Reeves v. Calhoun County Board of Education
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER re 60 MOTION for Summary Judgment filed by Coosa Valley Youth Services. The remainder of the Motion is DENIED for reasons stated within. An order setting this case for a final pretrial conference will follow.Signed by Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins on 6/11/12. (SAC )
2012 Jun-11 PM 02:40
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
BELINDA G. REEVES,
COOSA VALLEY YOUTH
) Case No.: 1:09-CV-1685-VEH
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Belinda G. Reeves (“Ms. Reeves”) initiated this job discrimination
lawsuit arising under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 by and through § 1983 against Defendant
Calhoun County Board of Education (the “BOE”) on August 21, 2009. (Doc. 1).
Defendant Coosa Valley Youth Services (“CVYS”) was subsequently substituted for
the BOE on October 1, 2009. (Doc. 9). Pending before the court is CVYS Motion
for Summary Judgment (Doc. 60) (the “Motion”) filed on March 31, 2011. CVYS
filed all of its supporting materials on this same date. (Docs. 61-67).
Ms. Reeves filed her opposition brief (Doc. 68) and evidence (Doc. 69) to the
Motion on April 21, 2011. On May 2, 2011, the CVYS followed with its reply.
On September 20, 2011, the court entered a memorandum opinion (Doc. 72)
and separate order (Doc. 73), which granted the Motion with respect to Ms. Reeves’s
“claims for back pay, front pay/job reinstatement, and punitive damages[.]” (Doc. 11
at 1). The court deferred deciding the rest of the Motion and also ordered Ms. Reeves
to show cause as to what remedial portions of her lawsuit remained pending. (Id.).
On September 30, 2011, Ms. Reeves responded that she should be “allow[ed]
. . . to pursue her claims for injunctive relief [presumably, other than in the form of
job reinstatement], attorneys’ fees, costs, and mental anguish damages.” (Doc. 74 at
3). In light of Ms. Reeves’s response to the show cause order, the court now
addresses the remainder of CVYS’ Motion, and, for the reasons explained below, it
CVYS is a public corporation/governmental entity that serves as a regional
child detention center.1 Ms. Reeves is an African-American/black female who was
Keeping in mind that when deciding a motion for summary judgment the
court must view the evidence and all factual inferences in the light most favorable to
the party opposing the motion, the court provides the following statement of facts.
See Optimum Techs., Inc. v. Henkel Consumer Adhesives, Inc., 496 F.3d 1231, 1241
(11th Cir. 2007) (observing that, in connection with summary judgment, a court must
review all facts and inferences in a light most favorable to the non-moving party).
This statement does not represent actual findings of fact. See In re Celotex Corp.,
formerly employed by CVYS as a full-time cook. Ms. Reeves employment with
CVYS began on October 1, 1990, and ended on or about August 21, 2005.
Mike Rollins (“Mr. Rollins”) is a Caucasian/white male, who served as the
Executive Director of CVYS when Ms. Reeves was discharged. The parties are in
agreement that Mr. Rollins was the sole supervisor involved in the decision to fire
Ms. Reeves. According to his deposition testimony, Mr. Rollins terminated Ms.
Reeves’s employment on August 21, 2005, due to her failure to complete certain
paperwork, combined with her previous disciplinary history. (See Doc. 63 at Ex. I
at 22 (“I did fire Ms. Reeves and informed her that the termination was based upon
the violations of the documentation in the food service area that she had previously
had disciplinary action for.”); id. at 67-68 (“Her termination was based upon the fact
that she had had prior disciplinary actions for the problems that reared themselves
again in August of 2005, which had to do with documentation of the commodity and
then the Food Bank commodity inventories, the temperature check sheets, the menu
change sheets, and posting those menu changes.”)).
487 F.3d 1320, 1328 (11th Cir. 2007). Instead, the court has provided this statement
simply to place the court’s legal analysis in the context of this particular case or
Summary judgment is proper only when there is no genuine issue of material
fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R . Civ. P.
