Jones v. City of Birmingham
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge R David Proctor on 6/7/2018. (KAM)
2018 Jun-07 PM 01:19
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
CITY OF BIRMINGHAM,
Case No.: 2:16-cv-01121-RDP
This case is before the court on Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 16)
and Defendant’s Motion to Strike (Doc. # 20). The parties have fully briefed the motions (see
Docs. # 17, 19-21, 23), and they are under submission. The court held oral argument on these
motions on May 29, 2018. After careful review, and for the reasons explained below, the court
concludes that the Motion for Summary Judgment is due to be granted in part and denied in part.
The Motion to Strike is due to be denied as moot.
Motion to Strike
Defendant asks the court to strike two exhibits filed with Plaintiff’s opposition to the
summary judgment motion. (Doc. # 20). The court has reviewed the exhibits and finds that the
statements provided in them are mostly duplicative of Plaintiff’s testimony. The court does not
require any evidence provided in the exhibits to rule on the issues presented in the pending
summary judgment motion and chooses to not consider the challenged exhibits for purposes of
deciding this motion.1 Therefore, Defendant’s Motion to Strike (Doc. # 20) is due to be denied
This ruling only concerns the evidentiary value of the exhibits at the summary judgment stage. It is not
intended to preclude any party from introducing the exhibits at trial or challenging their admission.
as moot. See Porterfield v. Flowers Baking Co. of Opelika, L.L.C., No. 2:05-CV-937-MEF,
2007 WL 4373006, at *9 (M.D. Ala. Dec. 12, 2007) (denying motion to strike paragraph of an
affidavit as moot because the court found the testimony unhelpful and chose not to consider it).
In 2014, the City of Birmingham Police Department (“Police Department”) hired
Plaintiff, a black male, as a police officer. (Jones Deposition at 23, 26-27).3 Plaintiff initially
worked as a patrol officer for eight weeks, and the Police Department then transferred him to the
West Precinct Task Force (“Task Force”). (Id. at 23-24, 95-96). Plaintiff worked on the day
shift (8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.) while assigned to the Task Force. (Id. at 96).
On March 2, 2015, Plaintiff bent down to converse with another officer who was sitting
at a desk. (Id. at 26). Officer Nathan Duclos, a white male, positioned himself behind Plaintiff
and made grinding sounds and pelvic thrusts. (Id. at 27-28). Plaintiff responded by telling
Duclos, “I don’t play that gay stuff, don’t do me like that.” (Id. at 28). Duclos laughed at
Plaintiff’s reaction. (Id. at 29). Plaintiff then told him, “you think it’s funny but it ain’t funny
with me.” (Id.).
Lieutenant Julie Quigley-Vining overheard the interaction between Plaintiff and Duclos
from her office.4
(Quigley-Vining Deposition at 25-26).5
Quigley-Vining did not observe
The facts set out in this opinion are gleaned from the parties’ submissions and the court’s own
examination of the evidentiary record. All reasonable doubts about the facts have been resolved in favor of the
nonmoving party. See Info. Sys. & Networks Corp. v. City of Atlanta, 281 F.3d 1220, 1224 (11th Cir. 2002). These
are the “facts” for summary judgment purposes only. They may not be the actual facts that could be established
through live testimony at trial. See Cox v. Adm’r U.S. Steel & Carnegie Pension Fund, 17 F.3d 1386, 1400 (11th
Plaintiff’s deposition transcript, hereinafter referred to as the “Jones Deposition”, is located in Document
# 17-1. This memorandum opinion cites Plaintiff’s deposition testimony by reference to the minuscript pages. It
cites exhibits to the deposition by reference to the electronically-generated CM/ECF page numbers.
The parties dispute the tone with which Plaintiff responded to Duclos. Defendant, relying on QuigleyVining’s testimony, states that Plaintiff responded loudly. (Doc. # 17 at 4) (citing Quigley-Vining Deposition at 25).
Plaintiff responds that he confronted Duclos in a normal tone of voice. (Doc. # 19 at 2) (citing Jones Deposition at
Duclos’s actions, and Duclos was no longer present by the time Quigley-Vining left her office.
(Id. at 26). Plaintiff has testified that Quigley-Vining yelled at him and ordered him to come to
her office. (Jones Deposition at 29-30). According to Plaintiff, Quigley-Vining discussed
Plaintiff’s comment with him and explained that Plaintiff had disrespected her family and her.
(Id. at 30). Quigley-Vining also told Plaintiff that she could not “stand you people” and spit on
his face. (Id. at 30-31). Plaintiff recalls Quigley-Vining using profanity during the exchange.
(Id. at 31). Ultimately, though, Quigley-Vining did not discipline Plaintiff for his conduct that
day. (See Quigley-Vining Deposition at 41).
