McQueen v. Grisset et al (JOINT ASSIGN)(MAG+)
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER: it is ORDERED: Defendants, Sharon Ellis, Jason Boothe, Mike Griffin, and Alabama Department of Transportation's motion for final summary judgment as to all claims of the Plaintiff, Claude McQueen, (Doc. 56 ) is granted. Defendants' motion to strike the Jennifer McLeod Declaration (Doc. 79 ) is denied as moot. The Court will enter a separate final judgment, and the Clerk is directed to close this docket. Signed by Honorable Judge David A. Baker on 6/30/2017. (kh, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
OF TRANSPORTATION, et al.,
Case No. 2:14-cv-1016-DAB
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff, Claude McQueen, claims racial discrimination and retaliation against his employer,
Alabama Department of Transportation, and three individual supervisors. He filed this lawsuit in
October 2014, and the operative complaint is Plaintiff’s Second Amended Complaint filed in June
2015. (Docs. 1, 33). This matter is before the court on the Defendants Sharon Ellis, Jason Boothe,
Mike Griffin, and Alabama Department of Transportation’s construed Motion for Summary Judgement
and Memorandum Brief in Support (Docs. 56, 57).1 The parties have had an opportunity to fully brief
the issues. For the reasons stated herein, Defendants’ construed motion (Doc. 56) is granted.
Also before the court is Defendants’ Motion to Strike Jennifer McLeod’s Declaration. (Doc.
79). The McLeod Declaration (Doc. 78-2 at 7–8) was submitted by Plaintiff to support his response in
opposition to the Defendants’ summary judgment motion. Plaintiff has failed to respond to the motion
to strike and thus the motion is deemed unopposed. However, to the extent that any fact in the
Doc. 56 is titled Memorandum Brief in Support of Motion for Summary judgment and is
docketed as a memorandum brief, but the body of the pleading indicates it is a Rule 56, Fed. R. Civ.
P., motion for summary judgment, and thus the court construes Doc. 56 as a motion. The memorandum
brief in support is docketed at Doc. 57.
Declaration conflicts with other evidence, the facts are construed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff
as the non-moving party. Because the court concludes on this record in a light most favorable to the
Plaintiff that Defendants are entitled to final summary judgment in their favor, Defendants’ motion to
strike the Jennifer McLeod Declaration (Doc. 79) is denied as moot.
McQueen’s claims for retaliation and discrimination are based on race under Title VII of the
Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., as amended by the Civil Rights Act of 1991, 42
U.S.C. § 1981 by and through 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 42 U.S.C. § 1981a, and the Equal Protection Clause
of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States Constitution. All claims arise
under federal law, and the court has original subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331
and 1343. The parties do not dispute venue or personal jurisdiction, and there are adequate allegations
in Plaintiff’s Second Amended Complaint to support both. On March 22, 2017, the parties consented
to Magistrate Judge Jurisdiction for all matters pursuant to Rule 73, Fed. R. Civ. P., and 28 U.S.C. §
636(c), and an order was entered reassigning the case to the undersigned as the presiding judge. (Docs.
SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD OF REVIEW
“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.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a).
In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court construes the facts and all reasonable inferences
therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods.,
Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). However, when faced with a “properly supported motion for summary
judgment, [the nonmoving party] must come forward with specific factual evidence, presenting more
than mere allegations.” Gargiulo v. G.M. Sales, Inc., 131 F.3d 995, 999 (11th Cir. 1997).
Summary judgment is mandated “against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to
establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that party will bear the
burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). “Summary judgment
may be granted if the non-moving party’s evidence is merely colorable or is not significantly
probative.” Sawyer v. Southwest Airlines Co., 243 F. Supp. 2d 1257, 1262 (D. Kan. 2003) (citing
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250–51 (1986)).
“[A]t the summary judgment stage the judge’s function is not himself to weigh the evidence
and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.”
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. “Essentially, the inquiry is ‘whether the evidence presents a sufficient
disagreement to require submission to the jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail
as a matter of law.’” Sawyer, 243 F. Supp. 2d at 1263 (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251–52).
