United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
DAVID PROCTOR, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
case is before the court on the Motion for Summary Judgment
filed by the City of Adamsville (“the City”) and
Gayle Phillips (“Phillips”) (collectively,
“Defendants”). (Doc. # 29). The Motion is fully
briefed (Docs. # 29, 36, 45) and is ripe for review. After
careful consideration, and for the reasons explained below,
the court concludes that Defendants' Motion for Summary
Judgment (Doc. # 29) is due to be granted in its entirety.
case involves the City's employment of Plaintiff Kenneth
Watkins, an African-American male, from August 12, 2013 until
his resignation on March 30, 2016. Proceeding under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983, Plaintiff asserts that the City and Phillips,
both in her individual and official capacities as
Plaintiff's direct supervisor, subjected him to
discrimination on the basis of his race in violation of 42
U.S.C. § 1981 and the Equal Protection Clause of the
Fourteenth Amendment (Count One). (Doc. # 1 at ¶¶
81-84). Additionally, Plaintiff claims that the City and
Phillips discriminated him on the basis of his gender in
violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Equal Protection
Clause (Count Three). (Id. at ¶¶ 90-103).
Finally, Plaintiff argues that when he complained about the
alleged disparate treatment, the City and Phillips retaliated
against him in violation of the First and Fourteenth
Amendments by treating him differently than white female
employees and ultimately forcing his resignation. (Counts Two
and Four). (Id. at ¶¶ 85-89,
court begins its analysis by outlining the general structure
of the jail and dispatch operations within the City's
Police Department. Next, the court summarizes Plaintiff's
performance evaluations during his training period. The court
then details several events involving Plaintiff and his
co-workers and/or supervisors that he characterizes as
discriminatory and retaliatory. Finally, the court discusses
the Rule 56 evidence regarding the two primary disciplinary
events that led to Plaintiff's departure from his
Structure of the City's Jail and Dispatch
August 12, 2013, the City hired Plaintiff as a jailor and 911
dispatcher. (Doc. # 34-1 at 17, p. 55). Plaintiff's
jailor duties included securing the male and female inmates
in their separate facilities and ensuring they received their
meals and recreational breaks. (Id.). As a
dispatcher, Plaintiff answered 911 calls and transferred the
calls to the proper agency. (Id. at 17, p. 56). All
jailors employed by the City during this time were required
to perform both sets of duties. (Id.).
City's Police Department includes the jail and dispatch
operations. (Doc. # 29-2 at 4, p. 11). During Plaintiff's
employment with the City, Robert Carter (“Chief
Carter”), a white male, was the Chief of Police.
(Id. at 3, p. 8). Chief Carter described the chain
of authority within the City's Police Department from top
to bottom as follows: Chief of Police, lieutenants,
sergeants, then officers. (Id. at 3, p. 11). Chief
Carter relied on the reports of Lynn Lindsey (Chief
Carter's assistant) and Defendant Gayle Phillips (Jail
and Dispatch Supervisor) (both white females) in supervising
the daily operations of the jail and dispatch. (Id.
at 3, pp. 11-12). Lindsey's position as Chief
Carter's assistant was equivalent to a lieutenant rank,
while Phillips acted as a sergeant. (Id. at 3, p.
12). Plaintiff's position as a jailor/dispatcher was
equivalent to an officer's rank. (Id.). Based on
this hierarchy, Phillips was Plaintiff's immediate
supervisor. (Doc. # 34-1 at 17, p. 56).
Lindsey and Phillips oversaw the daily operation of the jail
and dispatch, they handled most internal disciplinary matters
and employee complaints without the intervention of Chief
Carter. (Doc. # 29-2 at 4-5, pp. 12-13). If Lindsey and
Phillips felt the matter was particularly serious, they would
report it up the chain to Chief Carter. (Id.). They
also needed Chief Carter's approval to suspend or
terminate an employee. (Id. at 5, p. 14). So, while
Lindsey and Phillips could strongly recommend that an
employee be fired, the ultimate decision-making authority
rested with Chief Carter. (Doc. # 29-4 at 24, p. 89).