On March 3, 2015, Plaintiff submitted a written complaint to Lieutenant Mike Acton
regarding Quigley-Vining’s conduct.
(Jones Deposition at 36-37).
Although the written
complaint discussed Duclos’s conduct, Plaintiff only complained about Quigley-Vining’s
actions. (See Doc. # 17-1 at 50). Acton told Plaintiff that a captain needed to handle the
investigation. (Jones Deposition at 37-38). The Police Department’s internal affairs department
handled the investigation, during which they questioned Quigley-Vining.
Deposition at 38).
On June 27, 2015, while the investigation into the March 2015 complaint was ongoing,
Plaintiff addressed two sergeants who were speaking with each other. (Jones Deposition at 3940). He recalls that Quigley-Vining turned her back to him and was conversing on her cell
phone when he approached the other officers. (Id. at 39, 41). When Plaintiff clocked in for an
overtime shift, Quigley-Vining confronted him for not respecting her. (Id. at 40-41) (discussing
28). During his deposition, Plaintiff did not specify the tone he used to respond to Duclos’s conduct. (Jones
Deposition at 28). Nevertheless, the court adopts his version of the disputed events. This factual dispute is not
material to the Title VII claims at issue.
Quigley-Vining’s deposition transcript, hereinafter referred to as the “Quigley-Vining Deposition”, is
located in Document # 17-2. This memorandum opinion cites her deposition testimony by reference to the
minuscript pages. It cites exhibits to her deposition by reference to the electronically-generated CM/ECF page
allegations in the Complaint). Plaintiff did not respond to her because Police Department
personnel gave him an order to not have direct contact with Quigley-Vining. (Id. at 41-42).
Plaintiff began writing down information, and Quigley-Vining angrily told him that she did not
care what he wrote down. (Id. at 42). Finally, Quigley-Vining warned Plaintiff that she would
write him up if he acted similarly again. (Id.). According to Plaintiff, she yelled, “[y]ou can take
this as your verbal warning. The next time I will write you up.” (Id. at 44). (See also Doc. # 171 at 54).
Plaintiff reported this confrontation to Sergeant Timothy McCord. (Jones Deposition at
42). McCord advised Plaintiff to report the confrontation to his supervisor. (Id. at 43). Plaintiff
complained to Police Department personnel that Quigley-Vining did not threaten white officers
with discipline for disrespecting her. (Id. at 44-45). On June 29, 2015, Plaintiff submitted his
written complaint against Quigley-Vining to Captain James Blanton. (Doc. # 17-1 at 54).
That same day, Quigley-Vining issued Plaintiff a letter of counseling for his conduct and
deportment during the June 27th incident discussed above. (Doc. # 17-1 at 55). According to
Plaintiff, Quigley-Vining approached him as he left the precinct building and handed him the
letter. (Jones Deposition at 46). She reminded him of her verbal warning. (Id.). Plaintiff
refused to sign the counseling letter. (Id. at 47). Quigley-Vining documented that Plaintiff had
refused to sign the counseling letter. (Doc. # 17-1 at 55). On June 30, 2015, Plaintiff submitted
a written complaint to Blanton about Quigley-Vining’s counseling letter. (Id. at 56).
On July 7, 2015, Police Department Chief A.C. Roper reprimanded Plaintiff for the
March 2015 incident. (Doc. # 17-1 at 52-53). Roper reprimanded Plaintiff for his lack of
courtesy, poor manner, unkind remarks, harassment, and use of coarse language. (Id.). To
justify the reprimand, Roper recounted Plaintiff’s statement to Duclos and an additional
statement that he did not “believe in gay marriage.” (Id. at 53). Roper explained that several
officers heard the statements and that Plaintiff failed to “consider[ ] the diversity of [his] fellow
employees.” (Id.). That same day, Roper also reprimanded Quigley-Vining for the March 2015
incident. (Doc. # 17-2 at 34-35). He wrote that Quigley-Vining had lost her temper, “berated
[Plaintiff] within earshot of several other officers and a trustee,” and “unnecessarily brought your
domestic situation into the matter.” (Id.).
On July 30, 2015, Plaintiff submitted a discrimination charge to the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). (Doc. # 17-1 at 47-48). His EEOC charge discussed the
March 2015 encounter, Quigley-Vining’s verbal warning to him on June 27, 2015, and the June
29, 2015 written reprimand. (See id.). Within a few days of Plaintiff’s EEOC charge, the Police
Department transferred Quigley-Vining to a different precinct. (Quigley-Vining Deposition at
56-57; Jones Deposition at 49).
