United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Northern Division
CHARLES A. JAY, Plaintiff,
AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Defendant.
WILLIAM E. CASSADY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
matter is before the Court on Defendant Auburn
University's (“Auburn”) motion for summary
judgment (Doc. 113), pro-se Plaintiff Charles A. Jay's
response in opposition (Doc. 116), and Auburn's reply
(Doc. 121). Having duly considered the evidentiary record and
the parties' briefs, with no hearing being necessary, the
Court deems it proper to GRANT Auburn's
case arises from Auburn's election not to hire Jay in
2017 for the position of a Tech I/II at its Rural Studio in
Hale County, Alabama. Jay originally filed this action
alleging disability discrimination in August 2017,
see Doc. 1, and filed the operative Third Amended
Complaint in June 2018. Doc. 61. The parties engaged in
extensive discovery, and after the close of discovery, Auburn
moved for summary judgment on Jay's sole claim alleging
violation of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. §§
794 et seq.
Jay's Background and Claimed
held various jobs, including the founding of a one-man
electrical company known as “Dixie Electric, ”
and has worked in the general Hale County area as an
electrician and handyman from approximately 1992 through
2014. Jay Dep., Doc. 113-1, 56:5-7, 69:8-18. Jay worked as
the manager of the Hale County Water Authority from about
1999-2000; he also worked as a self-employed catfish farmer
until the mid-2000s. Id. at 89:13-16, 128:22-129:5,
129:16-23. From 2010 through 2014, Jay worked for SunSouth in
Demopolis, Alabama in the Parts Department and the Large
Equipment Services Department. Id. at 89:6-10.
April 2001, Jay fell off a ladder while cutting down a large
tree limb on his property and broke his neck. Jay Dep., Doc.
113-1, 104:7-19. Dr. Rick McKenzie performed surgery to
repair the damage. Id. at 107:3-13. Jay last saw Dr.
McKenzie in April 2016. Id. at 237:7-12. Despite
this injury, Jay does not experience substantial limitations
to any major life activity. Id. at 161:2-3
(“My neck, I have no problem.”).
2010, Jay fell at home and damaged his left shoulder. Jay
Dep., Doc. 113-1, 109:21, 110:15-111:3. Because he did not
have insurance at the time, he did not seek medical
attention. Id. at 111:6-7. Once he began work at
SunSouth and had insurance, Jay saw a doctor for his
preexisting shoulder injury. Id. at 111:12-23. Dr.
Lucie King performed surgery on Jay in November 2011 to
repair a rotator cuff. In surgery, she discovered that many
of the tendons had been damaged. Id. at 116:9-19.
Jay is able to use his left arm and shoulder without
substantial limitations. See Id. at 116:1-6,
160:22-161:5. He has not sought medical treatment or
rehabilitation therapy for his shoulder since
his wife Laurie began marriage counseling and individual
therapy with Marguerite Malone, Ph.D., a clinical
psychologist, in January 2004 and continued until their
separation in 2006. Jay Dep., Doc. 113-1, 240:3-23. Malone
diagnosed Jay with post-traumatic stress disorder
(“PTSD”). Id. Jay does not take any
medication for PTSD and has not sought any additional
treatment since 2006. Id. at 265:20-266:2. Jay
describes his symptoms of PTSD as “uncontrollable
anger” and the feelings he experiences when he believes
he has been disrespected. Id. at 285:4-23. Jay has
not identified any major life activity that his alleged PTSD
substantially limits. Jay noted that he “had gotten
good to where I could handle it [the anger] until this
lawsuit.” Id. at 286:16-20.
the injuries he has suffered in the past, Jay is able to care
for himself, to walk, to bend, to stand, to climb, to crawl,
to learn, to think, to read, to climb stairs, and to perform
manual tasks, including labor-intensive tasks. Jay Dep., Doc.
113-1, 220:23-222:23 (“I can do everything, yes,
ma'am, I'm normal.”). Jay can dress himself
without substantial limitation, Jay Dep., Doc. 121-1,
162:13-23, and can eat without substantial limitation, Jay
Dep., Doc. 113-1, 289:22-290:10.
