Russell v. Holder et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER that Defendants' 19 MOTION for Summary Judgment is GRANTED. Signed by Honorable Judge Mark E. Fuller on 7/8/2011. (cc, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
MARTIN K. RUSSELL,
ERIC HOLDER, et al.,
Case No. 2:10-cv-233-MEF
(WO-DO NOT PUBLISH)
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This cause is before the Court on the Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment,
filed April 8, 2011. (Doc. # 19). Plaintiff Martin Russell (“Russell”), an employee of the
Bureau of Prisons (“the BOP”), has sued the Defendants claiming that he was passed
over for a promotion because of his race. The Defendants have moved for summary
judgment on the sole count of race discrimination, arguing that Russell cannot
demonstrate that Warden Darlene Drew’s (“Drew”) proffered reasons for selecting a
black candidate instead of Russell, who is white, are pretextual. For the foregoing
reasons, that motion (Doc. # 19) is due to be GRANTED.
I. JURISDICTION AND VENUE
This Court has subject matter jurisdiction over this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
1331 (federal question) and § 1343 (civil rights). The parties do not assert that this Court
lacks personal jurisdiction over them, and there is no dispute that venue is proper
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b).
II. LEGAL STANDARD
Summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) 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.” A party may demonstrate the
existence of or absence of a genuine dispute as to any material fact by pointing to
materials in the record “including depositions, documents, electronically stored
information, affidavits, or declarations, stipulations . . . admissions, interrogatory
answers, or other materials.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The movant “always bears the initial
responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion,” and identifying
those evidentiary submissions “which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine
issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The movant
can meet this burden by presenting evidence showing there is no dispute of material fact,
or by showing the non-moving 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 322-23.
Once the moving party has met its burden, Rule 56 “requires the nonmoving party
to go beyond the pleadings” and by its own evidentiary submissions or those on file,
demonstrate that there is a genuine factual dispute for trial. Id. at 324. The Court must
draw all justifiable inferences from the evidence in the non-moving party's favor.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). After the nonmoving party
has responded to the motion for summary judgment, the court must grant summary
judgment if there is no genuine dispute of material fact and the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a).
III. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
In May 1992, Russell, a white male, began working for the BOP as a correctional
officer at the Federal Prison Camp in Montgomery, Alabama. (Doc. # 28 Ex. 3). From
August 1995 to June 2001, Russell worked at the medium security facility in Coleman,
Florida. Id. In June 2001, Russell returned to work at the prison camp in Montgomery.
Id. On June 15, 2007, the BOP began taking applications for a vacant correctional
counselor position at the facility in Montgomery. (Doc. # 19 Ex. 1). The application
posting indicated that the position required “arduous physical exertion involving
prolonged walking and standing.” Id. The correctional counselor position was a level
G9 position and would have been a promotion for Russell.
Russell applied for the position, and the BOP’s consolidated staffing unit selected
him as one of the five ‘best qualified’ applicants. (Doc. # 19 Ex. 3). The BOP also
selected Leamon Jenkins (“Jenkins”), a black male, as one of the ‘best qualified’
applicants. In accordance with BOP procedure, Drew received an “All Applicant Data
Report,” which included the work experience and qualifications for each of the five ‘best
qualified’ applicants. BOP procedure provided that Drew could either choose to promote
a candidate on the ‘best qualified’ list or choose to leave the position vacant. (Doc. # 27
Ex. 8 at 40). According to Russell, once the ‘best qualified list’ was generated, whether
or not a particular candidate got promoted was “a crapshoot” because the warden was
free to select any candidate he or she wanted from the ‘best qualified’ list. (Doc. # 28
Ex. 4 at 8).
On June 27, 2007, Drew selected Jenkins for the correctional counselor position.
Drew testified during her deposition and stated in her affidavit that she selected Jenkins
based on his prior work experience. Specifically, she chose him for the promotion
because he had broader work experience, having been employed at medium-security
BOP facilities in Talladega, Alabama and Jesup, Georgia. (Doc. # 19 Ex. 6). Drew also
found that Jenkins’s experience with a prisoner riot in 1995 and his efforts in making
security recommendations distinguished him from the other applicants. (Doc. # 19 at 7).
