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Chapman v. State

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Western Division

October 17, 2019

THE STATE OF ALABAMA, et al., Defendants.


          L. Scott Coogler United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Marquette Chapman (“Plaintiff” or “Chapman”) brings suit against the State of Alabama (“Alabama”) and the Alabama Department of Transportation (“ALDOT”) (collectively “Defendants”), alleging discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq.[1] Before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 24.) The motion has been briefed and is ripe for review. For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is due to be granted.

         I. Background [2]

         Marquette Chapman (“Chapman”) is an African-American female and a resident of Moundville, Alabama. (Doc. 26 Ex. 1 at 11.) She began her employment with ALDOT on March 22, 2004, as an Engineering Assistant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Doc. 23 at 1, 3.) On March 1, 2007, Chapman was reclassified as an Engineering Assistant I. (Doc. 23 at 3.) On April 16, 2007, Chapman was promoted to Engineering Assistant II/III. (Id.) On March 1, 2013, Chapman's position was reclassified as an Engineering Assistant II (“EA II”) project inspector. (Id.) The essential functions of this position require driving state vehicles to project sites to inspect contractor performance. (Doc. 26 Ex. 37 at 3.) As a result, the Form 40 employment survey for Chapman's EA II project inspector position lists “Valid Driver's License” as a requirement for the position. (Doc. 26 Ex. 11.)

         Promotion to a new classification within ALDOT requires an employee to (1) turn in an application, (2) meet the minimum qualifications, (3) complete any test necessary for the classification, (4) score high enough to appear in the top ten on the employment register for the areas selected by the applicant (“Certificate of Eligibles”), and (5) be considered and selected from the Certificate of Eligibles. (Doc. 26 Ex. 35 at 4.) A person who appears on the Certificate of Eligibles may be rejected if she cannot meet the requirements of the position as described in the corresponding Form 40 employment survey. (Id. at 5.) When seeking to fill a vacant position, ALDOT requests a Certificate of Eligibles from the State Personnel Department in the classification, option, and location for a vacant position it is seeking to fill. (Id.) ALDOT cannot appoint a person to a position unless they appear on the Certificate of Eligibles. (Id.)

         In December 2015, Chapman took a promotional exam for the Transportation Technologist (“TT”) classification. (Doc. 23 at 3.) As with the EA II classification, work under a TT classification involves operating a state vehicle to inspect ALDOT project sites, and the Form 40 for a TT assistant project manager therefore lists “Valid Driver's License” as a requirement. (Doc. 26 Ex. 23; Ex. 37 at 3.) On January 21, 2016, Chapman was placed on TT registers for the locations preferences she selected: Baldwin, Clarke, Escambia, Mobile, Tuscaloosa, and Washington Counties. (Doc. 26 Ex. 35 at 5.) In February 2016, Chapman learned that her score on the promotional exam was the highest in the state. (Doc. 26 Ex. 1 at 80.) In the ensuing months, Chapman repeatedly noted her high exam scores to her supervisors, but none recommended her for promotion. (Id. at 143-45.)

         In the period before and after Chapman took the promotional exam, several of her white coworkers were promoted to the TT classification. Kim Palmer was promoted to the TT classification on March 20, 2012, from the register for Tuscaloosa County. (Doc. 26 Ex. 19.)[3] Monica Weaver was promoted to the TT classification on August 1, 2014, from the register for Tuscaloosa County. (Doc. 26 Ex. 18.) Randy Brown was promoted to the TT classification on March 7, 2016, from the register for Pickens County. (Doc. 26 Ex. 24.) And Kim King was promoted to the TT classification on April 15, 2016, from the register for Tuscaloosa County. (Doc. 26 Ex. 22.) The parties agree that all four of these employees held a valid driver's license “at all relevant time periods.” (Doc. 23 at 5.) Further, of the four identified coworkers, Chapman's name appeared only on the Certificate of Eligibles from which Kim King was selected for promotion. (Doc. 35 at 5, 7-8.)

         On February 4, 2016, Chapman's driver's license was suspended. (Id.) On March 1, 2016, her regional office was informed by the central office that Chapman did not possess a valid driver's license. (Id.) Chapman's suspended driver's license soon took a toll on workplace efficiency, as Chapman needed other inspectors to drive her to inspection sites. (Doc. 26 Ex. 36 at 3-4.)

         On March 9, 2016, Chapman's supervisor, Jon Wesley Huffman, met with her regarding her suspended license. (Id. at 2.) On March 24, 2016, Chapman received a formal warning regarding her suspended license and was given six months to obtain a valid driver's license. (Doc. 23 at 4.) Within the same month, Defendants transferred Chapman from her office position to a position in the docking area. (Doc. 26 Ex. 1 at 114-17.) Despite this transfer, Chapman retained her EA II classification and all accompanying requirements. (Id.)