BACKGROUND AND FACTS
The matters set forth here are either undisputed or stated, as they must be for purposes of the
present motion, in the light most favorable to Plaintiff Claude McQueen (“McQueen” or “Plaintiff”),
the non-moving party. McQueen, an African-American male, began working for the State of Alabama
on February 8, 1993. (Doc. 58-1 at 16:1; 25:20–23). He was born in 1959. Id. at 11:2. His first job
with the State was as a Highway Maintenance Technician I. Id. at 40:17–18; (Doc. 58-2 at 41:13–16).
He worked in this position for eighteen years. (Doc. 58-2 at 41:5–6). He did not do any electrical work
during this time. Id. at 41:17–19. He got his commercial driver’s license eight or nine years after
starting work for the State. (Doc. 58-1 at 15:20–16:5). His duties as a highway maintenance worker
included patching roads, cutting grass, weed eating, and maintaining the highways. Id. at 41:1–4.
In February 2008, McQueen applied for the position of Traffic Signal Technician with the
Alabama Department of Transportation (“ALDOT”). (Doc. 78-1 at 2–4). The position is full-time and
involves “technical electrical work in installing and maintaining highway traffic control devices.” Id.
at 6. McQueen was awarded the position effective December 1, 2009. Id. at 8. At the time McQueen
applied, the minimum requirements for the position were either: (1) completion of tenth grade and two
years of work experience performing electrical and/or signal work; or (2) completion of two years in a
vocational, trade or technical school in the electronics or electrical field. Id. at 6. McQueen graduated
from Alabama State University with a degree in criminal justice and a minor in psychology. (Doc. 581 at 15:3–5). He had some electrical experience with other companies before becoming a State of
Alabama employee. (Doc. 58-2 at 44:6–46:19).
By 2011 the State Personnel Department added certification through International Municipal
Signal Association (IMSA) as a third way an applicant can qualify for the Traffic Signal Technician
Level I position, but IMSA certification is not a requirement for the position. (Doc. 78-1 at 10, 13).
McQueen has taken the IMSA test five times since 2010 but has not passed the test. (Doc. 58-2 at
The salary range for Traffic Signal Technician is $27,806.40–$46,615.20. (Doc. 78-1 at 13).
In September 2016, McQueen testified he earns $40,413.00. (Doc. 58-5 at 182:8). McQueen alleges
the Traffic Signal Technicians who are his comparators are Donald Dansby, Marcus Sanders, Josh
Grissett, and Justin Sanders, all of whom are white. (Doc. 77 at 7). Salaries in 2014 for these
individuals were as follows: $39,933.32 for McQueen; $32,638.69 for Donald Dansby; $8,953.80 for
Marcus Sanders; $31,942.38 for Josh Grissett; and $26,423.79 for Justin Sanders. (Doc. 60-5).
Although McQueen is paid a higher salary, he contends this is due to his longer tenure as a State
employee. (Doc. 58-5 at 181:1–17). He asserts he was denied step raises while his white comparators
were not. Id. at 180:7–17. He testified his white male supervisor, Defendant James Boothe (“Boothe”),
took his step raise away because he did not pass the IMSA test and therefore did not obtain IMSA
certification. Id. at 189:5–192:15.
McQueen, who is the only African-American member of his crew, testified that his racial
discrimination claim is based on mistreatment by his fellow crew member, Josh Grissett (“Grissett’).
(Doc. 58-3 at 94:2–4, 94:20–95:5). On April 22, 2014, McQueen was riding in a State truck with
Grissett. (Doc. 58-3 at 111:4–20). Grissett is a white male who is a Traffic Signal Technician Senior
in the Troy area office. (Doc. 77 at 8). Grissett was driving; McQueen was in the passenger seat. (Doc.