Russell had worked at a medium security facility in Coleman, Florida, but his application
did not demonstrate that he had either been involved in an inmate disturbance or made
suggestions to improve facility safety.
Six days before Drew selected Jenkins for the correctional counselor position, on
June 21, 2007, Jenkins was involved in a serious motorcycle accident. He was
hospitalized six days and had steel rods and screws implanted to treat his broken leg and
arm. After returning to work, Jenkins was unable to perform the physical requirements
of the correctional counselor position. Drew testified, “I don’t know exactly when that
accident occurred; nor do I know the exact date of when I was beginning the merit
promotion board.” (Doc. # 27 Ex. 8 at 97). Drew later clarified that while she did not
recall with certainty, she believes she did not know about Jenkins’s accident before
making the decision to promote him. (Doc. # 27 Ex. 8 at 104–05).1 Jenkins’s promotion
became effective August 19, 2007.
The sole count in Russell’s complaint alleges that the Defendants violated 42
U.S.C. § 2000e by discriminating against him on the basis of race. Russell also alleges
that the Defendants violated 42 U.S.C. § 1981. (Doc. # 1). However, the United States
Supreme Court has held that Title VII provides the exclusive judicial remedy for federal
employees bringing claims of race discrimination. Brown v. Gen. Servs. Admin., 425 U.S.
820, 832–34 (1976). Therefore, the Court will only analyze Russell’s Title VII claim.
Because Russell has not presented any direct evidence of race discrimination, his
case is a circumstantial one, and the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting analysis applies.
See McDonnell Douglas v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973). Under this framework, a
plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case of racial discrimination. In a failure-topromote case, the plaintiff must demonstrate that: (1) he belongs to a protected racial
class; (2) that he was qualified for the position at issue; (3) that despite being qualified,
Russell claims that Drew knew about Jenkins’s limitations before she made the
decision to promote him. (Doc. # 25 at 17). However, he doesn’t support this assertion
with a citation to the record, and this Court cannot find any evidence to support his
contention. Even if Drew had known about Jenkins’s injury at the time she selected him
for the correctional counselor position, she testified that she would not have assumed
from his hospitalization alone that Jenkins would subsequently be unable to perform the
physical requirements of the correctional counselor position. (Doc. # 27 Ex. 8 at 98).
the plaintiff was not selected for the position; and (4) that the position was filled with an
individual outside the protected class. Vessels v. Atlanta Indep. Sch. Sys., 408 F.3d 763,
768 (11th Cir. 2005). The Defendants concede, for purposes of this motion, that Russell
is able to establish the elements of a prima facie case of race discrimination.
A. Non-discriminatory reason for hiring Jenkins
Once a plaintiff establishes a prima facie case of discrimination, thereby raising an
inference that he was the subject of intentional race discrimination, the burden shifts to
the defendant to produce legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for the challenged
employment action. Holifield v. Reno, 115 F.3d 1555, 1564 (11th Cir. 1997). Drew
testified that she hired Jenkins because he possessed unique work experiences that the
other candidates did not possess. Specifically, Drew testified that Jenkins stood out to
he had worked in other BOP facilities, including medium-security
he had been involved in a 1995 prisoner uprising;
he had made several safety suggestions to his supervisors, and the
institution which employed him had adopted those suggestions;
he had participated in mock exercises intended to prepare
correctional officers for prisoner uprisings; and
he had won the Correctional Officer of the Year award.
(Doc. # 27 Ex. A at 46–47).
The Court finds—and Russell concedes—that the Defendants have met their
burden of production. The reasons Drew pointed out are legitimate, non-discriminatory
reasons for promoting Jenkins instead of Russell.
