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Bell v. State of Alabama Department of Human Resources

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

October 19, 2018

MARTREECE BELL, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN RESOURCES, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          R. DAVID PROCTOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This 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.[1] (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.

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Martreece Bell (“Plaintiff” or “Bell”) filed a Second Amended Complaint[2] (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 agrees.

         II. Relevant Undisputed Facts

         The 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).

         A. Plaintiff's Employment at JCDHR

         Plaintiff 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).

         Plaintiff 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).

         B. The August 21, 2015 Incident

         On Friday, August 21, 2015, Plaintiff was working the front window of child support on the seventh floor of JCDHR.[3] (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).

         At 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, 1020).

         When 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, 1020).

         Plaintiff 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).

         About a 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.).

         C. The Investigation of the Incident

         On 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).

         Heath 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, [4] 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).

         On 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.

(Id.).

         On the 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).

         Quincharlotte 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).

         Co-worker 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.” ...


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