58-3 at 111:14–15). As they were going down the road, Grissett’s hard hat fell off the truck, and
McQueen and Grissett heard it hit the ground. Id. at 111:15– 16. McQueen sat up in his seat to look
in the side mirror to see what had fallen. (Doc. 58-4 at 1–10). According to McQueen, Grissett said to
him. “Sit back Goddamn it. Sit back MF.” (Doc. 58-3 at 112:2). McQueen claims Grissett called him
a “Goddamned Motherfucker” and shoved or pushed him back into his seat. (Doc. 77 at 8; 58-4 at
123:3–5). Grissett cursed him “very loud in a nasty way.” (Doc. 58-4 at 122:20–22). When they
arrived at the jobsite, McQueen reported the incident to senior crew leader Jimmy Barron. (Doc. 58-3
at 112:10–12; 114:8–10).
Both Barron and McQueen wrote the incident up. Id. at 112:13. The next day McQueen gave
a copy of his incident report to maintenance engineer Sherry Ellis (“Ellis”), and left copies of the report
on the desks of traffic engineer Boothe and division engineer Mike Griffin (“Griffin”). Id. at 112:14–
18; 114:13–16. Two weeks later Boothe called McQueen about the need to resolve the incident. Id. at
114:21–115:4. A week or two after that, McQueen met in Boothe’s office with Grissett, Boothe, and
Brenda Kirkland. Id. at 115:4–8. McQueen testified they discussed the incident. Id. at 115:9–23.
Grissett denied shoving or cursing McQueen, but admitted he said “damn” and may have touched
Grissett. Id. Grissett apologized to McQueen; McQueen did not accept his apology. Id.
Before the incident in the truck, McQueen told Boothe on several occasions that he was having
a problem with Grissett and did not need to be around him. Id. at 116:5–23. McQueen testified Boothe
did nothing about it and told McQueen that he and Grissett had to work it out. Id. at 117:1–4. McQueen
testified that Grissett belittled him at the job site saying he did the work incorrectly.2 Id. at 117:11–
118:7. McQueen did not like the tone Grissett used with him or the way Grissett treated him as a
person. Id. He heard from Donald Dansby and Justin Sanders that Grissett said he hated McQueen.
McQueen testified Grissett would make “smart remarks” to him such as, “That ain’t done
right;” “That ain’t the way that’s done;” and “You need to do that better.” (Doc. 58-3 at 106:20–23).
Id. at 119:10–120:9. Grissett did not curse McQueen prior to or after the April 2014 incident. (Doc.
58-4 at 124:2–6).
McQueen filed a charge of discrimination with the Birmingham District Office of the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on May 20, 2014. (Doc. 78-2 at 12–13). By letter
dated May 23, 2014, the EEOC acknowledged receipt of the charge, advised him his employer had
been notified, and requested additional information. Id. at 15.
Regarding his retaliation claim, McQueen testified he believes he was drug tested in retaliation
for filing a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. Id. at 129–132. In May 2014 a company came to
random drug test 20 to 25 ALDOT employees. Id. at 129:2–21; Doc. 58-3 at 96:18–23. He was not
selected to be drug tested at that time.3 (Doc. 58-4 at 129:22–23). He testified that, at some point
within the next two weeks, ALDOT learned he had a charge of discrimination pending with the EEOC.
Id. at 130:7–20.
Two weeks after the group of employees were tested, Ellis called McQueen and
Jimmy Barron and told Barron he needed to take McQueen to the doctor to be drug tested. Id. at
130:20–131:7. Barron took him to be tested on May 29, 2014. Id. at 131:6–7, 133:12–13. McQueen
believes ALDOT sending him to be drug tested was retaliation because it was not the norm for a large
group of people to be tested and then two weeks later only one employee is sent to be tested by a private
doctor. Id. at 131:9–16. He believes his employer received notice of his charge of discrimination, and
they were trying to “find something on him” by sending him to be drug tested. Id. at 131:15–22.
McQueen passed the drug test and has never had a positive drug screen since being employed with the
ALDOT. Id. at 132:12–23; (Doc. 60-1 at 36).
It appears undisputed that random drug testing is standard for ALDOT employees holding
commercial driver’s licenses. (Doc. 58-4 at 129:11–23). McQueen has been drug tested since being
employed with the DOT in 1993 or 1994, and he has never had a positive screen. Id. at 132:16–133:1.
