Ingram v. The Houston County Board of Education
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER: Accordingly, for the reasons as stated and for good cause, it is ORDERED and ADJUDGED that the defendants motion for summary judgment (doc. # 70 ) be and is hereby GRANTED, and this case be and is hereby DISMISSED with prejudice. All other pending motions are DENIED as moot. A separate final judgment will enter. Signed by Honorable Judge Charles S. Coody on 9/12/2017. (kh, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
THE HOUSTON COUNTY BOARD
CIVIL ACT. NO. 1:16cv316-CSC
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Redonna Ingram (“Ingram”) brings this action against her employer, the
Houston County Board of Education, pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,
as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”), alleging that she was retaliated against
for filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”).
Ingram asserts that in 2013 she was denied promotions to four administrative positions by
then Superintendent Tim Pitchford (“Pitchford”) in retaliation for filing an EEOC charge in
2009. The Houston County Board of Education (“the Board”) is the sole defendant in this
action. The court has jurisdiction of her claim pursuant to the jurisdictional grant in Title
VII and its federal question jurisdiction.
This case is now pending before the court on the defendant’s motion for summary
judgment. (Doc. # 16). The plaintiff has filed a response in opposition to the motion for
summary judgment. (Doc. # 22). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1) and M.D. Ala. LR
73.1, the parties have consented to a United States Magistrate Judge conducting all
proceedings in this case and ordering the entry of final judgment. After careful review of
the motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff’s response, and the evidentiary submissions
in support of and in opposition to the motion, the court concludes that the defendant’s
motion for summary judgment is due to be granted.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
“Summary judgment is appropriate ‘if the pleadings, depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show there is no
genuine [dispute1 ] as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment
as a matter of law.’” Greenberg v. BellSouth Telecomm., Inc., 498 F.3d 1258, 1263 (11th
Cir. 2007) (per curiam) (citation omitted); FED.R.CIV.P. 56(a) (“The court shall grant
summary judgment 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.”). The party moving for
summary judgment “always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of
the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the [record, including pleadings,
discovery materials and affidavits], which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine
[dispute] of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The
Effective December 1, 2010, the language of Rule 56(a) was amended. The word “dispute” replaced
the word “issue” to “better reflect [ ] the focus of a summary-judgment determination.” FED . R. CIV . P. 56(a),
Advisory Committee Notes, 2010 Amendments.
movant may meet this burden by presenting evidence which would be admissible at trial
indicating there is no dispute of material fact or by showing that the nonmoving party has
failed to present evidence in support of some element of its case on which it bears the
ultimate burden of proof. Id. at 322–324.
Once the movant meets its evidentiary burden and demonstrates the absence of a
genuine dispute of material fact, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to establish, with
appropriate evidence beyond the pleadings, that a genuine dispute material to his case
exists. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th
Cir. 1991); see also FED.R.CIV.P. 56(c) (“A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is
genuinely disputed must support the assertion by: (A) citing to particular parts of materials
in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits
or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only),
admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials; or (B) showing that the materials cited
do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party
cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.”). A genuine dispute of material
fact exists when the nonmoving party produces evidence that would allow a reasonable factfinder to return a verdict in its favor. Greenberg, 498 F.3d at 1263.
To survive the movant’s properly supported motion for summary judgment, a party
is required to produce “sufficient [favorable] evidence” “that a reasonable jury could return
a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248–49
(1986). “If the evidence [on which the nonmoving party relies] is merely colorable . . . or
is not significantly probative . . . summary judgment may be granted.” Id. at 249–250. “A
mere ‘scintilla’ of evidence supporting the opposing party's position will not suffice; there
must be enough of a showing that the [trier of fact] could reasonably find for that party.”
Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1576-1577 (11th Cir. 1990) (quoting Anderson, supra).
Conclusory allegations based on subjective beliefs are likewise insufficient to create a
genuine dispute of material fact and, therefore, do not suffice to oppose a motion for
summary judgment. Waddell v. Valley Forge Dental Assocs., Inc., 276 F.3d 1275, 1279
(11th Cir. 2001). Hence, when a nonmoving party fails to set forth specific facts supported
by appropriate evidence sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to his
case and on which the nonmovant will bear the burden of proof at trial, summary judgment
is due to be granted in favor of the moving party. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322 (“[F]ailure of
proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all
other facts immaterial.”).
For summary judgment purposes, only disputes involving material facts are relevant.
