Rawls v. State of Alabama Department of Human Resources
OPINION. Signed by Honorable Judge Myron H. Thompson on 4/17/12. (scn, )
IN THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA, NORTHERN DIVISION
ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF
CIVIL ACTION NO.
Plaintiff Carolyn Rawls, an African-American, brings
this employment-discrimination lawsuit against defendant
Alabama Department of Human Resources, charging it with
race discrimination in violation of Title VII (Title VII
of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 1981a & 2000e-2000e-17) and § 1981 (the Civil Rights
Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, as enforced through 42
U.S.C. § 1983).1
Jurisdiction is proper under 42 U.S.C.
§ 2000e-5(f)(3) and 28 U.S.C. § 1343.
This cause is now
1. “[Section] 1983 constitutes the exclusive federal
remedy for violation by state actors of the rights
guaranteed under § 1981.”
Bryant v. Jones, 575 F.3d
1281, 1288 n. 1 (11th Cir. 2009).
before the court on the Human Resources Department’s
follow, the motion will be granted.
Summary judgment 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
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a).
The court must view the
evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving
party and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of that
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio
Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).
This case arises from an internecine budget dispute
among several state agencies.
The Department of Human
residents, such as overseeing adoptions, distributing
food stamps, and investigating elder and child abuse.
achieve these objectives, the department oftentimes has
to run criminal background checks, a task that is handled
internally by the Office of Criminal History Checks.
criminal background investigations.
It outsources this
Safety, which conducts the background investigation and
then bills the Criminal History Checks Office for this
Rawls served as the Criminal History Checks Office’s
“Program Manager,” functioning as its director.
immediate supervisor was Deputy General Counsel James
Until February 2009, the office was housed
in the Human Resources Legal Office, which was run by
General Counsel Sharon Ficquette (white).
that Ficquette racially discriminated against her by
Resources Office of Quality Control in February 2009.
Rawls was at the center of a protracted disagreement
between the Office of Criminal History Checks and the
Department of Public Safety over unpaid invoices for
Since at least 2006, the two entities
struggled to develop a coordinated electronic system for
tracking invoices and payments between them.
Safety implemented a software program that failed to
rectify the situation; Human Resources also attempted to
design a program to handle the invoices.
had successfully put in place a system by the fall 2008.
In October 2008, the Alabama Board of Adjustment--an
agency charged with hearing monetary claims against the
State--became involved in the ongoing dispute and served
as a mediator between the Human Resources and Public
In this role, the board sought to
reconcile the budgets of the two departments by sending
Public Safety’s pending claims to Human Resources and
determining whether and how much Human Resources had paid
On October 20, 2008, the Adjustment Board sent a
(black), who worked in the department’s Legal Office and
was tasked with resolving this dispute.
In Claim # 2009-
0048, Public Safety sought a $ 217,055 payment for 12
past-due invoices for background checks provided to the
covered invoices from October 2007 to June 2008.
alerting her to Claim # 2009-0048.
The memo instructed
denying a payment, or requesting additional information.
Rawls did not immediately respond to Hendrix.
Instead, on November 25, 2008, Rawls sent an email to
Long, her immediate supervisor.
Rawls’s email contained
a chart with entries for every month between October 2007
and September 2008.
The chart had columns for invoices
forwarded Rawls’s email to Hendrix, commenting that the
“inability of the Department of Public Safety and [the
Human Resources Department] to reconcile bills has been
a problem for years.”
Chart Email (Doc. No. 38-1) at 19.
According to Hendrix, Rawls’s chart was not “immediately
useful to me in responding to [the Adjustment Board]”
because it did not address the specific unpaid invoices
in Claim # 2009-0048.
Hendrix Affidavit (Doc. No. 38-1)
On December 3, 2008, Hendrix received a second claim
from the Board of Adjustment.
In Claim # 2009-0178,
Public Safety sought a $ 78,201.50 payment for three
past-due invoices for background checks conducted between
July 2008 and September 2008.
