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Jones v. City of Birmingham

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

December 5, 2019

EDWIN JONES, ET AL., Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF BIRMINGHAM, ET AL., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ABDUL K. KALLON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Edwin Jones, Curtis Coleman, and Norman Adams, employees of the City of Birmingham Police Department (BPD), bring this action against the City, Mayor Randall Woodfin, Police Chief Patrick Smith, and the City's Director of Human Resources Department Jill Madajczyk in their official capacities. See doc. 10. Plaintiffs allege claims for race discrimination and disparate treatment pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983, as well as claims for Fourteenth Amendment due process violations. Id. The Defendants have moved to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). See docs. 11, 12. The motion is fully briefed, docs. 14, 15, and 16, and ripe for review. In light of Plaintiffs' failure to adequately plead valid claims, the motion is due to be granted.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a pleading must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” “[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require ‘detailed factual allegations,' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Mere “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” are insufficient. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). “Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Id. (citing Bell Atl. Corp., 550 U.S. at 557).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits dismissal when a complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). A complaint states a facially plausible claim for relief “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citation omitted). The complaint must establish “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id.; see also Bell Atl. Corp., 550 U.S. at 555 (“Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level”). Ultimately, this inquiry is a “context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

         II. RELEVANT FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND[1]

         Officer Edwin Jones, Sergeant Curtis Coleman, and Sergeant Norman Adams, who are all African American, doc. 10 at 4, were denied promotions to the next level in the BPD ranks despite meeting eligibility requirements. Doc. 1-1 at 29, 40-41. They claim the denial violated various laws.

         A. BPD Promotion Policies and Procedures

         Plaintiffs allege Defendants are subject to the Enabling Act and the Personnel Board of Jefferson County (PBJC) Rules and Regulations, see doc. 10, which detail in relevant part the promotional procedures for the BPD. Under these rules, when attempting to fill a vacancy, the Appointing Authority-identified by Plaintiffs as BPD, id. at 5-submits a Requisition for Certification to the Director, [2] who then selects eligible candidates for certification. Id. at 7. The Director prioritizes the candidates by their rank, which is determined by final scores in promotional examinations and interviews as well as attributes such as seniority and veteran status. Doc. 1-1 at 16-17. The Director uses the “Rule of Ten Ranks” to construct the list: for the first vacancy, the PBJC certifies ten candidates, adding an additional candidate for each additional vacancy. Id. at 16. The Appointing Authority “shall appoint one of those whose names are certified” within ten days of the certification. Id. at 19. If the Appointing Authority fails to appoint candidates within thirty days and the Director does not give an extension, the certificate of eligibles expires. Id.

         B. 2019 Promotion Cycles

         Plaintiffs allege the following discrepancies between the promotional policies and the 2019 promotional processes that stem from the 2019 City of Birmingham Structured Interview Guides provided to candidates for Lieutenant and Sergeant positions. Id. at 8, 11. The Guides were designed to “help explain what to expect on the . . . [relevant] test.” Id. at 12. The Plaintiffs maintain the Guides contained internal contradictions, using the words “test” and “interview” interchangeably, id. at 13, and counseling on one page to “dress[] comfortably, ” doc. 1-2 at 12, 29, while warning two pages later that “[c]andidates must wear business attire for the Test . . . [and that] [c]andidates who are not dressed in the required attire will not be admitted to the final test site, ” id. at 14, 31 (emphasis in original). In addition to the purported contradictions, on the day of the promotion test, candidates did not receive the preparation period or the test preparation guide that the Structured Interview Guides had promised. Doc. 10 at 13. And, despite the Guides' language barring inappropriately dressed candidates from entering the testing site, a Caucasian Lieutenant candidate wearing improper dress was admitted to the test site, albeit he was later disqualified for his inappropriate attire. Id. The BPD also allowed another Caucasian candidate for the Lieutenant position to interview via video conferencing, and subsequently promoted her. Id. at 15. Finally, none of the promotions occurred within the thirty-day timeframe. Id. at 11.

         i. Lieutenant Promotion Cycle

         Specific to the Plaintiffs, in March 2019, Plaintiffs Adams and Coleman received notice that the PBJC had included their names on its certification list for promotion to Lieutenant, the next level after Sergeant. Id. at 8. Two weeks later, the BPD released an alphabetical interview list consisting of twenty-five candidates, sixteen of whom were African American, deemed eligible for promotion. Doc. 1-1 at 25, 27. In May 2019, Chief Smith emailed BPD personnel with a “rough guesstimate[]” that the Department would promote eight candidates to Lieutenant. Id. at 31. Ultimately, the City promoted eleven candidates to Lieutenant, four African Americans and seven Caucasians. Id. at 27, 29.

         ii. Sergeant Promotion Cycle

         In April 2019, the BPD released an alphabetical Sergeant promotions interview list. Id. at 34-35. Among the list of forty-nine candidates, thirty-one were African American, including Plaintiff Jones. Id. at 37-38. Of the thirty-two candidates ultimately promoted to Sergeant, id. at 40-41, nineteen were African American and thirteen were Caucasian, id. at 37-38.

         III. ...


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