56(c). All reasonable doubts about the facts and all justifiable inferences are resolved
in favor of the nonmovant. See Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1115 (11th
Cir. 1993). A dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could
return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S.
242, 248 (1986). “Once the moving party has properly supported its motion for
summary judgment, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to ‘come forward with
specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.’” International Stamp
Art, Inc. v. U.S. Postal Service, 456 F.3d 1270, 1274 (11th Cir. 2006) (citing
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986)).
Employment Discrimination Generally
A plaintiff in an employment discrimination case maintains the ultimate burden
of proving that the adverse employment decision was made because of intentional
discrimination. See Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 530 U.S. 133
(2000); St. Mary’s Honor Center v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 509-12 (1993); Nix v. WLCY
Radio/Rahall Comms., 738 F.2d 1181, 1184 (11th Cir. 1984). Although the Supreme
Court previously established the basic allocation of burdens and order of proof in a
disparate treatment case, McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973);
Texas Dept. of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248 (1981); Desert Palace v.
Costa, 539 U.S. 90 (2003), that allocation scheme applies only in cases in which there
is no direct evidence of discrimination. Grigsby v. Reynolds Metals Co., 821 F.2d
590, 595 (11th Cir. 1987).2
Under the McDonnell Douglas/Burdine scheme, a plaintiff first has the burden
of proving by a preponderance of evidence a prima facie case of discrimination.
Second, once the plaintiff proves a prima facie case, the burden of production shifts
to the defendant to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its
employment decision. Finally, if the defendant carries its burden, the plaintiff must
either prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the legitimate reasons offered
by the defendant are merely a pretext for discrimination or present sufficient
evidence, of any type, for a reasonable jury to conclude that discrimination was a
“motivating factor” for the employment action, even though the defendant’s
As the Eleventh Circuit has explained, “only the most blatant remarks, whose
intent could be nothing other than to discriminate on the basis of age, . . . constitute
direct evidence of discrimination.” Carter v. City of Miami, 870 F.2d 578, 582 (11th
Cir. 1989). Based upon this standard and in the absence of a record of any
invidiously-charged utterances, Ms. Reeve’s case is purely a circumstantial evidence
one. (See also Doc. 68 at 26 (“Both parties agree that there is no direct evidence of
legitimate reason may also be true or have played some role in the decision.
McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802-05; Burdine, 450 U.S. at 252-54; Desert Palace,
539 U.S. at 101-02.
Eleventh Amendment Immunity
Earlier in this litigation, the court rejected CVYS’ Eleventh Amendment
defense based in part upon the underdeveloped nature of the record. (See Doc. 39 at
9-10 (identifying holes in presenting state immunity defense as motion for judgment
on pleadings)). CVYS has raised state sovereign immunity again as part of its
Motion. Therefore, this court revisits the issue.
“The Eleventh Amendment prohibits a federal court from
exercising jurisdiction over a lawsuit against a state, except where the
state has consented to be sued or waived its immunity, or where
Congress has overridden the state's immunity.” Lassiter v. Alabama A
& M University, 3 F.3d 1482, 1485 (11th Cir. 1993). “Congress has not
abrogated Eleventh Amendment immunity in section 1983 cases.” Carr
v. City of Florence, Alabama, 916 F.2d 1521, 1525 (11th Cir.1990).
Alabama has not waived its immunity. E.g. Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S.
781, 782, 98 S. Ct. 3057, 3057–58, 57 L. Ed. 2d 1114 (1978).