Plaintiff was initially hired, there were six female and four
male jailor/dispatch employees. (Id. at 18, pp.
57-60). The female employees included Phillips,
Deirdre Lavies, Cindy Jackson, Lois Cunningham, Elizabeth
Money, and Elizabeth Green. (Id. at 18, pp. 58-60).
Shortly after Plaintiff began work, the City also hired Jana
Jameson as another female jailor/dispatcher. (Id. at
18, p. 58). The male employees included Plaintiff, James
Thomas, Joseph Burr, and Drew Neal. (Id.). Plaintiff
and Lois Cunningham were the only African-American
jailor/dispatchers. (Id. at 19, pp. 62-63). In fact,
Plaintiff testified that he and Cunningham were two of the
only four African-American employees in the entire Police
Plaintiff's Initial Performance Evaluations
Plaintiff's one-year training period, Lindsey and
Phillips prepared two performance evaluations of Plaintiff.
(Doc. # 29-6). On October 11, 2013, Lindsey noted (and
Phillips agreed) that Plaintiff's performance was
generally “acceptable, ” but he needed
improvement in two areas: “acceptance of
feedback” and “general demeanor.”
(Id. at 3-4). Specifically, Lindsey commented that
Plaintiff's principal weakness was that he “gets a
little argumentative with supervisors while training when
corrected.” (Id. at 5). His February 25, 2014
evaluation documented general improvement across the board.
(Id. at 7-9). However, Lindsey advised Plaintiff to
“use caution when shutting cell doors when inmates are
present. No. angry outbursts.” (Id. at 9).
This notation appears to reference an informal counseling
session between Phillips and Plaintiff on January 7, 2014,
when she counseled him on “his anger issues including
slamming a jail cell door without regard to the safety of
inmates” and his “inappropriate conversations
with inmates.” (Doc. # 29-7).
Employment Events Plaintiff Characterizes as Discriminatory
Plaintiff argues that throughout his employment, Phillips and
the City subjected him to numerous incidents of wrongful
discriminatory and retaliatory treatment. Generally speaking,
Plaintiff felt as though Phillips singled him out and talked
down to him on a daily basis. (Doc. # 34-1 at 23, pp. 77-79).
Several of Plaintiff's co-workers testified as to what
they observed regarding Plaintiff's interactions with
Phillips. For example, Lois Cunningham testified that at
times, Phillips's tone while speaking to Plaintiff seemed
“less pleasant” than when she spoke to other
employees. (Doc. # 34-15 at 9, p. 28). In her view, Phillips
and Plaintiff did not always “get along.”
(Id. at 8, p. 25). Similarly, Cindy Jackson
testified that Phillips was sometimes “rude” and
“hateful” towards Plaintiff, but Phillips behaved
“that way to a lot of people.” (Doc. # 34-18 at
5, p. 11-12). In fact, Jackson also stated that Phillips
spoke to Plaintiff the same way she spoke to female
employees. (Id. at 5, p. 10). By contrast, Jana
Jameson never observed an instance where Phillips demeaned
Plaintiff or any other male employee. (Doc. # 29-15 at 7, p.
addition to Phillips's general behavior towards him,
Plaintiff cites several specific events that occurred
throughout his employment, which he characterizes as
discriminatory and/or retaliatory. The court summarizes the
Rule 56 evidence surrounding these events below.
Initial Shift Assignments
Phillips's duties as the Jail and Dispatch Supervisor
(and Plaintiff's immediate supervisor) included
scheduling and managing jailor/dispatcher shifts. (Doc. #
29-4 at 4, p. 12). There were three shifts within the
jail/dispatch department: 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. (first
shift); 2:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. (second shift); and 10:00
p.m. to 6:00 a.m. (third shift). (Id.). Each shift
required a minimum of two jailor/dispatchers on duty, with
each respective employee assigned primarily either jailor or
dispatcher duties for that particular shift. (Id.).