Plaintiff has testified that, on August 10, 2015, Sergeant Carl Walker asked him whether
he had filed an EEOC complaint. (Jones Deposition at 56-57). At that time, Walker was
Plaintiff’s direct supervisor. (Id. at 57-58). Plaintiff told Walker that he had filed an EEOC
complaint. (Id. at 57). Walker has confirmed that he discussed the EEOC complaint with
Plaintiff, but explains that he did so to dissuade Plaintiff from discussing his business with others
in the office. (Doc. # 17-3 at 47-48).
On August 18, 2015, the Police Department reassigned Plaintiff from the Task Force to a
patrol unit. (Doc. # 17-4 at 1). Plaintiff asked Acton about the transfer. (Jones Transcript at 63).
Acton told him that he was being transferred because Walker did not like him and did not want
him on the Task Force. (Id. at 63-64). According to Plaintiff, Acton then asked him whether he
had filed an EEOC complaint, and Plaintiff affirmed that he had done so. (Id. at 64).
Plaintiff testified that he was scheduled to work an overnight shift (11:00 p.m. to 7:00
a.m.) after being placed on the patrol unit. (Id. at 72). He did not receive weekends off while
working on that unit, but had weekends off while assigned to the Task Force. (Id. at 71).
Plaintiff was assigned to answer more calls, such as domestic disturbances, while working for the
patrol unit. (Id. at 67). When he worked for the Task Force, his responsibilities primarily
concerned burglary calls and stopping cars to check individuals for warrants. (Id. at 66-67).
While Plaintiff worked for the Task Force, he was able to sign up for overtime work after
his shift ended at 5:00 p.m. (Id. at 70-71). Conversely, Plaintiff could sign up for evening
overtime shifts while he worked on the Task Force. (Id. at 77). After his transfer to the patrol
unit, Plaintiff attempted to sign up for overtime, but he was unable to do so, even though he
observed open overtime shifts. (Id. at 74-76). Plaintiff asked Sergeant Pier Walker (i.e., a
different officer than Sergeant Carl Walker) why he could not sign up for overtime shifts at the
Crossplex in Birmingham. (Id. at 77-78). Carl Walker was responsible for coordinating security
at the Crossplex. (Doc. # 17-3 at 69-70). Plaintiff explained that Pier Walker tried to sign him
up for overtime at the Crossplex, but she could not get him approved for overtime. (Jones
Deposition at 79). According to Plaintiff, Pier Walker confronted Carl Walker, and Carl said
that Plaintiff would not work at the Crossplex “as long as I’m over it.” (Id.).
On January 6, 2016, Plaintiff submitted a second charge to the EEOC, this one
complaining of retaliation he claims to have suffered for filing his earlier EEOC charge. (Doc. #
17-4). Plaintiff asserted in his second charge that he had been moved from the Task Force to a
patrol unit, and that he had been denied opportunities for “side jobs.” (Id.). On January 18,
2016, Plaintiff asked his supervisor for a letter of recommendation to work an overtime detail for
the “High Intensity Community-Oriented Policing” program. (Jones Deposition at 88-89). His
supervisor refused to submit a recommendation letter, but provided no reason for the refusal.
(Id. at 90-91). In April 2016, Plaintiff received a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC regarding his
July 2015 EEOC charge. (Doc. # 1-2). In July 2016, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit. (Doc. # 1).
Standard of Review for Summary Judgment Motion
Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, summary judgment is proper “if the pleadings,
depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if
any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).
The party asking for summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the
court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the pleadings or filings which it
believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323. Once the
moving party has met its burden, Rule 56 requires the non-moving party to go beyond the
pleadings and -- by pointing to affidavits, or depositions, answers to interrogatories, and/or
admissions on file -- designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at
The substantive law will identify which facts are material and which are irrelevant. See
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986) (“Anderson”). All reasonable doubts
about the facts and all justifiable inferences are resolved in favor of the non-movant. See Allen v.
Bd. of Pub. Educ. for Bibb Cty., 495 F.3d 1306, 1314 (11th Cir. 2007); 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, 477 U.S. at 248. If
the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be
granted. See id. at 249.
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). As Anderson
teaches, under Rule 56(c) a plaintiff may not simply rest on her allegations made in the
complaint; instead, as the party bearing the burden of proof at trial, she must come forward with
at least some evidence to support each element essential to her case at trial. See Anderson, 477
U.S. at 252. “[A] party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment ‘may not
rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but . . . must set forth specific facts
showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.’” Id. at 248 (citations omitted).
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., 477 U.S. at 322. “Summary judgment may be
granted if the non-moving party’s evidence is merely colorable or is not significantly probative.”
Sawyer v. Sw. Airlines Co., 243 F. Supp. 2d 1257, 1262 (D. Kan. 2003) (citing Anderson, 477
U.S. at 250-51).
“[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 1262 (quoting Anderson, 477
U.S. at 251-52); see also LaRoche v. Denny’s, Inc., 62 F. Supp. 2d 1366, 1371 (S.D. Fla. 1999)
(“The law is clear . . . that suspicion, perception, opinion, and belief cannot be used to defeat a
motion for summary judgment.”).