McQueen alleges Boothe attempted to reprimand him for a performance issue at some point
after the EEOC charge had been filed which he asserts is another basis of his retaliation claim. (Doc.
58-3 at 98:10–99:10).
In opposition to Defendants’ motion, McQueen filed the Declaration of Jimmy Barron, a white
male employee of ALDOT. (Doc. 78-2 at 2–5). Barron has been employed by ALDOT for over thirty
years and supervises a crew of five Traffic Signal Technicians, including Grissett and McQueen. Id.,
¶¶ 2, 3. In April 2014, Barron reported to Boothe that Grissett had a punctuality problem, attendance
problem, was uncooperative with co-workers, and was causing McQueen problems when they worked
together, but Boothe took no corrective action. Id., ¶ 4. When McQueen reported the incident in the
truck with Grissett to Barron, Barron told both Boothe and Ellis about it, but he was unaware of them
taking any action. Id., ¶ 5. Barron states that McQueen was subjected to discipline for much lesser
rules infractions, and yet Grissett was not disciplined for his assault of McQueen or his violations of
ALDOT’s rules and procedures. Id., ¶¶ 7, 8, 10. After McQueen shared with Barron that he had filed
papers with the EEOC, Boothe questioned Barron about McQueen’s performance and then gave
McQueen a low job rating. Id., ¶ 9.
McQueen also submitted the Declaration of Jennifer Stephens McLeod (“McLeod”). (Doc. 782 at 7–8). While an employee of ALDOT, McLeod observed Grissett intensely disliked McQueen. Id.,
¶ 3. McLeod states she overheard female employees, Sherry Ellis, Glenda Uptain, Pam Leverette, and
Brenda Kirkland, make disparaging remarks about McQueen’s intelligence, including one of them
referring to McQueen as a “dumb nigger.” Id., ¶ 4.
Defendants have moved to strike the Declaration of Jennifer McLeod. (Doc. 79). Although the
Declaration is dated November 9, 2016, McQueen did not disclose the substance of McLeod’s
knowledge until filing her Declaration in April 2017 in opposition to Defendants’ motion. The
disparaging remarks made by the white female employees were not identified in the initial disclosures.
Additionally, in his deposition taken in September 2016, McQueen testified he did not know what
McLeod knew. (Doc. 58-1 at 32:2–22). McQueen has not filed a response opposing the motion to
Defendants filed the affidavit of Samuel L. Martin, Safety Coordinator for ALDOT. (Doc. 601). His duties as Safety Coordinator include coordinating an effective drug and alcohol testing program
in compliance with state and federal law for ALDOT commercial driver’s license holders. Id., ¶ 4.
McQueen is subject to random drug and alcohol tests because he holds a commercial driver’s license.
Id., ¶ 8. ALDOT does not select the manner, collection site, or method of drug and alcohol testing of
ALDOT employees. Id., ¶ 6.
On April 30, 2014, McQueen was randomly selected by Safety First,
the company that ALDOT hired to perform the alcohol and drug testing, to be tested in a district in
which he does not work. Id., ¶ 9. It is not uncommon for Safety First to randomly select an employee
in a district in which he or she does not work. Id., ¶ 10. When that happens, Safety First will require
the employee to be tested in his or her district as soon as practicable. Id. McQueen was tested on May
29, 2014, and the results of the test were negative. Id., ¶¶ 11, 13.
In his Second Amended Complaint, McQueen raises claims of race discrimination and
retaliation under Title VII. (Doc. 33). In Count I, he asserts ALDOT discriminated against him by
denying him equal pay that was received by similarly situated employees. Id., ¶ 17. Additionally, he
sues ALDOT for allowing and acquiescing to a hostile work environment by refusing to discipline
Grissett for racially-based verbal harassment and physical violence. Id., ¶ 18. He alleges because
ALDOT refused to discipline Grissett, the harassment continued unabated. Id. McQueen claims
ALDOT retaliated against him for his internal and external complaints by subjecting him to a sham
drug screen. Id., ¶ 19.
