TYLER v. Muscogee County School District, No. 4:2013cv00096 - Document 37 (M.D. Ga. 2014)

Court Description: ORDER granting 15 Motion for Summary JudgmentOrdered by U.S. District Judge CLAY D LAND on 07/02/14 (bsh)
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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF GEORGIA COLUMBUS DIVISION EDWARD M. TYLER, * Plaintiff, * vs. * MUSCOGEE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT, * CASE NO. 4:13-CV-96 (CDL) * Defendant. * O R D E R Plaintiff, who is a white male bus driver for the Defendant, was passed over for two promotions which were awarded to a black female and a white female. race and gender decisions, and he were motivating brings this Plaintiff contends that factors action in the against promotion his employer pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. (“§ 1981”).1 No. 15). § 2000e et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment (ECF Because Plaintiff has failed to produce sufficient evidence from which a reasonable factfinder could conclude that Defendant’s stated legitimate non-discriminatory reasons for its Plaintiff also asserted age discrimination Complaint, but he has abandoned those claims. Def.’s Mot. for Summ. J. 27, ECF No. 29. 1 1 claims in his Pl.’s Resp. to decisions were pretext for unlawful discrimination, Defendant’s motion is granted. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD Summary judgment may be granted only “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Civ. P. 56(a). In determining whether a genuine Fed. R. dispute of material fact exists to defeat a motion for summary judgment, the evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment, drawing all justifiable inferences in the opposing party’s favor. 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., A fact is material if it is relevant or necessary to the outcome of the suit. Id. at 248. A factual dispute is genuine if the evidence would allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id. FACTUAL BACKGROUND Construing the factual record in favor of Plaintiff, the facts for purposes of summary judgment are as follows. Plaintiff (“Mr. Tyler”), a white male employee of the Defendant (“the School District”), has been a School District bus driver since 1976. He has an impeccable driving record with no accidents during his thirty-eight year tenure. Before the State of Georgia required that bus “trainers” be certified, Mr. Tyler trained other School District drivers. 2 He has a bachelor degree in business management from Trinity College, an online institution. In January 2012 and October 2012, he applied for two positions which would have been promotions from his present position of Zone Five Special Education Route driver. The School District chose a black female employee and a white female employee for these positions. Mr. Tyler believes that he was denied the promotions because he is a white male. The School District contends that the application process focused solely on legitimate qualifications and the two persons who received the promotions were the best qualified for the positions regardless of their race or gender. To evaluate candidates for promotion, the School District appoints a panel that interviews the candidates. written evaluation form which The panel then completes a includes assigning points in various categories relating to the job duties for the position. Although the total number of points is a factor to be considered in the final recommendation, points alone are not dispositive of the panel’s decision. the totality of the The panel makes a recommendation based on circumstances to the Transportation Director, who affirms the recommendation or “kicks [it] back for further review.” Tessin Dep. 28:1-4, ECF No. 13. If the Transportation Director affirms the panel’s recommendation, the Director forwards the recommendation to the School District’s Chief Operations Officer, the Human Resources Department, and 3 the Superintendent for review. The recommendation is then made to the School Board for final approval. I. January 2012 Zone Relief/Driver Position In January 2012, Mr. Tyler interviewed for a Zone Relief/ Driver position, which would have been a promotion for him. Although five separate zone relief/driver positions were available, Mr. Tyler sought the single available position for the special needs zone. Job duties for the position included covering routes, handling complaints from parents, counseling drivers, and assisting in evaluations. The minimum requirements to apply for the position were a high school diploma or GED, eight years of regular driving commercial driver’s license. experience, and a valid Seniority with the School District was not a stated factor for the position. The interview panel consisted of three white males, one black female, and one black male. questions during the They asked only job-related interviews. The panel unanimously recommended one white male, one white female, two black males, and one black female to fill the five open positions. special needs zone position sought by Mr. recommended Debra Lewis, a white female. Tyler, For the the panel Ms. Lewis met the minimum requirements, had been a driver for the School District since 2001, and was a certified driving trainer. District ultimately approved these recommendations. 