United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
ROCKEFELLER F. COOPER, II, Plaintiff,
JEFFERSON COUNTY, ALABAMA, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
K. KALLON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Rockefeller F. Cooper, II, a native of Liberia and who is
proceeding pro se, brings this action against his
former employer, Jefferson County, Alabama d/b/a the
Jefferson County Coroner and Medical Examiner Officer
(“JCCMEO”), asserting that JCCMEO violated Title
VII of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §
2000e-2, by discriminating against him on the basis of race
and national origin, subjecting him to a hostile work
environment, and discharging him after he complained of a
hostile work environment. Doc. 6. Dr. Cooper has moved for
summary judgment arguing, among other things, that the record
establishes JCCMEO intentionally discriminated and retaliated
against him. See doc. 51. JCCMEO has also moved for
summary judgment, arguing that Dr. Cooper cannot establish a
prima facie case of disparate treatment or retaliation and
that he cannot show its reasons for discharging him are
pretextual. Docs. 54; 55. After careful consideration of the
record and relevant law, Dr. Cooper's motion is due to be
denied, and JCCMEO's motion is due to be granted.
However, because JCCMEO did not address Dr. Cooper's
hostile work environment claim, this claim will proceed to a
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary
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. “Rule 56 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) (alteration in original). The moving party
bears the initial burden of proving the absence of a genuine
issue of material fact. Id. at 323. The burden then
shifts to the nonmoving party, who is required to “go
beyond the pleadings” to establish that there is a
“genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324
(citation and internal 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, 477 U.S. at 248.
summary judgment motions, the court must construe the
evidence and all reasonable inferences arising from it in the
light most favorable to the non-moving party. Adickes v.
S. H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970). See
also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. Any factual disputes
will be resolved in the non-moving party's favor when
sufficient competent evidence supports the non-moving
party's version of the disputed facts. See Pace v.
Capobianco, 283 F.3d 1275, 1276, 1278 (11th Cir. 2002)
(a court is not required to resolve disputes in the
non-moving party's favor when that party's version of
events is supported by insufficient evidence). 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) (per curiam) (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 the 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).
simple fact that both parties have filed partial motions for
summary judgment does not alter the ordinary standard of
review. See Chambers & Co. v. Equitable Life
Assurance Soc., 224 F.2d 338, 345 (5th Cir. 1955)
(explaining that cross-motions for summary judgment
“[do] not warrant the granting of either motion if the
record reflects a genuine issue of fact”). Rather, the
court will consider each motion separately “‘as
each movant bears the burden of establishing that no genuine
issue of material fact exists and that it is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.'” 3D Med. Imaging
Sys., LLC v. Visage Imaging, Inc., 228 F.Supp.3d 1331,
1336 (N.D.Ga. 2017) (quoting Shaw Constructors v. ICF
Kaiser Eng'rs, Inc., 395 F.3d 533, 538-39 (5th Cir.
RELEVANT FACTUAL BACKGROUND
Cooper worked as a morgue technologist for JCCMEO for four
months between November 2016 and March 2017. Doc. 56-1 at 40.
During that time, Dr. Cooper reported to Dr. Julianna Dufeck,
and Dr. Gregory Davis served as the Chief Coroner/Medical
Examiner. Docs. 56-1 at 40; 56-5 at 1; 56-9 at 1. As a morgue
technologist, Dr. Cooper performed anatomical dissections,
collected and recorded evidence from bodies, prepared labels
and procured toxicological specimens, and helped maintain the
morgue facility by keeping it clean and decontaminated. Doc.
56-2 at 47.
a month after he started at JCCMEO, Dr. Cooper met with
Sherry Tidwell, the Administrative Services Manager, to
express concerns about communication in the morgue. Doc. 56-4
at 1. Based on that meeting, Tidwell scheduled training
entitled “Conflict in the Work Place, ” which all
JCCMEO staff attended. Id. at 2. In spite of the
training, Dr. Cooper continued to experience issues with
certain coworkers, particularly Barry Franklin, another
morgue technologist. See docs. 51 at 54; 56-12 at 3.
Dr. Cooper contends that Franklin attempted to sabotage his
work by setting up contaminated collection bottles for Dr.
Cooper to use during autopsies. See doc. 51 at
January 2017, Dr. Dufek spoke to Dr. Cooper about his pattern
of arriving late to work. Doc. 56-9 at 8. Thereafter, during
the last week of the month, Dr. Cooper was tardy four days in
a row. Docs. 56-1 at 42-47; 56-9 at 8. According to Dr.
Dufek, Dr. Cooper's consistent tardiness was unacceptable
in part because the morgue is busiest at the beginning of
each work day. Doc. 56-9 at 8. Consequently, Dr. Dufek issued
a written warning to Dr. Cooper informing him that his
tardiness is unfair to his coworkers and that
“[d]isciplinary action may be recommended for any
violations in the future.” Doc. 56-2 at 50; 56-9 at 9.
Even so, Dr. Cooper arrived late again on two more occasions.
