Tolar v. Bradley Arant Boult Cummings, LLP, No. 19-11546 (11th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's order dismissing plaintiffs' Title VII retaliation claims against Bradley Arant and grant of summary judgment to Marion Bank on the Title VII retaliation claims. Bradley Arant is an Alabama law firm that represented the Bank in litigation related to this case. Plaintiffs are related to Ragan Youngblood, a former Bank employee who was hired in February 2008 and fired seven months later, in September 2008. Ragan was the personal assistant to the Bank's president and CEO, Conrad Taylor. After Ragan was fired, she filed an EEOC charge alleging that Taylor had sexually harassed her and retaliated against her for complaining about that harassment. Plaintiffs claim that the Bank and the law firm took adverse action against them in retaliation for Ragan's protected conduct.
Pursuant to Thompson v. N. Am. Stainless, LP, 562 U.S. 170, 174–75 (2011), the court concluded that plaintiffs must meet two prerequisites to even get out of the starting gate on a third-party Title VII retaliation claim against the Bank. In regard to plaintiffs' retaliation claim based on litigation filed by the firm on the Bank's behalf, and assuming the viability of plaintiffs' claim, the court assumed without deciding that the district court correctly concluded that plaintiffs qualified under Thompson as proper third-party retaliation claimants. The court concluded that summary judgment is warranted for the Bank based on the McDonnell Douglas standard. In this case, plaintiffs have failed to produce evidence sufficient to support a reasonable inference that but for Ragan's claim of sexual harassment, the Bank would not have engaged in the litigation that plaintiffs characterize as excessive.
In regard to plaintiffs' claims based on the Bank's decision to stop referring legal work to Plaintiff Greg, the court assumed without deciding that his third-party claim can proceed. Analyzing the claim under the McDonnell Douglas framework, the court concluded that the Bank articulated a neutral, nonretaliatory reason for no longer referring legal work to Greg based on a conflict of interest. Furthermore, Greg has failed to produce any evidence of pretext. Finally, in regard to plaintiffs' claims against the law firm, the court concluded that the district court correctly dismissed these claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) where plaintiffs failed to allege an employment relationship between themselves and the firm.