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Griffin v. Lee County Board of Education

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

March 25, 2019

SARAH GRIFFIN, as Personal Representative and Administratrix of the Estate of MARK L. GRIFFIN, deceased, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
LEE COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          STEPHEN M. DOYLE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This is a class-of-one equal protection claim brought by three technicians in the Lee County Schools Maintenance Department: Mark Griffin[1] (“Griffin”), Brent Massey (“Massey”), and Mike McConnell (“McConnell”). 2d Amd. Compl. (Doc. 49) ¶¶ 14-25. Plaintiffs allege that they have been denied equal protection of the laws because certain other technicians in the maintenance department receive higher pay for performing similar work. Plaintiffs do not allege that this pay disparity is due to discrimination on the basis of a protected or suspect class such as race, sex, age, or national origin. Rather, they argue that the Lee County Board of Education (“LCBOE”) gave certain bus mechanics credit for their prior outside work experience while denying electricians and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (“HVAC”) technicians the same credit. Plaintiffs argue that this “refusal to give . . . credit on the salary schedule for relevant years of outside work is arbitrary and irrational” and therefore violates the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. Pls' Opp. (Doc. 76) at 97. Plaintiffs' equal protection claims are not cognizable because the Supreme Court has squarely held that this “class-of-one theory of equal protection does not apply in the public employment context.” Engquist v. Oregon Dep't of Agric., 553 U.S. 591, 598 (2008). In addition, Defendants' action in refusing to give Plaintiffs a pay raise easily satisfies rational basis review.

         Plaintiffs' have stipulated to dismissal of their Title VII claims based on the pay disparity, and Plaintiff Griffin's remaining Title VII claim alleging a racially-hostile work environment is time-barred. Finally, Plaintiffs' counts seeking declaratory, injunctive, and mandamus relief, Counts I-III, are dismissed for failure to state a claim because they plead a remedy, not an independent cause of action.

         Accordingly, Defendants' motions for summary judgment (Docs. 67, 68) are GRANTED, and Plaintiffs' claims are DISMISSED in their entirety WITH PREJUDICE.

         II. PLAINTIFFS' CLAIMS

         Plaintiffs bring equal protection claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the LCBOE, Superintendent James McCoy and board members Larry Boswell, Milford Burkhalter, Roger Keel, Larry Patterson, Napoleon Stringer, George Spence, Fred Copeland, Jr., and Ralph Henderson in both their individual and official capacities. 2d Amd. Compl., Count IV (Doc. 49) ¶¶ 56-62. They also bring an equal protection claim directly under the Constitution against the LCBOE. Count VIII (Doc. 49) ¶¶ 105-111. Plaintiffs allege that “they have been denied equal protection in that other maintenance department employees with less experience with the LCBOE are paid more for performing similar and, in some cases, less skilled jobs. The other employees are paid for so-called ‘outside' experience, that is, experience with an employer other than the LCBOE” while plaintiffs are not. 2d Amd. Compl. (Doc. 49) ¶¶ 15-16. Plaintiffs allege that this difference in pay is arbitrary and capricious. Id. at ¶ 25.

         In addition to their class-of-one equal protection claims, each individual Plaintiff brings a separate claim against the LCBOE for alleged violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Counts V, VI, and VII (Doc.49) at ¶¶ 63-104. However, in their opposition papers, Plaintiffs “consent to the dismissal of their Title VII claims insofar as they concern the pay disparity.” Pls' Opp. to SJ (Doc. 76) at 111. Therefore, only Plaintiff Griffin's Title VII claim alleging racial discrimination unrelated to the alleged pay disparity remains.

         Finally, Plaintiffs allege counts for declaratory, mandamus, and injunctive relief. Counts I, II, and III (Doc.49) at ¶¶ 26-55. These counts all relate strictly to the pay disparity.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment is appropriate when “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). When the non-moving party bears the burden of proof at trial, summary judgment is warranted if the nonmovant fails to “make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to [its] case.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The legal elements of the claim dictate which facts are material and which are irrelevant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is not material if a dispute over that fact will not affect the outcome of the case under the governing law. Id.

         IV. UNDISPUTED FACTS

         Griffin is an African-American man. 2d Amd. Compl. (Doc. 49) ¶ 64. Massey and McConnell are white men. Id. at ¶¶ 79, 92. Massey and McConnel are skilled electricians. Id. at ¶¶ 9, 10. Griffin is a skilled HVAC technician. Id. at ΒΆ 8. All had prior outside work experience before accepting ...


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