Haugabrook v. Cason et al
ORDER granting 89 Motion for Summary Judgment. Ordered by Judge Hugh Lawson on September 5, 2012. (mbh)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF GEORGIA
ARTRICE D. HAUGABROOK,
Civil Action 7:10-CV-60 (HL)
VALDOSTA CITY SCHOOLS,
This case is before the Court on Defendant’s Second Motion for Summary
Judgment (Doc. 89). This motion relates only to Plaintiff’s demotion from Director
of Student Support Services to assistant principal.
Plaintiff, a black female, previously served as the Director of Student
Support Services (“DSSS”), a position in Defendant’s central office. In April of
2010, mainly because of budget issues and significant loss of funding, the
Valdosta Board of Education adopted a reduction in force (“RIF”) policy. (Doc.
77-7, p. 2; Deposition of William Cason, Sr., p. 14). The RIF policy provides in
When the Superintendent determines that the
application of this reduction in force policy is necessary,
it shall be his or her primary responsibility to prepare for
presentation to the Valdosta Board of Education a plan
for reduction in force (RIF). In proposing the plan, the
Superintendent may: (1) determine the group(s) of
employees to which the RIF will be applied, (2) select
individuals or positions to be subject to the RIF, or (3)
any combination of (1) and (2). Factors to be considered
by the Superintendent in devising a RIF plan may
include, but shall not be limited to, the professional
expertise, effectiveness, overall job performance, tenure
status, level of certification, and length of continuous
service of individual employees with the Board.
If the Board accepts the recommendation of the
Superintendent, the Superintendent shall notify any
employee affected by the application of the plan in a
manner consistent with the provisions of Georgia’s Fair
Dismissal Act and he or she shall have whatever rights
the Fair Dismissal Act provides for such employee.
(Doc. 77-7, p. 2).
At some point a RIF recommendation was made to the Board of Education
and a number of employees were transferred to different positions. Ten white
certified staff members and eight black certified staff members were affected by
the RIF policy, and at least six of those staff members, including Plaintiff, were
female. (Cason dep., p. 22; Deposition of Annie Fisher, Ex. 1).1 In a letter dated
May 7, 2010, Plaintiff was notified that pursuant to the RIF policy, she was being
transferred to an assistant principal position. That transfer, which was in lieu of
termination, was considered to be a demotion. (Doc. 1-1, p. 9).
Plaintiff contends that she was discriminated against on the basis of her
race and sex. She argues that instead of being demoted, she should have been
transferred into another position at the central office. Plaintiff specifically points to
The exhibit to Annie Fisher’s deposition dated June 7, 2010 shows that at least five
female certified staff members were “rehired reduction in force.” Thus, it is clear these
five staff members were negatively affected by the RIF.
three positions: (1) the Assistant Superintendent of Operations (“ASO”) position,
which was given to a black male, Dr. Alvin Hudson; (2) the 6-12 Curriculum
Director (“CD”) position, which was given to a black male, Rodney Bullard; and
(3) the Director of Teaching and Learning (“DTL”) position, which was given to a
white female, Scarlett Correll Brown.
Summary Judgment Standard
Summary judgment must be granted 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). “A factual dispute is genuine only if ‘a
reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.’” Info. Sys. &
Networks Corp. v. City of Atlanta, 281 F.3d 1220, 1224 (11th Cir. 2002) (quoting
United States v. Four Parcels of Real Prop., 941 F.2d 1428, 1437 (11th Cir.
1991)). The burden rests with the moving party to prove that no genuine issue of
material fact exists. Info. Sys. & Networks Corp., 281 F.3d at 1224. The district
court must “view all evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party,
and resolve all reasonable doubts about the facts in its favor.” Id.
Title VII Demotion Claim
Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer to “fail or refuse to hire or to
discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with
respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment,
because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” 42
U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1).2
A plaintiff may prove disparate treatment through the introduction of either
direct or circumstantial evidence. Wilson v. B/E Aerospace, Inc., 376 F.3d 1079,
1085 (11th Cir. 2004). Plaintiff relies on circumstantial evidence to establish her
discrimination claim, thus her case must be analyzed under the McDonnell
Douglas test. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817,
36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973). Plaintiff bears the initial burden of establishing a prima
facie case. Pennington v. City of Huntsville, 261 F.3d 1262, 1266 (11th Cir.
2001). Once she has established a prima facie case, Defendant must articulate a
legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the challenged employment action. Id. If
Defendant can give an appropriate explanation, the burden shifts back to Plaintiff
to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Defendant’s explanation is
merely a pretext. Id. A plaintiff cannot establish pretext by simply demonstrating
facts that suggest discrimination, but must specifically respond to the employer’s
explanation and rebut it. Crawford v. City of Fairburn, Ga., 482 F.3d 1305, 1309
(11th Cir. 2007). Pretext evidence is that which demonstrates “such weaknesses,
implausibilities, incoherencies, or contradictions in the employer’s proffered
legitimate reasons for its actions that a reasonable fact finder could find them
unworthy of credence.” Combs v. Plantation Patterns, 106 F.3d 1519, 1538 (11th
As noted in the Court’s first summary judgment order, Plaintiff’s claims asserted
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 are governed by the same legal
analysis as the Title VII claim.
Cir. 1997) (citation omitted). It is important to remember that an employer may
make an employment decision for a “good reason, a bad reason, . . . or no
reason at all as long as its action is not for a discriminatory reason.” Chapman v.
AI Transp., 229 F.3d 1012, 1030 (11th Cir. 2000) (quotation omitted).