4 The School II. October 2012 Transportation Specialist Position In October 2012, Mr. Tyler interviewed for a Transportation Specialist position. “ensur[ing] the transportation The job duties for this position included overall operation coverage required scheduling to and evaluating, to incidents, and/or recommending solutions complaints and/or accidents.” Job Specialist qualifications for 1, applying ECF for the demands, resolving, Transportation meet No. this Description 16-1. The position were for minimum a valid driver’s license, a high school diploma or GED, and job-related experience. The white A bachelor degree was preferred. interview female and panel two for black this position males. The consisted panel of one unanimously recommended Donna Lamar, a black female, for the position. Ms. Lamar met the minimum requirements and was certified to train drivers. She had previously worked for the School District and was rehired in 2002. zone relief driver In January 2012, she was promoted to a position. She did not have a bachelor degree. DISCUSSION Title VII “discriminate makes against it any unlawful individual compensation, terms, conditions, or for with an employer respect privileges to to his of employment, because of such individual’s race [or] sex.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e5 2(a)(1). Mr. Tyler claims that he was denied the promotions to zone relief/driver in January 2012 and transportation specialist in October 2012 because of his race and/or gender. Since he has failed to point to any direct evidence of discrimination, the Court evaluates his claims under the familiar framework established in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973) and Texas Department of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248 (1981). Vessels v. Atlanta Indep. Sch. Sys., 408 F.3d 763, 767-68 (11th Cir. 2005) (per curiam).2 Mr. Tyler must first Vessels, 408 F.3d at 767. establish a prima facie If he does so, then case. the School District may articulate a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for its employment decisions. Id. If the School District meets that burden, Mr. Tyler must establish that the proffered reason was merely pretext for discrimination. summary judgment stage, Mr. Tyler may Id. at 768. carry that At the burden by demonstrating that a reasonable factfinder could conclude that the School District’s stated reasons for its actions were pretextual. The Title VII and § 1981 race discrimination claims asserted by Mr. Tyler are “subject to the same standards of proof and employ the same analytical framework.” Bryant v. Jones, 575 F.3d 1281, 1296 n.20 (11th Cir. 2009). 2 6 I. January 2012 Promotion Decision A. Prima Facie Case To establish a prima facie case, Mr. Tyler must show “(1) that [he] belongs to a protected class; (2) that [he] applied for and was rejected equally qualified despite or promoted.” for [his] a promotion; qualifications; less-qualified employees (3) and outside that (4) [he] that [his] class was other were Brown v. Ala. Dep’t of Transp., 597 F.3d 1160, 1174 (11th Cir. 2010). For purposes of summary judgment, the Court finds that Mr. Tyler has established a prima facie case. The evidence construed in his favor demonstrates that he is male, that he met the minimum qualifications for the position, and that the person who was chosen over him for the specific position that he sought was a female. B. Legitimate, Non-Discriminatory Reason The School District states that it chose Ms. Lewis over Mr. Tyler because it determined that she was better qualified for the position based on its non-discriminatory hiring process. She certainly met the minimum requirements, having a GED and the required driving experience. And the panel scored her higher overall Moreover, than considered employees. her Mr. to Tyler. be better qualified the for interview panel supervising other Tessin Dep. 95:22-96:15 (“[Mr. Tyler]’s just not thought to be strong material to be supervising other human 7 beings.”). The articulating a School District legitimate has carried non-discriminatory its burden of reason for not promoting Mr. Tyler, which shifts the burden to Mr. Tyler to show that the School District’s stated reason is pretextual. C. Pretext To show pretext, Mr. Tyler may reveal “such weaknesses, implausibilities, inconsistencies, incoherencies or contradictions in [the School District’s] proffered legitimate reasons for its actions that a reasonable factfinder could find them unworthy of credence.” Springer v. Convergys Customer Mgmt. Grp., Inc., 509 F.3d 1344, 1348 (11th Cir. 2007) (per curiam) (internal quotation marks omitted). However, “[i]n the context of a promotion, a plaintiff cannot prove pretext by simply arguing or even by showing that he was better qualified than the [person] who received the position . . . . A plaintiff must show not merely that the defendant’s employment decisions were mistaken but that they were in fact motivated by [gender].” Id. at 1349 (first alteration in original) (internal quotation marks omitted). To show pretext based on a disparity in qualifications, Mr. Tyler must demonstrate that the disparities between Ms. Lewis’s qualifications and his own were “of such weight and significance that no reasonable person, in the exercise of impartial judgment, could have chosen” Ms. Lewis over Mr. Tyler. Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). 8 Mr. Tyler has not pointed to sufficient evidence from which a reasonable factfinder could conclude that the School District’s stated reason for not promoting him was a pretext for gender discrimination. Both candidates met qualifications to interview for the position. the minimum In addition, Ms. Lewis was certified as a driver trainer; Mr. Tyler was not. Although Mr. Tyler had more seniority with the School District, the School District’s decision not to consider seniority is not evidence of gender discrimination. It is clear that there is not sufficient disparity in the qualifications of Mr. Tyler and Ms. Lewis to justify any inference that the stated reason for the School District’s decision was pretextual. Mr. Tyler does point to an alleged statement by Frank Brown, the School District’s Transportation Director, that he “encouraged black women and women in general to management” positions at a meeting in December 2011. 