Chief Carter preferred having one male jailor/dispatcher on
each shift, particularly the first and second shifts, so that
male and female inmates would feel more comfortable being
searched and processed by jailors of their same sex.
(Id. at 8-9, pp. 28-29). Phillips also considered
hardships and seniority in scheduling shift assignments.
(Id. at 9, pp. 29).
was initially trained on the first shift. (Id. at 7,
pp. 21; 34-1; 34-1 at 19 at p. 61). Plaintiff testified that
before his training period ended, sometime between August and
November 2013, he asked Phillips to place him on the night
shift because he had a second job. (Doc. # 34-1 at 20-21, p.
68). Phillips does not recall Plaintiff asking to be placed
on the night shift. (Doc. # 29-4 at 6, p. 20). Without
consulting Plaintiff about hardships, Phillips scheduled
Plaintiff on the second shift, and assigned Jana Jameson, a
less senior employee (by about two weeks), to the third
shift. (Id. at 7, 9, pp. 21, 29). According to
Plaintiff, Jameson had asked for the second shift. (Doc. #
34-1 at 20, p. 76). Phillips explained during her deposition
that Plaintiff was likely assigned to the second shift due to
Chief Carter's preference to have one male
jailor/dispatcher working the first and second shifts. (Doc.
# 29-4 at 9, p. 29). Plaintiff further testified that he
overheard Phillips and Jameson giggling when Phillips showed
Jameson the schedule. (Doc. # 34-1 at 21, pp. 69-71).
Plaintiff did not hear them talking about him, but he thought
they were laughing because Jameson was given the night shift
that he requested. (Id.). Phillips and Jameson do
not recall this incident. (Doc. # 29-4 at 8, p. 28; 29-15 at
9, pp. 31-32). Finally, Plaintiff never complained to
Phillips or any other supervisor about not being assigned his
shift of choice. (Doc. # 34-1 at 23, p. 77).
January 2014 Book Incident Involving Elizabeth Money
January 18, 2014, Elizabeth Money threw a book at
Plaintiff's back while in the dispatch office during the
second shift. (Doc. # 34-1 at 23-25, pp. 80-85; 34-10).
Plaintiff immediately reported the incident to Phillips.
(Doc. # 34-1 at 24, p. 81). Phillips prepared a report for
Lindsey. (Doc. # 29-4 at 9, p. 32). Although Phillips
testified that she verbally recommended termination as the
penalty, Chief Carter recalled that Phillips's
recommended penalty was suspension. With Chief Carter's
approval, the City ultimately suspended Money from January
25, 2014 to January 28, 2014. (Id. at 9-10, pp.
32-33; 34-10; 29-2 at 5, pp. 13-14).
Plaintiff's view, suspension was an inadequate punishment
in light of a similar incident involving another white female
employee, Deirdre Lavies. (Doc. # 34-1 at 25, pp. 86-88).
Plaintiff testified that, sometime before Money threw the
book at him, Lavies hit another white employee on the back of
the head and was terminated. (Id.). But, the Rule 56
evidence indicates that Phillips was never made aware of an
incident involving Lavies hitting another employee. (Doc. #
29-4 at 13, p. 48). Instead, Chief Carter and Phillips
confirmed that Lavies was fired because she made racist
statements targeted at Lois Cunningham, a female
African-American employee. (Id. at 14, p. 49; 29-2
at 7-8, pp. 24-27). Phillips recommended that the City fire
also testified that Chief Carter questioned him in his office
regarding the book incident. (Doc. # 34-1 at 64, pp.
243-244). According to Plaintiff, he told Carter that
“it's kind of hard to be a male over [in the
jail/dispatch department].” Carter denies that this
conversation occurred. (Doc. # 29-2 at 14, p. 52). In fact,
Carter testified that Plaintiff never complained to him about
being treated differently due to his race or gender.
(Id. at 13, p. 47). As Rule 56 caselaw requires, the
court assumes the accuracy of Plaintiff's statement in
Money returned to work, she was placed on the third shift as
a form of punishment for throwing a book at Plaintiff. (Doc.
