United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. BORDEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties have consented to the
jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate Judge. Pending
before the court is the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by
Defendant Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama
(“the Board”). Doc. 28. Plaintiff Robert Lee
Sykes, Jr. has filed a response in opposition to the motion.
Doc. 32. The Board has filed a reply brief in support of its
motion. Doc. 33. After careful consideration of the
parties' submissions and the applicable law, and for the
reasons that follow, the court concludes that the Motion for
Summary Judgment is due to be granted.
JURISDICTION AND VENUE
court has jurisdiction over the claims in this lawsuit
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. The parties do not contest
personal jurisdiction, nor do they contest that venue is
proper in the Northern District of Alabama. The court finds
adequate allegations to support the propriety of both.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
November 2011, Sykes began working as a police officer for
the University of Alabama at Birmingham Police Department
(“UABPD”) in Birmingham, Alabama. Doc. 30-1 at
11. During Sykes' employment, Anthony Purcell served as
Chief of Police, Marvin Atmore and Zandral Washington were
Deputy Chiefs of Police, and James Granade was Captain. Doc.
30-1 at 12. Sykes, Chief Purcell, Deputy Chief Atmore, and
Deputy Chief Washington are black, while Captain Granade is
white. Doc. 30-1 at 12. Purcell promoted Sykes twice during
Sykes' tenure at UABPD, first to Field Training Officer
in September 2013, and then to Corporal in December 2014.
Doc. 30-1 at 16. As Corporal, Sykes supervised shifts of
approximately 12 to 15 police officers. Doc. 30-1 at 16.
While employed at UABPD, Sykes was subject to its Code of
Conduct, which included standards for both on- and off-duty
behavior. Doc. 30-1 at 15; Doc. 30-2 at 47-59.
around 11:30 p.m. on July 4, 2017, Alabama State Trooper
Michael Hale pulled over Sykes on Interstate 59 while Sykes
was returning home from a barbeque at his parents' home
in Uniontown, Alabama. Doc. 30-1 at 19; Doc. 30-2 at 67-68.
Trooper Hale performed a breath analyzer test on Sykes. Doc.
30-1 at 21; Doc. 30-4 at 3. After Sykes announced that he was
a police officer, Trooper Hale informed UABPD that he had
pulled over Sykes and that he would not permit Sykes to drive
home but would release him to the custody of another UABPD
officer. Doc. 30-4 at 2-3; Doc. 30-1 at 19; Doc. 30-2 at 67.
Trooper Hale later stated that he decided not to arrest Sykes
because he did not want to arrest a police officer. Doc. 30-2
at 66. Deputy Chief Atmore directed Captain Granade to send
an officer to the scene, so Granade sent Corporal Tonikos
Vandiber. Doc. 30-4 at 3. Sykes also called UABPD Lieutenant
Kerry Bester, who ultimately drove him home. Doc. 30-1 at 20.
Trooper Hale issued citations to Sykes for speeding and
possessing an open container of alcohol. Doc. 30-1 at 29-30;
Doc. 30-2 at 67. Sykes denies having a container of alcohol
in the vehicle. Doc. 30-2 at 66-67. Trooper Hale would have
arrested Sykes for driving under the influence of alcohol
(“DUI”) if a UABPD officer had not arrived to
drive him home. Doc. 30-4 at 3.
6, 2017, Chief Purcell placed Sykes on administrative leave
with pay pending the outcome of an investigation into the
incident. Doc. 30-2 at 66; Doc. 30-1 at 19. Chief Purcell
informed Sykes of this decision by providing him with a
memorandum during a meeting in Chief Purcell's office.
Doc. 30-1 at 19. Sykes claims that the statement in Chief
Purcell's memorandum that Sykes was pulled over for DUI
is false, because Sykes maintains that he was pulled over for
speeding. Doc. 30-1 at 19.
Purcell directed Captain Granade to conduct the
investigation. Doc. 30-4 at 3; Doc. 30-2 at 66. Granade
obtained a written statement from Sykes. Doc. 30-4 at 3. He
also interviewed Trooper Hale, who explained why he stopped
Sykes' vehicle and provided the results of the breath
analyzer test. Doc. 30-4 at 3. Finally, Granade interviewed
Corporal Vandiber and Lieutenant Bester, and he reviewed
Sykes' personnel file. Doc. 30-4 at 3. Granade then
prepared a written report summarizing his findings and
provided the report to Deputy Chief Washington. Doc. 30-4 at
3; Doc. 30-4 at 5-9.