After careful review, the court concludes that Defendant’s motion is due to be granted in
part and denied in part. Plaintiff’s race discrimination claims are due to be dismissed but his
retaliation claims must be resolved by a trier-of-fact.
Plaintiff Has Failed to Present a Prima Face Case of Race Discrimination for
the Four Discrimination Claims in His Complaint
In Counts One through Four of the Complaint, Plaintiff claims that Defendant committed
actionable race discrimination on four occasions: (1) on March 2, 2015, when Quigley-Vining
confronted him and created a hostile work environment; (2) on June 27, 2015, when QuigleyVining yelled at him in front of coworkers and threatened him with discipline; (3) on June 29,
2015, when Quigley-Vining issued him a counseling letter; and (4) on July 7, 2015, when Roper
reprimanded him. (Doc. # 1 at ¶¶ 47-58). Defendant argues that these race discrimination
claims fail because (1) none of the four incidents are an “adverse employment action”, and
(2) Plaintiff has not identified a comparator treated more favorably. (Doc. # 17 at 12-16). The
court considers each element, in turn.
Typically, Title VII discrimination claims that rely on circumstantial evidence are
evaluated under the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework. See McDonnell Douglas
Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973).
“A plaintiff may establish a prima facie case of
discrimination through circumstantial evidence by proving that (1) she belongs to a protected
class; (2) she was subjected to adverse employment action; (3) her employer treated similarly
situated employees outside her classification more favorably; and (4) she was qualified to do the
job.” Wilson v. B/E Aerospace, Inc., 376 F.3d 1079, 1091 (11th Cir. 2004). Once the plaintiff
successfully demonstrates a prima facie case, the defendant is required to articulate a legitimate,
non-discriminatory reason for its conduct. Id. at 1087. “If the employer satisfies its burden by
articulating one or more reasons, then the presumption of discrimination is rebutted, and the
burden of production shifts to the plaintiff to offer evidence that the alleged reason of the
employer is a pretext for illegal discrimination.”
Here, Defendant has not offered a
legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the incidents at issue, so the discrimination claims turn
on whether Plaintiff has presented sufficient evidence to support a prima facie case of
In Title VII discrimination claims, an “adverse employment action” must be “a serious
and material change in the terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.”
Carroll, 529 F.3d 961, 970-71 (11th Cir. 2008) (emphasis in original) (quoting Davis v. Town of
Lake Park, Fla., 245 F.3d 1232, 1239 (11th Cir. 2001)). Ultimate employment decisions, such
as termination, demotion, and failure to hire, are adverse employment actions. Id. at 970. If a
plaintiff relies on employment actions less severe than an ultimate employment decision to
support a discrimination claim, he or she must show that the action substantially altered his or
her “compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, deprive[d] him or her of
employment opportunities, or adversely affect[ed] his or her status as an employee.” Id. (quoting
Gupta v. Fla. Bd. of Regents, 212 F.3d 571, 587 (11th Cir. 2000)). The court assesses whether
an employment action is materially adverse by deciding whether a reasonable person would have
found it materially adverse; a plaintiff’s subjective opinion about the employment action does
not control the assessment. Davis, 245 F.3d at 1239, abrogated in part on other grounds by
Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53 (2006) (clarifying the type of adverse
action necessary to support a retaliation claim).
To succeed on the third prong of the prima facie case, Plaintiff must produce evidence
that Defendant treated similarly situated employees outside of his protected class more favorably
than him. Holifield v. Reno, 115 F.3d 1555, 1562 (11th Cir. 1997), abrogated on other grounds
by Burlington, 548 U.S. 53. In the work rules/discipline context, the Eleventh Circuit has
adopted a test which requires a plaintiff to show that his “comparator” is “similarly situated to
the plaintiff in all relevant respects” and that the “quantity and quality of the comparator’s
misconduct must be nearly identical.” Stone & Webster Constr., Inc. v. U.S. Dep’t of Labor, 684
F.3d 1127, 1135 (11th Cir. 2012) (citations omitted). “We ask whether the comparator is
involved in the same or similar conduct as the plaintiff yet disciplined in a different way.” Id.
That is, “[t]he comparator must be nearly identical to the plaintiff to prevent courts from secondguessing a reasonable decision by the employer.” Wilson, 376 F.3d at 1091. The relevant
inquiry in an employment-discrimination action involving discipline is whether the employer
subjected the employees to different work policies. See Lathem v. Dep’t of Children & Youth
Servs., 172 F.3d 786, 793 (11th Cir. 1999).