Cross v. State of Ala., State Dept. of Mental Health & Mental Retardation, 49 F.3d
1490, 1502 (11th Cir. 1995); see also Sessions v. Rusk State Hospital, 648 F.2d 1066,
1069 (5th Cir. 1981) (“Unlike Title VII, Section 1981 contains no congressional
waiver of the state’s eleventh amendment immunity.”).3
In Manders v. Lee, the Eleventh Circuit summarized the framework for
evaluating whether a defendant enjoys the benefit of state sovereign immunity:
It is also well-settled that Eleventh Amendment immunity bars
suits brought in federal court when the State itself is sued and when an
“arm of the State” is sued. See Mt. Healthy City Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ.
v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 280, 97 S. Ct. 568, 50 L. Ed. 2d 471 (1977). To
receive Eleventh Amendment immunity, a defendant need not be labeled
a “state officer” or “state official,” but instead need only be acting as an
“arm of the State,” which includes agents and instrumentalities of the
State. See Regents of the Univ. of Cal. v. Doe, 519 U.S. 425, 429-30,
117 S. Ct. 900, 137 L. Ed. 2d 55 (1997). Whether a defendant is an “arm
of the State” must be assessed in light of the particular function in which
the defendant was engaged when taking the actions out of which
liability is asserted to arise. See Shands Teaching Hosp. & Clinics v.
Beech St. Corp., 208 F.3d 1308, 1311 (11th Cir. 2000) (“The pertinent
inquiry is not into the nature of [an entity’s] status in the abstract, but its
function or role in a particular context.”). The particular functions at
issue are Sheriff Peterson’s force policy at the jail and the training and
disciplining of his deputies in that regard.
B. Eleventh Amendment Factors
In Eleventh Amendment cases, this Court uses four factors to
determine whether an entity is an “arm of the State” in carrying out a
particular function: (1) how state law defines the entity; (2) what degree
of control the State maintains over the entity; (3) where the entity
derives its funds; and (4) who is responsible for judgments against the
entity. Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Fla. v. Fla. State Athletic Comm.,
226 F.3d 1226, 1231-34 (11th Cir. 2000); Shands, 208 F.3d at 1311;
In Bonner v. City of Prichard, 661 F.2d 1206, 1209 (11th Cir. 1981) (en
banc), the Eleventh Circuit adopted as binding precedent all decisions of the former
Fifth Circuit handed down prior to October 1, 1981.
Tuveson v. Fla. Governor’s Council of Indian Affairs, Inc., 734 F.2d
730, 732 (11th Cir. 1984).
Given these factors, the resolution of the Eleventh Amendment
issue in this case depends, in part, on state law. Therefore, before
applying the four-factor test, we must examine Georgia law and the
relationship among Sheriff Peterson, the State, and Clinch County. The
issue of whether an entity is an “arm of the State” for Eleventh
Amendment purposes is ultimately a question of federal law. But the
federal question can be answered only after considering provisions of
state law. Thus, we now journey through Georgia’s legal terrain at some
Manders, 338 F.3d 1304, 1308-09 (11th Cir. 2003) (footnote omitted).
The Alabama Supreme Court does not appear to have ever addressed whether
CVYS is an arm of the state.4 Cf. Harden v. Adams, 760 F.2d 1158, 1163 (11th Cir.
1985) (“The Alabama Supreme Court has held on at least two occasions that state
universities, including Troy State University, are agencies or instrumentalities of the
state.” (citing Massler v. Troy State Univ., 343 So. 2d 1 (Ala. 1977))). Accordingly,
it is appropriate for this court to review the Alabama Code for clues about how to
classify CVYS. In this regard, the court has found several provisions which shed
For the reasons previously explained in denying CVYS’ motion to dismiss,
the court rejects the contention that Carter v. Coosa Valley Youth Services, 378 So.
2d 1145 (Ala. Civ. App. 1979) and Coosa Valley Youth Services Corp. v. Etowah
County, 460 So. 2d 1232 (Ala. 1984), either explicitly or implicitly support CVYS’
arm of the state argument in the context of the corporation’s role as an employer.
(See Doc. 39 at 3-8 (detailing why both decisions are unpersuasive on issue of
light on the subject.