45:23-25, ECF No. 11. apply Tyler Dep. But that is the only fact that makes him believe he was treated differently because of his gender. Dep. 47:3-7. for Tyler And that is simply not enough to establish that the School District’s stated reasons for hiring someone other than Mr. Tyler are false or decision to select Ms. Lewis. that gender bias motivated its The School District is entitled to summary judgment on Mr. Tyler’s gender discrimination claim relating to the special needs zone relief/driver position. 9 II. October 2012 Promotion Decision A. Prima Facie Case Mr. Tyler, a white male, met the minimum qualifications for the Transportation Specialist position. female, was chosen for the position. Donna Lamar, a black For purposes of summary judgment, the Court finds that Mr. Tyler has established a prima facie case of race and gender discrimination. B. Legitimate Non-Discriminatory Reason The School District claims that it chose Ms. Lamar because she was “the best qualified individual for the position.” Dep. 45:16-17, ECF No. 12. Brown According to the School District, she was best qualified “in demonstration, her performance, her communication among the drivers, the operation, the parents, the exchange between the schools.” Brown Dep. 45:21-23. The interview panel felt that “Donna Lamar’s relations with others, how she connects with people, how she interacts with others was more fitting to what was needed for a transportation specialist. That was the deciding factor, neutral of her gender, neutral of her race.” Tessin Dep. 104:7-15. “[S]he keeps her calm more [than Mr. Tyler] in intense conflict kind of situations, [] she calms parents down better, [] she thinks through things more calmly in the last few years and that was the deciding factor.” Tessin Dep. 104:24-105:4. These are legitimate non- discriminatory reasons for selecting Ms. Lamar over Mr. Tyler, 10 and thus the School District has satisfied its burden, shifting the burden back to Mr. Tyler to show pretext. C. Pretext Mr. Tyler has failed to point to evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that the School District’s stated reasons for selecting Ms. Lamar were false and that it instead was motivated by race or gender. School District’s decision Mr. Tyler quarrels with the because Ms. Lamar’s supervisor, Frank Brown, was on the interview panel. direct Even if Mr. Brown’s relationship demonstrated personal bias, it does not support a finding of gender or race-based bias. Moreover, such speculation about personal bias does not sufficiently cast doubt on the School District’s stated legitimate reasons to support a finding that those discrimination. interpersonal reasons Mr. skills Tyler were were also not pretext argues better than for that his unlawful Ms. Lamar’s because Kathy Tessin, a member of the interview panel, said she felt Mr. Tyler had a better command of the English language. She gave Ms. Lamar communication two skills. points out five when assessing Lamar Interview Form 21, 24, ECF No. 18-1. Mr. Tyler three points. 20-1. of But the other She gave Tyler Interview Form 30, 33, ECF No. interviewers points, and Mr. Tyler three. each gave Ms. Lamar four And overall, the panel scored Ms. 11 Lamar higher than Mr. Tyler. Compare Lamar Interview Forms 13- 28, with Tyler Interview Forms 24-41. Mr. Tyler also misrepresentations points about employment application. to traffic Ms. Lamar’s tickets alleged on earlier her But this evidence is not inconsistent with the School Board’s conclusion that she was better qualified under the totality of the circumstances than Mr. Tyler for the particular job for which she was chosen. Similarly, Mr. Tyler’s reliance on previous evaluations of Ms. Lamar to show pretext is unpersuasive. One evaluation did indicate that one supervisor concluded at the time that her attitude needed improvement and another indicated that her performance Lamar Dep. 15:9-14; 19:1-9, ECF No. 14. was unsatisfactory. And when Ms. Lamar previously left the School District, her separation form said “no-rehire.” Tessin Dep. 34:18-19. But Ms. Tessin explained that the School District determined it did not agree with the opinion of the person who filled out the form. 36:17-23. Mr. Tyler essentially disagrees that Ms. Lamar was better qualified for the position. for this Tessin Dep. Court to decide who it But it is not appropriate would have hired for this position. The question is whether Mr. Tyler has pointed to sufficient disparities in his and Ms. Lamar’s qualifications such that no reasonable factfinder could conclude that she was better qualified, thus leading 12 to the conclusion that race and/or gender, not legitimate qualifications, must have motivated the School District to select her for the position. Mr. Tyler has failed to carry this burden. In summary, the record clearly establishes that the School District sought a candidate who could best resolve conflict and complaints, interact with others, and model good interpersonal skills. Tessin Dep. 76:16-77:3. It believed that person was Ms. Lamar, and Mr. Tyler has pointed to no evidence that the School District made up this reason as a pretext to disguise its alleged true motivation—gender and racial animus. The School District is entitled to summary judgment on Mr. Tyler’s race and gender discrimination claims related to the Transportation Specialist position. CONCLUSION The School District articulated legitimate non- discriminatory reasons for its decisions to select Ms. Lewis and Ms. Lamar instead of Mr. Tyler. that those reasons were Because Mr. Tyler did not show pretext for gender or race discrimination, Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 15) is granted. IT IS SO ORDERED, this 2nd day of July, 2014. S/Clay D. Land CLAY D. LAND UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 13