevators, but I couldn't get in the
elevators. She still was coming towards me. She's still
talking to me telling me that what she's going downstairs
to her car to get.
My kids are downstairs waiting on me. In my mind, my kids are
downstairs. I'm thinking about my kids. What if she get
downstairs and my kids down there? What possibly could she do
to my kids?
They pull us apart. I started going back towards the door
when they kind of get us apart. As I'm walking back to
the door, then she tells me that she's going down to the
car. She's going to get a weapon for me. I come back out
of the door, because now I'm trying to get to the
stairwell to get downstairs to my kids. Now, in my mind, my
kids are downstairs. Am I concerned about anybody else?
I'm concerned about my children. My kids are all that I
have. So I'm trying to get down to see about my kids.
So I - in my mind, I wasn't trying to cause her harm or
trying to cause her kids harm. I'm trying to get to my
own kids. That's what I'm trying to do. But she just
kept going on and on telling me that she's going down to
her car to get something. I got you. I got you, Ms. Smartie.
I got you. And she's using profanity. So what am I to do?
Not protect myself or not protect my kids? And it was over.
(Id. at 81-83).
minute after Plaintiff and DS are seen in the elevator lobby
together, security guards entered the space. (Doc. #51-2,
Bell Dep. at 101-02). One security officer escorted DS
downstairs while the other security officer remained with
Plaintiff until the Birmingham Police Department arrived.
(Doc. #51-5, Witness Statements at 1018). The Birmingham
police officer listened to Plaintiff's account and
escorted Plaintiff to her car for safety. (Id.). No.
police report was completed at that time. (Doc. #51-3, Heath
Dep. at 21). Security Guard Supervisor Quincharlotte Moulton
called Dough Heath, the Assistant Director of the Child
Support Unit and Building Services, immediately following the
incident. (Id. at 9). Heath was informed that
“a client attacked a worker” but that the worker
was alright. (Id.).
The Investigation of the Incident
Monday, August 24, 2015 Heath spoke with Boleware about the
incident. (Id. at 7, 10-11). Boleware informed Heath
that Plaintiff was not at work that Monday because “she
was complaining of a shoulder injury or something in regards
to the incident.” (Id. at 11). Heath explained
to Boleware that an internal incident report needed to be
completed. (Id.). On the same day, Heath called
Angela McClintock, the Director of JCDHR, to inform her of
the incident. (Id. at 11-12).
commenced an investigation of the elevator lobby incident
because he feared that Defendants might face a lawsuit from
DS. (Id. at 13-14, 23; Doc. #51-7, McClintock Dep.
at 136). He requested a copy of the surveillance video from
the lobby. (Doc. #51-3, Heath Dep. at 13-14). He requested
written statements from Jacqueline Wright,  Quincharlotte
Moulton, Sophia Jackson, Cassandra Jones, and Plaintiff
Martreece Bell. (Id. at 23-25). He also directed
Plaintiff, through Boleware, to make a formal report with the
Birmingham Police Department. (Id. at 109).
August 25, 2015 (the first day Plaintiff returned to work
following the incident), at 8:40 a.m., Plaintiff filed a
report with the Birmingham Police Department. (Doc. #51-6,
Police Report). According to the report, Plaintiff stated to
the officer that:
a client … approached [Bell] from behind on the
7th floor hallway near the elevators. The victim
stated that the suspect ‘got up against her back'
and said “bitch, you off the clock now!” The
victim and suspect ‘had words' until a co-worker
(witness - Katiua Walker) and a security guard separated
them. … The victim stated that her shoulder and neck
were injured during the incident when she was ‘pulled
away' from the suspect by the co-worker and security in
an effort to diffuse [sic] the situation.
same day Plaintiff wrote a statement for JCDHR. In that
report, Plaintiff states:
[DS] approached me from behind as I was texting with my
daughter and began to mumble some words at me in which I
could not understand. I then turned and responded to her at
which Ms. Walker got between us to ensure that there was no
physical contact between us.
(Doc. #51-5, Witness Statements at 1018).
Moulton, one of the security officers who witnessed both the
window incident and the elevator lobby incident, wrote:
The client became very loud at the window and came to the
security desk and asked me … to call a supervisor for
her. I … explained to the client that each window has
its own supervisor and she needed to ask for the supervisor
at the window. By that time a Food Stamp Supervisor went to
the window with the unknown client. I seen a paperwork was
given the unknown client began to complete the paperwork.
… I … seen how the client was waiting for the
worker to leave the window. I … told Officer Howard to
make his way into the (outer lobby by the elevators and to
get in the elevator just in case something was to happen) by
[the] time Officer Howard made his way in to the outer lobby
the two was into a verbal altercation. I … made my way
into the outer lobby I seen as the unknown client was trying
to attack [sic] the state work[er]. … The first thing
I … done was gotten the state worker and directed her
into the inner lobby so I could have eyes on her as I called
the police as Officer Howard directed the unknown client
along with her 2 kids out the building.
(Id. at 1015-16).
Katiua Walker also provided a written statement dated August
25, 2015. Walker wrote:
When we go to the elevators client came behind us. I could
feel the client behind me. Something was said and that is
when everything between [Plaintiff] and the client started.
What was being said between the client and [Plaintiff] I do
not know. When I notice the client walking up toward
[Plaintiff] I jumped in the middle to stop it. By this time
it was out of control, [another co-worker] and I was trying
to stop them from getting close to each other. … by
this time security finally came out to help but we had kind
of gotten things under control by then. The client was still
talking and I told her that she needed to get on the elevator
and leave; I said this several times and asked the guard to
escort her (client) on the elevator.
(Id. at 1020). Heath watched the security video on
his desktop computer. (Doc. #51-3, Heath Dep. at 27-28).
After watching the video, he concluded that Plaintiff was
endangering DS's children by her reaction to the incident
and not behaving in an appropriate manner for a state worker.
(Id. at 33, 162-63). He believed that Plaintiff
“had ample opportunity to exit the situation and chose
not to and actually continued to instigate.”