Billingslea v. Lanett Housing Authority et al
OPINION. Signed by Honorable Judge Myron H. Thompson on 10/26/12. (djy, )
IN THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA, EASTERN DIVISION
VICTORIA A. BILLINGSLEA,
) CIVIL ACTION NO.
OSCAR CRAWLEY, Mayor of
the City of Lanett,
Alabama, in his official
capacity, and CITY OF
LANETT, ALABAMA, an Alabama )
Plaintiff Victoria A. Billingslea brings this lawsuit
against defendants City of Lanett and Oscar Crawley (in
his official capacity as Mayor of Lanett), charging that
she was discriminated against because of her gender in
violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,
as amended (42 U.S.C. §§ 1981a, 2000e to 2000e-17), and
the Equal Pay Act of 1963, as amended (29 U.S.C. § 206).
Jurisdiction over Billingslea’s claims is proper under 28
rights); 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3) (Title VII); and 29
U.S.C. § 216(b) (Equal Pay Act).
This case is now before the court on the city and
mayor’s motion for summary judgment.
For the reasons
that follow, summary judgment will be entered in their
I. STANDARD FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Summary judgment is appropriate “if the pleadings,
the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any
affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any
material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment
as a matter of law.”
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).
whether summary judgment should be granted, 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 party.
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v.
Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).
advertised in a local newspaper a position for a property
Billingslea, who had been employed for a decade
manager, applied for the job, along with several other
Once the deadline for the position
closed, the authority decided to re-open the position and
advertise it in the local newspaper again, despite the
Billingslea, had applied for it on time.
submitted an application in response to the re-posted
Upon receiving the applications, the Lanett Housing
Authority Director ranked them and submitted them to the
the authority’s Board of Commissioners, which was chaired
rankings, the top three applicants were women.
in spite of this, Belyeu was hired for the position over
all of the female applicants.
Further still, Billingslea
Belyeu, she was asked to train him for the position for
which she was passed over, all the while receiving less
pay than he did.
In October 2009, Billingslea was promoted to the
property-manager position, and Belyeu was promoted to
staff accountant. Billingslea claims that, although these
are similar positions and she is more qualified, Belyeu
continues to enjoy a higher salary.
Billingslea then sued the Lanett Housing Authority,
the City of Lanett, Mayor Crawley, and Board Chair Rose
By agreement of the parties, the housing authority
and Wood were dismissed with prejudice. The city and the
jugdment in their favor.
The city and its mayor do not address Billingslea’s
claims on the merits; instead, they challenge her attempt
to hold them accountable for the actions of the housing
Title VII and the Equal Pay Act require
analysis of this issue under different standards. The
court will address each in turn.
A. Title VII
Title VII makes it “an unlawful employment practice
for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge
any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any
conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such
individual’s ... sex.”
42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2 (a)(1).
Significantly for this case, relief under Title VII may
See, e.g., Busby v. City of
come from only an employer.
Orlando, 931 F.2d 764, 772 (11th Cir. 1991) (“The relief
granted under Title VII is against the employer, not
individual employees whose actions would constitute a
violation of the Act.”) (emphasis in original).
an employment relationship, a defendant cannot be liable
under Title VII.
See, e.g., Smith v. Lomax, 45 F.3d 402,
403 n.4 (11th Cir. 1995); Walker v. Boys & Girls Club of
Billingslea claims that, because her employer, the
Lanett Housing Authority, is a subdivision of the City of
Lanett and because Mayor Crawley appointed the members
and chair of the authority’s board, the city and its
mayor should be considered her employers under Title VII.1
1. To be considered an “employer” for the purposes
of Title VII, a defendant must have at least 15
employees. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(b). Because the Lanett
Housing Authority itself does not have 15 employees, the
addition of Lanett as a defendant was critical to the
survival of Billingslea’s claims against the authority
before these claims were dismissed. See Pl.’s Resp. (Doc.
The city and the mayor dispute this on all counts; they
claim that the authority is wholly separate and distinct
from the city. Indeed, by their account, “the entire
governance and operation of [the authority is] done by
and through that entity alone–-with no involvement or
control by the city, its mayor or its governing council,”
Billingslea’s status as a housing-authority employee in
no way makes her an employee of the city or its mayor.