In Count II of the Second Amended Complaint, McQueen sues the three individual supervisors,
Griffin, Ellis, and Boothe, arguing they allowed and acquiesced to the creation of a racially hostile
work environment because they refused to discipline Grissett for his racially-based verbal harassment
and physical violence. Id., ¶ 25. He also sues the individuals for retaliating against him for reporting
and opposing discrimination in his employment. Id., ¶ 26.
A. Unequal Pay Claim
McQueen asserts that his fellow white male crew members, Donald Dansby, Josh Grissett, and
Marcus Sanders, made more money than he did. (Doc. 33, ¶¶ 13, 17). To the extent McQueen is
attempting to raise a claim under the Equal Pay Act, his claim fails. The Equal Pay Act (“EPA”),
provides in part:
No employer having employees subject to any provisions of this section shall
discriminate, within any establishment in which such employees are employed,
between employees on the basis of sex by paying wages to employees in such
establishment at a rate less than the rate at which he pays wages to employees
of the opposite sex in such establishment for equal work on jobs the performance of
which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under
similar working conditions, except where such payment is made pursuant to (i) a
seniority system; (ii) a merit system; (iii) a system which measures earnings by
quantity or quality of production; or (iv) a differential based on any other factor other
than sex: Provided, That an employer who is paying a wage rate differential in
violation of this subsection shall not, in order to comply with the provisions of this
subsection, reduce the wage rate of any employee.
29 U.S.C.A. § 206(d)(1) (emphasis added). See Meeks v. Computer Assocs., Int’l, 15 F.3d 1013, 1018
(11th Cir. 1994) (to establish a prima facie case under the EPA, plaintiff had to demonstrate that
employer paid “different wages to employees of opposite sexes for equal work”). Here, McQueen has
identified no female comparators, and thus ALDOT is entitled to judgment as to any claim under the
Equal Pay Act.
To state a prima facie case of wage discrimination under Title VII based on race, McQueen
must show that: “(1) he belongs to a racial minority; (2) he received low wages; (3) similarly situated
comparators outside the protected class received higher compensation; and (4) he was qualified to
receive a higher wage.” Cooper v. S. Co., 390 F.3d 695, 734–35 (11th Cir. 2004), overruled on other
grounds by Ash v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 546 U.S. 454, 457 (2006). The Eleventh Circuit recently noted
in race-based or gender-based wage discrimination cases, “this Court has required the plaintiff to
present a comparator who received higher compensation in order to establish a prima facie case.”
Walker v. Fulton Cty. Sch. Dist., 624 F. App’x 683, 686 (11th Cir. 2015). In fiscal year 2014, it is
undisputed McQueen earned more income than his fellow white male crew members. See (Doc. 605). McQueen has not presented evidence that any of his purported comparators made more money, and
therefore McQueen fails to establish all the necessary elements of his claim. See Walker, 624 at 687
(“Walker was paid more than VanWagner.
Therefore, Walker cannot use VanWagner as the
comparator to establish his prima facie case.”).
Further, as it pertains to Grissett, McQueen
acknowledged that Grissett is a senior traffic signal technician, which is a different classification and
pay range. (Doc. 58-5 at 188:2–19). Thus, Grissett would not be an appropriate comparator in any
As for McQueen’s argument that he should have been making even more than his comparators
due to his length of tenure, he has not proffered evidence of this. Regarding his claim he should have
received step raises that his fellow crew members received, all of the other crew members passed their
IMSA Level I traffic signal certification except McQueen (Doc. 59-2, ¶ 5), and McQueen’s 2015–2016
performance appraisal score was “partially meets standards” which was not high enough to merit a step
raise. Id., ¶ 21. Accordingly, McQueen fails to establish a race-based wage discrimination claim or an
EPA claim, and Defendants are entitled to final summary judgment on this issue.
B. Hostile Work Environment
Counts I and II both claim race discrimination under Title VII based on a hostile working
environment. (Doc. 33, ¶ 18). Title VII prohibits a hostile work environment in which “a series of
separate acts ... collectively constitute one ‘unlawful employment practice.’” Nat’l R.R. Passenger
Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 117 (2002) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1)). To establish a claim of
Dansby, Sanders, and McQueen are the same classification—traffic signal technician. (Doc.
