United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Eastern Division
S. MARIE VERNON, Plaintiff,
CENTRAL ALABAMA COMMUNITY COLLEGE, Defendant.
ANNEMARIE CARNEY AXON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the court on Defendant Central Alabama
Community College's (“CACC”) motion for
summary judgment. (Doc. 39).
S. Marie Vernon worked for CACC as the Director of Accounting
from January 2014 until July 2016. Ms. Vernon alleges that
CACC terminated her employment because she is female. The
remaining claim in this action is one for gender
discrimination under Title VII against CACC. (See
Docs. 13, 19, 26).
explained below, Ms. Vernon has not demonstrated that
CACC's legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for
terminating her employment is pretext for unlawful gender
discrimination, and she has not presented other
circumstantial evidence from which a jury could infer that
gender animus motivated her termination. Therefore, the court
WILL GRANT CACC's motion.
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) (quotation marks omitted).
one of 24 institutions that comprise the Alabama Community
College System. (Doc. 40 at 3, ¶ 2). Dr. Susan Burrow
was appointed as Interim President of CACC on February 26,
2013, and she was confirmed President in October 2015. (Doc.
40 at 3, ¶ 1). On January 2, 2014, Dr. Burrow hired Ms.
Vernon as CACC's Director of Accounting. (Doc. 40 at 4,
¶ 4; Doc. 40-9 at 12; Doc. 40-10 at 1). Ms. Vernon
worked in CACC's business office, where she supervised
nine employees. (Doc. 40 at 4, ¶ 6; Doc. 44-2 at ¶
3; Doc. 44-4 at 37). Ms. Vernon reported directly to Richard
Hawkshead, CACC's Executive Vice President and Chief
Financial Officer. (Doc. 40 at 4, ¶ 6; Doc. 40-10 at 1).
Ms. Vernon arrived at CACC, the business office was
undergoing “a major overhaul and a rebuilding and
rehabilitation process” in light of a November 2012
audit report from the Alabama Department of Examiners of
Public Accounts. (Doc. 44-5 at 9). Employees in the business
office were “unhappy, ” and Dr. Burrow admits
that Ms. Vernon was placed in a “challenging
situation.” (Doc. 44-4 at 15). According to Ms. Vernon,
she inherited a “disgruntled staff” (doc. 40-11
at 7), and “a business office culture that was toxic,
recalcitrant, insubordinate, and absent” (doc. 44-2 at
¶ 6). Ms. Vernon claims that every time she attempted to
document problems with staff, Mr. Hawkshead and Dr. Burrow
“wanted [the] office to complete the financial
statements and then address the difficult staff.” (Doc.
44-2 at ¶ 16; see also Id. at ¶ 17).
Despite challenges with her staff, Ms. Vernon helped improve
CACC's financial reporting. (Doc. 44-2 at ¶¶
18-19; see Doc. 40-5 at 2, 7).
February 16, 2015, Mr. Hawkshead completed an annual
evaluation for Ms. Vernon. (Doc. 40-5 at 2-4). Mr. Hawkshead
evaluated Ms. Vernon in a number of individual categories and
provided a numerical ranking between 0 and 5 for each
category. (Id.). Mr. Hawkshead found that Ms. Vernon
“consistently excels in job performance” or
“performs at a level above job requirements” in a
number of categories, including quality of work,
quantity/efficiency of work, initiative, dependability, and
attendance. (Id. at 2-3). Mr. Hawkshead indicated
that Ms. Vernon needed improvement in the areas of areas of
decision-making, attitude, and communication skills. (Doc.
40-5 at 2-3; Doc. 40-1 at 4-7).
respect to decision-making, Mr. Hawkshead noted that
[g]enerally, Marie makes good judgment calls based on her
knowledge and I have the utmost confidence in her but as a
first time middle manager is still struggling to find the
right balance in making decisions when dealing with staff.
She is sometimes overzealous in her attempts to control her
staff which can be counter-productive and stressful (for both
her and her staff).
(Doc. 40-5 at 2).
Ms. Vernon's attitude, Mr. Hawkshead stated that
“Marie has struggled with some undependable and
uncooperative staff that sometimes negatively impacts her
attitude, however the stressful environment and workload also
affects her ability to maintain a positive mental
attitude.” (Doc. 40-5 at 3). Mr. Hawkshead explained
that Ms. Vernon communicated effectively with most personnel,
but he commented that she “is frustrated by staff which
is reflected in her communication style and impacts her
ability to maintain a smooth and composed
conversation.” (Id.). Mr. Hawkshead also
stated that Ms. Vernon's “desire to control and
related emotions sometimes get the best of her and is
occasionally reflected in her communication style.”
November 4, 2015, Dr. Burrow and CACC Human Resources
Director, Tina Shaw, discussed CACC staff complaints about
Mr. Hawkshead and Ms. Vernon. (Doc. 40 at 6-7, ¶ 12;
see Doc. 40-5 at 5-6). Ms. Shaw's notes from the
meeting indicate that employees expressed a number of
concerns regarding Mr. Hawkshead's and Ms. Vernon's
leadership of the CACC business office. (See Doc.
40-5 at 5-6).
to Ms. Vernon's claim in this case, Ms. Shaw's notes
state that Mr. Hawkshead engaged in the following conduct
that employees reported as offensive:
• Rubbing necks and touching backs of some staff members
• Stating “What's wrong with ----, she got
• Stating “Marie doesn't date, she needs to
get her a sugar daddy”
• Stating “You are going to blind somebody with
those rhinestones ...