Matthews v. Butler County Commission, et al.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER: IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment 16 is granted. Plaintiff's claims are dismissed with prejudice. Signed by Honorable Judge Keith Starrett on 7/5/2016. (kh, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
CIVIL ACTION NO. 2:15-CV-358-KS-GMB
BUTLER COUNTY COMMISSION, et al.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This matter is before the Court on Defendants Butler County Commission and Probate Judge
Steve Norman’s Motion for Summary Judgment . After considering the submissions of the
parties, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds that this motion is well taken and should
On May 23, 2015, Plaintiff Zebreda Mathews (“Plaintiff”) filed this action against
Defendants Butler County Commission (the “Commission”) and Probate Judge Steve Norman
(“Judge Norman”), claiming that her termination from the Office of the Butler County Probate Judge
(the “Probate Office”) was the result of racial discrimination in violation of Title VII and the Equal
Protection Clause, as enforced through 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and that her due process rights were
violated because she was not given a hearing prior to her termination.
Plaintiff is a black female who was employed with the Probate Office for nineteen years.
On June 9, 2014, Plaintiff reported to jury duty and was released that morning. Plaintiff did not
return to work until the next day. Plaintiff received a written reprimand for not returning to work
immediately after being released. On June 16, 2014, Plaintiff again reported to jury duty and was
again released that morning. After being released, she went to the chambers of Circuit Court Judge
Terri Lovell (“Judge Lovell”), and brought the situation to Judge Lovell’s attention. Plaintiff then
left and did not report to work until June 18, 2014, with an excuse from her doctor dated June 16,
which stated that she may return to work on June 18.
Upon her return, Judge Norman spoke with her, intending to issue her another reprimand if
she were to promise to correct her behavior going forward. (Declaration of Steve Norman [17-3]
at p. 3 ¶ 10.) Instead, she “refused to take any responsibility for her actions and again began acting
irrationally, blaming everybody else and speaking disrespectfully to [him].” (Id.) Judge Norman
then terminated her. Plaintiff was replaced by a white female.
Plaintiff sought a hearing with the Commission’s Appeal Board regarding the decision to
terminate her, and was denied. She then brought the current action to this Court.
Defendants filed their Motion for Summary Judgment  on May 16, 2016. The Court has
considered the submissions of the parties and is now ready to rule.
Standard of Review
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that “[t]he 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 Eleventh Circuit has held that
[s]ummary judgment is appropriate if the evidence before the court shows that there
is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a
judgment as a matter of law. In making this determination, the court must view all
evidence and make all reasonable inferences in favor of the party opposing summary
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. The
relevant rules of substantive law dictate the materiality of a disputed fact. A genuine
issue of material fact does not exist unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the
nonmoving party for a reasonable jury to return a verdict in its favor.
Chapman v. AI Transport, 229 F.3d 1012, 1023 (11th Cir. 2000) (quoting Haves v. City of Miami,
52 F.3d 918, 921 (11th Cir. 1995)) (alteration in original).
Plaintiff claims that her termination was the result of racial discrimination in violation of
Title VII and the Equal Protection Clause, as enforced through 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Parties agree that
the analytical framework of these claims are identical. In order to establish a prima facie case for
her racial discrimination claim, Plaintiff must show that: “(1) [she] is a member of a protected class;
(2) [she] was qualified for the position; (3) [she] suffered an adverse employment action; and (4)
[she] was replaced by a person outside [her] protected class or was treated less favorably than a
similarly-situated individual outside [her] protected class.” Maynard v. Bd. of Regents of Div. of
Univs. of Fla. Dep’t of Educ. ex rel. Univ. of S. Fla., 342 F.3d 1281, 1289 (11th Cir. 2003). Once
Plaintiff’s prima facie case is established, “the burden then shifts to the employer to produce
evidence that its action was taken for a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason.” Brooks v. Cnty.
Comm’n of Jefferson Cnty., Ala., 446 F.3d 1160, 1162 (11th Cir. 2006) (citing Equal Emp’t
Opportunity Comm’n v. Joe’s Stone Crab, Inc., 296 F.3d 1265, 1272 (11th Cir. 2002)). If
Defendants then meet the burden of production “by proffering a legitimate, non-discriminatory
reason, thereby rebutting the presumption of discrimination,” Plaintiff “must show that the proffered
reason really is a pretext for unlawful discrimination.” Id. (quoting Joe’s Stone Crab, 296 F.3d at
1272) (internal quotations omitted).
There seems to be little dispute as to the facts establishing Plaintiff’s prima facie case.
Plaintiff is black, a protected class, and was qualified for her job. She was then terminated and
replaced by someone outside of her race. As such, the burden then shifts to Defendants to assert a
legitimate reason for Plaintiff’s termination. According to Judge Norman, Plaintiff was terminated
for the following reasons:
First, she was insubordinate on both June 9 and June 16 by refusing to follow a direct
order that she return to work after being released from jury duty. Second, she was
very disrespectful to both Ms. Beverly and myself during the week of June 9. Third,
she blatantly misrepresented the situation to Judge Lovell and caused a scene in her
office. This behavior was inappropriate, embarrassing, and interfered with the
operation of Judge Lovell’s office and my office. Fourth, she caused a scene in my
office, which was again inappropriate, embarrassing, and interfered with out
operations. Finally, on June 18th, when she was given one last chance to fix the
situation, she refused to do so and was again disrespectful towards me.
(Declaration of Steve Norman [17-3] at p. 3 ¶ 11.) Significantly, even though he believed she
should be reprimanded for refusing to return to work after she was released from jury duty, Judge
Norman had “plann[ed] to simply issue her another written warning as long as she understood why
her behavior was unacceptable and pledged not to engage in similar behavior.” (Id. at p. 2 ¶ 10.)
