United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
K. KALLON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Gaines files this lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against
John R. Cooper, the Director of the Alabama Department of
Transportation (ALDOT), and Gary Smith, the manager of
ALDOT's Oneonta District, where Gaines worked as a
Transportation Maintenance Technician. Doc. 1. Gaines asserts
that the Defendants violated the Fourteenth Amendment's
equal protection clause and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 by
discriminating against him on the basis of race and
retaliating against him when they discharged him before the
end of his probationary period. Id. The Defendants
move for summary judgment on all claims, arguing that the
claims are barred by the statute of limitations, the
Defendants' Eleventh Amendment immunity, and that Gaines
failed to establish the required elements of his
discrimination and retaliation claims. Docs. 29 and 32. For
the reasons discussed below, in particular, Gaines'
failure to establish a prima facie case or to show pretext,
the Defendants' motion is due to be granted.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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).
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).
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
ALDOT's Job Classifications and
created the Transportation Maintenance Technician
(“TMT”) position to replace the Highway
Maintenance Technician (“HMT”) position sometime
before Gaines's employment. Doc. 31-31 at 6. TMTs perform
a variety of services on ALDOT roads, and because of the
vehicles they use, ALDOT requires TMTs to have a commercial
driver's license (“CDL”). Docs. 31-7; 31-17;
31-33 at 1. After ALDOT created the TMT position, it
reclassified HMTs who had a CDL as TMTs, and those who did
not have a CDL as Transportation Workers (“TW”).
Doc. 31-31 at 6-7. TWs perform unskilled labor, and are not
required to have a CDL. Docs. 31-33 at 1; 39-1 at 5; 39-2 at
allows individuals hired as TMTs a six-month probationary
period to obtain a CDL if they do not already have one. Doc.
31-3 at 19. In March 2010, ALDOT adopted a policy to give
employees one three-month extension if they did not obtain a
CDL within their first six months of probationary employment.
Docs. 31-1 at 35; 31-3 at 19-21; 31-4 at 20-21; 39-1 at 2-3.
ALDOT's general policy is to discharge TMTs who do not
earn a CDL before the end of their probationary period. Doc.
31-32 at 3. However, if ALDOT had originally hired an
individual for a position that did not require a CDL, such as
a TW, and promoted the individual to a TMT position, then
that employee may have reversion rights, which would allow
the employee to take a demotion to her previous position.
See doc. 31-33 at 3; 31-7. See also Ala.
Admin. Code 670-X-10-.01.
Gaines' employment with ALDOT and attempts to earn
hired Gaines, an African-American man, on a conditional basis
as a TMT, effective December 2, 2013. Docs. 31-1 at 6, 8-10;
31-4; 31-6; 31-18 at 1. Gaines worked in the Oneonta
District, and at all relevant times, Smith served as the
manager of the District. Doc. 31-29 at 2-3; Doc. 31-30 at 2.
By all accounts, Gaines was a good employee, and never
received any disciplinary actions. Docs. 31-29 at 4, 24;
31-19; 39-1 at 3; 39-2 at 3; 31-29 at 4. As a conditional
employee, Gaines understood that to achieve full merit, or
permanent status, he had to earn his CDL within a six-month
probationary period. Docs. 31-1 at 9-11, 31; 31-7 at 1; 39-1
at 2. In other words, Gaines knew that he had to have a CDL
to maintain his employment. See doc. 31-1 at 20.
with policy, before his six-month probationary period ended,
Gaines requested more time to prepare for and pass the CDL
exam. Doc. 31-20. Smith recommended that ALDOT grant
Gaines's request, and Steve Dukes, ALDOT's personnel
director, also recommended the extension. Docs. 31-21; 31-29
at 4-5. ALDOT approved the extension for ninety days, docs.
31-1 at 32; 31-3 at 21; 31-22; 31-29 at 5, and informed
Gaines that “[a]ccording to Departmental guidelines,
[his] six-month probationary period may be extended by three
additional months only once” and that he “must
obtain a [CDL] by the end of [his] probationary period to
obtain permanent status.” Doc. 31-22.
Gaines took the written CDL exam at least two times, but did
not pass. Docs. 31-1 at 20-21; 31-4 at 6, 15; 39-1 at 3; 39-2
at 3. Gaines talked with Mathis Jones, his supervisor, about
his attempts to earn a CDL, but Gaines did not inform Smith
that he had taken the written exam, and he did not request
reimbursement from ALDOT for the fees he paid to take the
exam. Docs. 31-1 at 22, 45; 31-30 at 3; 39-2 at 3. However,
ALDOT did not require TMTs to apprise their district managers
about their efforts to obtain a CDL. Doc. 31-1 at 23, 45;
39-1 at 3; 39-2 at 3.
Gaines's shift-change and transfer
Gaines began working for ALDOT, employees in the Oneonta
District asked to change their work shift from a standard
five-day work week to a four-day, ten hours per day work
week, which Smith denied. See doc. 31-1 at 23. After
ALDOT hired Gaines, at the urging of a co-worker, Gaines
wrote a letter on behalf of the TMTs in the District to Smith
and Smith's supervisors, asking for the ten-hour work
We feel that we are not being treated with equality and
fairness! We are under the Guntersville, Alabama Division and
District. There maintenance employees, as well as other
divisions are working the 4-day 10-hour work week.
Because of the repeated rejection of our request for this
(4-day, 10-hour work week), the morale among our maintenance
workers is not well. . . . Inclusively, Mr. Smith, we the
maintenance workers . . . are requesting that after careful
review, you will grant us our request.
Doc. 31-4 at 18-19. See also docs. 31-1 at 23-24;
31-3 at 22; 39-1 at 3. Although he did not sign the letter,
Gaines attached a petition he and twenty-two other TMTs
signed in favor of a four-day work week. Docs. 31-1 at ...