The Alabama statute under which CVYS is organized provides:
All counties and incorporated municipalities in this state are hereby
authorized and empowered to form regional, nonprofit, public
corporations which shall provide for the temporary care and custody of
youths who have been placed under the jurisdiction of a juvenile court.
Ala. Code § 44-3-2. Additionally, § 44-3-3 states:
Any corporation so created shall be a public, nonprofit corporation and
may be organized as a successor to presently existing juvenile facilities
and programs. Members in presently existing corporations shall
automatically retain membership in any successor corporation formed
after the passage of this chapter.
The service area is limited to those counties who are members of the public
The service area of such corporation shall be those present and future
Alabama counties who are members of a corporation formed for the
purpose of providing temporary care and custody to those children who
are placed with the corporation by order of a judge exercising juvenile
court jurisdiction or otherwise placed under the authority of existing
Ala. Code § 44-3-4 (emphasis added).
The governance section states:
Such corporation shall be governed by a board of directors selected from
member counties or municipalities, as the case may be, as may be
specified in the bylaws of the corporation. The board of directors shall
hold regular quarterly meetings and such meetings as may be called
from time to time by the chairman of the board who shall be selected in
accordance with procedure as outlined in the bylaws. The annual
meeting of the corporation shall be held in conjunction with the last
board of directors meeting in the calendar year.
Ala. Code § 44-3-5. Thus, the board’s composition is tied to the “member counties
or municipalities” as opposed to the state.
Regarding joining the membership of the governmental entity:
Any governing body in the state as defined in this chapter may submit
a letter of application to the corporation’s chairman of the board of
directors. Said letter shall be in compliance with admission procedures
as established by the board. Upon approval of a majority of board
members present at a regularly scheduled board meeting, new members
shall be admitted into the corporation and the number of directors
representing that body will be determined by the existing board.
Ala. Code § 44-3-8.
In terms of funding:
All governing bodies, as defined in this chapter, are hereby authorized
to appropriate and pay over to the corporation a respective share of the
costs of operation of the facilities and programs of said corporation and
the construction, renovation or operation of any future facility or
programs as determined by the board of directors.
Ala. Code § 44-3-9. Thus, funding is secured from the member bodies, and the board
of directors determines the “respective share” attributable to each body.
Finally, the definition of “PROGRAMS” ties CVYS’ standards to those
provided by the Alabama Department of Youth Services (the “ADYS”):
(6) Programs. The use of various behavioral programs in the care and
supervision of children. All programs are to be in compliance with the
minimum standards as established by the Alabama department of youth
services as defined herein.
Ala. Code § 44-3-1(6) (emphasis added). However, a subsequent section regarding
corporate responsibility makes it clear that the entity’s board of directors is charged
with making sure that those as well as other applicable state standards are met:
Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to mean that the facilities and
programs, provided for herein, are to be under the control or direction
of any person other than the board of directors, who shall require the
facilities and programs of the corporation to be in compliance with the
minimum standards of construction, maintenance and operation adopted
by state regulatory agencies and laws of the state of Alabama.
Ala. Code § 44-3-10.
Considering all these statutory sections, the court finds that Alabama law
defines public corporations like CVYS with the overwhelming absence of any
appreciable link to the state. In fact, the only express connection to the state relates
to CVYS’ obligation to maintain standards consistent with those established by the
ADYS and other state sources of law. However, this connection to the state is
tempered by the recognition that the control and direction of CYVS belongs solely
to its board of directors, and not to the state.