In Lyes v. City of Riviera Beach, Fla., 166 F.3d 1332
(11th Cir. 1999), the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals
mapped its approach to determining whether two public
entities can be considered a single employer for the
purposes of Title VII.2
The appellate court noted its
No. 49) at 4 (arguing that the authority “has more than
15 employees because of the connection of the Defendant
City of Lanett, Alabama, and the Defendant Lanett Housing
2. The approach in Lyes was a departure from the
test applied to determine whether the consolidation of
private employers as a single employer is proper under
duty to construe the term “employer” liberally, which at
times requires “look[ing] beyond the nominal independence
of an entity and ask[ing] whether two or more ostensibly
integrated enterprise” for the purposes of Title VII.
166 F.3d at 1341.
However, the court reasoned that,
where state and local entities are concerned, this duty
obligation to respect a State’s sovereignty. As the court
explained, “We should not brush aside a state’s own
because even ostensibly formal distinctions are part of
a government’s ability to shape its own institutions
within constitutional bounds, and we are obligated to
respect a state’s right to do so.”
Id. at 1344.
Title VII. See Lyes, 166 F.3d at 1342-44. While the
appellate court borrowed from the test for private
employers in developing its new approach, it found that
the many critical differences between public entities and
private employers demanded that a different test be
applied to decide whether two distinct public entities
may be treated as one. Id. at 1342-45.
Against this backdrop, the Eleventh Circuit held
that, when a State creates a public entity and declares
it separate and distinct, it should be presumed separate
However, this presumption can be rebutted in two ways.
First, if the State merely created separate entities to
evade federal anti-discrimination law, the presumption
does not apply.
Second, even where the State has
not engaged in purposeful evasion, separate governmental
entities can be treated as a single employer where “other
factors so plainly indicate integration that they clearly
outweigh the presumption that the entities are distinct.”
A plaintiff who wishes to rebut the presumption of
separateness by this second means carries a heavy burden.
See Fender v. Clinch County, Ga., 295 Fed. App’x 957, 959
(11th Cir. 2008) (“The standard is high ... and the
presumption is only overcome with strong evidence.”);
Jackson v. City of Centreville, No. 7:09-CV-02115-JEO,
2012 WL 4482393, at *12 (N.D. Ala. Aug. 16, 2012) (Ott,
J.) (“The Eleventh Circuit has established a high hurdle
purportedly separate agencies “should be considered one
entity for the purposes of Title VII.”).
summary judgment, the plaintiff may not merely show that
a reasonable fact-finder could conclude that the entities
should be treated as one; rather, she must show that a
fact-finder could conclude that the plaintiff has clearly
overcome the presumption.
See Lyes, 166 F.3d at 1345.
This difficult standard is an expression of concern for
comity: “The adverb ‘clearly’ ... is a thumb on the
federalism concerns should sometimes be decisive.” Id.
In deciding whether the plaintiff has met her burden,
a court must look to the totality of the circumstances to
“determine who (or which entity) is in control of the
fundamental aspects of the employment relationship that
gave rise to the claim.”
The court must therefore
discipline or discharge; authority to establish work
schedules or direct assignments; and obligation to pay
Fender, 295 Fed. App’x at 959 (citing
Lyes, 166 F.3d at 1345).
In this case, Alabama law creates a presumption that
the Lanett Housing Authority and the City of Lanett are
separate and distinct.
Section 24-1-27(a) of the 1975
Alabama Code grants municipal housing authorities “all
the powers necessary or convenient to carry out and
effectuate the purposes and provisions of [the housing
Critically, the Lanett Housing
Authority also has authority over employment decisions
and “may employ a secretary, who shall be executive
director, technical experts, attorneys and such other
officers, agents, and employees, permanent and temporary,
qualifications, duties, and compensation.”
Code § 24-1-24.
These statutory provisions raise a clear
See Laurie v. Ala. Court of
presumption of separateness.
positions for the [Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals] are
created solely for [that court], and [the court] ha[d]
statute had granted the agency “all the powers necessary
or convenient to carry out and effectuate the purposes
and provisions of” the legislation).
authorities and municipalities. See, e.g., 1975 Ala. Code
§ 24-1-132 (addressing the “[p]owers of municipalities,
authorities”); § 24-1-134 (addressing the circumstances
in which a “[c]ity or town may lend or donate money to
indeed, were the two entities a single unit, there would
be little need for statutory authority by which it may
cooperate with itself.
