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Eckl v. Lauderdale County Board of Education

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

March 22, 2019

AMANDA J. ECKL, et al., Plaintiffs,



         Amanda J. Eckl, Jessica L. VanDerVelde, and Angela C. West bring these employment actions against the Lauderdale County Board of Education (the “Board”), former Superintendent Jennifer Gray, and current Superintendent Jonathan Hatton, pursuant to the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d), and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. The plaintiffs assert that the defendants violated the Equal Pay Act and Title VII by paying them significantly less than a male colleague for allegedly substantially similar work and by retaliating against them after they complained of the pay disparity. Doc. 1; Doc. 3 (No. 3:17-cv-1232-AKK).[1] Presently before the court are the defendants' motion for summary judgment, doc. 33, and the plaintiffs' motion to strike, doc. 36. For the reasons explained below, the motion to strike is due to be denied, and the motion for summary judgment is due to be granted solely as to the Equal Pay Act claims based on the pay disparity. In all other respects, the motion is due to be denied.


         Summary judgment is proper “if the movant 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). “Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The moving party bears the initial burden of informing the court of the basis of the motion and proving the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Id. at 323. If the moving party meets that burden, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party, who is required to go “beyond the pleadings” to establish that there is a “genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324 (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). A dispute about a material fact 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).

         The court must construe the evidence and all reasonable inferences arising from it in the light most favorable to the non-movant. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970). However, “mere conclusions and unsupported factual allegations are legally insufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion.” Ellis v. England, 432 F.3d 1321, 1326 (11th Cir. 2005) (citing Bald Mountain Park, Ltd. v. Oliver, 863 F.2d 1560, 1563 (11th Cir. 1989)). Moreover, “[a] mere ‘scintilla' of evidence supporting the opposing party's position will not suffice; there must be enough of a showing that a jury could reasonably find for that party.” Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1577 (11th Cir. 1990) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252).


         The plaintiffs work in the Board's bookkeeping department, which is responsible for handling the Board's business and finances. Docs. 37-7 at 3; 37-5 at 6. Larry Vance, the Chief School Finance Officer, supervised the department's four employees during the relevant time. Docs. 37-2 at 3, 8; 37-5 at 3. Mark Collier worked in the department from June 1993 until he retired in October 2016, earning at his retirement an annual salary that exceeded the plaintiffs' by at least $23, 000. See docs. 34-1 at 1; 37-12 at 6-7, 12-13, 19-20, 26-27.

         When the Board hired Collier in June 1993, it initially advertised for a bookkeeper-payroll position, which required an associate's degree in accounting or business. See docs. 34-2 at 12; 37-3 at 2. But, the Board ultimately hired Collier, who has a bachelor's degree in accounting, for a payroll accountant/computer operator position, which required a bachelor's degree in accounting. Docs. 34-2 at 1, 12; 37-2 at 3. The pay scale for Collier's position at the time ranged from $27, 274 for step zero to $32, 074 for step ten, and Collier began at step zero. Docs. 34-2 at 12; 37-3 at 4. Early in his career, Collier also “performed duties regarding computer technology.” Doc. 34-1 at 1. These responsibilities ended when the Board began employing dedicated IT personnel sometime before 1999. Id. In spite of the change in duties, Collier kept the same job title. See doc. 34-2 at 55. In 2011 or earlier, the Board changed Collier's salary schedule from payroll accountant/computer operator to accounting specialist I, with a pay scale that ranged from $47, 783 - $57, 660 for a person with a bachelor's degree. See docs. 37-11 at 3; 37-12 at 2. Collier earned approximately $55, 900 annually when he retired in 2016. Doc. 37-12 at 6-7.

         Collier attests that “[i]n addition to [his] regular duties and responsibilities, ” his duties included the following twenty-four tasks:

1. Preparation of [] LEAPS reports;
2. Salary schedule (until [] Vance was employed [sometime before 1999]);
3. Ethics report;
4. Fixed Asset Inventory report;
5. 941 quarterly tax report;
6. Booking of annual [Board] auction and calculation of the proceeds to the various schools and departments;
7. Retiree consultations;
8. Auditing of local school financial accounts and providing ...

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