58-3 at 100:5–9).
a hostile work environment, an employee must prove that “the workplace is permeated with
discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the
conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment.” Harris v. Forklift
Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21 (1993). When the harassment claim is based on race, the employee must
prove five elements: “(1) that he is a member of a protected class; (2) that he was subjected to
unwelcome racial harassment; (3) that the harassment was based on his race; (4) that the harassment
was severe or pervasive enough to alter the terms and conditions of his employment and create a
discriminatorily abusive working environment; and (5) that the employer is responsible for the
environment under a theory of either vicarious or direct liability.” Adams v. Austal, U.S.A., L.L.C., 754
F.3d 1240, 1248–49 (11th Cir. 2014) (citing Miller v. Kenworth of Dothan, Inc., 277 F.3d 1269, 1275
(11th Cir. 2002)).
It is undisputed McQueen is a member of a protected class. (Doc. 57 at 21). As for complaints
of unwelcome racial harassment, McQueen did not have a complaint about any other members of his
crew, except Grissett. His claim of racial discrimination stems from mistreatment by Grissett, and the
supervisors purportedly doing nothing about it. (Doc. 58-3 at 94:13–19, 95:6–8). Specifically,
McQueen testified that Grissett made him feel unwelcome, belittled him, talked down to him, and
criticized his work. Id. at 105–10. McQueen’s primary complaint was the April 22, 2014, incident in
the truck with Grissett. While the alleged behavior of Grissett was offensive, and no doubt unwelcome,
the comments did not contain a racial animus. That is, there is nothing in the allegations to indicate the
harassment was based on McQueen’s race. McQueen does not allege Grissett used any racially
derogatory language or epithets directed toward him. Thus, McQueen’s hostile work environment
claim fails to meet the third element of establishing that the harassment was due to his race.
Even if racial animus in Grissett’s comments and tone can be inferred by virtue of McQueen
being the only African-American on the crew, McQueen’s hostile work environment claim nevertheless
fails because he has not presented evidence that the alleged harassment was severe or pervasive enough
or that it altered the terms and conditions of his employment. This fourth element requires a plaintiff
to prove that the work environment is both “subjectively and objectively hostile.” Adams, 754 F.3d at
1249 (citing Mendoza v. Borden, Inc., 195 F.3d 1238, 1246 (11th Cir. 1999)). Although McQueen may
have subjectively perceived that the harassment was severe enough to change the terms or conditions
of his employment, the court cannot say that under the totality of the circumstances this perception was
To evaluate whether McQueen’s work environment is objectively hostile, the court considers:
“(1) the frequency of the conduct; (2) the severity of the conduct; (3) whether the conduct is physically
threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and (4) whether the conduct unreasonably
interferes with the employee’s job performance.” Mendoza, 195 F.3d at 1246. The evidence reveals
Grissett criticized the way McQueen performed his work and cursed and pushed him while they were
riding together. With the above factors in mind, the court finds, under the totality of the circumstances,
a reasonable person would not find Grissett’s conduct to be so severe or pervasive that it altered the
terms or conditions of McQueen’s employment.
As for the racially derogatory comment made by one of the female employees which was
overheard by McLeod, see (Doc. 78-2 at 7–8), a single comment in these circumstances would not be
considered pervasive, and there is no evidence in any event that McQueen was aware of it.
Accordingly, that comment cannot be used to form the basis of his hostile work environment claim.
See, e.g., Adams, 754 F.3d at 1250 (“district court also correctly limited its consideration to incidents
of racial harassment of which the individual employees were aware”); McCann v. Tillman, 526 F.3d
1370, 1379 (11th Cir. 2008) (concluding that over more than two years of employment the use of one
racially derogatory term in front of the plaintiff and two racial epithets outside of the plaintiff’s presence
was insufficient to support a hostile work environment claim); Mahone v. CSX Transp., Inc., 652 Fed.