United States v. 5800 SW 74th Ave., 363 F.3d 1099, 1101 (11th Cir. 2004). What is
material is determined by the substantive law applicable to the case. Anderson, 477 U.S.
at 248; Lofton v. Sec’y of Dep’t of Children & Family Servs., 358 F.3d 804, 809 (11th Cir.
2004) (“Only factual disputes that are material under the substantive law governing the case
will preclude entry of summary judgment.”). “The mere existence of some factual dispute
will not defeat summary judgment unless that factual dispute is material to an issue
affecting the outcome of the case.” McCormick v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 333 F.3d 1234,
1243 (11th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). To demonstrate a genuine dispute of material fact,
the party opposing summary judgment “must do more than simply show that there is some
metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. . . . Where the record taken as a whole could
not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no ‘genuine [dispute]
for trial.’” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co, Ltd., v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587
(1986). In cases where the evidence before the court which is admissible on its face or
which can be reduced to admissible form indicates that there is no genuine dispute of
material fact and that the party moving for summary judgment is entitled to it as a matter
of law, summary judgment is proper. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323–324 (summary judgment
appropriate where pleadings, evidentiary materials and affidavits before the court show
there is no genuine dispute as to a requisite material fact); Waddell, 276 F.3d at 1279 (to
establish a genuine dispute of material fact, the nonmoving party must produce evidence
such that a reasonable trier of fact could return a verdict in his favor). However, if there
is a conflict in the evidence, “the evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all
justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; Ruiz de
Molina v. Merritt & Furman Ins. Agency, 207 F.3d 1351, 1356 (11th Cir. 2000).
Although factual inferences must be viewed in a light most favorable to the
nonmoving party and pro se complaints are entitled to liberal interpretation by the courts,
a pro se litigant does not escape the burden of establishing by sufficient evidence a genuine
dispute of material fact. Beard v. Banks, 548 U.S. 521, 529 (2006); Brown v. Crawford,
906 F.2d 667, 670 (11th Cir. 1990). Thus, the plaintiff’s pro se status alone does not
mandate this court’s disregard of elementary principles of production and proof in a civil
Redonna Dawn Ingram has been employed as a teacher with the Houston County
Board of Education since 1992. She has a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and
a Masters degree in Educational Leadership.
It is undisputed that she meets the
requirements and qualifications for promotion to an administrative position with the Board.
After being denied an administrative position in 2005, Ingram filed a charge of
discrimination with the EEOC in December 2009. (Doc. # 22, Pl’s Ex. H). At that time,
Ingram alleged that she had been discriminated against based on her sex, age, and religion.
Ingram asserted that she had been told that Superintendent Pitchford “said he did not hire
[her] for the position because [her] children went to private school.” (Id.) She further
asserted that she had again been denied administrative positions in 2009 for the same
At this stage of the proceedings, consistent with FED . R. CIV . P. 56, the court takes evidence
presented by the non-movant as true and construes the facts in the light most favorable to Ingram. Stewart v.
Booker T. Washington Ins., 232 F.3d 844, 848 (11th Cir. 2000) (citations omitted) (“In assessing whether there
is any ‘genuine issue’ for trial, the court ‘must view all the evidence and all factual inferences reasonably drawn
from the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party” and ‘resolve all reasonable doubts about
the facts in favor of the nonmovant.’ Moreover, the court must avoid weighing conflicting evidence or making
credibility determinations. Instead, ‘[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable
inferences are to be drawn in [her] favor.’”).
reason. (Id.) After filing her EEOC charge, Ingram did not pursue any further action.
During the summer of 2013, Ingram applied for four (4) administrative positions:
Reading Coach at Rehobeth Elementary School, Assistant Principal at Wicksburg High
School, Principal at Rehobeth High School, and Assistant Principal at Rehobeth High
School. Each position was filled after a selection committee interviewed applicants and
selected three candidates. Superintendent Pitchford then recommended to the Board the
selection committee’s first choice for each position, and the Board approved Pitchford’s
The selection committee for the Reading Coach position at Rehobeth Elementary
school was composed of Principal Greg Yance, Pat Tyson and Melanie Mixon. After
interviewing the applicants including Ingram, the committee selected Shannon Jones as their
first choice for the position. Pitchford recommended Jones to the Board for the position,
and the Board accepted Pitchford’s recommendation. Jones was hired as the Reading
Coach at Rehobeth Elementary school.
