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Shufford v. Alabama Medicaid Agency

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

January 30, 2019

DEBRA SHUFFORD, Plaintiff,
v.
ALABAMA MEDICAID AGENCY and STEPHANIE MCGEE AZAR, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER [1]

          Susan Russ Walker United States Magistrate Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Debra Shufford brings this action against the Alabama Medicaid Agency and Stephanie McGee Azar in her official capacity as the Agency's Commissioner (collectively, “defendants”). Plaintiff alleges that she was denied a promotion on account of her race, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”), and 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 (“section 1981”) and 1983 (“section 1983”). See Doc. 1. Plaintiff was employed by defendant Agency from 2002 until August 1, 2017. See Doc. 28-1 ¶¶ 2, 5. Plaintiff was a hired to the position of “Medicaid Administrator I” in the Recipient Inquiry Unit and retired in the position of “Medicaid Administrator II” in the Technical Support division. See Id. ¶¶ 4, 6. This lawsuit concerns allegations of racial discrimination under Title VII for defendants' failure to promote plaintiff to a “Medicaid Administrator III” position. See Doc. 1 ¶ 6-18.

         This action is before the court on defendants' motion for summary judgment. Doc. 22. Plaintiff filed an opposition to defendants' motion, Doc. 29, and defendants replied, Doc. 33. Upon review of the motion and the record, the court concludes that the defendants' motion for summary judgment is due to be granted.

         II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         A movant is entitled to summary judgment if it “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). For summary judgment purposes, an issue of fact is “material” if, under the substantive law governing the claim, its presence or absence might affect the outcome of the suit. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). If the movant fails to satisfy its initial burden, the motion for summary judgment will be denied. Kernel Records Oy v. Mosley, 694 F.3d 1294, 1300 (11th Cir. 2012), cert. denied, 133 S.Ct. 1810 (2013). If the movant adequately supports its motion, the burden shifts to the opposing party to establish - “by producing affidavits or other relevant and admissible evidence beyond the pleadings” - specific facts raising a genuine issue for trial. Josendis v. Wall to Wall Residence Repairs, Inc., 662 F.3d 1292, 1315 (11th Cir. 2011); Dietz v. Smithkline Beecham Corp., 598 F.3d 812, 815 (11th Cir. 2010); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). “All affidavits [and declarations] must be based on personal knowledge and must set forth facts that would be admissible under the Federal Rules of Evidence[.]” Josendis, 662 F.3d at 1315; Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4). The court views the evidence and all reasonable factual inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. Miller's Ale House, Inc. v. Boynton Carolina Ale House, LLC, 702 F.3d at 1315; Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4). However, “the nonmoving party ‘must do more than show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, ” and “[i]f the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted.” Graham v. State Farm Mut. Ins. Co., 193 F.3d 1274, 1282 (11th Cir. 1999) (internal citations omitted). “If no reasonable jury could return a verdict in favor of the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue of material fact and summary judgment will be granted.” Morton v. Kirkwood, 707 F.3d 1276, 1284 (11th Cir. 2013) (citation omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         III. BACKGROUND AND UNDISPUTED FACTS [2]

         A. Defendants

         The Alabama Medicaid Agency (“the Agency”) is a governmental agency of the State of Alabama, which provides claims payment to providers of medical services in Alabama. Stephanie McGee Azar (“Azar”) is the Agency's current commissioner, a position she has occupied since May 2012. Doc. 24-1 at 2-3.

         The Agency is divided into a number of programs, alternately referred to as divisions, including but not limited to, the Managed Care, Beneficiary Services, Health Management, and Program Management. Id. Each program or division is divided into subdivisions which are referred to as units or components. Id. The Managed Care division deals with the “programmatic side of handling care management or Managed Care program issues and the administration of the benefit operations of that program.” Id. It was formed in response to response to discussions about pending legislation which would direct the Agency to develop a managed care program. Doc. 24-4 at 2. The managed care legislation, which was passed as Alabama Act Number 2013-261, also known as the Regional Care Organization legislation (“RCO legislation”), changed many of the requirements for different jobs throughout the Agency, including those in the Managed Care division. See id.; Doc. 24-1 at 5.

         B. Hiring Practices at the Alabama Medicaid Agency

         Typically, hiring at the Agency involves the supervisor of the vacant position, the Agency's human resources department (“HR”), and the State of Alabama Personnel Department (“State Personnel”). See Doc. 24-6 at 3. When a position at the Agency becomes vacant, the supervisor of that position usually informs HR staff, who respond to the supervisor with a list of individuals from State Personnel - known as the “register” - who meet the minimum qualifications for the grade or job classification for the vacancy. See id.; Doc. 24-1 at 17. State Personnel compiles a single register for each job classification series (e.g., all “Medical Administrator II” positions) which ranks individuals by a numerical job score assigned by State Personnel based on various factors which are relevant to each position. Doc. 24-1 at 4, 6-7, 17. However, because different positions vary even within the same job classification series, the hiring supervisor for each vacancy determines whether a given candidate has the requisite qualifications and experience for the specific position. See Doc. 24-6 at 3. For each position, the hiring supervisor develops what is known as a “Form 40, ” which describes the duties and tasks for a particular position. See Doc. 24-6 at 4, 11, 12.

