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Grovner v. Georgia Department of Natural Resources

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Brunswick Division

March 31, 2015

IRE GENE GROVNER, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES, and FRED HAY, JR., in his individual capacity, Defendants.

ORDER

LISA GODBEY WOOD, Chief District Judge.

Presently before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants Georgia Department of Natural Resources ("DNR") and Fred Hay, Jr. Dkt. No. 28. Through their Motion, Defendants seek summary judgment on all claims asserted against them in this employment discrimination action. Plaintiff has filed a Response in opposition to the Motion, and Defendants have filed a reply. Dkt. Nos. 30 & 32. For the reasons which follow, Defendants' Motion is GRANTED.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND[1]

Defendant DNR and the University System of Georgia own and operate most of the land on Sapelo Island, a barrier island off the Georgia coast. Dkt. No. 23-2, P. 1. Sapelo Island largely is accessed by a ferry system, which consists of the Katie Underwood and the Annemarie. Defendant DNR owns, operates, and maintains these ferry boats. Id. at p. 2. Defendant DNR employs a senior captain, two captains, and three mates to operate these ferries which make three round trips a day between the Sapelo Island Visitors' Center in Meridian, Georgia, and Sapelo Island, with additional runs for special occasions and emergencies. Id. at pp. 2-3. The senior captain is the direct supervisor for the captains and the mates, and the senior captain's supervisor is Defendant Hay. Dkt. No. 1, p. 4.

Defendant Hay became the Sapelo Island manager in April 2004. In his capacity as Island manager, Defendant Hay usually reviews the applications for any position which is available in the ferry system. See Dkt. No. 28-2, p. 11. Any job announcements are made under DNR Standard Operating Procedure ("SOP") Number 004-A. This SOP allows the Division Personnel Representatives and/or managers to "make preliminary minimum qualification review decision[s] for all DNR jobs." Id.

DNR personnel are to review applications, resumes, and/or work histories to determine whether the applicant meets the minimum job requirements for the job announcement. Id . Personnel can also screen applicants using the preferred qualifications listed on the vacancy announcement. Personnel are to verify the accuracy of any information the applicant provides. Id . All selection criteria and interview questions "must be established prior to the scheduling of interviews or screening of [an] applicant's qualifications[ ]" and are to be applied equally to all candidates. Id. at pp. 11-12. Any interview questions must be based on selection criteria applicable to the position, and interviews are to be conducted by people with knowledge of the job requirements for the position. At least one of the interviewers is to have managerial or supervisory responsibility for the vacancy or similar position. Id. at p. 12. Each interviewer completes a confidential interview/evaluation form for each applicant by rating each applicant's answer to the interview questions with a numerical score.

Once these forms are completed and the scores are tabulated, the chairperson of the selection board completes the selection summary sheet and lists each applicant in descending order according to the total score received and sends the recommendation packets to DNR's office in Atlanta. Id . The recommendation must be approved by the appointing authority for the DNR before the applicant is given the job. Id.

DNR advertised for an open captain position in the Sapelo Island ferry system in 2012, and Plaintiff applied. Dkt. No. 1, p. 4. Plaintiff was working as a boat captain for Manson Construction at the time he applied, and he was also running his tour guide business, Sapelo Sights. Id. at pp. 3-4. Plaintiff met the minimum qualifications for the captain position, as did applicants Mark Thompson and Tripp Durant. Id. at p. 4. These three (3) men were interviewed for the captain position. The interview panel consisted of Defendant Hay, Mike Lewis, who is the senior captain, and David Mixon, the Wildlife Resources Division Coastal Region Manager and Defendant Hay's boss. Dkt. No. 28-2, p. 15. After the interview process was completed, the recommendation was sent through DNR's chain of command. Mr. Thompson, who is white, was selected to fill the captain position over Plaintiff, who is black, and Durant, who is also white. Id . and at p. 19.

Subsequent to the captain hiring process, DNR announced a vacancy for the mate position, and Plaintiff applied for that opening. Plaintiff, Mr. Durant, and six (6) other men met the minimum qualifications for the mate position and were interviewed. The interview panel consisted of Defendant Hay, Mr. Lewis, and Willis Joel Hillery, a current ferry captain. Id. at p. 21. Once the interview process was completed, and the recommendation was sent through the DNR's chain of command, Mr. Durant was selected for the mate position.

Plaintiff claims he was better qualified than the men chosen for the captain and mate positions, both of whom are white, and that Defendants discriminated against him based on his race by hiring these men. Dkt. No. 1, pp. 6-7. Plaintiff filed claims for racial discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") after each instance of Defendant DNR hiring another person to fill each respective position. Id . Plaintiff seeks relief against Defendant DNR based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., and against Defendant Hay pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983. Id. at pp. 8-9.

Defendants contend that Defendant DNR had legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for not hiring Plaintiff and that, therefore, Plaintiff fails to establish a Title VII race discrimination claim. Dkt. No. 28-1, pp.4-23. Defendants also argue that Defendant Hay is protected from suit by qualified immunity. Id. at pp. 23-24.

SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Summary judgment "shall" be granted if "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED.R. Civ. P. 56(a). "A dispute about a material fact is genuine and summary judgment is inappropriate if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. However, there must exist a conflict in substantial evidence to pose a jury question." Hall v. Sunjoy Indus. Grp., Inc., 764 F.Supp.2d 1297, 1301 (M.D. Fla. 2011) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242 (1986), and ( Verbraeken v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 881 F.2d 1041, 1045 (11th Cir. 1989)).

The moving party bears the burden of establishing that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Williamson Oil Co., Inc. v. Philip Morris USA, 346 F.3d 1287, 1298 (11th Cir. 2003). Specifically, the moving party must identify the portions of the record which establish that there are no "genuine dispute[s] as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Moton v. Cowart, 631 F.3d 1337, 1341 (11th Cir. 2011). When the nonmoving party would have the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may discharge its burden by showing that the record lacks evidence to support the nonmoving party's case or that the nonmoving party would be unable to prove his case at trial. See id. (citing Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986)). In determining whether a summary judgment motion should be granted, a court must view the record and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from the record in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Peek-A-Boo Lounge of Bradenton, Inc. v. Manatee Cnty., Fla., 630 F.3d 1346, 1353 (11th Cir. 2011).

DISCUSSION

The instant Motion requires the Court to apply the above-explained summary judgement standard to each claim ...


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