On January 7, 2009,
Hendrix sent the second claim to Rawls and asked for a
On January 14, 2009, Long sent Ficquette and Human
Resources Commissioner Nancy Buckner (white) an email
detailing staff discord at the Criminal History Checks
Office; Rawls was copied on this email.
management” despite numerous new electronic programs that
had just been implemented.
Long Email (Doc. No. 49-1) at
Long approvingly mentioned that Rawls was doing the
best she could to keep office staff motivated.
On January 16, 2009, Hendrix sent another email to
Rawls demanding a response to Claim # 2009-0048 and Claim
On January 26, Rawls replied to Hendrix by
saying that Human Resources had made “partial payments”
to Public Safety for fiscal year 2008.
explained that Human Resources had built a new software
program to review the invoices for fiscal year 2009.
Rawls-Hendrix Email (Doc. No. 38-1) at 32.
January 29, 2009, Rawls copied Hendrix on an email where
she stated that she had just completed working through
the October 2007 invoices and that Public Safety would be
owed an unspecified additional payment.
And, on January
30, 2009, Rawls responded to the second Adjustment Board
claim and sent Hendrix an email with the same chart that
she had previously sent to Long.
Tensions reached a tipping point in early February.
On February 2, 2009, Rawls emailed Patricia Evans, a
Public Safety employee, about the October 2007 invoice
reconciliation. Rawls informed Evans that the department
“will be eligible for an additional $ 8,330.00 payment
via [the Board of Adjustment] for 10-2007 after the
[board] hearing is held.”
38-1) at 44.
Rawls-Evans Email (Doc. No.
According to Hendrix, Rawls never received
prior authorization to tell Public Safety that Human
Resources would pay $ 8,330 for the October invoice.
Resources administrative assistant, sent Rawls an email
and copied Hendrix, stating that he had received a phone
Finance Department who handled Adjustment Board work.
Lista related that Earnest had expressed concern that
Human Resources was attempting to circumvent the Board of
Early in the morning on February 4, 2009, Evans
called Hendrix to discuss Rawls’s promise.
forwarded Hendrix the email in which Rawls promised Evans
“Patricia [Evans] and her supervisor
called the office this morning regarding
the [Public Safety] claims. During the
conversation, Ms. Evans referenced some
communication that she had received from
Carolyn Rawls regarding the amount that
was owed and partial payments. I told
her that [I] was unaware of any such
communication[,] that the Department had
not submitted an answer to the Board
because we were still investigating and
attempting to determine what was and was
not owed to them. I later received an
email from Paul [Lista], which details
communicated to Ms. Evans at [Public
Safety] regarding partial payment of the
claim on February 2, 2009. As indicated
below, Ms. Evans contacted the Board
Carolyn’s/[Human Resources Department]’s
ability to make such payments.
explains why Judy [Earnest] at the Board
called here on Monday, February 2,
Department was seemingly circumventing
the [Board of Adjustment] process.
don’t understand how partial payments
can be made once a claim has ben
submitted to the Board.
It was my
understanding that the Department loses
the ability/authority to legally pay a
current ... fiscal year and that such
claims were to be submitted to the
“Ms. Evans’ supervisor expressed to me
that he was not happy about the time
that had elapsed between the time the
work was performed by [Public Safety]
personnel and the receipt of payment.
He also expressed concern regarding what
he described as the inability to reign
Carolyn in about the recurring delay in
payments. He asked me who was ‘running
[Human Resources]’ and whether that
person was Carolyn because it was his
Hendrix-Long Email (Doc. No. 38-1) at 42 (emphasis in
On February 11, 2009, Ficquette issued a reprimand to
Ficquette’s reprimand noted that the Office of
Criminal History Checks’s process for reconciling bills
from Public Safety was “burdensome, cumbersome, and far
too time consuming.”
Reprimand (Doc. No. 47) at 8.
reprimand initially focused on Rawls’s failure to respond
promptly and adequately to Hendrix’s memos concerning the
two Adjustment Board claims.