In order to establish a prima facie case in a reduction in force case, a
plaintiff must show: (1) that she was in a protected group and was adversely
affected by an employment decision; (2) that she was qualified for her current
position or to assume another position at the time of discharge or demotion; and
(3) evidence by which a fact finder might reasonably conclude that the employer
intended to discriminate on the basis of sex or race in reaching the decision at
issue. Earley v. Champion Int’l Corp., 907 F.2d 1077, 1082 (11th Cir. 1990)
(citations omitted) (ADEA case). There is no real dispute as to the first two
elements - Plaintiff was in a protected group and demoted, and there is no
question that she was qualified to serve in the DSSS position or another position
- thus, “[a]t issue is whether [Plaintiff] can point to sufficient evidence to allow a
reasonable juror to find discriminatory intent.” Standard v. A.B.E.L. Servs., Inc.,
161 F.3d 1318, 1329 (11th Cir. 1998). To establish intent, Plaintiff must proffer
evidence that could lead a factfinder to conclude that: (1) Defendant consciously
refused to consider retaining her because of her sex or race; or (2) Defendant
regarded sex or race as a negative factor in such consideration. Padilla v. North
Broward Hosp. Dist., 270 F.App’x 966, 971 (11th Cir. 2008) (quoting Allison v.
Western Union Tel. Co., 680 F.2d 1318, 1321 (11th Cir. 1982)).
The Court assumes, without deciding, that Plaintiff has established a prima
facie case. Now the burden shifts to Defendant to articulate a legitimate,
nondiscriminatory reason for demoting Plaintiff. “This is a burden of production,
not persuasion. [Defendant] need only produce evidence that could allow a
rational fact finder to conclude that [Plaintiff’s] [demotion] was not made for a
discriminatory reason.” Standard, 161 F.3d at 1331. The Court finds that
Defendant has met its burden as a reduction in force is a legitimate,
nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. See id. at 1333-34
(holding that a work force reduction is a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason to
terminate an employee); Tidwell v. Carter Prods., 135 F.3d 1422, 1426 (11th Cir.
1998) (RIF was a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason to terminate plaintiff).
As Defendant has offered a legitimate reason for the demotion, Plaintiff
must show that the proffered reason is pretextual. The heart of Plaintiff’s pretext
argument is that she should have been transferred to another position in the
central office, namely the ASO, CD, or DTL position. She contends that pretext
should be inferred because she was not placed in any of these three positions
and instead they were filled with candidates of a different race or gender. The
Court disagrees. In the Court’s opinion, Plaintiff has presented no evidence that
could support a finding that her demotion had anything to do with her race or
gender. The evidence is uncontroverted that at least seven other black staff
members were affected in some way by the RIF, which negates Plaintiff’s racial
claim. Plaintiff’s gender claim is similarly negated because at least five other
women were affected by the RIF. It is not as if Plaintiff was the only female or
black staff member subjected to the RIF policy. Plaintiff spends the majority of
her response brief arguing that she should have been considered for the ASO
position, which was given to a “preselected” “less qualified male candidate.”
However, as discussed in detail in the first summary judgment order, Plaintiff
cannot show pretext in connection with the hiring of Dr. Hudson for the ASO
position. Further, Plaintiff’s argument that she was more qualified for the position
carries no weight. The only thing she points to as evidence of her superior
qualifications is the fact that she earned her doctorate two years before Dr.
Hudson. But that certainly does not create a disparity in qualification that is of
“such weight and significance that no reasonable person, in the exercise of
impartial judgment, could have chosen the candidate selected over the plaintiff
for the job in question.” Cooper v. S. Co., 390 F.3d 695, 732 (11th Cir. 2004),
overruled in part on other grounds, Ash v. Tyson Foods, 546 U.S. 454, 126 S.Ct.
Further, in order to show pretext, Plaintiff must meet Defendant’s proffered
nondiscriminatory reason head on and rebut it. Brooks v. County Comm’n of
Jefferson County, Ala., 446 F.3d 1160, 1163 (11th Cir. 2006). At no point has
Plaintiff rebutted Defendant’s position that there was a loss of funding and budget
shortfalls requiring the RIF. Here, Plaintiff has not “cast sufficient doubt on the
defendant’s proffered legitimate reasons to permit a reasonable factfinder to
conclude that the employer’s proffered legitimate reasons were not what actually
motivated its conduct.” Crawford v. Carroll, 529 F.3d 961, 976 (11th Cir. 2008)
(internal quotations and citation omitted). Plaintiff complains that she, as opposed
to other staff members, was demoted, but the Court will not second-guess the
decisions of Defendant in implementing a RIF. It is well established law that
“[f]ederal courts ‘do not sit as a super-personnel department that reexamines an
entity’s business decisions. No matter how medieval a firm’s practices, no matter
how high-handed its decisional process, no matter how mistaken the firm’s
managers, [Title VII] does not interfere. Rather, [the court’s] inquiry is limited to
whether the employer gave an honest explanation of its behavior.’” Elrod v.
Sears, Roebuck & Co., 939 F.2d 1466, 1470 (11th Cir. 1991) (quoting Mechnig v.
Sears, Roebuck & Co., 864 F.2d 1359, 1365 (7th Cir. 1988)). It is not the Court’s
place to decide whether Plaintiff or another employee should have been demoted
As Plaintiff has not established pretext, she cannot survive summary
judgment. Defendant is entitled to summary judgment on the demotion claim.
In Count VIII of her Amended Petition, Plaintiff requests attorney’s fees
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988. However, because the Court has determined that
Defendant is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff’s substantive claim, she is
not entitled to any attorney’s fees. Defendant is entitled to summary judgment on
Plaintiff’s § 1988 request for attorney’s fees.
Defendant’s Second Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 89) is granted.
The Clerk of Court is directed to enter final judgment in favor of Defendant.
SO ORDERED, this the 5th day of September, 2012.
/s/ Hugh Lawson
HUGH LAWSON, SENIOR 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?