# 34-1 at 26, pp. 90-91; 29-4 at 15, p. 54). According to
Plaintiff, in March 2014, Money complained about working the
third shift and was reassigned to the second shift. (Doc. #
34-1 at 26, pp. 91-95). Plaintiff was then scheduled to the
third shift. (Id. at 27, pp. 95-96). No. City
employee consulted him prior to implementing this schedule
change. (Id.). At this point in Plaintiff's
employment, working the night shift presented a problem
because he had already arranged his schedule to accommodate
his children. (Id.). However, while Plaintiff
contends that he viewed this event as an indication that the
needs of Money, a white female employee, were valued above
his own, he never complained to his supervisors about it.
(Id. at 28, pp. 99-100).
addition to throwing a book at Plaintiff, Money was also
written up, counselled, and/or disciplined for other
work-related misconduct during her employment. For example,
in January 2011, Money called in sick, but was spotted at a
Walmart store picking up supplies for a party. (Doc. # 20).
Phillips reported the incident to Lindsey, but the Rule 56
record does not indicate that Chief Carter was made aware of
the issue or that any additional discipline was instituted
against Money. (Id.). In November 2015, a civilian
filed a complaint against Money claiming that she was rude
and dismissive while performing dispatch duties.
(Id.). Money's disciplinary record also includes
several other disciplinary forms addressing such things as
her failure to log dispatch calls, divulging confidential
department information to the public, and sleeping on the
job. (Id.). Although the Rule 56 record does not
reflect when, Money was fired but subsequently reinstated
after a hearing. (Doc. # 29-4 at 11-12, pp. 40-41).
Plaintiff's Night Shift
Plaintiff was transferred to the third shift, Leah Fields,
another white jailor/dispatcher, told Plaintiff that Phillips
had asked her to keep an eye on him. (Doc. # 34-1 at 29, p.
101). Cunningham also testified that Jameson had told her
that Phillips asked Jameson to watch Plaintiff. (Id.
at 29, pp. 102-103; 34-15 at 10, p. 30). Phillips admitted
that she asked Jameson to inform her if something happened
during third shift that she should know about since she did
not work that shift. (Doc. # 29-4 at 8, p. 27). But, she
denied instructing any other jailor/dispatcher to
specifically watch Plaintiff. (Id. at 8, pp. 26-27).
(Again, the court treats Plaintiff's version as true for
purposes of its Rule 56 analysis). Phillips never asked
Plaintiff to monitor the shifts she was not working. (Doc. #
34-1 at 30, p. 105).
also testified that Fields and Jameson both behaved
inappropriately while working the third shift. For example,
Fields regularly slept on the job. (Id. at 73, p.
280). He claims Fields also had a sexual relationship with a
male inmate. (Id. at 74, pp. 281-82). As a result,
Chief Carter gave Fields a choice of termination or
resignation, and she resigned her employment. (Doc. # 29- 2
at 9, pp. 30-31). Before Fields resigned, the male inmate
with whom she had a sexual relationship committed suicide
during Jameson's night shift. (Doc. # 34-1 at 74, p.
283). According to Plaintiff, Jameson gave him a pillow and
blankets even though he exhibited signs of depression.
(Id.). She also did not check on him for a period of
40 minutes, which was against policy at the time.
(Id. at 35, pp. 127-28). Neither Phillips nor Chief
Carter were present at the time of the inmate's death.
(Docs. # 29-4 at 26, p. 98; 29-2 at 9-10, p. 32-35), so
Jameson was not disciplined for giving blankets to an
emotional inmate. (Id.).
March 2014 Memorandum
March 13, 2014, three days after Plaintiff was moved to the
third shift, Phillips gave Plaintiff a written memorandum
outlining areas in which he could improve his job
performance. (Doc. # 34-1 at 30-34; 29-4 at 17-18). The
memorandum was based on several complaints Phillips had
received from the female inmates. (Doc. # 29-4 at 19, p. 72).
