United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division
SHEKITA T. MAXWELL, Plaintiff,
MEGAN J. BRENNAN, Postmaster General of the U.S. Postal Service, Defendant.
T. TREADWELL, JUDGE
Megan J. Brennan, Postmaster General of the U.S. Postal
Service, has moved for summary judgment. Doc. 17. The motion
December 27, 2016, Plaintiff Shekita T. Maxwell, proceeding
pro se, filed this complaint against Defendant Megan J.
Brennan, in her capacity as Postmaster General of the U.S.
Postal Service, alleging Maxwell suffered discrimination,
disparate treatment, and a hostile work environment based on
both her race and gender in violation of Title VII of the
Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et
seq. See generally Doc. 1. The Postal
Service moved for summary judgment on December 13, 2017. Doc.
shall grant summary judgment “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.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In determining whether a genuine dispute
of material fact exists, “[t]he evidence of the
non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences
are to be drawn in his favor.” Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986) (citation
omitted). A material fact is any fact relevant or necessary
to the outcome of the suit. Id. at 248. And a
factual dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such
that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the
non[-]moving party.” Id. (citation omitted).
Accordingly, “the mere existence of a scintilla of
evidence in support of the position will be insufficient;
there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably
find for the non-moving party.” Johnson v. Bd. of
Regents of Univ. of Ga., 263 F.3d 1234, 1243 (11th Cir.
2001) (citation and punctuation marks omitted).
party moving for summary judgment bears the burden to show
that there is no issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The movant may make
this showing by “citing to particular parts of
materials in the record, including depositions, documents,
electronically stored information, affidavits or
declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes
of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or
other materials, ” or by showing that the non-movant
cannot produce admissible evidence to support the issue of
material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). If the movant meets
this burden, the non-moving party must produce evidence
showing that an issue of material fact does exist.
Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324. To do so, the
non-moving party must “go beyond the pleadings”
and identify “specific facts showing a genuine issue
for trial.” Id.; see also Fed. R.
Civ. P. 56(e)(2)-(3). However, “[c]redibility
determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing
of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions,
not those of a judge.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at
255 (citation omitted).
all inferences in favor of Maxwell where possible, the facts
of this case are as follows. On April 4, 2015, Maxwell, an
African-American female, began working with the United States
Postal Service as a postal support employee (PSE) sales,
services, and distribution associate. Doc. 9 at 51, 355.
Maxwell's employment was only temporary with her
appointment scheduled to end on March 28, 2016. Id.
Moreover, her employment included a three-month probationary
period, which, for Maxwell, would have ended on July 3, 2016.
Id. However, her temporary employment proved to be
much shorter, and more tumultuous, than expected, lasting
only until May 7, 2015. Id. at 348.
first worked at her assigned worksite location, the Zebulon
Road Post Office in Macon, Georgia, on April 8, 2015 after
completing orientation. Docs. 9 at 364; 19 at 15:3-16. Soon
after this, Maxwell started having issues with two of her
coworkers, Bonnie Hester and Jacqueline Epps, both of whom
were white. Docs. 9 at 227-231; 19 at 32:6-14. Epps and
Hester, who, according to Maxwell, had a history of treating
other African-American employees poorly, allegedly harassed
Maxwell by “fussing” at her,
“arguing” with her, “jumping in [her] face,
” and saying discriminatory comments, including Hester
telling Maxwell she did not like “her kind, ”
meaning African-Americans, and Epps telling Maxwell that
“White people run this!” Docs. 1 at 11; 19 at
32:9-11, 34:21-35:2, 51:24-53:5. The relationship between
Maxwell and her coworkers continued to sour, and Maxwell
complained about the harassment to her supervisor, Marcus
Daniels. Docs. 1 at 4; 19 at 95:10-16. Maxwell claims that
Daniels, who is also African American, told her he “did
not like black females” and that he would not side with
her against Hester because people would think he favored
African-American employees. Docs. 1 at 4; 9 at 38; 19 at
95:4-7, 95:10-16. In addition to her issues with coworkers,
two weeks into her nearly one-month employment with the
Postal Service, Maxwell learned she was pregnant. Docs. 9 at
100; 19 at 88:15-18. And, after notifying the Postal Service
of this, she was placed on work restrictions, although
Maxwell claims those restrictions were not sufficient. Doc.
19 at 89:8-25.
April 23, 2015, 15 days after Maxwell began working at the
Zebulon Road facility, Maxwell and Hester had a disagreement
related to mail sorting activities, and, in response,
management met with the two, along with a union
representative, to resolve the dispute in accordance with the
Postal Service's standard operating procedures. Doc. 17-2
¶¶ 9-10. The issue was resolved, but then, on April
25, Maxwell and Epps engaged in a heated altercation because
Maxwell was upset that Hester moved a work-related item in
Maxwell's workspace; co-workers had to physically
separate Maxwell and Epps as a result. Docs. 9 at 227-231,
347; 17-2 ¶¶ 3, 12, 14. Once separated, Maxwell,
Hester, and Epps were brought into a conference room to
discuss the incident with two supervisors and a union
representative. Doc. 17-2 ¶¶ 15-16. After Epps
entered the room, she made a “gesture” toward
Maxwell who then “assumed a ‘defensive yet
aggressive posture.'” Id. ¶ 16
(quoting Doc. 9 at 227-231). Daniels then sent all three
women home for the day. Docs. 9 at 245; 17-2 ¶ 17. After
this altercation, Maxwell was placed on emergency leave. Doc.
9 at 227-231, 347. Management then requested that the U.S.
Postal Inspection Service and the Employee Assistance Program
send a Threat Assessment Team to investigate the situation.