Hale told Captain Granade that he observed “what
appeared to be a beer can in the center console” of
Sykes' vehicle and that “he could smell alcohol on
[Sykes'] person.” Doc. 30-4 at 8. Trooper Hale
stated that Sykes' breath analyzer tests registered .089
and .09 percent. Doc. 30-4 at 8. He then made the decision
in conjunction with his supervisor to release Sykes to the
custody of a UABPD officer.Doc. 30-4 at 8.
Granade's report recommended that UABPD demote Sykes,
suspend him without pay, and formally reprimand him for
“his egregious unacceptable personal conduct.”
Doc. 30-4 at 9. On July 13, 2017, Chief Purcell gave Sykes a
written reprimand during a meeting. Doc. 30-3 at 3. The
letter explained that Sykes had violated UABPD's Code of
Conduct and his oath of office, and concluded that the
incident “demonstrated a lack of judgment and created a
trustworthy and credibility issue for [Sykes] as a
supervisor.” Doc. 30-2 at 70. Chief Purcell also
demoted Sykes from Corporal to Police Officer, decreased his
salary, and suspended him for two days without pay. Doc. 30-2
at 70. Chief Purcell testified by declaration that he was
concerned about Sykes' conduct for a variety of reasons:
(1) Sykes violated multiple traffic laws, (2) he violated the
UABPD Code of Conduct, and (3) Chief Purcell perceived the
incident to have “seriously damaged [Sykes']
credibility” since he was a supervisor. Doc. 30-3 at 3.
Chief Purcell explained that he “hold[s] supervisors to
a higher standard of conduct and performance, and will often
discipline them more severely than lower ranked personnel for
similar infractions.” Doc. 30-3 at 3.
Purcell also required Sykes to meet with Kelly Mayer, the
UABPD Director of Human Resources Employee Relations. Doc.
30-1 at 24; Doc. 30-5 at 1- 2. Mayer told Sykes that he would
be referred for a substance abuse treatment assessment under
UAB's Impaired Employee Program (“IEP”). Doc.
30-5 at 3. UAB permits employees with substance abuse issues
to participate in IEP as an alternative to the termination of
their employment. Doc. 30-5 at 3. First, employees must
undergo an assessment by an approved substance abuse
treatment program to determine if treatment is necessary.
Doc. 30-5 at 3. Employees also must abide by any of IEP's
recommendations, including participation in rehabilitation
programs or substance abuse testing. Doc. 30-5 at 3.
Employees are required to pay the cost of each drug test,
which are about $50 each. Doc. 30-5 at 3.
met with Dr. Peter Lane, the Director of UAB's Addiction
Recovery Program, for an assessment. Doc. 30-5 at 3. After
their meeting, Dr. Lane told Mayer that he did not believe
Sykes needed substance abuse rehabilitation treatment but
that he had concerns about Sykes' alcohol use. Doc. 30-5
at 3. Thus, he recommended that Sykes undergo random
substance abuse testing for six months to one year. Doc. 30-5
at 3. Following this recommendation, Mayer and Captain
Granade met with Sykes on August 2, 2017 and told him that he
would be required to undergo random substance abuse testing
at least once per month for one year. Doc. 30-5 at 4. Sykes
thereafter participated in random testing and tested negative
every time. Doc. 30-1 at 29.
August 18, 2017, Sykes filed a Charge of Discrimination with
the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
(“EEOC”), alleging that similarly situated white
employees with alcohol-related incidents “have not had
to submit to drug and alcohol testing, nor made to pay for
same, and have not been given the same severe level of
punishment and restrictions” he received. Doc. 30-2 at
74. Sykes has identified three white UABPD officers that he
claims were treated differently after comparable off-duty
incidents involving alcohol: Darrell Catchings, Karl Martin,
and Sarah Wolpert. Doc. 30-1 at 30.
Other UABPD Off-Duty Incidents
Catchings worked for UABPD as a Police Officer. Doc. 30-3 at
3. On February 8, 2014, while off duty, Catchings
“attempted to intervene” in a traffic stop
conducted near an apartment complex by the Montevallo,
Alabama Police Department. Doc. 30-3 at 4. Catchings was
under the influence of alcohol at the time. Doc. 30-3 at 4.
Police released him from the scene without a citation after
verifying that he was a UABPD officer. Doc. 30-3 at 4. Chief
Purcell gave Catchings a written reprimand, suspended him for
two days without pay, placed him on a 60-day probationary
period, and referred him for a ...