United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
NANCY D. TURNER, Plaintiff,
ALABAMA AGRICULTURAL AND MECHANICAL UNIVERSITY, ET AL., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
K. KALLON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Turner filed this action against the Board of Trustees for
Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University
(“AAMU”), and Dr. Jerome Williams, Chris
Robinson, Kevin Ball, Dr. William E. Cox, John Hackett, Jr.,
Ginger Harper, Perry Jones, and Dr. Roderick D. Watts, sued
solely in their official capacities as members of the Board
of Trustees, as well as Dr. Andrew Hugine in his official
capacity as President of AAMU. Turner asserts gender, race,
and retaliation claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights
Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.
(“Title VII”) against AAMU and race
discrimination and retaliation claims under § 1981 of
the Civil Rights Act of 1866 as amended, 42 U.S.C. §
1981 (“§ 1981”), and 42 U.S.C. § 1983
(“§ 1983”) against the individual trustees
and Dr. Hugine. Defendants have now moved for summary
judgment on all of Turner's claims on the following
grounds: (1) sovereign immunity; (2) a failure to make a
prima facie case for her discrimination claims; and (3) a
failure to demonstrate a causal connection and pretext for
her retaliation claims. Based on the evidence and
consideration of relevant law, Defendants' motion is due
to be granted except as to the retaliation claims.
RULE 56(D) MOTION TO DEFER
court first turns to Turner's Rule 56(d) Motion to Defer
or Deny Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. Doc. 46.
“Under Rule 56(d), where the non-moving party to a
motion for summary judgment shows ‘by affidavit or
declaration' that, for specified reasons, it
‘cannot present facts essential to justify its
opposition,' the district court may delay consideration
of the motion, deny the motion, allow additional time for
discovery, or issue another appropriate order.”
Smedley v. Deutsche Bank Tr. Co. Americas, 676
Fed.Appx. 860, 861 (11th Cir. 2017) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(d)). A Rule 56(d) motion must be supported by an affidavit
“which sets forth with particularity the facts the
moving party expects to discover and how those facts would
create a genuine issue of material fact precluding summary
judgment.” Harbert Int'l, Inc. v. James,
157 F.3d 1271, 1280 (11th Cir. 1998). To prevail, Turner must
demonstrate how further discovery will enable her to
“rebut the movant's showing of the absence of a
genuine issue of fact, ” Wallace v. Brownwell
Pontiac-GMC, Co., 703 F.2d 525, 527 (11th Cir. 1983).
But, “a party will not be entitled to conduct further
discovery under Rule 56(d) where the absence of evidence
essential to that party's case is the result of that
party's lack of diligence in pursuing such evidence
through permitted methods of discovery.” Cordero v.
Readiness Mgmt. Support, L.C., No. 6:11-CV-1692-ORL-19,
2012 WL 3744513, at *3 (M.D. Fla. Aug. 29, 2012) (citing
Barfield v. Brierton, 883 F.2d 923, 932 (11th Cir.
1989)). Finally, “whether to grant or deny a [Rule
56(d)] motion for discovery requires the court to balance the
movant's demonstrated need for discovery against the
burden such discovery will place on the opposing
party.” Harbert Int'l, Inc., 157 F.3d at
support of her motion, Turner contends AAMU failed to produce
documents and provide a Rule 30(b)(6) witness to testify
about crucial facts she needs to oppose the summary judgment
motion, including, as to her retaliation claim, evidence
related to when Defendants received notice of the charge she
filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
(“EEOC”). Doc. 46 at 5, 17, 24. Turner's
contentions are unavailing. To begin, the court provided more
than sufficient time for discovery, including granting
multiple extensions. In particular, Defendants submitted two
motions for extensions to the discovery and dispositive
motions deadlines, docs. 24 and 27, and Turner also filed two
motions for discovery extensions, docs. 31 and 38. The court
partially granted three of these motions, docs. 25, 28, and
34, resulting in a total discovery period of over twelve
months, see docs. 17 and 34. And since Turner
included the retaliation claim in her original complaint,
doc. 1 at 10-11, this meant Turner had at least seventeen
months prior to the final discovery deadline to gather the
facts necessary to ascertain when the Defendants received
notice of her protected activity. Put simply, Turner had
“ample time and opportunity for discovery” but
“failed to diligently pursue [her] options.”
Barfield, 883 F.2d at 932.
extent that Turner believed that Defendants' actions
impeded her effort to conduct discovery, she had the ability
to seek the court's intervention but failed to do so.