In Davis, the Eleventh Circuit analyzed a race discrimination claim based on negative job
evaluations. 245 F.3d at 1240-43. There, the plaintiff -- a police officer -- claimed that a
counseling memorandum and a job performance memorandum from his superiors constituted
adverse employment actions. Id. at 1240. Neither evaluation led to a loss of pay, a loss of
benefits, nor a negative annual performance evaluation.
Id. The plaintiff argued that the
evaluations qualified as adverse employment actions because they would remain in his personnel
file and could hinder his ability to obtain a better employment position in the future. Id. at 1241.
To the contrary, the Eleventh Circuit concluded that the memoranda were not adverse
employment actions because the plaintiff could not show tangible consequences that he suffered
from their issuance. Id. at 1243. The Davis opinion recognized that several courts have found
that “criticisms of an employee’s job performance—written or oral—that do not lead to tangible
job consequences will rarely form a permissible predicate for a Title VII suit.” Id. at 1241. It
explained that performance criticisms are “an ordinary and appropriate feature of the
workplace,” and expressed concern that extending Title VII liability to such “day-to-day
critiques” could squelch communication between supervisors and subordinates. Id. at 1242.
Accordingly, the Eleventh Circuit concluded, “A negative evaluation that otherwise would not be
actionable will rarely, if ever, become actionable merely because the employee comes forward
with evidence that his future prospects have been or will be hindered as a result.” Id. at 1243.
Here, Plaintiff has failed to present a prima facie case of race discrimination that violates
Title VII for two reasons. First, none of the four employment actions described in Counts One
through Four of the Complaint constitute an adverse employment action.
All of these
employment actions fall within the scope of criticism by a supervisor to a subordinate, even
though Quigley-Vining was not Plaintiff’s direct supervisor. As in Davis, Plaintiff does not
argue -- and the Rule 56 evidence does not show -- that Plaintiff suffered any loss of pay, loss of
benefits, or negative impact on an annual evaluation from the verbal counseling, verbal and
written warnings, and written reprimand. (See Doc. # 19 at 5). See also Davis, 245 F.3d at 1240.
Because the employment actions described in Counts One, Two, Three, and Four of the
Complaint are analogous to the job performance criticisms at issue in Davis, Plaintiff has failed
to show that they constitute adverse employment actions.
In his opposition brief, Plaintiff argues that he suffered adverse employment actions
when he was reassigned to the patrol division and denied overtime. (Doc. # 19 at 5).
sure, those employment actions are distinguishable from the ones analyzed in Davis. But,
Plaintiff’s Complaint clearly alleges that the reassignment and denial of overtime constituted
unlawful retaliation, not race discrimination. (See Doc. # 1 at ¶¶ 59-62) (describing Counts Five,
Six, Seven, and Eight as “Retaliation” counts). Binding Eleventh Circuit precedent forecloses
construing an opposition brief as an effective motion to amend the complaint. Flintlock Constr.
Servs., LLC v. Well-Come Holdings, LLC, 710 F.3d 1221, 1228 (11th Cir. 2013). Therefore, the
court cannot consider Plaintiff’s newly-asserted argument that Defendant’s reassignment of him
and its denial of overtime constitute unlawful race discrimination.
Second, Plaintiff has not identified a comparator that Defendant treated more favorably
than him. Plaintiff argues that Duclos is a comparator because Quigley-Vining did not discipline
him for the sexual harassment he committed. (Doc. # 19 at 5). This argument falls flat, though,
because, although Quigley-Vining overheard Plaintiff’s statements to Duclos, it is undisputed
that she did not observe Duclos’s previous conduct. (Quigley-Vining Deposition at 25-26).
Therefore, Duclos and Plaintiff were not similarly situated when Quigley-Vining verbally
reprimanded Plaintiff for his statements. Moreover, to the extent Plaintiff intends to argue that
Duclos should have been reprimanded for his misconduct by Roper, he has not shown that
Duclos was similarly situated to him because he has not demonstrated that Duclos could have
been disciplined under the same work policies Roper applied to him.6 See Lathem, 172 F.3d at
793. Because Plaintiff’s race discrimination claims are not premised on materially adverse
employment actions, and he has failed to show that Duclos was a similarly situated comparator,
Defendant is entitled to summary judgment on all of Plaintiff’s race discrimination claims.
Plaintiff also has failed to submit his work history or Duclos’s work history to the court, so the court
cannot determine whether their disciplinary history was similar or whether Duclos’s disciplinary history was more
substantial than Plaintiff’s when Plaintiff received the reprimand. Cf. Jest v. Archibold Med. Ctr., Inc., 561 F.
App’x 887, 889 (11th Cir. 2014) (affirming the district court’s conclusion that the plaintiff failed to present a
similarly situated comparator where her disciplinary history was “far more substantial” than that of the proposed
comparators, her misconduct was “more serious”, and her misconduct concerned “many more areas of her work”).