The selection committee for the Assistant Principal position at Wicksburg High
School consisted of Principal Cheryl Smith and Steven Dasinger. After contacting and/or
interviewing eighteen people including Ingram, the committee selected Jeff Linder as their
first choice for the position. (Doc. # 16, Ex. 5). Pitchford recommended Linder to the
Board for the position, and the Board accepted Pitchford’s recommendation. Linder was
hired as the Assistant Principal at Wicksburg High School.
The selection committee for the Principal position at Rehobeth High School consisted
of Rhonda Lassiter, Cas Haddock, Stephanie Walker, and Randy Meadows. After
interviewing applicants including Ingram, the committee selected Bobby Boyd as their top
choice for the position. Ingram was the committee’s third choice. Pitchford recommended
Boyd to the Board for the position, and the Board accepted Pitchford’s recommendation.
Boyd was hired as the Principal at Rehobeth High School.
Finally, the selection committee for the Assistant Principal position at Rehobeth High
School consisted of Principal Bobby Boyd, Jamie Whitlock and Larry Underwood. After
interviewing nine people including Ingram, the committee selected Mike Linder as their first
choice for the position. Pitchford recommended Linder to the Board for the position, and
the Board accepted Pitchford’s recommendation. Linder was hired as the Assistant
Principal at Rehobeth High School.
On November 27, 2013, Ingram filed another charge of discrimination with the EEOC
alleging only retaliation. (Id. at Ex. G). In it, Ingram asserted that she had been denied the
four administrative positions by Pitchford in retaliation for filing an EEOC charge in 2009.
According to Ingram, Board member Ricky Moore told her that Pitchford told him that he
would not recommend Ingram for an administrative position because “she cost us money.”3
There is a dispute about what Pitchford said to Moore. Pitchford denies saying he would not hire
Ingram because she filed an EEOC charge in 2009. Ingram testified that Moore told her that Pitchford said he
would not recommend her for an administrative position because “she cost us money.” And Moore testified
about the conversation as follows:
Okay. Has Mr. Pitchford made any such comments to you about her having cost us
Ingram filed this action on May 4, 2016.
The only claim before the court is Ingram’s claim of retaliation pursuant to Title VII.
Under Title VII, an employer is prohibited from discriminating against an employee who has
either (1) opposed an employment practice made unlawful under Title VII or (2) made a
charge, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under Title
VII. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a).4 Ingram contends that the Board’s failure to promote her in
2013 is in retaliation for her filing an EEOC charge in 2009. According to Ingram, Pitchford
retaliated against her by refusing to recommend her for one of four administrative positions.
Ingram first argues that there is direct evidence of discrimination and causation based
on Moore’s and her testimony that Pitchford said he would not hire her because “she had
cost [the system] money.” Direct evidence of discrimination “is evidence that establishes
I had a conversation with him, and I told him that Dawn [Ingram] was interested – still
interested in an administrative position. He said, well, she has a strange way of
showing it by filing a lawsuit. I said, she dropped her lawsuit. But it still cost us
money was what he – was the extent of our conversation. And my response was,
that’s no reason not to hire somebody. And that was the extent of the conversation.
(Doc. # 22, Ex. A at deposition page 22).
Title VII provides, in pertinent part:
It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to discriminate against any
individual . . . because [s]he has opposed any practice made an unlawful employment practice
by this subchapter, or because [s]he has made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in
any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under this subchapter.
42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a).
the existence of discriminatory intent behind the employment decision without any inference
or presumption.” Standard v. A.B.E.L. Servs., Inc., 161 F.3d 1318, 1330 (11th Cir. 1998)).
Statements of discriminatory intent may provide direct evidence of discrimination; however,
“‘only the most blatant remarks, whose intent could be nothing other than to discriminate’
on the basis of some impermissible factor,” can qualify as direct evidence of discrimination.
Schoenfeld v. Babbitt, 168 F.3d 1257, 1266 (11th Cir. 1999) (quoting Carter, 870 F.2d at
582). The Eleventh Circuit has severely limited the type of language constituting direct
evidence of discrimination. See, e.g., Evans v. McClain of Ga., Inc., 131 F.3d 957, 962
(11th Cir. 1997); Burrell v. Bd. of Trustees of Ga. Military Coll., 125 F.3d 1390, 1393-94
n.7 (11th Cir. 1997); Earley v. Champion Int’l Corp., 907 F.2d 1077, 1082 (11th Cir.