App’x 820, 823 (11th Cir. 2009) (evidence reflecting a single incident in which a coworker used a
racially-charged word during a meeting but the conduct was not physically threatening or humiliating,
and the plaintiff suffered no adverse employment action was not objectively reasonable to support
hostile work environment claim). The court finds Defendants are entitled to summary judgment as to
McQueen’s discrimination claims based upon a hostile working environment.
Title VII prohibits retaliation against an employee “because he has opposed any practice made
an unlawful employment practice by [Title VII], or because he has made a charge, testified, assisted,
or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing [thereunder].” 42 U.S.C. §
2000e–3(a). A prima facie case of retaliation under Title VII requires the plaintiff to show that: (1) he
engaged in an activity protected under Title VII; (2) he suffered an adverse employment action; and (3)
there was a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse employment action.
Crawford v. Carroll, 529 F.3d 961, 970 (11th Cir. 2008) (citing Pennington v. City of Huntsville, 261
F.3d 1262, 1266 (11th Cir. 2001)).
McQueen’s filing of a charge of discrimination with the EEOC constitutes statutorily protected
activity. In this circuit, courts have required a plaintiff to establish an “ultimate employment decision”
or make some other showing of substantiality in the employment context in order to establish an adverse
employment action. Crawford, 529 F.3d at 970. An ultimate employment decision has been defined
to include “termination, failure to hire, or demotion.” Id. (citations omitted). Where there is no ultimate
employment decision, the adverse employment action must, “alter[ ] the employee’s compensation,
terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, deprive him or her of employment opportunities, or
adversely affect [ ] his or her status as an employee.” Id. (citations omitted).
Here, McQueen claims he was subjected to a “sham drug test.” The evidence reveals, however,
that as a commercial driver’s license holder, McQueen has been subject to random drug and alcohol
testing since being employed with ALDOT. Thus, there is no indication of a connection between the
testing and his filing a charge of discrimination. Further, the results of the test conducted in May 2014
were negative, and thus there was no adverse consequence resulting from it.
Although not raised in his Second Amended Complaint, McQueen additionally testified that
Boothe threatened to reprimand him which he believes was in retaliation of his protected activity. (Doc.
77 at 12). As a preliminary matter, this exchange could not have served as the basis for McQueen’s
complaint for retaliation because the reprimand occurred after McQueen had filed the lawsuit. (Doc.
58-4 at 153:23–154:2). Additionally, there is no indication Boothe was aware of the EEOC charge at
the time of the filing of the lawsuit. (Doc. 59-2, ¶ 23). Moreover, a “threatened reprimand” is not an
ultimate employment decision such as “termination, failure to hire, or demotion,” see Crawford, 529
F.3d at 970, nor is there any evidence that the “threatened reprimand” altered the terms and conditions
of his employment.
McQueen offers the Declaration of Barron who states Boothe questioned Barron about
McQueen’s job performance after McQueen filed his EEOC charge and this lawsuit. (Doc. 77 at 12)
(referring to Doc. 78-2 at 2–5). Thereafter, McQueen claims that Boothe gave him a low job rating.
The Eleventh Circuit has recognized that “a poor performance evaluation that directly results in the
denial of a pay raise of any significance clearly affects an employee’s compensation and thus constitutes
an adverse employment action under Title VII.” Crawford, 529 F.3d at 971 (citing Gillis v. Ga. Dep’t
of Corr., 400 F.3d 883, 888 (11th Cir. 2005)). However, again, this was not raised in his pleadings or
his deposition as a basis for his retaliation claim, but even assuming McQueen could establish that the
low job rating was an adverse employment action, that Boothe was aware of McQueen’s statutorily
protected activity at the time the low rating was given, and that there was a causal connection between
the two such that McQueen can establish a prima facie case of retaliation, his claim nevertheless fails.
In this circuit, courts apply the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework to analyze
retaliation claims. Gerard v. Bd. of Regents of State of Ga., 324 F. App’x 818, 825 (11th Cir. 2009)
(citing Holifield v. Reno, 115 F.3d 1555, 1564–66 (11th Cir. 1997) (per curiam)). Under McDonnell
Douglas, a plaintiff bears the initial burden of presenting sufficient evidence to allow a reasonably jury
to determine that he has satisfied the elements of his prima facie case. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v.
Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973). If plaintiff is able to establish a prima facie case, the burden then
shifts to the defendant to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the employment decision.
Id. If defendant provides such reason, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to show that the defendant’s
stated reason was pretextual. Id. at 804.
Defendants have filed the affidavit of Jason Boothe who has been McQueen’s supervisor since
2009. (Doc. 59-2, ¶ 19). He has disciplined McQueen on four separate occasions for violation of
ALDOT’s policies and procedures. Id. Three of the four disciplinary incidents occurred prior to the
incident in the truck with Grissett. The one reprimand that occurred after McQueen filed his May 2014
EEOC charge of discrimination occurred nearly two years later in April 2016. Id. Boothe states that
none of his discipline of McQueen was in retaliation for McQueen filing the EEOC charge or this
lawsuit. Id., ¶ 20. Rather, any disciplinary action taken was due to McQueen’s violation of ALDOT’s
policies and procedures. Id. Thus, Defendants have articulated a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason
for the action.
To show that Defendants’ stated reason is a pretext, McQueen must present sufficient evidence
“to permit a reasonable fact finder to conclude that the reasons given by the employer were not the real
reasons for the adverse employment decision.” Combs v. Plantation Patterns, 106 F.3d 1519, 1528
(11th Cir. 1997) (citation omitted). McQueen has failed to come forward with any evidence that the
reason given is a pretext, and therefore, his retaliation claim fails.
D. Section 1983 Claim
In their motion, Defendants argue that McQueen is unable to establish the elements of a claim
against the individual supervisors under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. “To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff
must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must
show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” West v.
Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). McQueen asserts conclusory allegations that he is entitled to relief
under § 1983 because of “reckless, malicious, and willful actions” of Defendants Boothe, Ellis, and
Griffin. (Doc. 33, ¶ 30). In his brief in opposition, he fails to respond to Defendants’ arguments other
than to state that intentional discrimination in the workplace based on race violates federal law. (Doc.
77 at 21). McQueen fails to direct the court to any facts supporting intentional discrimination by these
Because the court concludes above that McQueen’s discrimination and
retaliation claims fail, his § 1983 claims which are based on the same set of facts similarly must fail.
See Abel v. Dubberly, 210 F.3d 1334, 1338 (11th Cir.2000) (holding that Title VII and § 1983 claims
have the same elements where the claims are based on the same set of facts).
Defendants alternatively assert they are entitled to qualified immunity in their individual
capacities from McQueen’s § 1983 claims. Because the court has concluded Defendants are entitled
to final summary judgment on the discrimination and retaliation claims, the court need not reach the
issue of whether the individual Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. In any event, McQueen
likely waived the issue as he did not substantively respond to the qualified immunity argument raised
in Defendants’ motion. The Eleventh Circuit has held, “[w]hen a defendant has moved for summary
judgment on the basis of qualified immunity, ‘the plaintiff may not rely on the facts contained in the
complaint, but must raise genuine issues of material fact to counter the facts supporting a defendant’s
summary judgment motion based on qualified immunity.’ Hutton v. Strickland, 919 F.2d 1531, 1536–
37 (11th Cir.1990). Failure to do so may result in waiver or abandonment of the issue.” Case v.
Eslinger, 555 F.3d 1317, 1329 (11th Cir. 2009). Here, McQueen failed to respond to Defendants’
arguments regarding their entitlement to qualified immunity, and thus he waived the issue.
CONCLUSION AND ORDER
For the reasons stated, it is ORDERED:
Defendants, Sharon Ellis, Jason Boothe, Mike Griffin, and Alabama Department of
Transportation’s motion for final summary judgment as to all claims of the Plaintiff, Claude McQueen,
(Doc. 56) is granted. Defendants’ motion to strike the Jennifer McLeod Declaration (Doc. 79) is
denied as moot. The Court will enter a separate final judgment, and the Clerk is directed to close this
DONE and ORDERED this 30th day of June, 2017.
DAVID A. BAKER
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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