Docs. 56-5 at 4; 56-9 at 9. Accordingly, Dr. Dufek issued a
written reprimand to Dr. Cooper, warning him that future
violations could result in “[d]isciplinary action up to
and including dismissal . . . .” Doc. 56-2 at 51.
February 2017, Drs. Dufek and Davis met with Dr. Cooper to
discuss his three-month performance appraisal. Docs. 56-1 at
49; 56-2 at 54-57. The appraisal reflects that Dr.
Cooper's job performance was below expectations with
respect to two of eight criteria (compliance with rules,
policies, and procedures, and performing anatomical
dissections) and that his performance needed improvement on
another four criteria, including communication. Doc. 56-2 at
55. Thus, based on the appraisal, Dr. Cooper's job
performance met expectations with respect to only two of
eight criteria, and the appraisal informed him that
“[s]ignificant improvement is expected or further
action will be necessary.” Id. at 54-55. And,
Dr. Cooper signed off on the appraisal to relfect that his
supervisors reviewed the appraisal with him and that he
agreed with it. Id. at 54.
the performance appraisal, coworkers and supervisors
continued to point out to Dr. Cooper alleged issues with his
job performance. For example, Dr. Daniel Dye reviewed proper
procedures for dissecting a decedent's neck with Dr.
Cooper after Dr. Dye observed issues with his technique. Doc.
56-6 at 1-2, 4. Subsequently, Dr. Dan Atherton observed Dr.
Cooper dissecting a decedent's neck prior to removing the
decedent's brain in contravention of JCCMEO protocols,
and explained to Dr. Cooper the proper technique. Doc. 56-7
March 13, 2017, Dr. Dufek gave Dr. Cooper a written reprimand
for disregarding instructions from Dr. Brandi McCleskey, a
pathology fellow, and opening a body to begin an autopsy
without authorization. Doc. 51 at 45. According to Dr.
McCleskey, she instructed Dr. Cooper to get dressed to
prepare to perform an autopsy, but she told Dr. Cooper to
wait for Dr. Atherton, the attending physician, before
opening the body. Doc. 56-8 at 4. On the other hand, Dr.
Cooper contends that Dr. McCleskey authorized him to begin
the autopsy. Doc. 48-1 at 48. In light of Dr. Cooper's
alleged failure to follow Dr. McCleskey's instructions
and Dr. Cooper's prior issues communicating with
coworkers, the reprimand required Dr. Cooper to attend an
effective listening skills training. Doc. 56-2 at 52-53. The
reprimand advised Dr. Cooper once again that
“disciplinary action up to and including dismissal may
be recommended for any violations in the future.”
Id. at 52.
March 21, 2017, Dr. Atherton gave Dr. Cooper permission to
begin an autopsy, and Dr. Cooper began to set up his own
supplies for the autopsy even though Franklin had set up the
supplies earlier that morning. Docs. 56-1 at 55-56. When Dr.
Dufek noticed Dr. Cooper repeating work that Franklin had
already done, she instructed Dr. Cooper to use the supplies
Franklin set up, but Dr. Cooper refused and told Dr. Dufek to
do the autopsy herself. Docs. 56-1 at 56; 56-7 at 2. After
Dr. Cooper refused Dr. Dufek's order, the two had a
meeting with Dr. Davis, during which Dr. Cooper accused
Franklin of harassment and trying to sabotage his work. Dr.
Cooper also expressed his frustration with Dr. Dufek and
Franklin, and repeatedly shouted “I am sick and
tired.” Docs. 56-1 at 58; 56-5 at 7.
Davis's schedule did not permit a lengthy meeting that
morning. As a result, Dr. Davis informed Dr. Cooper that he
would meet with him again when he returned to the office
later that day. Doc. 56-5 at 8. And, in light of the heated
discussion during their meeting, Dr. Davis also instructed
Dr. Cooper not to enter the morgue until after he had a
chance to talk with him again. Docs. 56-9 at 2; 56-5 at 8.
Dr. Cooper disregarded Dr. Davis's instructions and
confronted Franklin in the morgue, accusing him of harassment
and telling Franklin “to keep [Dr. Cooper's] name
out of his mouth.” Doc. 56-1 at 59. When Dr. Davis
returned to the JCCMEO office, Dr. Cooper gave him a written
complaint of harassment against Franklin, stating the he
“can no longer tolerate the hostile environment that is
being created by  Franklin.” Doc. 51 at 58.
Dr. Davis was out of the office that morning, he met with the
county attorney and recommended serving a notice of
contemplated discipline on Dr. Cooper. Doc. 56-5 at 9-10. The
following day, JCCMEO provided Dr. Cooper with the notice and
placed him on administrative leave with pay pending a
hearing. Docs. 51 at 43-44, 59; 56-3 at 98. The notice
charged Dr. Cooper with violating certain personnel board
rules based on his alleged failure to follow Drs.
McCleskey's and Davis's instructions and JCCMEO
protocol regarding organ removal. Doc. 56-3 at 98. A week
after serving the notice ...