United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
DAVID PROCTOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
sexual harassment and retaliation action involves an admitted
two-year, sexual relationship between Plaintiff, Maria Miles,
and her superior, Charlie Williams, during their employment
with the City of Birmingham (“the City”) and
Plaintiff's subsequent resignation in March 2016. The
City and Williams have each filed Motions for Summary
Judgment. (Docs. # 16, 17).
court recognizes that unwanted sexual attention in the
workplace is a concern that rightly occupies the minds of
both employers and employees. In addressing workplace
discrimination disputes, judges (including the undersigned)
must be keenly aware that sexual harassment is an acute
problem that affects our society. Having said that, the court
is duty-bound to examine the facts of each case under the
legal framework which the Supreme Court and the Eleventh
Circuit have established. With these concerns in mind, the
court has carefully considered Plaintiff's claims and the
summary judgment record. However, no evidence in the Rule 56
record suggests that Plaintiff's two-year relationship
with Williams was unwelcome. Accordingly, for the reasons
more thoroughly explained below, Defendants' Motions for
Summary Judgment (Docs. # 16, 17) are due to be granted.
the court discusses the Rule 56 evidence regarding
Plaintiff's relationship with Williams and its effect on
her employment. Second, the court outlines the summary
judgment evidence regarding the actions the City took to
prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. Finally, the
court addresses the circumstances surrounding Plaintiff's
resignation and her filing of a Charge of Discrimination with
the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Plaintiff's Employment with the City and Her Relationship
with Defendant Williams
worked in the City's Department of Public Works from
November 27, 2013 until March 16, 2016. (Docs. # 22-1 at 23).
Although she started as a temporary truck driver, Plaintiff
was promoted several times and eventually attained the
position of Maintenance Supervisor. (Id. at 165).
From February 2014 to December 1, 2017, Williams was the
Deputy Director of the Department of Public Works and had
supervisory authority over Plaintiff at various points in her
employment. (Docs. # 22-2 at 7, 25; 16-2).
first met Williams around February 2014 when he investigated
two of Plaintiff's coworkers for employee misconduct.
(Docs. # 22-2 at 34). Plaintiff explained the incident to
Williams, and Williams ultimately recommended that the two
employees be terminated. (Id.). After this initial
contact, Plaintiff continued to act as a “confidential
informant” for Williams when employees committed
violations of City policies. (Id.).
the course of the next few weeks, Plaintiff and Williams
flirted via text message. (Id. at 35). In early
2014, Plaintiff accepted Williams's invitation to have
dinner with him outside of work. (Doc. # 22-1 at 42-43).
Prior to their date, Williams had never used vulgar language
or made inappropriate advances toward her. (Id. at
42). Shortly after their dinner, Plaintiff and Williams had
their first sexual encounter. (Id. at 44-47).
Plaintiff did not push Williams away or reject his advances.
(Id. at 46).
Plaintiff and Williams participated in a two-year
relationship, which ended in approximately April 2016.
(Id. at 49). They talked on the phone and texted
each other every day. (Id. at 51-52). In fact,
Plaintiff initiated many of these communications herself,
including asking Williams when he would come to her
apartment. (Id. at 54, 66). On several occasions,
Plaintiff allowed Williams to stay overnight without engaging
in any sexual activity. (Id. at 55-57). Williams
frequently visited on the weekends and developed a
relationship with Plaintiff's youngest daughter.
(Id. at 60-61). “[H]e would talk to her, let
her play with his phone, …[and] give her money.”
(Id. at 61). Plaintiff also introduced Williams to
her son and her sister. (Id. at 68).
celebrate her one-year anniversary with Williams, Plaintiff
suggested and planned a trip to Anniston. (Id. at
63-65). Plaintiff drove and paid cash for their hotel stay,
while Williams paid for their meals. (Id. at 64;
Doc. # 22-2 at 35). Shortly after their trip, Plaintiff told
Williams she loved him and gave him a key to her apartment.
(Id. at 65, 72). He did not ask for the key, but
Plaintiff thought “it would be easier” for him to
“come on in and not have to worry about [her] falling
asleep or anything like that.” (Id. at 72).