Also, the record lacks evidence that CVYS “is subject to substantial state
control[.]” Harden, 760 F.2d at 1163. For example, the record is devoid of any proof
that CVYS makes annual reports to the state legislature about its condition and its
governing body is not composed of state officials and gubernatorial appointees. See
Ala. Code § 44-3-1(2) (defining “BOARD OF DIRECTORS” for regional custodial
entities such as CVYS to mean “[t]hat body of persons selected in accordance with
the articles of incorporation and bylaws of a corporation formed pursuant to this
chapter”); Ala Code § § 44-3-1(5) (defining “GOVERNING BODY” to mean “[a]
county commission, board of revenue or other like governing body of a county, or the
council, commission or other like governing body of an incorporated municipality”);
cf. Harden, 760 F.2d at 1163 (“[I]ts Board of Trustees, which reports to the state
legislature yearly on the condition of the University, is composed in part of state
officials and in part of gubernatorial appointees.” (citing Ala. Code §§ 16-56-1, 1656-3)). Therefore, Manders factors one and two favor finding against sovereign
Concerning Manders factor three, here, while CVYS apparently receives some
appropriations from the state legislature through the ADYS, there is no indication that
the entire budget of the CVYS is submitted for state approval. Cf. Harden v. Adams,
760 F.2d 1158, 1163 (11th Cir. 1985) (“Where the budget of an entity is submitted
to the state for approval, this suggests that the entity is an agency of the state for
purposes of the last two factors.” (citing Fouche v. Jekyll Island-State Park Authority,
713 F.2d 1518, 1520 (11th Cir. 1983)). Additionally, from a statutory standpoint, a
significant portion of CVYS’ funding comes from its members. Ala. Code § 44-3-9.
Therefore, consideration of the third factor neither strongly favors nor disfavors a
finding of sovereign immunity. Further, giving the divide in how CVYS receives its
funds, this same conclusion of no clear leaning applies when evaluating Manders
Finally, consistent with Eleventh Circuit precedent, the court also considers the
type of claim at issue in this case, i.e., an employment one. Because this function of
CVYS is locally and/or regionally-driven without any indicia of state oversight, the
court concludes that this additional factor favors a finding against sovereign
immunity. Therefore, balancing all of the foregoing, the court determines that CVYS
is not an arm of the state for the purposes of this lawsuit and, therefore, is not entitled
to a dismissal premised upon the defense of sovereign immunity.
Merits of Ms. Reeves’s Discriminatory Discharge Claim
As a preliminary matter, the court is unclear to what extent Ms. Reeves asserts
that principles of collateral estoppel stemming from her unemployment compensation
hearing play with respect to ruling on the remainder of CVYS’ Motion. (Compare
Doc. 68 at 28 (“THE PARTIES AGREE THAT COLLATERAL ESTOPPEL IS NOT
AT ISSUE IN THIS CASE.”)), with id. (“Plaintiff believes that Defendant is
collaterally estopped in this case.”)). However, because the court decides the merits
of her discriminatory discharge claim without relying upon collateral estoppel, it does
address the parties’ dispute (if one exists) over the application of this doctrine.
Prima Facie Case
As the Eleventh Circuit has articulated the prima facie discriminatory discharge
standard “based on differential application of work or disciplinary rules[:]”
We have consistently held that a plaintiff fired for misconduct makes out
a prima facie case of discriminatory discharge if he shows that he is a
member of a protected class, that he was qualified for the job from
which he was fired, and “that the misconduct for which [he] was
discharged was nearly identical to that engaged in by [an employee
outside the protected class] whom [the employer] retained”. The prima
facie case is established even if the plaintiff’s replacement is also a
member of the protected class.
Nix v. WLCY Radio/Rahall Communications, 738 F.2d 1181, 1185 (11th Cir. 1984)
(citations omitted). Ms. Reeves correctly observes that CVYS “does not contest that
Plaintiff was a member of a protected class, black; that she was qualified to hold her
position; or that she was subjected to an adverse employment action.” (Doc. 68 at
30); (see also Doc. 61 at 34). Instead, “[t]he [sole prima facie] dispute between the
parties is whether Plaintiff can identify similarly-situated employees outside of her
protected class who received more favorable treatment.” (Doc. 68 at 30).
Here, Ms. Reeves points to another kitchen worker, i.e., Bradley Simmons
(“Mr. Simmons”), who is white, as her comparator. (Id.). Reading the record in the
light most favorable to Ms. Reeves, the court is persuaded that a reasonable jury
could conclude that Mr. Rollins treated Mr. Simmons more favorably than Ms.