See doc. 17 at 17-19. “[T]he pertinent inquiry
is not whether the entire discovery period has been
completed, but merely whether the parties have had an
adequate opportunity for discovery.” Vision Bank v.
Merritt, No. CIV.A. 10-0301-W, 2010 WL 5474161, at *2,
n.3 (S.D. Ala. Dec. 8, 2010) (citing Fla. Power &
Light Co. v. Allis Chalmers Corp., 893 F.2d 1313, 1316
(11th Cir. 1990). In light of the extended discovery period,
Turner has failed to satisfy her burden under Rule 56(d), and
her motion to defer is due to be denied. See Fla.
Power, 893 F.3d at 1316 (affirming the district
court's denial of a Rule 56(d) motion where the parties
agreed on a discovery schedule which the trial court extended
several times); Johnson v. Bd. of Regents of Univ. of
Georgia, 263 F.3d 1234, 1269 (11th Cir. 2001) (noting
that “district courts [have] broad discretion over the
management of pre-trial activities, including discovery and
LEGAL STANDARD FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
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 v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).
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).
an African American woman, began working as a police officer
in AAMU's Department of Public Safety (“DPS”)
in July 2006. AMMU discharged Turner without cause in 2009
and then rehired her in 2011. AAMU subsequently promoted
Turner to sergeant in 2013. Docs. 45-1 at 9; 49-1 at 1.
Turner held the position until her discharge in 2016.
events that led to the discharge trace their genesis to
October 2015, when DPS dispatched officer Lorenza Bodie to a
dormitory to respond to a report concerning a female student
with difficulty breathing as a result of a
“marijuana-laced brownie.” Doc. 49-1 at 1-2.
Bodie informed Turner, who arrived at the scene later, that
the female victim mentioned a male student's name as the
person who gave her the brownie. Id. Bodie later
identified the male student and listed him on his incident
report. Id. The following day, Turner took
Bodie's report to the Madison County Magistrate's
Office and obtained a warrant for the male student's
arrest. Doc. 45-1 at 65. For reasons unclear to the court,
DPS took no action for six months. Then, DPS Captain Amard
Martin and officer Jean Joseph executed the warrant by
arresting the student in class in front of his fellow
students, handcuffing him, and walking him across campus to
the DPS office. Doc. 45-4 at 97. A few weeks later, AAMU Vice
President of Student Affairs, Dr. Gary Crosby, discovered
that DPS had arrested the wrong student, and the criminal
charges were dismissed. Doc. 45-4 at 23-25. Shortly
thereafter, the student filed a lawsuit against AAMU, which
the parties ultimately settled. Docs. 45-1 at 70-71; 45-4 at
months later, Turner filed three internal complaints against
Brian Ruble, a DPS investigator, for creating a hostile work
environment. See docs. 49-1 at 12-15. Turner
reported that Ruble interrogated her about accessing certain
areas of the workplace, strongly implied that she lied,
threatened to record her conversation, and personally
intimidated her. See doc. 45-5 at 124-129.
Shortly thereafter, AAMU Human Resource Director Cassandra
Tarver-Ross met with Turner to discuss her complaints and
concluded ultimately that Ruble's allegedly “rude
and unprofessional way” failed to rise to a hostile
work environment. Doc. 45-2 at 9-11, 122.
to Turner's meeting with Tarver-Ross, DPS promoted Ruble
to Captain of Administration. That same day, July 20, 2016,
Turner filed an EEOC charge alleging race and sex
discrimination, contending that DPS promoted Ruble to an
unadvertised position and that Ruble allegedly had less
experience than her,  failed to get along with colleagues, and
created a hostile work environment. Docs. 49-1 at 16; 45-4 at
190, 45-5 at 34. Just two months later, DPS Chief Malone
recommended to Dr. Crosby and Dr. Daniel Wims, Senior
Personnel Officer, that AAMU discharge Turner without cause,
id. at 132, which AAMU accepted. Shortly after
receiving notice of her discharge, Turner filed another EEOC
charge alleging retaliation, doc. 45-4 at 191, and
subsequently filed this lawsuit, doc. 20.
raise two primary arguments in support of their motion: (1)
that they are entitled to sovereign immunity for the
§§ 1981 and 1983 claims and (2) that Turner cannot
make a prima facie case for sex and race discrimination and
retaliation. Doc. 41. The court reviews each contention