She also told one of her coworkers that she was in love with
Williams. (Id. at 65-66). Periodically, Williams
called her “Mush Cake, ” and Plaintiff would
respond with “Mush Cake miss you.” (Id.
work hours, Williams would greet Plaintiff by saying
“hey, cutie” or “hey, sexy.”
(Id. at 83). On at least one occasion, he told a
friend over the phone that “he was watching this sexy,
young thang cut grass, ” referring to Plaintiff.
(Id.). Plaintiff was not offended by this conduct.
(Id.). Instead, she smiled. (Id.).
According to Plaintiff, Williams also “rubbed [her]
butt” at work “once or twice.”
(Id. at 84). Again, Plaintiff was not offended and
only told him to stop because “somebody could have
[seen] him.” (Id. at 84-85).
testified that even when he was not acting as her direct
supervisor, Williams sometimes contacted her supervisors to
change her daily work assignments. (Id. at 141-42,
158-61). He hovered near Plaintiff at job locations, drawing
the attention of her coworkers. (Id. at 140-41). If
Williams did not know where Plaintiff was assigned on a
particular day, “he would call the radio” or
“call [Plaintiff's] phone. If [she] didn't
answer, he would continue to call.” (Id. at
141). Plaintiff felt that Williams took credit for her career
advancement. (Id. at 146-47). Specifically, he
advised her about what certifications she needed to be
considered for a position (Id. at 164-65) and
recommended her for promotions to her supervisors
(Id. at 164).
point in their relationship did Plaintiff communicate to
Williams that his advances or their sexual encounters were
unwelcome. (Id. at 74, 88-89). Plaintiff testified
at her deposition that “[Williams] wouldn't have
[known the relationship was unwelcome] because I never gave
him any indications because of what I thought he might do to
me. So I kept it as if everything was okay, but it
wasn't.” (Id. at 88-89).
never directly threatened Plaintiff by telling her there
would be consequences affecting her career if she ended the
sexual relationship. (Id. at 90). But, Plaintiff
testified that she felt indirectly threated because
Williams implied that he had control over her job by saying
“how you got to where you got. Its because of me.
I'm the one that helped you [get] there…And
everything I say do, that's what you do, and don't
pay them any attention.” (Id. at 90-91).
According to Plaintiff, “[h]is favorite saying was let
nobody take your power.” (Id. at 138).
City's Sexual Harassment Policies and Response to the
orientation, the City gives all new employees a copy of the
City's Sexual and Gender Harassment Policy and explains
how to report harassment. (Doc. # 16-6 at 28-29). The Sexual
and Gender Harassment Policy provides in pertinent parts:
It is the policy of the City of Birmingham that sexual or
gender harassment of City employees or applicants for City
employment is strictly prohibited and shall be grounds for
Sexual harassment for purposes of this policy is defined as
unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and
other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:
(a) Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or
implicitly a term or condition of an individual's
(b) Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an
individual is used as the basis for employment decisions
affecting such individual; or
(c) Such conduct has the purpose or effect of interfering
with an individual's work.
Individuals who feel that they have been sexually harassed
are encouraged to take action themselves in a rational and
(a) Report incidents of sexual harassment to your supervisor,
your supervisor's superior, or the City's Human
Supervisors can be held personally liable if they:
(a) Make sexual advances.
(b) Use sex as an expression of power or dominance.
(c) Suggest that sexual favors are a condition of employment.
(d) Discriminate as to gender.
(e) Otherwise create a hostile work environment or condone
sexual or gender harassment in the workplace.
(Doc. # 16-8 at 1-4).
December 12, 2013, Plaintiff received a copy of the Sexual
and Gender Harassment Policy at her new employee orientation.
(Docs. # 22-1 at 86-87; 16-3). Plaintiff also signed an
acknowledgement form that states: “If I feel I am being
harassed, I have a right and responsibility to communicate
this directly to the alleged harasser, my supervisor,
department head, a non-involved supervisor, the City's
Personnel Office and/or seek resolution through the grievance
and complaint procedures of the Rules and Regulations of the
Jefferson County Personnel Board.” (Doc. # 16-3).
