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Tuck v. Alabama Institute for The Deaf and Blind

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

January 31, 2019

RUTHIE TUCK Plaintiff,
v.
ALABAMA INSTITUTE FOR THE DEAF AND BLIND, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ANNEMARIE CARNEY AXON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         In her shotgun complaint, Plaintiff Ruthie Tuck asserts that Defendants Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind (“AIDB”), John Mascia, and Travis Fields violated her rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 1981, the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. (the “ADA”), and the equal protection clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. (Doc. 1). The Defendants moved for summary judgment and Ms. Tuck responded to the motions. (Doc. 26 and Doc. 27). Having considered the motions, responses, and evidentiary submissions, the court WILL GRANT the Defendants' motions.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court “draw[s] all inferences and review[s] all evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” Hamilton v. Southland Christian Sch., Inc., 680 F.3d 1316, 1318 (11th Cir. 2012).

         In the light most favorable to Ms. Tuck, the facts are as follows. AIDB is the official state agency designated to conduct educational and training programs for the deaf, hearing impaired, blind, and visually handicapped residents of the State of Alabama. Ala. Code § 21-1-23. The E.H. Gentry Technical Facility is a vocational and educational rehabilitation program under the umbrella of AIDB that serves deaf and blind adults, known to AIDB as its “consumers.” (Doc. 21-2 at 4- 5). AIDB “employment specialists” assist consumers in obtaining employment within the community through personalized assessments and vocational training based on their professional goals. (Id.; Doc. 26-30 at 1-2). AIDB also assigns each consumer a job coach who provides hands on pre-employment training in real world settings while under the job coach's supervision. (Doc. 21-2 at 4-6; Doc. 21-1 at 7).

         AIDB employees are assigned to caseloads based on the needs of their consumer population. (Doc. 21-1 at 11). Those caseloads include four categories: general, [1] blind, deaf, and deaf/blind. (Id.). Ms. Tuck, a black female, worked as a job coach for the general caseload at E.H. Gentry from 2011-2015. (Id. at 11, 14). During that same period, the general caseload employment specialist was Lori Mitchell. (Id. at 11).

         Beginning around 2011, job coaches within E.H. Gentry were assigned duties traditionally performed by employment specialists. (Doc. 21-1 at 19-20, 28-29). The job coaches did not receive a salary increase in consideration for assuming these additional responsibilities. (Id.). In November 2011, Ms. Mitchell was promoted to “Assistant to Director of Student and General Services” but retained her responsibilities as employment specialist. (Doc. 21-5 at 3, ¶¶ 6-7; Doc. 21-1 at 20-21). Following Ms. Mitchell's promotion, Ms. Tuck was required to perform the role of both employment specialist and job coach without receiving additional compensation. (Doc. 1 at 5-6, ¶ 16).

         Frustrated that they did not receive additional compensation, Ms. Tuck and two other job coaches submitted several complaints to AIDB managers and requested clarification of their duties and responsibilities. (Doc. 21-3 at 3; Doc. 26-6 at 1; Doc. 26-7 at 1-3; Doc. 26-19 at 1-2). The job coaches argued that their job description did not accurately reflect the duties of the job coach position and requested back pay for completing the additional tasks. (Doc. 26-14 at 1-3; Doc. 26-19 at 1-2).

         Travis Fields, AIDB's Executive Director, reviewed these grievances and held a meeting with job coach personnel to better understand their concerns. (Doc. 21-2 at 8-10). Thereafter, Mr. Fields referred the matter to the human resources department to “take a good look at it” and determine whether changes in the job description were necessary. (Id. at 8-9). Upon review, the human resources department concluded that “all of the duties assigned to the job coaches were within the scope of their job description” and “the salary scale did not need to be changed.” (Doc. 21-5 at 3). Despite these findings, Mr. Fields relieved the job coaches of certain duties. (Doc. 21-2 at 14).

         On November 27, 2012, AIDB posted an opening for a Human Resources Coordinator position. (Doc. 1 at 6-7, ¶ 18). Ms. Tuck met the qualifications for the position and submitted an application. (Doc. 21-1 at 32). Ms. Tuck was interviewed but not referred to the hiring committee for consideration. (Doc. 1 at 6-7, ¶ 18; Doc. 21-9 at 3). Instead, AIDB hired a white male candidate for the position. (Doc. 21-1 at 32; Doc. 21-5 at 2).