The Rural Studio
Rural Studio is an off-campus design-build program of the
School of Architecture, Design and Construction of Auburn
University. See Freear Decl., Doc. 113-2, ¶ 4.
The Rural Studio was founded in 1993 by D.K. Ruth and Samuel
“Sambo” Mockbee in Hale County. Id. The
program provides Third and Fifth Year architecture students
with a hands-on educational experience. The projects focus on
sustainability by reimagining, reusing, and remaking building
materials. The Rural Studio focuses largely on
community-oriented work in the West Alabama Black Belt
region. Students, with the guidance of faculty and staff,
design and construct housing and community projects.
Id. Students are supervised by faculty and staff,
including Construction Supervisor Johnny Parker and Tech I/II
Mason Hinton. Id. at ¶ 5. Mr. Parker and Mr.
Hinton are trained in construction, electricity, plumbing,
heavy equipment, welding, and other trade skills to support
the Rural Studio projects. They directly supervise and teach
the students how to build the designs they have made. In
addition, Mr. Parker, Mr. Hinton, and the supporting faculty
members ensure the job sites are safe and meet applicable
code provisions. Id.
in 1993, Jay through Dixie Electric began working as an
independent contractor with the Rural Studio, and he worked
with Professor Mockbee until approximately 1999. Jay Dep.,
Doc. 113-1, 70:12-71:9. Jay was never an employee of Auburn
or its affiliates. Id. at 84:11-13. Jay and
Professor Mockbee cultivated a friendship, and Jay was known
to visit Mockbee at the Rural Studio from time to time, even
after Jay no longer worked on Rural Studio projects. Freear
Decl., Doc. 113-2, ¶ 12.
Mockbee served as the Director of the Rural Studio until his
death in December 2001. Freear Decl., Doc. 113-2, ¶ 12.
Professor Mockbee hired Andrew Freear in 2000 as a Visiting
Assistant Professor. Professor Freear became the Co-Director
of the Rural Studio in 2003. Professor Freear served in this
capacity until 2007, when he was made the Director.
Id. at ¶ 3. Professor Freear was on sabbatical
in Florence, Italy from August 2016 through August 2017.
Id. at ¶ 6. He then had a fellowship at Harvard
University from August 2017 through May 2018. Id. He
resumed his position as the Director in August 2018.
Id. During his two-year leave of absence from the
Rural Studio, he extracted himself from the day-to-day
operations, including any hiring decisions. Id. at
¶ 7. In Professor Freear's absence, Professor Xavier
Vendrell assumed the role of Acting Director. Vendrell Decl.,
Doc. 113-3, ¶ 3.
The Tech I/II Hiring Decision in 2016-2017
fall of 2016, Auburn advertised a vacancy at the Rural Studio
for a Tech I/II position. Jay Dep., Doc. 113-1, 147:7-12;
Position Announcement, Doc. 113-1, p. 38. The minimum
qualifications required “[b]asic knowledge of
construction, electrical, and plumbing codes and [the]
ability to perform construction, plumbing, [and] electrical
jobs” as well as the “ability to operate heavy
equipment.” Position Announcement, Doc. 113-1, p. 38.
The desired qualifications “include the ability to
resolve routine problems independently and provide
instruction to students on construction techniques[.]”
followed its general procedure for filling this vacancy.
Vendrell Decl., Doc. 113-3, ¶ 5. The Office of Human
Resources reviews the “application and supporting
documentation to assess whether the potential candidate meets
the posted minimum qualifications for the job.”
Thompson Decl., Doc. 113-4, ¶ 5. If the applicant passes
this first stage, the application materials are sent for
review to those responsible for the hire in the department
filling the position. Id.
applied for the Tech I/II position in December 2016. Jay
Dep., Doc. 113-1, 167:2- 13. On his application, he listed
three prior jobs for his work experience: (1) self-employed
catfish farmer, (2) tractor mechanic at SunSouth, and (3)
electrician, plumber, and “Sambo Assistant” for
Auburn. Id. at 166; Jay Application, Doc. 113-1, p.