Plaintiff’s Retaliation Claims May Proceed Because Defendant Has
Conceded that Exhaustion is Complete
In Counts Five through Eight of the Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant retaliated
against him after he filed his first EEOC charge in July 2015. (Doc. # 1 at ¶¶ 59-62). Defendant
argues in its summary judgment motion that Plaintiff’s retaliation claims should be dismissed
because he had not obtained a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC by the time the summary
judgment motion was filed. (Doc. # 17 at 16-17).
It is axiomatic that before filing a Title VII action in federal court, a plaintiff first must
file an administrative charge with the EEOC and receive a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC. 42
U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1); Gregory v. Ga. Dep’t of Human Resources, 355 F.3d 1277, 1279 (11th
Cir. 2004). A plaintiff’s failure to exhaust administrative remedies is a “matter in abatement”
and “should be raised in a motion to dismiss, or be treated as such if raised in a motion for
summary judgment.” Bryant v. Rich, 530 F.3d 1368, 1374-75 (11th Cir. 2008) (quoting Ritza v.
Int’l Longshoremen’s & Warehousemen’s Union, 837 F.2d 365, 368-69 (9th Cir. 1988)). The
plaintiff’s federal action is “limited by the scope of the EEOC investigation which can
reasonably be expected to grow out of the charge of discrimination.” Gregory, 355 F.3d at 1280
(internal quotation marks omitted).
During oral argument, Plaintiff’s counsel explained on the record that Plaintiff’s second
EEOC action was transferred to another EEOC office and terminated while the Motion for
Summary Judgment was pending. Plaintiff’s counsel was not certain whether Plaintiff received a
right-to-sue letter from the EEOC, but Defendant’s counsel received notice of the terminated
EEOC action. Defendant’s counsel conceded on the record that the exhaustion argument is moot
because the EEOC has ruled on Plaintiff’s second EEOC charge. In light of that concession, the
court concludes that Plaintiff has complied with the administrative exhaustion requirements for
the retaliation claims, and proceeds to address Defendant’s merits arguments against the claimed
Plaintiff Has Presented a Triable Retaliation Claim
Turning to the merits of Plaintiff’s retaliation claims, Defendant argues that Plaintiff
cannot establish a prima facie case of retaliation for two reasons. First, Defendant argues that
Plaintiff’s transfer does not constitute an adverse employment action. (Doc. # 17 at 18-19).
Second, Defendant claims that the relevant decisionmaker was unaware of Plaintiff’s protected
EEOC charge because Roper was the final decisionmaker for all hiring, transfers, promotions,
terminations, and disciplinary actions conducted by the Police Department. (Id. at 19-21).
Plaintiff responds that the transfer was an adverse action because it deprived him of opportunities
to work overtime and created a hostile work environment, and the transfer was causally
connected to his EEOC charge because both actions occurred in close temporal proximity. (Doc.
# 19 at 6-7).
Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision provides that:
It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to discriminate
against any of his employees or applicants for employment . . . because [the
employee] has opposed any practice made an unlawful employment practice by
this subchapter, or because he has made a charge, testified, assisted, or
participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under this
42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). To establish a prima facie case of retaliation, a plaintiff must show that
(1) he engaged in a statutorily protected expression; (2) he suffered an adverse employment
action; and (3) there is some causal relationship between the two events. Holifield, 115 F.3d at
Adverse employment actions typically center on ultimate employment decisions, such as
termination. Nevertheless, an employer’s actions may also qualify as adverse employment
actions if they reach “some threshold level of substantiality.” Shannon v. Bellsouth Telecomms.,
Inc., 292 F.3d 712, 716 (11th Cir. 2002). In evaluating whether a defendant’s actions meet that
threshold, the court must determine whether an employer’s actions likely would have “dissuaded
a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge” against the employer. Burlington N.
& Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53, 68 (2006). Of course, “the significance of any given
act of retaliation will often depend upon the particular circumstances.”7 Thompson v. N. Am.
Stainless, LP, 562 U.S. 170, 175 (2011). For example, a scheduling change may be more
adverse if the affected employee has young children, and exclusion from a work lunch may be
more adverse if the lunch comes with training that could contribute to the employee’s career
advancement. Burlington, 548 U.S. at 69.