         During the period after Chapman was transferred to the docking area, Chapman learned of four white male coworkers who had been caught playing cards during work hours. (Id. at 218-20.) Each of these coworkers received only a write-up for their misconduct. (Id.) Keith Hoggle, a supervisor under whom Chapman also worked, was responsible for issuing the write-ups. (Id.)

         Later, in a letter dated September 27, 2016, Chapman informed her supervisor that her license could not be reinstated until March 1, 2017. (Doc. 23 at 4.) On October 7, more than six months after Chapman was given the formal warning, Chapman was given ten more days to have her driver's license reinstated. (Id.)

         On October 20, 2016, Chapman was given a suspension notice for violating 670-x-19-.01(1)(a)8 of the General Work Rules for failure to perform her job properly. (Id.) That same day, she was also found in violation of 670-x-19-.01(1)(a)4 for violating specific department rules. (Id.) On November 18, 2016, Chapman was suspended for violating 670-x-19-.01(1)(a)8 and 670-x-19-.01(1)(a)4 of the General Work Rules. (Id.) She received thirty additional days from November 23, 2016 to have her driver's license reinstated. (Id.) On January 11, 2017, Chapman was terminated from ALDOT for violating General Work Rules 670-x-19-.01(1)(a)8 and 670-x-19-.01(1)(a)4. (Id. at 4-5.)

         On February 23, 2017, Chapman filed a charge of discrimination against ALDOT alleging that “(1) she was discriminated against due to her race in not receiving a promotion to a Transportation Technologist (“TT”) position naming two white females as comparators, (2) she was transferred to work in a different area in her position that required a driver's license, and (3) she was subsequently terminated due to the transfer because she did not have her driver's license.” (Doc. 26 Ex. 15.)[4] Chapman's license was reinstated on March 2, 2017. (Doc. 23 at 5.)

         However, due to a 2015 automobile accident, an insurance company had placed a hold on Chapman's license, and she did not resolve that issue until the end of 2018. (Doc. 26 Ex. 1 at 211-13.)

         II. Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate “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). A dispute is genuine if “the record taken as a whole could lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party.” Hickson Corp. v. N. Crossarm Co., Inc., 357 F.3d 1256, 1260 (11th Cir. 2004). A genuine dispute as to a material fact exists “if the nonmoving party has produced evidence such that a reasonable factfinder could return a verdict in its favor.” Greenberg v. BellSouth Telecomms., Inc., 498 F.3d 1258, 1263 (11th Cir. 2007) (quoting Waddell v. Valley Forge Dental Assocs., 276 F.3d 1275, 1279 (11th Cir. 2001)). The trial judge should not weigh the evidence, but should determine whether there are any genuine issues of fact that should be resolved at trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986).

         In considering a motion for summary judgment, trial courts must give deference to the non-moving party by “view[ing] the materials presented and all factual inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Animal Legal Def. Fund v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., 789 F.3d 1206, 1213-14 (11th Cir. 2015) (citing Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970)). However, “unsubstantiated assertions alone are not enough to withstand a motion for summary judgment.” Rollins v. TechSouth, Inc., 833 F.2d 1525, 1529 (11th Cir. 1987). Conclusory allegations and “mere scintilla of evidence in support of the nonmoving party will not suffice to overcome a motion for summary judgment.” Melton v. Abston, 841 F.3d 1207, 1219 (11th Cir. 2016) (per curiam) (quoting Young v. City of Palm Bay, Fla., 358 F.3d 859, 860 (11th Cir. 2004)). In making a motion for summary judgment, “the moving party has the burden of either negating an essential element of the nonmoving party's case or showing that there is no evidence to prove a fact necessary to the nonmoving party's case.” McGee v. Sentinel Offender Servs., LLC, 719 F.3d 1236, 1242 (11th Cir. 2013). Although the trial courts must use caution when granting motions for summary judgment, “[s]ummary judgment procedure is properly regarded not as a disfavored procedural shortcut, but rather as an integral part of the Federal Rules as a whole.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327 (1986).

         III. Discussion

         A. Failure to Promote

         Absent direct evidence of discrimination, a plaintiff asserting a disparate treatment claim will typically need to satisfy the burden-shifting McDonnell Douglas framework. See McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-04 (1973). In exceptional cases, however, a plaintiff may also be able to escape summary judgment if she can otherwise present ‚Äúcircumstantial evidence that creates a triable issue concerning ...

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