The reprimand further
develop a system for our tracking of what we paid” and
for failing to develop an internal means of tracking
clearances and paying pills due Public Safety.
Id. at 9.
Ficquette emphasized Rawls’s $ 8,330 promise to Evans,
stating that it was “an unauthorized promise to pay,
binding the Department.”
Ficquette recounted how
this promise angered Evans and other Public Safety staff,
caused a Public Safety supervisor to question Rawls’s and
exacerbated tensions between the two departments.
the reprimand detailed the Human Resources Department’s
circumventing the [Board of Adjustment] process.”
The reprimand concluded with a list of the ways Rawls
reprimand states that:
“a. You have failed to put in place
processes to allow for quick processing,
tracking and monitoring of requests for
“b. You have failed to put in place
adequate processes to ensure obtainable,
identifiable results in a timely manner.
“c. You have failed to correct broken
processes that you knew and have known
about since as early as 2006.
“d. You made a false statement to the
[Board of Adjustment] without authority
to do so.
“e. You violated Department policy by
keeping money orders in the [Office of
Criminal History Checks] overnight and
for as long as several months. Money
orders are to be sent to the Office of
Finance on the day of receipt. No money
is to be kept in offices overnight.
Department’s relationships with other
The “false statement” referenced in the reprimand is
Rawls’s email to Evans.
The money orders mentioned in
testimony that outdated money orders were discovered.
As a result of the reprimand, Rawls was removed from
her position as Office of Criminal History Checks Program
She was replaced by Tommy Crabtree (white), who
became acting manager/director of the office effective
February 11, 2009.
Buckner also moved the office out of
the Human Resources Legal Office and placed it under the
Crabtree did not seek the Criminal History Checks Office
Resources Department’s Office of Quality Control, which
performs monthly reviews of food-stamp cases to ascertain
whether the recipients’ eligibility has been correctly
Manager” and her pay remained the same.
longer supervised any employees.
However, she no
She requested a private
office, but was given the only available space in the
During her time at the Office of Quality
Control, Rawls complained of frequent migraine headaches.
On February 17, 2009, Rawls submitted a rebuttal to
her letter of reprimand.
Her response categorically
accomplishments at the Office of Criminal History Checks.
She then pointed out that a new electronic system to
monitor background-check invoices would be in place the
communicating with Evans about the $ 8,330 payment but
stated that this was a “gesture to show that we were
working in good faith” and that she “was never advised
that I could not communicate with Public Safety about
Rawls Rebuttal (Doc. No. 47) at 14.
further stated that the “relationship between [the Human
Safety has been good,” id., but that Public Safety was to
blame for the invoice confusion.
The rebuttal concluded
with an assertion that white supervisors–-such as Cheri
Martin, who supervised the Human Resources information
systems office--involved with the invoice dispute were
not reprimanded or transferred.
On March 9, 2009, Rawls announced her intent to
“unjustified removal” from the Office of Criminal History
Rawls further stated that she was performing
work appropriate for a “Program Specialist,” a lower
classification than a “Program Manager.”
(Doc. No. 36-2) at 5.
Resources-Public Safety dispute was resolved with the
entry of two consent judgments totaling $ 177,688.25.
indicating the claim number, month, amount requested,
consent-judgment chart was more precise and contained
different figures from the ones Rawls had forwarded to
Long and Hendrix.
Compare Rawls Chart (Doc. No. 38-1) at
40 with Consent-Judgment Chart (Doc. No. 38-1) at 51.
Rawls asserts two race-discrimination claims: (1) the
February 2009 reprimand and transfer to the Office of
Quality Control; and (2) a constructive discharge.
Reprimand and Transfer
Both Title VII and § 1981 “have the same requirements
Standard v. A.B.E.L. Services, Inc., 161 F.3d 1318, 1330
(11th Cir. 1998).