He terminated her, though, because she “refused to take any responsibility for her actions and again
began acting irrationally, blaming everybody else and speaking disrespectfully to [him].” (Id.)
In order to show that the asserted reasons are pretextual, and thereby defeat summary
judgment, Plaintiff “must introduce significantly probative evidence showing that the asserted
reason[s] [are] merely a pretext for discrimination.” Brooks, 446 F.3d at 1163 (quoting Clark, 990
F.2d at 1228). Under Eleventh Circuit law, “a plaintiff can survive a motion for summary judgment
. . . by presenting evidence sufficient to demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact as to the truth
or falsity of the employer’s legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons.” Evans v. McLain of Ga., Inc.,
131 F.3d 957, 965-65 (11th Cir. 1997) (citations omitted).
The only evidence Plaintiff has adduced on summary judgment is her own sworn affidavit.
In this affidavit, she admits that she did not return to work the same day that she was released from
jury duty on June 9 and June 16. However, she claims that she asked for June 9 off, and that request
was acknowledged by Beverly. (Mathews Affidavit [19-1] at p. 3.) She further claims that, after
being released from jury duty on June 16, she sought medical care and returned to work on June 18
with an excuse from her doctor. (Id.) She does not, however, address the “inappropriate” and
“embarrassing” scenes Judge Norman claims she made which “interfered with the operations” of
both his and Judge Lovell’s offices, nor does she deny being disrespectful towards Judge Norman
or Beverly. She also mentions nothing about her behavior in her meeting with Judge Norman which
led to her termination. Plaintiff also makes no claim that Defendants’ treatment of her in anyway
differed from a similarly situated employees outside of her protected class.
From the facts before the Court, it is undisputed that Plaintiff did not return to work after she
was released from jury duty on June 9 and June 16. It is also undisputed that she acted
inappropriately and disrespectfully after she was reprimanded for these actions. Nothing in
Plaintiff’s affidavit serves as “significant probative evidence” that the reasons behind her
termination given by Defendants were in any way pretextual. See Brooks, 446 F.3d at 1163 (quoting
Clark, 990 F.2d at 1228). Therefore, the Court does not find that Plaintiff has met her burden in
establishing that there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to return a verdict in her favor on
her claims of racial discrimination under Title VII and § 1983. See Chapman, 229 F.3d at 1023
(quoting Haves, 52 F.3d at 921). The Court will therefore grant Defendants’ Motion for Summary
Judgment  with respect to these claims, and they will be dismissed with prejudice.
Plaintiff claims that Defendants violated her due process rights in their termination of her.
A state employee may demand the procedural protections of due process only if the state law or rules
promulgated by state officials gives them “a legitimate claim of entitlement to continued
employment absent sufficient cause for discharge.” Goss v. Lopez, 419 U.S. 565, 573, 95 S. Ct. 729,
42 L.Ed.2d 725 (1975) (citations omitted). Plaintiff contends that the Butler County Personnel
Policy Manual (the “Manual”) gave her such a claim of entitlement in that it guaranteed her a fair
hearing prior to termination.
Defendants argue that the Manual does not apply to Plaintiff as an employee of the Probate
Office. The Manual states that the power “[t]o dismiss, assign, supervise, promote and discipline”
has been delegated from the Commission to the Probate Office. (Manual [17-2] at pp. 5-6.)
Furthermore, the Manual does not guarantee a hearing prior to termination. Rather, the Manual
provides an opportunity for a hearing in front of the Appeals Board should the terminated “classified
employee” request one. (Manual [17-2] at p. 56.) A “classified employee” is defined as “an
employee who is assigned an on-going position authorized by the Commission, who is paid by funds
allocated by the Commission, and who may become a member of the Commission’s merit-based
personnel system following an initial probation period.” (Id. at p. 6.)
Plaintiff claims that she was denied a hearing with the Appeals Board. If the Manual applied
to her termination, the denial of this hearing would be a due process violation. However, because
the Manual explicitly delegates the power “[t]o dismiss, assign, supervise, promote and discipline”
to the Probate Office, the Court finds that the Manual does not apply to Plaintiff. At no point does
Plaintiff argue that she is a classified employee as defined by the Manual. It does not appear evident
from the record before the Court that Plaintiff’s position was one authorized by the Commission,
nor does it appear she was a member of the Commission’s merit-based personnel system. As
Plaintiff bears the burden of proof in proving she was entitled to a hearing, the Court must find that
she has failed to do so.
Furthermore, Plaintiff makes no argument that due process requires a hearing be provided
to her despite the Manual’s non-application, nor would such an argument be persuasive. For due
process to apply, Plaintiff must have “a legitimate claim of entitlement to continued employment
absent sufficient cause for discharge.” Goss, 419 U.S. at 573, 95 S. Ct. 729. Because the Manual
does not give her such an entitlement, any due process claim brought against Defendants must fail.
Therefore, because it finds Plaintiff’s due process rights were not violated, the Court will
grant Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment  with respect to these claims, and they will
be dismissed with prejudice.
ALABAMA CODE § 12-16-8.1
Section 12-16-8.1 of the Alabama Code forbids employers from terminating an employee
“solely because he or she serves on any jury . . . provided, however, that the employee reports to
work on his or her next regularly schedule hour after being dismissed from any jury.” ALA. CODE
1975 § 12-16-.1(a). At no point does Plaintiff argue that she was discharged because she reported
to jury duty. As such, her claim under § 12-16-8.1 is without merit and must be dismissed with
Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment  will be granted in full and this case will
be dismissed with prejudice.
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that Defendants’ Motion for
Summary Judgment  is granted. Plaintiff’s claims are dismissed with prejudice.
SO ORDERED AND ADJUDGED this the 5th day of July, 2016.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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