Doc. 17-2 ¶ 18.
an investigation and review of the facts, Hester was given a
warning letter, and Epps was suspended for 14 days. Docs. 9
at 245; 17-2 ¶ 19. But Daniels determined that, because
Maxwell had been “extremely aggressive” towards
Daniels and others, it was appropriate to terminate
Maxwell's probationary employment; thus, Maxwell was
fired for failing to “maintain harmonious working
relationships” and for “contribut[ing] to an
unpleasant working environment.” Doc. 9 at 347-48. She
received a Notice of Termination During Probation on May 7,
2015. Docs. 9 at 348; 17-2 ¶ 21. After her termination,
Maxwell unsuccessfully pursued several administrative
remedies against her former employer. See Docs. 1 at
10; 17-2 ¶ 5; see generally Doc. 9. Maxwell
then filed this action, stating claims under Title VII,
specifically that she suffered discrimination, disparate
treatment, and a hostile work environment.
Discrimination and Disparate Treatment Claim
alleges that she suffered discrimination and disparate
treatment based on both her gender and her race in violation
of Title VII. To survive summary judgment on either claim,
she may rely on “direct evidence, circumstantial
evidence, or [ ] statistical proof.” Rioux v. City
of Atlanta, Ga., 520 F.3d 1269, 1274 (11th Cir. 2008).
When a plaintiff relies on circumstantial evidence, the court
determines the sufficiency of her claim through the
burden-shifting framework established in McDonnell
Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973).
Accordingly, the Court must first determine whether Maxwell
presents direct evidence of race or gender-based
Evidence is that which, “if believed, proves [the]
existence of [a] fact in issue without interference or
presumption.” Burrell v. Bd. of Trs. of Ga.
Military Coll., 125 F.3d 1390, 1393 (11th Cir. 1997).
Direct evidence of employment discrimination shows, without
inference, that a decision-maker was motivated by illegal
reasons, like racial animus, in doling out an adverse
employment decision. Quigg v. Thomas County School
Dist., 814 F.3d 1227, 1236 n.5 (11th Cir. 2016);
Williamson v. Adventist Health Sys/Sunbelt, Inc.,
372 Fed.Appx. 936, 940 (11th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted);
Wilson v. B/E Aerospace, Inc., 376 F.3d 1079, 1086
(11th Cir. 2004). Remarks that are isolated and
“unrelated to the challenged employment decision”
do not constitute direct evidence of discrimination.
Rojas v. Florida, 285 F.3d 1339, 1342-43 (11th Cir.
2002). And “[i]f an alleged statement at best merely
suggests a discriminatory motive, then it is by definition
only circumstantial evidence.” Schoenfeld v.
Babbitt, 168 F.3d 1257, 1266 (11th Cir. 1999). Thus,
direct evidence is limited to “[o]nly the most blatant
remarks” that can only be interpreted to show the
decision-maker was motivated to “discriminate on the
basis of some impermissible factor.” See
Quigg, 814 F.3d 1227, 1242 n.11 (alterations in
original) (quoting Wilson, 376 F.3d at 1086)
(explaining that a school board member's statement that
“it is time we put a man in there” was not direct
evidence that a female superintendent was fired for illegal
reasons because the statement could be interpreted not to
refer to that employment decision and, even so, an inference
was still required to reach that conclusion); see also
Carter v. Three Springs Residential Treatment, 132 F.3d
635, 642 (11th Cir. 1998) (“We have held that
statements that are open to more than one interpretation do
not constitute direct evidence of racial
is no direct evidence that Maxwell was discriminated against
because of her gender and pregnancy. Doc. 19 at 31:19-23.
But, construing her allegations liberally, Maxwell alleges
that two statements by her former supervisor, Marcus Daniels,
are direct evidence that her employment was terminated for
discriminatory reasons. First, Maxwell alleges that Daniels, in
explaining why he would not punish Hester in response to
Maxwell's complaints, told her, “They (Tim
Goodwin[, the local Postmaster at the time] and other white
employees) will say Cent (Cynthia Tufts-Supervisor Zebulon
Station) and I are playing the race card if we take your
side.” Doc. 9 at 38. Maxwell does not say when Daniels
made this comment, but she does not contend it was made in
connection with her termination. Thus, there is no evidence
that Daniels's comment relates directly to Daniels's
decision-making in terminating Maxwell's employment.
See Doc. 1 at 4; Doc. 19 at 95:12-1. See Jones
v. BE&K Eng'g Co., 146 Fed.Appx. 356, 358-59
(11th Cir. 2005) (“In order to constitute direct
evidence, the evidence must directly relate in time and
subject to the adverse employment action at issue.”).
Rather, it is an explanation of why Daniels did not take an
employment action against another employee at another time.
See Doc. 1 at 4; Doc. 19 at 95:12-1. So, to be
probative regarding whether Daniels was influenced by an
improper motive when he fired Maxwell, a jury would have to
infer from this statement that (1) Daniels held an overall
reluctance to side with African-American employees when in a
dispute with white employees and (2) that this reluctance
influenced his decision-making when he fired Maxwell.
Therefore, by definition, the evidence could only be
circumstantial because, at most, it merely
“suggests discrimination, leaving the trier of
fact to infer discrimination based on the evidence.”
Earley v. Champion Intern. Corp., 907 F.2d 1077,
1081-82 (11th Cir. 1990) (emphasis in original).
need for inference to link Daniels's comment to
Maxwell's termination is even greater given the two
events that transpired the last three days Maxwell worked.
The April 23 and 25 incidents, which nearly came to physical
violence, led to the involvement of other management
personnel, union officials, and a Threat Assessment Team from
the U.S. Postal Inspection Service that investigated those
incidents. Doc. 17-2 at ¶¶ 9-10, 12, 14-16, 18.
Thus, these intervening events and involvement of other