Under the familiar burden-shifting
framework of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S.
establishing a prima-facie case of unlawful employment
discrimination by a preponderance of evidence.
In this case, because Rawls claims “racial bias in
rules,” she may establish a prima-facie case by showing
“either (a) that [she] did not violate the work rule, or
(b) that [she] engaged in misconduct similar to that of
disciplinary measures enforced against [her] were more
severe than those enforced against the other persons who
engaged in similar misconduct.”
F.2d 1534, 1540 (11th Cir. 1989).
Jones v. Gerwens, 874
If the plaintiff establishes a prima-facie case, the
discriminatory reason for its employment action.
persuasion, and thus need not convince the court that the
reason advanced actually motivated its action.
Plantation Patterns, 106 F.3d 1519, 1539 n.11 (11th Cir.
establishing the prima facie case, sufficient to permit
a reasonable factfinder to conclude that the reasons
given by the [defendant] were not the real reasons for
Transport, 229 F.3d 1012, 1024 (11th Cir. 2000).
other words, a plaintiff must show that a defendant’s
The parties spend considerable time briefing the
question of whether Rawls has made out a prima-facie case
sufficient evidence to determine whether the employee has
been a victim of discrimination, the court need not go
through the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting process and
Shuford v. Alabama State Bd. of Educ.,
978 F. Supp. 1008, 1017 (M.D. Ala. 1997) (Thompson, J.).
“In most cases, the real question lies in whether the
Bailey-Potts v. Alabama Dep’t of Public
Safety, 2012 WL 566820, *4 (M.D. Ala. Feb. 21, 2012)
This insight is particularly true where,
as here, a plaintiff’s discriminatory-discipline claim
rests on whether the employee actually violated workplace
detailed evidence to support Ficquette’s reprimand.
record includes numerous email conversations involving
Rawls, Long, Hendrix, Evans, and Lista.
confirm the reasons given in Ficquette’s reprimand for
For example, Rawls’s email to Evans
promising the $ 8,330 is in the record; the tension with
Rawls’s leadership are also documented.
Even Rawls’s rebuttal cuts against her case.
admits that she emailed Evans about the $ 8,300 payment,
The invoice backlog is conceded by Rawls, but
responsibility for the problem.
And while Rawls mentions
the forthcoming (but unimplemented) software tracking
program, it only went online in February 2009, three
years after the two departments began having problems.
Indeed, the Office of Criminal History Checks was still
processing invoices from October 2007 in February 2009.
In short, Human Resources submits that it disciplined
Rawls because she violated work rules (the Evans email)
and failed to keep up with background-check invoices sent
by Public Safety.
Moreover, Human Resources declined to
their involvement in the Human Resources-Public Safety
responsible for solving that problem.
Against this evidentiary backdrop, Rawls submits that
Ficquette’s actions were racially motivated.
however, does not provide any direct evidence of racial
Rawls also cites deposition testimony from Long,
her immediate supervisor, who claims that Ficquette was
See Long Deposition (Doc. No. 54) at
138 (“Q: Do you believe that [the Rawls] reprimand was an
intentional discriminatory move on the part of Sharon
A: I believe that it was part of the process
to get [Rawls] out of the way.”).
While Rawls and Long allege racial discrimination at
the hands of Ficquette, the Department of Human Resources
perform her duties adequately.
The bulk of the evidence
repeatedly complained that Rawls’s replies were tardy and
Buckner took the drastic step
of reorganizing the department after Rawls’s transfer,
which is further evidence of the systematic problems at
the Office of Criminal History Checks.
Rawls’s behavior angered Public Safety
Even Rawls’s subordinate employees testified
that the Office of Criminal History Checks was “very
Stanton Deposition (Doc. No. 38-11) at 3.
Rawls has also failed to provide any white comparator
who engaged in similar behavior but received less-severe
punishment, evidence which if provided would have raised
the specter of racially discriminatory treatment. “To
make a comparison of the plaintiff’s treatment to that of
non-minority employees, the plaintiff must show that he
and the employees were similarly situated in all relevant
Holifield v. Reno, 115 F.3d 1555, 1562 (11th
Cir. 1997) (per curiam) (emphasis added).