         In order to be listed on the register, individuals must fill out an application for that job classification with State Personnel, which then certifies that the applicant meets the minimum qualifications for the grade and assigns a score before placing them on the register. Doc. 24-1 at 6. Applicants are listed on the register in descending order by score, and vacancies for any given job classification may only be filled by a candidate with one of the top ten scores on the register. Id. at 7. The top ten candidates on the register are described as being in “Band 1.” Id. Although HR may view the current register at any time, once a register is certified, or “pulled, ” a candidate in the top ten must be hired for the position. See Doc. 24-1 at 8; Doc. 24-6 at 3, 5, 8. While a candidate's sex is indicated on the register used to review the list of eligible candidates for a job classification, race is only indicated once the register has been pulled. Doc. 28-10 at 48. When applicants transfer from a different position in the same classification (i.e., when they are not being promoted to a new job classification), HR is not required to certify the register. Doc. 24-6 at 5. Registers are only certified at the request of the supervisor for the vacancy being filled. Doc. 24-6 at 15.

         When HR is notified of a vacancy, the hiring supervisor may ask to conduct initial interviews with the top ten candidates on the register prior to the register's being pulled. Id. at 3. Interviews are usually held, but they are not a strict requirement to hire into a promotional position. Doc. 24-1 at 8; 24-6 at 10. After conducting initial interviews, if the hiring supervisor selects a particular candidate, HR pulls the official register. Doc. 24-6 at 3. However, the hiring supervisor may determine that none of the available candidates meets the requirements of the position. Doc. 24-6 at 8. If the register is pulled before candidates are interviewed, the top ten candidates on the register for a given job classification are notified through an availability letter, which informs the candidates that a vacancy for the job classification will be filled, and one of the top ten candidates will be hired. See Doc. 24-6 at 5-6. Candidates must re-apply to a job classification periodically to remain on the register for a given position to avoid having their names dropped or removed from the list. Doc. 24-6 at 10. There is no routine process whereby HR monitors the register for any given job classification, and HR does not typically notify applicants that they have fallen off the register. Doc. 24-6 at 11. However, it is the usual practice for HR to monitor the register for a particular classification approximately once or twice per week if it is aware of a vacancy or if a supervisor makes a request to be informed which names currently appear on the register. Doc. 24-6 at 8.

         C. Plaintiff's Educational and Employment Background

         Plaintiff earned a Bachelor of Science degree with a minor in chemistry from the Tuskegee Institute, and a Master of Science degree from Alabama State University. Doc. 28-1 ¶ 3. She also attended the University of Alabama in Birmingham School of Dentistry for approximately one year. Id.

         Plaintiff was first employed by the Agency in 2002 as a Medicaid Administrator I (“MA I”) in the Recipient Inquiry Unit, which no longer exists. Id. ¶¶ 5-7. She was promoted to a Medicaid Administrator II (“MA II”) position in the same unit, and later interviewed and selected to be the Associate Director of the Prior Approval Unit in the Medical Services division at the time the Recipient Inquiry Unit was being closed. Id. ¶ 7. Plaintiff was subsequently transferred to Eligibility division and replaced by Nancy Headley in the Prior Approval Unit. Id. ¶ Plaintiff later became the Regional Coordinator in the Elderly and Disabled division, before becoming the Associate Director of the Operational Readiness division. Id. ¶¶ 8-9.

         D. Managed Care MA III Position

         In August of 2013, plaintiff responded to a job announcement for a Medical Administrator III (“MA III) position in the Managed Care division, interviewed for the position, and was not selected.

         In July 2013, Georgette Harvest, the HR director for the Agency at the time, became aware that the Managed Care division would have an MA III vacancy due to the retirement of Nancy Headley, the MA III for the division. Doc. 24-6 at 4. Dr. Moon, the deputy of Managed Care, immediately began the process of trying to fill the vacancy. Id. The Form 40 for the position was based on the duties that Headley had previously been performing in the position. Id. at 5. However, due to the passage of the RCO legislation, which required the Agency to significantly expand the Managed Care program, the duties of the MA III vacancy went beyond those of Headley, the incumbent MA III. Doc. 24-4 at 5. Headley was a registered nurse. Doc. 24-6 at 4.

         When HR was notified about the MA III vacancy in the Managed Care division by Moon, the hiring supervisor, it first emailed all existing MA IIIs in the Agency at the time and asked if any was interested in applying or interviewing for the position. Doc. 24-6 at 5; Doc. 28-10 at 4. No. individuals occupying MA III positions in the Agency requested to interview for the position. Id. Harvest then accessed the State Personnel system to view the top ten candidates on the MA III register and emailed the candidates on July 30, 2013 to inquire about their interest in interviewing for the vacancy. Doc. 24-6 at 5-6; Doc. 28-10 at 5-16. The email stated:

An MA III vacancy will exist in the managed care division. Our records indicate that you are currently on the MA III register. If you are interested in interviewing for this vacancy, please contact Angela Williams no later than five p.m., Monday, August 5th, 2013. You are not required to send notification if you are not interested in interviewing for the position. ...

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