Once the defendant has produced a non-discriminatory reason for its employment
decision, the plaintiff bears the ultimate burden of demonstrating that the proffered
reason is merely pretext for unlawful discrimination. Holifield, 115 F.3d at 1564. A
plaintiff may demonstrate pretext by “revealing such weaknesses, implausibilities,
inconsistencies, incoherencies or contradictions” in the Defendants’ proffered legitimate
reasons that “a reasonable fact finder could find them unworthy of credence.” Springer
v. Convergys Customer Mgmt. Grp. Inc., 509 F.3d 1344, 1349 (11th Cir. 2007). It is not
enough for a plaintiff to demonstrate that he was more qualified than the person who
received the promotion. Id. “A plaintiff must show not merely that the defendant’s
employment decisions were mistaken but that they were in fact motivated by race.” If a
plaintiff uses his own qualifications to establish pretext, then he must show “the
disparities between the successful applicant’s and his own qualifications were of such
weight and significance that no reasonable person, in the exercise of impartial judgment,
could have chosen the candidate selected over the plaintiff.” Id.
Russell argues both that he was more qualified than Jenkins, and that Jenkins’s
motorcycle injury made Jenkins unqualified for the correctional counselor position. Each
argument will be discussed in turn.
1. Russell’s claim that he was the more qualified candidate
Russell claims that a few criteria made him more qualified than Jenkins for the
correctional counselor position. Russell was a navy recruiter for several years and has a
degree in communications. He claims that these attributes make him more qualified to
communicate with prisoners, a requirement for the correctional counselor position.
Russell was “three years senior” to Jenkins and had more experience handling inmate
trust fund accounts than Jenkins. Last, Russell points out that, unlike Jenkins, he had no
bad judgment debts against him.
This evidence is not sufficient to raise a genuine dispute of fact regarding whether
or not Drew’s proffered legitimate reason for promoting Jenkins were pretext. Rusell has
demonstrated that he has different employment and education experience than Jenkins,
but not that his resume was necessarily better. Russell’s educational background may be
more suited to the correctional counselor position than Jenkins’s. However, Russell has
failed to demonstrate that his educational background and experience as a navy recruiter
outweigh all of the criteria that Drew noticed in Jenkins’s application, including his
experience with a prisoner uprising and his initiative in suggesting security policies. In
other words, Russell has come nowhere near to demonstrating that “the disparities
between the successful applicant’s and his own qualifications were of such weight and
significance that no reasonable person, in the exercise of impartial judgment, could have
chosen the candidate selected over the plaintiff.” Id. Accordingly, Russell cannot
demonstrate that the BOP’s proffered non-discriminatory reasons for promoting Jenkins
2. Russell’s claim that due to injury, Jenkins was unqualified for the
Russell also claims that due to Jenkins’s motorcycle injury, Jenkins was unable to
perform the duties of correctional counselor and therefore that Drew’s selection of him
must have been motivated by race. Jenkins’s accident occurred six days before Drew
made her selection for the vacant correctional counselor’s position. It is undisputed that
after his injury, Jenkins was not able to properly perform the physical aspects of his job.
However, Russell has not provided any evidence that Drew knew about Jenkins’s
accident before selecting him for the correctional counselor position. Russell provided
the affidavit of Timothy Blevins, who testified that if an injury prevents an employee
from coming to work, the warden is usually informed of the injury within one to two
days. (Doc. # 38 Ex. 1). However, this testimony does not create a genuine issue of
material fact with respect to whether Drew actually knew about this particular accident
before selecting Jenkins for the position. Drew’s testimony was that she could not fully
recall, but did not believe that she knew of Jenkins’s injury before selecting him for the
correctional counselor position. If Drew did not know about Jenkins’s injury before
making her selection, then his injury cannot demonstrate pretext.
Even if Drew did know about Jenkins’s injury, Russell has presented no evidence
that she knew the extent of Jenkins’s injuries. She testified that without medical
documentation explaining Jenkins’s condition, she would not have concluded that
Jenkins’s injury rendered him unfit for the correctional counselor position. There is
certainly no evidence that Drew had been provided with medical documentation
regarding Jenkins’s injuries.
Russell describes in great detail what physical limitations plagued Jenkins after his
accident. However, anything occurring after Drew made her selection is simply not
relevant to establishing whether her initial selection of Jenkins was motivated by race.
As Russell has not created a genuine factual dispute for trial about whether or not Drew’s
reasons for promoting Jenkins were pretextual, the Defendants’ motion for summary
judgment is due to be granted.
It is hereby ORDERED that the Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment
(Doc. # 19) is GRANTED. A separate final judgment will be entered in this case.
Done this the 8 day of July, 2011.
/s/ Mark E. Fuller
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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