Having found that the Lanett Housing Authority and
the City of Lanett must be presumed separate, the court
authority and the city are separate merely to circumvent
federal antidiscrimination law; instead, she argues that
other factors counsel in favor of treating the city and
its mayor as her employers for the purposes of her Title
First, she notes that § 24-1-24 of the 1975
Alabama Code gives the mayor the power to appoint the
commissioners for the housing authority.
points out that § 11-43-81 of the code gives the mayor
the power to remove commissioners.
Finally, she cites
caselaw that she argues supports her position that the
housing authority is merely an administrative arm of her
actual employers: the city and the mayor.
The court is
not persuaded by these arguments.
Courts in the Eleventh Circuit have made clear that
insufficient to overcome the presumption that they are
separate and distinct.
See Laurie, 256 F.3d at 1272
(finding that the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals was
a separate entity even though it “operates as part of the
(finding that the city and a community redevelopment
agency were separate entities even though the agency’s
4482393, at *12 (holding that the city and the water
board were separate entities even though they shared a
director and operated out of the same building).
Here, the City of Lanett and its mayor were only
remotely connected to the decisions that the housing
authority made with regard to Billingslea: the mayor
appointed the authority’s commissioners and chair, who in
turn selected Belyeu over Billingslea for the position
However, satisfaction of the Lyes test
requires more direct involvement than this.
Mack v. Ala. Dep’t of Human Res., 201 F. Supp. 2d 1196,
multiple entities could be considered a single employer
where the entities shared responsibilities for hiring,
discharge, supervision, and regulation of employees),
aff'd, 52 F. App'x 492 (11th Cir. 2002).
produced no evidence that the City of Lanett or its mayor
meaningfully supervise or control the housing authority’s
employment practices in general, nor has she shown that
they did so in her case.
Thus, even as it is portrayed
by Billingslea, the relationship of the City of Lanett
and its mayor to the housing authority is simply too
attenuated to satisfy her heavy burden.
Billingslea’s appeal to caselaw provides no shelter
from this conclusion.
She relies principally on Lamb v.
City of Sweetwater Housing Authority, Sweetwater, TX,
3 F.3d 439 (5th Cir. 1993), to support her contention
that the housing authority is simply a subdivision of the
However, this case was decided in the Fifth Circuit,
which did not apply the Lyes test that governs this issue
support her contention that the housing authority is
Justices, 235 Ala. 485 (1938), and Roberts v. Fredrick,
295 Ala. 281 (1976).
These cases do nothing to address
the analysis required by Lyes, which goes to the actual
control exterted over the employee.
employment relationship exists between herself and Lanett
and its mayor, her claim under Title VII must fail.
B. Equal Pay Act
As is the case under Title VII, a challenge under the
Equal Pay Act must be brought against an employer. 29
U.S.C. § 206(d)(1).
“Employer” is defined as “any person
acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an
employer in relation to an employee and includes a public
agency, but does not include any labor organization.” 29
U.S.C. § 203(d).
In applying this statutory definition,
courts in the Eleventh Circuit must consider the “total
employment situation” through evaluation of a number of
factors, which include “[w]hether or not the employment
takes place on the premises of the company; [h]ow much
control ... the company exert[s] over the employees; [and
whether] the company ha[s] the power to fire, hire, or
modify the employment condition of the employees.”
v. Lone Star Steel Co., 405 F.2d 668, 669 (5th Cir.
1968);3 see also Welch v. Laney, 57 F.3d 1004, 1011 (11th
Cir. 1995) (quoting Wirtz for same).
3. In Bonner v. City of Prichard, 661 F.2d 1206,
1209 (11th Cir. 1981) (en banc), the Eleventh Circuit
adopted as binding precedent all of the decisions of the
former Fifth Circuit handed down prior to the close of
business on September 30, 1981.
The total employment situation in this case reflects
As described above, the city
and its mayor had, at most, an indirect relationship with
She has not produced any evidence that they exerted
any control over her actual job performance or even that
Billingslea’s relationship with the city and its mayor
does not constitute an employment relationship for the
purposes of the Equal Pay Act. See, e.g., Welch, 57 F.3d
at 1011 (finding no employment relationship under the
Equal Pay Act where the defendant’s only control over the
plaintiff was setting her salary); Blalock v. Dale Cnty.
Bd. of Educ., 33 F. Supp. 2d 995, 999 (M.D. Ala. 1998)
(DeMent, J.) (finding an employment relationship under
supervision of and control over” the plaintiff).
* * *
For the foregoing reasons, the City of Lanett and
An appropriate judgment in their favor will be
DONE, this the 26th day of October, 2012.
/s/ Myron H. Thompson
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?