1990). In this Circuit, a plaintiff presents direct evidence of discrimination where “actions
or statements of an employer reflect a discriminatory or retaliatory attitude correlating to
the discrimination or retaliation complained of by the employee.” Carter v. Three Springs
Residential Treatment, 132 F.3d 635, 641-42 (11th Cir. 1998); Merritt v. Dillard Paper
Co., 120 F.3d 1181, 1189 (11th Cir. 1997). “If an alleged statement at best merely suggests
a discriminatory motive, then it is by definition only circumstantial evidence.” Schoenfeld,
168 F.3d at 1266 (citing Burrell, 125 F.3d at 1393).
“[R]emarks by nondecisionmakers or remarks unrelated to the
decisionmaking process itself are not direct evidence of discrimination.” Id.
(citation and internal marks omitted).
Riley v. Birmingham Bd. of Educ., 154 F. App’x 114, 116 (11th Cir. 2005).
Ingram contends that Pitchford’s alleged statement that she “had cost the system money” is
direct evidence of retaliation. There is no evidence before the court of when Pitchford
allegedly made this statement, and thus any nexus between the comment and Ingram’s
failure to receive a promotion in 2013 is, at best, speculative. The only evidence before
the court is that this was a single isolated comment allegedly said to Moore and then
conveyed to Ingram. Stray, remarks in the workplace and “statements by decisionmakers
unrelated to the decisional process itself” are not direct evidence of discrimination. See
E.E.O.C. v. Alton Packaging Corp., 901 F.2d 920, 923 (11th Cir. 1990). See also Tomczyk
v. Jocks and Jills Restaurants, LLC, 198 F. App’x 804, 810 (11th Cir. 2006).
Consequently, the court concludes that Pitchford’s statement that Ingram had cost the
system money does not constitute direct evidence of retaliation.
In order to establish a prima facie case of retaliation, Ingram must demonstrate that
(1) she participated in statutorily protected expression; (2) she suffered a materially adverse
employment action; and (3) there is some causal relationship between the two events.
Trask v. Sec., Dep’t of Veterans Affairs, 822 F.3d 1179, 1193-94 (11th Cir. 2016);
Clemons v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 625 F. App’x 941, 944 (11th Cir. 2015). The Board
concedes that Ingram can establish that she engaged in statutorily protected activity when
she filed an EEOC charge in 2009, and she suffered adverse employment actions when she
was denied promotions to administrative positions in 2013. However, the Board contends
that her retaliation claim fails because she cannot demonstrate that her 2009 EEOC filing
was the “but-for cause” of her failure to be promoted in 2013. In essence, the Board asserts
that Ingram cannot establish the requisite causal connection between her 2009 EEOC
complaint and her failure to receive administrative promotions in 2013 to survive summary
“[A] plaintiff making a retaliation claim under § 2000e-3(a) must establish that his
or her protected activity was a but-for cause of the alleged adverse action by the
employer.” Univ. of Tex. Sw. Med. Ctr. v. Nassar, 570 U.S. —, 133 S.Ct. 2517, 2534
Title VII retaliation claims must be proved according to traditional principles
of but-for causation, not the lessened causation test stated in § 2000e-2(m).
This requires proof that the unlawful retaliation would not have occurred in
the absence of the alleged wrongful action or actions of the employer.
Id. at 570 U.S. at —, 133 S.Ct. at 2533. See also Trask, 822 F.3d at 1194. “To establish
a causal connection, the plaintiff must show that the decision maker was aware of [her]
protected conduct, and that the protected activity and adverse action were not wholly
unrelated.” Shannon v. Bellsouth Telecomm., 292 F.3d 712, 716 (11th Cir. 2002);
Clemons, 625 F. App’x at 945; Smith v. City of Fort Pierce, Fla., 565 F. App’x 774, 778
(11th Cir. 2014).
Moreover, the plaintiff always has the burden of persuasion
“to proffer evidence sufficient to permit a reasonable fact finder to conclude
that discriminatory animus was the ‘but-for’ cause of the adverse employment
Smith, 565 F. App’x at 778 quoting Sims v. MVM, Inc., 704 F.3d 1327, 1332 (11th Cir.
The court concludes that the plaintiff has failed to demonstrate that there exists a
genuine dispute of material fact regarding causation sufficient to survive the defendant’s
motion for summary judgement. First, Ingram points to no facts that demonstrate that the
filing of her 2009 EEOC complaint was the but-for cause of the Board’s failure to promote
her in 2013. Ingram has failed to demonstrate temporal proximity to establish causation.