Reeves, as Mr. Simmons, despite engaging in the same or even arguably worse than
conduct than Ms. Reeves (i.e., falsifying his time records which resulted in a
suspension, committing a paperwork violation which was not separately disciplined,
and subsequently engaging in multiple infractions during a single shift on September
7, 2007, which resulted in a write-up with a warning that the “next write-up will
result in suspension from your job duties”). In particular, Mr. Simmons received the
benefit of additional disciplinary warnings from Mr. Rollins and was not fired under
CVYS’ progressive discipline policy. Contrastingly, Ms. Reeves was discharged by
Mr. Rollins because “[s]he had previously had written notice and suspension for the
same problems” and “when it came up again, it was significant enough that it required
termination.” (Doc. 63 at Ex. I at 68). Thus, the court concludes that Ms. Reeves has
adduced sufficient evidence to establish a prima facie case of discriminatory
The court similarly concludes, based upon comparator evidence, that Ms.
Reeves has established adequate proof of pretext. See MacPherson v. University of
Montevallo, 922 F.2d 766, 776 (11th Cir. 1991) (explaining that pretext is “evidence
of such quality and weight that reasonable and fairminded men in the exercise of
impartial judgment might reach different conclusions” (internal quotation marks
omitted) (quoting Verbraeken v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 881 F.2d 1041,1045 (11th
As the Supreme Court of the United States has clarified, in demonstrating
pretext, a plaintiff may appropriately rely upon the same evidence used to support her
prima facie case. See Texas Dept. of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248,
255 n.10, 101 S. Ct. 1089, 1095 n.10, 67 L. Ed. 2d 207 (1981) (“In saying that the
presumption drops from the case, we do not imply that the trier of fact no longer may
consider evidence previously introduced by the plaintiff to establish a prima facie
case.”); id. (“Indeed, there may be some cases where the plaintiff's initial evidence,
combined with effective cross-examination of the defendant, will suffice to discredit
the defendant's explanation.”).
Moreover, to show pretext, Ms. Reeves does not rely solely on the differing
treatment between her and Mr. Simmons, but also provides several other examples
of situations in which Mr. Rollins decided to fire black employees for work place
violations while retaining white ones who engaged in the same or similar misconduct,
e.g., (i) Mr. Rollins fired a black kitchen employee named Charles Steele (“Mr.
Steele”) for time sheet irregularities and paperwork violations while he only
disciplined Mr. Simmons for his falsification of time sheets, and did not punish him
separately (much less discharge him) for the paperwork violations; and (ii) Mr.
Rollins also fired another black kitchen employee, Gwen McClellan (“Ms.
McClellan”) for paperwork violations while he retained not only Mr. Simmons, but
also a white employee, Lisa Harmon (“Ms. Harmon”), who Ms. Reeves had witnessed
consuming alcohol on the job and subsequently reported such misconduct to Mr.
Therefore, the record contains “evidence of such quality and weight that
reasonable and fairminded men in the exercise of impartial judgment might reach
different conclusions.” MacPherson, 922 F.2d at 776 (internal quotation marks
omitted) (quoting Verbraeken, 881 F.2d at 1045 (11th Cir. 1998)). More particularly,
as to pretext, “[t]he evidence presented by plaintiff is sufficient to allow a jury in
the exercise of impartial judgment to conclude that [CVYS’] proffered explanations
are unworthy of belief.” MacPherson, 922 F.2d at 776. Alternatively, a reasonable
jury could equally conclude that CVYS’ articulated reasons for firing Ms. Reeves are
legitimate and not a pretext for race discrimination.
Accordingly, for the reasons explained above, the remainder of the Motion is
DENIED. An order setting this case for a final pretrial conference will follow.
DONE and ORDERED this the 11th day of June, 2012.
VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS
United States District Judge
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