A plaintiff establishes a causal connection by showing that the relevant decisionmaker
was “aware of the protected conduct, and that the protected activity and the adverse actions were
not wholly unrelated.” Shannon, 292 F.3d at 716 (quoting Gupta, 212 F.3d at 590). “Close
temporal proximity between the protected activity and the adverse action may be sufficient to
show that the two were not wholly unrelated.” Bass v. Bd. of Cty. Comm’rs, 256 F.3d 1095,
1119 (11th Cir. 2001), overruled in part on other grounds by Crawford, 529 F.3d 961. A lapse
in time of one month between a protected activity and an adverse action is sufficiently close to
support a causal connection between the two. See Higdon v. Jackson, 393 F.3d 1211, 1220 (11th
A transfer can constitute a materially adverse employment action if the employee is moved from a more
prestigious job to a less prestigious one. See, e.g., Hickey v. Columbus Consol. Gov’t, No. 4:07-CV-96 (CDL), 2011
WL 882110, at *2-3 (M.D. Ga. Mar. 10, 2011) (discussing a materially adverse transfer of a police officer from a
vice unit to a burglary and theft unit). Plaintiff has not argued in his opposition brief that the transfer was materially
adverse due to a loss of prestige (see Doc. # 19 at 6-7), so the court has not considered the relative prestige of the
Task Force and the patrol unit positions.
If a plaintiff makes out a prima facie case of retaliation, the burden shifts to the employer
to articulate a legitimate reason for the adverse employment action. Sullivan v. Nat’l R.R.
Passenger Corp., 170 F.3d 1056, 1059 (11th Cir. 1999). If the employer proffers a legitimate
reason, the burden shifts back to the employee to show that the legitimate reason was pretext for
prohibited retaliatory conduct. Id. Defendant has not at this stage provided a legitimate reason
for Plaintiff’s transfer from the Task Force to a patrol unit or a legitimate reason for denying him
overtime opportunities while working for the patrol unit. (Doc. # 17 at 17-21). Therefore, its
request for summary judgment rises or falls on whether Plaintiff can establish a prima facie case
Plaintiff’s August 2015 Transfer Constituted a Materially Adverse
Several courts have concluded that a shift change can constitute a materially adverse
employment action under Burlington. E.g., Smith v. City of Greensboro, 647 F. App’x 976, 98182 (11th Cir. 2016) (concluding that a reasonable jury could find a shift change to be materially
adverse when it prevented the plaintiff from holding a second job he needed to support his
family); Prince v. Melwood Nursing Ctr., LLC, No. 6:16-cv-1103-Orl-37DCI, 2017 WL
6406832, at *8 (M.D. Fla. Dec. 15, 2017) (concluding that the defendant’s rejections of
plaintiff’s applications for a shift change from night shift to day shift could constitute a
materially adverse employment action where plaintiff was a mother of five children, she recently
had returned from maternity leave, and she considered the possible shift change to be a
promotion, given her circumstances); Johnson v. Fla. Dep’t of Corr., No. 3:04-CV-522-J25HTS, 2007 WL 4404209, at *6 (M.D. Fla. Feb. 22, 2007) (finding a jury issue as to whether a
transfer was a materially adverse action because of a long commuting distance between
assignments and childcare issues created by the different schedule at the newly assigned
position). Courts also have concluded that the denial of overtime opportunities may constitute an
adverse action for purposes of a retaliation claim. E.g., Tatroe v. Cobb Cty., Ga., No. 1:04-CV1074-WSD, 2008 WL 361010, at *11 (N.D. Ga. Feb. 8, 2008) (“On reconsideration under the
lower Burlington standard, the Court determines that the prohibition on working overtime might
well have dissuaded a reasonable worker in Plaintiff’s position from making protected speech.”).
To be sure, following Burlington, other courts have found in certain circumstances that
shift changes are not materially adverse actions and do not support an employee’s retaliation
claim. E.g., Deprado v. City of Miami, 264 F. App’x 769, 771-73 (11th Cir. 2008) (concluding
that a transfer from a training unit to a patrol unit was not a materially adverse action because the
future financial harm to plaintiff could not have been foreseen at the time of transfer, plaintiff
lacked evidence that defendant transferred him to a less prestigious position, and plaintiff failed
to specify what opportunities he lost); Worley v. City of Lilburn, No. 1:06-cv-2654-CAP-RGV,
2009 WL 10668430, at *12-13 (N.D. Ga. June 3, 2009) (concluding that a shift change from day
shift to night shift was not a materially adverse action because routine reassignments do not rise
to the level of adverse actions where the salary, benefits, and routine duties of each shift are the
same, given judicial reluctance to classify reassignments and lateral transfers as adverse actions),
adopted, 2009 WL 10672381 (N.D. Ga. Sept. 9, 2009), aff’d on other grounds, 408 F. App’x 248
(11th Cir. 2011); Avery v. Ala. State Univ., No. 2:15-CV-239-WHA, 2016 WL 7238942, at *10
(M.D. Ala. Dec. 13, 2016) (determining that a police officer’s shift change was not a materially
adverse action because the shunning and ostracism against her was insufficient to classify the
transfer as adverse, plaintiff admitted to being satisfied with the schedule change, and plaintiff
requested the training officer she worked under after the schedule change). In this case, though,
the court finds there is substantial evidence that the shift change was noticeably adverse to
Plaintiff because the Police Department moved him from a day shift to an overnight shift, and
the change of shifts prevented him from seeking out certain overtime opportunities that he could
take advantage of while working on the day shift.