The memorandum reads as follows:
I wanted you to know the criteria an inmate can file a
grievance against a jailer- unfortunately some of your
behavior I have heard about would fall under that.
(1) Denying coffee to females for no reason while serving it
to the males-coffee was mandated by the Mayor.
(2) Waking up the females every time you go back there during
the night-they were complaining you sing and whistle and hum
and slam doors and that you talk on your phone all night.
Kenneth they need to sleep, if you need to learn how to tell
if they are breathing okay during night shift let me know.
(3) We have to keep the jail office cool because of the
equipment so please do not take the blankets from the
females-if they disregard your orders then write them up.
(4) 3:00 AM is a bit early to get the inmates up, chief
wanted them to start between 4:00-4:30 AM.
(Doc. # 34-2 at 2). Phillips also attached a sample
“Grievance Procedures Form” that inmates may file
against jailors. (Id. at 3). The form provided a
list of potential grounds for the initiation of a grievance.
(Id.). Phillips had circled “Violation of
civil rights” and “Unjust denial or restriction
of inmate privileges” on the form. (Id.).
Phillips left the memorandum for Plaintiff to find hanging
off a desk in the dispatch office. (Doc. # 34-1 at 32, p.
114; 29-4 at 21-22 pp. 80-82). While Plaintiff insisted the
document was left open, Phillips testified she “taped
it up so nobody could open it.” (Doc. # 29-4 at 22, p.
disputed several of Phillips's criticisms. For example,
Plaintiff testified that he actually gave the female inmates
one cup of coffee that morning, but informed Phillips that
they might need more because the coffee he gave them tasted
strangely. (Doc. # 34-1 at 32, pp. 115-116). However,
Phillips denied that any such conversation motivated the
preparation of the memorandum. (Doc. # 29-4 at 20-21, pp.
75-77). Instead, she explained that her criticism was based
on the female inmates' report that the male inmates
received two cups of coffee when they only received one cup.
(Id.). Furthermore, Plaintiff testified the reason
he took blankets away from female inmates was because they
refused to comply with his instruction to remove the blankets
from their faces. (Doc. # 34-1 at 32, p. 114). Finally,
Plaintiff stated that other female jailors made plenty of
mistakes while on shift, but he never saw letters addressed
to them in the dispatch office. (Doc. # 34-1 at 33-34, pp.
118-122). According to Plaintiff, they only received verbal
feedback. (Id.). Although Plaintiff viewed this
memorandum as a gender-motivated threat and an attempt to get
him fired (Doc. # 34-1 at 33, p. 119), Phillips did not
discipline Plaintiff beyond writing this memorandum.
(Id. at 31, p. 111). She did not issue a formal
write-up or attempt to fire Plaintiff. (Id.). By
contrast, Phillips explained that because Plaintiff was not
fully trained for the night shift, she wrote the memorandum
with the intention of helping Plaintiff. (Doc. # 29-4 at 20,
pp. 73-74). Plaintiff discussed the memorandum with Phillips
the following day, but he did not complain to any other City
employee. (Doc. # 34-1 at 34, pp. 123-24).
asked Lindsey whether it was possible for family members to
work within the department. (Doc. # 34-1 at 36-37, pp.
132-34). Plaintiff testified that Lindsey replied,
“we're trying to get away from that.”
(Id. at 37, p. 133). There is no evidence in the
Rule 56 record that a member of Plaintiff's family
actually submitted an employment application to the City.
Nevertheless, about one month after Plaintiff's
conversation with Lindsey, the City hired Derrick Mills, a
white male and stepson to Sergeant Nicks. (Id. at
37, p. 135).
thereafter, on July 22, 2015, Plaintiff asked Phillips if he
could switch from the third shift to the first shift.
(Id. at 38, p. 137; 34-22). Phillips responded no,
because Derrick Mills and Sergeant Nicks were related and
could not work together on the same shift. (Id. at
37-38, pp. 135-38; Id.; 29-4 at 28, p. 107).