Circuit Court of Appeals requires that “the quantity and
employers' reasonable decisions and confusing apples with
Maniccia v. Brown, 171 F.3d 1364, 1368 (11th
Cir. 1999) (emphasis added).
Rawls was the sole Program
Manager in the Office of Criminal History Checks.
she points to potential comparators in other divisions,
none of these employees was responsible for overseeing
significantly, none of these individuals ever made a
disciplined these other employees is irrelevant. Because
these comparators are not “nearly identical,” id., Rawls
cannot use them to rebut Human Resources Department’s
disciplinary decision against Rawls.
overreacted when it disciplined her and, therefore, race
had to be a motivating factor in the decision-making
But “[f]ederal courts do not sit as a super-
personnel department that reexamines an entity’s business
Elrod v. Sears, Roebuck and Co., 939 F.2d
1466, 1470 (11th Cir. 1991) (internal quotation marks
“The inquiry into pretext centers upon the
perceptions of his performance.”
Holifield, 115 F.3d at
Rawls’s subjective belief that Human Resources
legitimate, non-discriminatory rationale was a pretext
for race discrimination.
Accordingly, the court finds that there is no genuine
dispute that Human Resources reprimanded and transferred
Rawls because she violated workplace rules and failed to
implement an adequate system for processing backgroundcheck invoices.
“A claim for constructive discharge requires the
employee to demonstrate that the work environment and
reasonable person would be compelled to resign.”
v. Riviera Beach Assoc., 30 F.3d 1350, 1363 (11th Cir.
As such, the court must engage in an objective
inquiry and “do[es] not consider a plaintiff’s subjective
feelings about his employer’s actions.”
Doe v. Dekalb
County School Dist., 145 F.3d 1441, 1450 (11th Cir.
“A reasonable employee is one who does not assume
the worst or jump to conclusions too fast.”
Webster Indus., Inc., 97 F. Supp. 2d 1287, 1297 (M.D.
Ala. 2000) (Albritton, C.J.) (internal quotation marks
Here, Rawls contends that the conditions in the
Office of Quality Control compelled her early retirement.
objectively intolerable. Rawls also believes that taking
Human Resources contends that Rawls cannot satisfy
the high threshold for a constructive-discharge claim.
Rawls was neither demoted nor was her pay impacted.
Rawls was assigned to an important task–-verifying food
stamp recipients’ eligibility.
And, while Rawls may have
not had any employees to supervise and had to work in a
cubicle, this hardly qualifies as objectively unbearable
working conditions. Rather, Rawls subjectively found the
Quality Control for under a month before submitting her
insufficient as proof of constructive discharge,” id.,
Rawls’s constructive-discharge claim must fail.2
Moreover, a statute prohibiting racial discrimination
does not constitute “a general civility code for the
American workplace.” Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Servs.,
Inc., 523 U.S. 75, 80 (1998).
Such a law, therefore,
2. In the alternative, Human Resources submits that
it is immune from suit under § 1981. Because this court
grants summary judgment on both the Title VII and § 1981
claims, it need not address the immunity argument.
intolerable conditions that caused the discharge, that
is, regardless as to whether the intolerable conditions
were caused by the type of discriminatory ... conduct
that [the law] was intended to address.”
Jackson Hosp. & Clinic, Inc., 572 F.Supp.2d 1286, 1292
(M.D. Ala. 2008) (Thompson, J.).
Because Rawls has
failed to put forth sufficient evidence establishing that
retirement were motivated, or any way connected, to the
type of discrimination Title VII and § 1981 address, her
constructive-discharge claim must fail.
An appropriate summary judgment in favor of the
Alabama Department of Human Resources and against Rawls
will be entered.
DONE, this the 17th day of April, 2012.
/s/ Myron H. Thompson
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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