Practically speaking, many employees do not prefer night work and may be dissuaded
from making protected discrimination complaints if they are aware that they will be moved from
day work to night work. See Tatroe, 2008 WL 361010, at *12 (concluding that a shift change
from day shift to night shift could support a prima facie retaliation claim following Burlington).
Plaintiff suffered a more severe adverse action than an employee simply moved from day shift to
night shift because the change in shifts possibly foreclosed his access to overtime work.8 See
Tatroe, 2008 WL 361010, at *11. Therefore, the court finds material questions of fact as to
whether Plaintiff’s reassignment from the Task Force to the patrol unit constituted a materially
adverse employment action under Burlington.
The Rule 56 Record Contains Sufficient Evidence of a Causal
Connection Between Plaintiff’s EEOC Charge and His Transfer
The Rule 56 record here presents a genuine factual dispute as to whether the actual
decisionmaker knew of Plaintiff’s EEOC charge and whether the EEOC charge was related to
the transfer decision. First, less than a month elapsed between Plaintiff’s filing of the charge and
his transfer. (Docs. # 17-1 at 47-48; 17-4 at 1). Second, Walker queried Plaintiff about the
EEOC charge approximately one week before the transfer occurred. (Jones Deposition at 5658). Third, Acton told Plaintiff on the date of the transfer that it had occurred because Walker
did not want him on the Task Force, and Acton also asked Plaintiff about his EEOC charge. (Id.
The Rule 56 record also contains evidence that Police Department employees closed off Plaintiff’s access
to overtime shifts in retaliation for his EEOC charge. If Plaintiff lost access to overtime shifts in retaliation for his
filing of an EEOC complaint, and he would not have lost access to the shifts otherwise after his shift transfer, that
conduct is sufficiently adverse to support a prima facie retaliation claim. Tatroe, 2008 WL 361010, at *11.
at 63-64). From this evidence, a reasonable juror could find that the actual decisionmaker knew
of Plaintiff’s EEOC charge, and that a causal connection existed between the charge and the
transfer. Defendant’s argument that Roper acted as the final decisionmaker for the transfer cuts
no ice. Defendant argues that Roper has final authority over personnel decisions (Doc. # 17 at
19-20), but Roper has not averred that he approves all transfers within the Police Department.
(See Doc. # 17-5 at 2) (averring that Roper approved hiring, transfers, promotions, demotions,
terminations, and disciplinary actions, but not stating whether Roper approved all such personnel
actions). Nor has Roper averred that he personally approved Plaintiff’s transfer to a patrol unit
in August 2015. (See generally Doc. # 17-5). Therefore, there is disputed Rule 56 evidence as
to whether Roper was the relevant decisionmaker.9
For the reasons explained above, Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 17)
is due to be granted in part and denied in part. Defendant is entitled to summary judgment on
Plaintiff’s race discrimination claims, but is not entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff’s
retaliation claims. Defendant’s Motion to Strike (Doc. # 20) is due to be denied as moot because
the court has disregarded the challenged exhibits, which mainly contain duplicative evidence, in
Defendant also argues that the Police Department transferred Plaintiff to a patrol division because
Plaintiff complained about retaliation and threatened to submit an EEOC charge against Walker when Walker wrote
him up, and Walker informed his supervisor about Plaintiff’s threat. (Doc. # 17 at 20) (citing Doc. # 17-3 at 47-48).
If Walker’s testimony is taken to be true, then the issue would be whether Defendant retaliated against Plaintiff for
protected opposition conduct, rather than his participation in the EEOC process initiated by his July 2015 charge.
But, Walker’s account of the true reason for the transfer is not an undisputed fact (and, the court notes, Defendant
did not include that account in its statement of undisputed facts). (See Doc. # 17 at 3-7). Therefore, the court cannot
rely on it to disregard the genuine factual issue created by the temporal relation between the charge and the transfer
and Plaintiff’s testimony about queries he received regarding the charge.
Plaintiff raises one retaliation claim for overtime denied to him in January 2016, several months after he
filed the first EEOC charge. It is questionable whether Plaintiff can show a causal connection between his first
EEOC charge and this alleged denial of overtime, given the lack of temporal proximity between the events and the
different decisionmaker involved in that alleged denial, but Defendant has not specifically contested the retaliation
claim in Count Eight of the Complaint on this ground. Therefore, the court need not decide this issue at this time.
deciding whether Defendant is entitled to summary judgment. An Order consistent with this
Memorandum Opinion will be entered.
DONE and ORDERED this June 7, 2018.
R. DAVID PROCTOR
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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