Plaintiff did not complain to any of his supervisors that
Phillips refused his request to change shifts. (Doc. # 34-2
at 38, p. 138).
fact, on August 20, 2015, Lindsey called Plaintiff and
offered him the first shift. (Id.; 34-9). Plaintiff
refused Lindsey's offer because he had already adjusted
his children's babysitting arrangements to work the third
shift. (Id.). However, Lindsey's memo
documenting this conversation shows that Plaintiff “was
given a choice to decide which shift he would like”
beginning on August 31, 2015. (Doc. # 34-9).
June 2015 T-shirt Incident
June 10, 2015, Mills hung a T-shirt in the dispatch bathroom
that depicted Plaintiff as an inmate of the jail. (Docs. #
34-1 at 75, pp. 285-86; 34-4). Plaintiff told Mills that the
T-shirt was not funny because he was the only
African-American male employee, and the shirt implied he was
a criminal. (Id. at 75, p. 286). Phillips also saw
the T-shirt and told Mills to put it away because it was
inappropriate. (Doc. # 29-4 at 14-15, pp. 49-53). She did
not, however, report the incident to Chief Carter or
institute any further discipline against Mills.
Plaintiff testified that several police officers discussed
the Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown shooting cases in his
presence at the dispatch office. (Doc. # 34-1 at 78-79, pp.
300-301). Plaintiff stated that “[t]here was never any
sympathy shown towards the victims, ” and the officers
defended George Zimmerman, the person involved in one of the
shootings. (Id. at 78, p. 300). Jameson, however,
never heard co-workers talking about these shootings. (Doc. #
34-28 at 7, p. 16).
August 2015 Charges Against Female Inmate
August 2015, a female inmate threw food at Plaintiff. (Doc. #
34-1 at 38-39, pp. 138-42). Plaintiff wanted to press charges
against the inmate, but the charges were never entered in the
system. (Id. at 39, p. 142). Both Phillips and Chief
Carter testified that once an employee files a charge report,
the magistrate judge determines “what they need to
issue on or what they don't need to issue on [it].”
(Docs. # 29-2 at 13-14, pp. 48, 51; 29-4 at 35, p. 134). In
other words, their involvement ends once the magistrate judge
screens the charges. (Id.). Again, Plaintiff did not
complain to any of his supervisors about the charges not
appearing in the system. (Doc. # 34-1 at 39, p. 142).
November 2015 Disagreement with Cunningham
the November 2-3, 2015 night shift, Plaintiff and Cunningham
had a disagreement about who would perform dispatch duties
and who would make rounds in the jail. (Doc. # 34-1 at 61-62,
pp. 231-36). Cunningham called Phillips to report the
incident. (Doc. # 34-14) On November 4, 2015, Phillips
prepared the following memorandum documenting
I received a call on my personal phone from dispatcher Lois
Cunningham. This was around 12:30 a.m. on Tuesday, November
3, 2015. Ms. Cunningham said Dispatcher Kenneth Watkins was
being aggressive towards her, speaking to her in “that
voice.” Ms. Cunningham had come to work before Mr.
Watkins so Ms. Cunningham sat at the dispatch desk. Mr.
Watkins came in and told her to move. She said no. He said
“I'm not playing, move.” She again said no.
He said it once more aggressively the third time but she
didn't relent. Ms. Cunningham said Mr. Watkins spent the
rest of the time out in the shed in the dark. Ms. Cunningham
said she wasn't afraid of him but did say he seems to be
(Doc. # 34-14 at 3). Attached to Phillips's memorandum is
a Disciplinary Action Form listing Phillips and Chief Carter
as Plaintiff's supervisors. (Id. at 2). The form
describes the incident as “insubordination”
because Plaintiff said he would not work the jail and
recommends termination as the next action step.
(Id.). However, the Disciplinary Action Form is not
dated or signed, and it does not indicate what type of
disciplinary action was actually taken. (Id.).
Phillips never confronted Plaintiff about the incident. (Doc.
# 34-1 at 62, p. 233). In fact, Phillips denied preparing a
write-up or ...