40. He did not list any specific job duties for any of these
jobs and did not detail the basis for his qualifications or
his experience. See Jay Application, Doc. 113-1, pp.
39-42. Jay also did not list any individual references for
Auburn to contact and instead broadly stated his references
as “Rural Studio affiliates 94-99.” Id.
at p. 41. The only individual named on his entire application
was Sambo Mockbee, who had been deceased for 15 years.
of the application process, Jay voluntarily self-identified
as “disabled.” Jay Dep., Doc. 113-1, 198-99;
Voluntary Demographic Information, Doc. 113-1, p. 43. This
information is kept separate from the application.
Id. Only the Office of Human Resources and
Auburn's Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Office have
access to an applicant's voluntary demographic
information. Thompson Decl., Doc. 113-4, ¶ 6. The
faculty and staff in the department conducting a search,
including at the Rural Studio, do not ever have access to the
self-identifying demographic information for applicants to
positions within the department. Id.
Auburn's Office of Human Resources determined Jay met the
minimum qualifications for the Tech I/II position, his
application was forwarded to the search committee at the
Rural Studio. Once Jay received notification that his
application had entered the next stage, he called the Office
of Human Resources in Auburn and spoke with Chris Thompson,
Manger of Employment Administration. Thompson Decl., Doc.
113-4, ¶ 9. During that phone call, Jay informed Mr.
Thompson that he received disability benefits, but Jay never
indicated what his disability was and did not ask for any
accommodation or assistance with the application process.
Id.; see also Jay Dep., Doc. 113-1,
169:9-19, 182:5-13; Jay Dep., Doc. 121-1, 171:13-172:11.
Because Jay did not request assistance or an accommodation
(or indicate any was needed), no action was required outside
Human Resource's usual processing of applications.
Thompson Decl., Doc. 113-4, ¶ 9.
the new employee in the Tech I/II role would report to Johnny
Parker, the Construction Supervisor, Mr. Parker participated
in the search process. Parker Decl., Doc. 113-5, ¶ 6.
Mr. Parker and Professor Vendrell individually reviewed each
application they received from Auburn's Human Resources
office. Vendrell Decl., Doc. 113-3, ¶ 5. In total, they
reviewed six applications, including Jay's. Id.
independently reviewing the applications, Professor Vendrell
and Mr. Parker met and conferred to decide who to interview.
Vendrell Decl., Doc. 113-5, ¶ 5. They mutually selected
three applicants to be interviewed but did not select Jay.
Id. at ¶¶ 5-6. Professor Vendrell and Mr.
Parker agreed that Jay's application did not demonstrate
that he had relevant experience. Id. at ¶ 6.
They also were unable to contact any references.
Id.; see also Parker Decl., Doc. 113-5,
Vendrell did not know Jay at the time of the hiring process.
Vendrell Decl., Doc. 113-3, ¶ 8. He had no knowledge
that Jay had self-identified as disabled. Id. Mr.
Parker had met Jay around Newbern but did not know that Jay
self-identified as disabled in 2016. Parker Decl., Doc.
113-5, ¶ 10. Jay, however, contends that at some time
prior to his 2016 application, he told Mr. Parker about his
disability. See Jay Dep., Doc. 113-1, 269:22-270:1
(“…and Johnny Parker knows I'm disabled.
I've talked to him on several occasion.”),
Rural Studio employees participated in the interviews of the
top three candidates: Professor Vendrell; Mr. Parker; Mr.
Edward “Rusty” Smith, the Associate Director of
the Rural Studio; and Mr. Stephen Long, an Instructor with
the Rural Studio. Vendrell Decl., Doc. 113-3, ¶
The search committee determined that Mason Hinton was the
best candidate for the Tech I/II position because of his
relevant work experience and because of his educational
credentials, which indicated his ability to take on and learn
additional skills. Id. Mr. Hinton accepted the job
and continues to work at the Rural Studio. Id.