January 2015, the City conducted a mandatory training session
with all employees, including Department Directors and Deputy
Directors. (Doc. # 16-6 at 29-30). City officials instructed
attendees on the provisions of the Sexual and Gender
Harassment Policy and provided examples of conduct
constituting sexual harassment. (Id.). Plaintiff
attended this session and signed another acknowledgement form
certifying that she had neither suffered nor was aware of any
conduct at her work station “that would constitute
sexual or gender harassment under the [Policy] within six
months of the date of this certification.” (Doc. #
Plaintiff personally discussed the Policy with the Director
of Public Works, Stephen Fancher. (Docs. # 22-1 25-26; 16-7).
In fact, Fancher approached Plaintiff two or three times
following complaints from her coworkers about her
relationship with Williams. (Doc. # 22-1 at 17-18, 98,
107-109). Plaintiff testified at her deposition that on one
occasion, Fancher called her after hours with two other
employees listening on the line to ask whether there was
anything happening between her and Williams. (Id. at
18, 152-53). In Plaintiff's view, Fancher's tone
implied a statement, rather than a question-as if he was
instructing her to answer in the negative. (Doc. # 22-1 at
153). Plaintiff answered no. (Id.). Twice, Fancher
directly asked Plaintiff whether she was having a
relationship with Williams. (Id. at 18, 153-54).
Each time, she denied the relationship. (Id. at 18).
During one of these conversations, Fancher informed Plaintiff
that Williams was a married man with two children.
(Id. at 50, 154). Fancher also instructed Williams
to stay away from Plaintiff. (Id. at 17).
her awareness of the City's Sexual and Gender Harassment
Policy and the different avenues for reporting sexual
harassment, Plaintiff never utilized any of these reporting
mechanisms. (Id. at 180-81). When asked how the City
would have known that she was having an unwelcome
relationship with Williams, Plaintiff responded, “They
wouldn't have because I didn't say anything to
anybody because of the conversations that I had with Mr.
Williams and the statements that Mr. Williams had made to me
saying he put me where I was and Fancher had nothing to do
with it.” (Id. at 89). Plaintiff testified
that she did not tell her supervisors about the relationship
because she feared Williams would retaliate against her:
“I've seen how he's done other employees when
they've done something to him or said anything about
anybody, the way that he would target them, have them written
up.” (Id. at 13). Consequently, prior to the
filing of Plaintiff's EEOC charge, the City never
received notice that Plaintiff was either subjected to an
allegedly hostile work environment or forced to participate
in an unwelcome relationship. (Doc. # 16-6 at 28).
Plaintiff's Resignation and EEOC Charge
2015 or early 2016, Plaintiff's coworker, Fatuma
Robinson, approached Plaintiff to complain about nepotism in
the City's hiring practices. (Docs. # 22-1 at 22-24;
16-2). In her deposition, Plaintiff explained that Robinson
was upset about “not being hired with the City and that
the other supervisor had got her daughters on. And she knew
that the daughters were not being hired, and Ms. Fatuma felt
that that caused a problem as far as her being discriminated
against.” (Doc. # 22-1 at 22-23). Plaintiff advised
Robinson to first take her complaint to Fancher, then to the
EEOC. (Id. at 23-24, 28-29, 122-23,
March 16, 2016, Fancher called Plaintiff to his office to
question her about reports that Plaintiff was telling her
coworkers to bring their sexual harassment claims directly to
the EEOC. (Id. at 25-27, 155-57; Doc. # 16-7). He
read from the City's Sexual and Gender Harassment Policy,
but he did not directly ask Plaintiff about Robinson's
complaint. (Id.). Plaintiff responded that she had
not talked with other employees about sexual harassment.
(Id. at 37-38; Doc. # 16-7). She did not tell
Fancher about her conversations with Robinson because she
wanted to protect Williams. (Doc. # 22-1 at 156-57).
Plaintiff left the meeting thinking her professional
relationship with Fancher had suffered, but she did not feel
as though her job was in jeopardy. (Id. at 38).
Furthermore, the ...