See Higdon v. Jackson, 393 F.3d 1211, 1220 (11th Cir. 2004) (holding that a plaintiff may
show causation by demonstrating “close temporal proximity” between the protected activity
and the adverse employment action). Mere temporal proximity, without more, must be
“very close.” Clark County Sch. Dist. v. Breeden, 532 U.S. 268, 273 (2001).
three-month interval between the protected activity and the adverse action is insufficient to
establish causation. Clemons, 625 F. App’x at 945; Thomas v. Cooper Lighting, 506 F.3d
1361, 1364 (11th Cir. 2007); Drago v. Jenne, 453 F.3d 1301, 1308 (11th Cir. 2006). While
a period as long as one month between a protected activity and an adverse action is not too
protracted to infer causation based solely on temporal proximity, a three-month interval
between the protected activity and the adverse action cannot alone establish causation.
Thomas, 506 F.3d at 1364 (three-month period insufficient). In this case, Ingram filed her
EEOC in December 2009. She was denied administrative positions in the summer of 2013.
Ingram simply cannot establish temporal proximity with a gap of three years and six months.
See Smith, 565 F. App’x at 779 (“Seven months is too long a timeframe to establish
temporal proximity supporting an inference of causation.”).
Even assuming Ingram could establish a prima facie case, she cannot establish that
her 2009 EEOC charge was the but-for cause of the alleged retaliation. The undisputed
evidence before the court establishes that each position Ingram sought was filled after a
committee interviewed candidates and recommended to Pitchford their top choices for the
positions. It is further undisputed that Pitchford recommended each committee’s first
choice to the Board to fill the available position, and the Board accepted Pitchford’s
recommendations. Ingram has pointed the court to no evidence that the committee members
who interviewed and selected candidates for the promotions knew that she had filed an
EEOC charge. She speculates that “it was common knowledge” that she had filed an EEOC
charge in 2009 but speculation is insufficient to defeat a properly supported motion for
summary judgment. At best, Ingram presents nothing more than unsubstantiated allegations
and conclusory statements in opposition to the defendant's motion for summary judgment
with respect to her claim that the committee members and the Board must have known about
her 2009 EEOC. “[U]nsubstantiated assertions alone are not enough to withstand a motion
for summary judgment.” Rollins v. TechSouth, Inc., 833 F.2d 1525, 1529 (11th Cir. 1987).
See, e.g., Carter v. Three Springs Residential Treatment, 132 F.3d 635, 642 (11th Cir.
1998) (conclusory allegations without specific supporting facts have no probative value).
See also Broadway v. City of Montgomery, Ala., 530 F.2d 657, 660 (5th Cir. 1976)
(conclusory statements, unsubstantiated by facts in the record, will normally be insufficient
to defeat a motion for summary judgment). Ingram cannot rely on her own unsubstantiated
opinion that the decision makers must have known about her 2009 EEOC charge to
establish that charge was the but-for cause of her not receiving promotions in 2013.
“Title VII addresses discrimination.” Ferguson v. Veterans Admin., 723 F.2d 871,
872 (11th Cir. 1984). Not all unpleasant or unfair employment practices are actionable
under Title VII. “Title VII is not a shield against any kind of harsh treatment in the
workplace,” and it does not “require the employer to have good cause for its decisions.”
Nixv.WLCY Radio/Rahall Comms., 738 F.2d 1181, 1187 (11th Cir. 1984). The court is not
required to agree with the employer’s proffered reasons for the employment decision. The
relevant issue for Title VII purposes is not whether the employer’s judgment or course of
action is unreasonable, unfair, or erroneous, but whether the employer discriminated against
the employee. Id. As long as the employer does not discriminate on an illegal basis, an
employer is not in violation of Title VII.
The court concludes that Ingram has failed to demonstrate that any genuine dispute
of material fact exists from which a reasonable fact finder could conclude that the Board’s
failure to promote her in 2013 as in retaliation for her filing an EEOC charge in 2009. The
Board’s motion for summary judgment is due to be granted.
Accordingly, for the reasons as stated and for good cause, it is
ORDERED and ADJUDGED that the defendant’s motion for summary judgment
(doc. # 70) be and is hereby GRANTED, and this case be and is hereby DISMISSED with
prejudice. All other pending motions are DENIED as moot.
A separate final judgment will enter.
Done this 12th day of September, 2017.
/s/Charles S. Coody
CHARLES S. COODY
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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