         On June 23, 2013, Ms. Tuck took a leave of absence from AIDB to undergo orthopedic surgery. (Doc. 27-32 at 1-4). Two months later, Ms. Tuck returned to AIDB with a doctor's note that limited her to “light duty work” (doc. 21-1 at 57), and included restrictions on “standing and walking” (doc. 21-3 at 5). Mr. Fields determined that “the limitations given by Ms. Tuck's physician would not have permitted her to perform all of the necessary duties of her job.” (Id.). As a result, Ms. Tuck was placed on paid medical leave until she was able to perform all of her regular job duties. (Doc. 21-1 at 17-18, 35; Doc. 21-9 at 5, ¶ 15).

         On October 8, 2013, an employment coordinator position became available requiring a minimum of “five years of experience” and a “sign language level of intermediate.” (Doc. 26-28 at 1-3). Ms. Tuck met the listed qualifications and applied for the position, but was not offered an interview. (Doc. 21-1 at 16-17). AIDB received sixteen applications and interviewed two candidates. (Doc. 21-5 at 2-3). Ultimately, a black female was selected for the position. (Id.).

         On October 12, 2014, Ms. Mitchell resigned as employment specialist for the general caseload at E.H. Gentry. (Id. at 4, ¶¶ 12-14). In December, Ms. Tuck applied for the position when the opening was posted by AIDB. (Doc. 21-1 at 7). That same month, Ms. Tuck filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) against AIDB, alleging that it had discriminated against her on the basis of race, gender, and physical disability. (Id. at 53-58).

         AIDB hired Ms. Tuck for the employment specialist position in February 2015. (Id. at 5). Ms. Tuck received a considerable salary increase with the promotion. (Id. at 7, 12-13). However, Ms. Tuck continued to perform the duties of both an employment specialist and job coach due to budget constraints. (Doc. 21-1 at 14-17). She remains in that position today. (Doc. 1 at 1).

         Ms. Tuck commenced this action on March 13, 2017, asserting claims against AIDB, John Mascia, and Travis Fields, in their official and individual capacities. (Id. at 4-5, ¶¶ 10-13). Ms. Tuck's complaint includes five counts against the Defendants. In Count One, Ms. Tuck alleges that the Defendants discriminated against her on the basis of race and gender by failing to promote her and by failing to provide additional compensation for performing the duties of employment specialist and job coach, in violation of Title VII and § 1981. (Id. at 6-9, ¶¶ 18-19, 26, 28, 30). In Count Two, Ms. Tuck brings a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of her equal protection rights based on the same allegations that form the basis of her claim in Count One. (Id. at 13-15, ¶¶ 47-55). In Count Three, Ms. Tuck alleges that AIDB retaliated against her after she requested a promotion and salary increase for preforming the duties of employment specialist and job coach. (Doc. 1 at 15-17, ¶¶ 57, 60). Count Four alleges that AIDB subjected her to a hostile work environment by failing to provide additional compensation for performing the duties of employment specialist and job coach. (Id. at 17-18, ¶¶ 64-68). In Count Five, Ms. Tuck claims that the Defendants denied her reasonable accommodations by not allowing her to return to work while she recovered from orthopedic surgery in violation of the ADA. (Id. at 18-19, ¶¶ 71-73).

         II. DISCUSSION

         The Defendants move for summary judgment on all counts of the complaint. In their motions, Defendants argue that claims asserted with respect to AIDB's failure to promote Ms. Tuck are time-barred under both Title VII and § 1983. The Defendants contend that Ms. Tuck's ADA failure-to-accommodate claim is time-barred as well. As to the remaining counts, the Defendants contend that Ms. Tuck is unable to establish a prima facie case for her disparate treatment, hostile work environment, and retaliation claims. Additionally, Defendants Mascia and Fields argue they are entitled qualified immunity on all claims brought against them in their individual capacities.

         In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court must first determine if the parties genuinely dispute any material facts, and if they do not, whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A disputed fact is material if the fact “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, ” and a dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         In response to Defendants' motions for summary judgment, Ms. Tuck concedes a number of claims. She agrees that Mr. Fields and Dr. Mascia are entitled to summary judgment on all claims made against them in their official capacities. (Doc. 27-1 at 17). Ms. Tuck also concedes that summary judgment should be entered in favor of the Defendants on Count Five, which alleges violations of the ADA. (Doc. 26-1 at 13-14). And, Ms. Tuck agrees that she is barred from bringing any claims based on unlawful employment practices that occurred outside ...


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