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Mitchell v. Savannah Airport Commission

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

December 12, 2018




         Before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 33.) For the following reasons, Defendant's motion is GRANTED. As a result, Plaintiff's claims are DISMISSED. The Clerk of Court is DIRECTED to close this case.


         This case arises from the alleged failure of Defendant Savannah Airport Commission ("SAC") to promote Plaintiff Lakisha Mitchell due to her race and gender in violation of Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiff is an African American female who began her employment with SAC as a customer service agent in October of 2007. (Doc. 15 at 2.) Prior to her employment with SAC, Plaintiff's work experience included working in retail, as a childcare provider, and as a leasing agent. (Doc. 35, Ex. 1. at 15-17.) Plaintiff had also obtained a high school diploma. (Id. at 12.) Eventually, Plaintiff began working as a warehouse specialist/runner at the airport. (Id. at 18-19.)

         On July 21, 2008, John Rauback, a Caucasian male, began working at SAC as the director of administration and finance. (Doc. 33, Ex. 16 at 7.) In December 2008, Rauback hired Roger Hamilton, a Caucasian male, to begin working as a buyer in SACs purchasing department. (Doc. 33, Ex. 6.) Plaintiff contends that Hamilton was hired because he previously worked with Rauback and Rauback had promised to "bring [Hamilton] on" in his new position at SAC. (Doc. 33, Ex. 1 at 34.) Prior to joining SAC, Hamilton had prior supervising and purchasing experience in the aviation field. (Doc. 33, Ex. 7.) In 2009, Hamilton was promoted to purchasing agent supervisor. (Doc. 33, Ex. 8.) That same year, Plaintiff was also promoted as a buyer in the purchasing department. (Doc. 33, Ex. 5.)

         In 2 013, Hamilton became ill and left SAC on medical leave. (Doc. 33, Ex. 1 at 32.) Benjamin Long, a Caucasian male, was asked to act as the purchasing agent supervisor until Hamilton could return. (Doc. 33, Ex. 9 at 2.) Long had been employed at SAC since 2008, where he worked as an internal auditor in SAC's accounting department. (Id.) Long had a bachelor's degree in economics from Armstrong University and experience working with SAC s purchasing department. (Id.) Long was officially promoted to purchasing agent supervisor after Hamilton was unable to recover from his illness and permanently resigned from SAC. (Id. at 3.) In his new position, Long retained some of his previous job duties as an internal auditor. (Id.)

         Under Long's tenure as the purchasing agent supervisor, the parties disagree ever Plaintiff Mitchell's role in the purchasing department. Plaintiff contends that she "performed all the duties and functions necessary to run the department and keep it afloat." (Doc. 4 4 at 2 .) In addition, Plaintiff claims that she was required to train Long for his role in the purchasing department. (Id.) Plaintiff's position is supported by several other SAC employees who testified that Plaintiff acted as the supervisor in the purchasing department because Long had no relevant experience. (Doc. 44, Ex. 6 at 1; Doc. 4 4, Ex. 7 at 1.) In contrast, Defendant contends that none of the employees that Plaintiff cited actually worked in the purchasing department. (Doc. 49 at 6.) Instead, Defendant argues that Plaintiff did not train Long because Plaintiff did not have the training or skills to train anyone for the supervisor position. (Doc. 33, Ex. 9 at 3-4.) Rather, Defendant purports that Plaintiff had no supervisory authority in the purchasing department. (Id.)

         In 2015, Long resigned from his role as the purchasing agent supervisor at SAC. (Doc. 33, Ex. 9 at 4.) Defendant SAC began seeking a replacement and Plaintiff Mitchell applied for the position. (Doc. 33, Ex. 1 at 66.) At some point, SAC updated the job description for the position to require a four-year bachelor's degree. (Doc, 44, Ex. 11.) Eventually, the position was given to Fred McCosby, a Caucasian male. (Doc. 33, Ex. 10 at 3.) McCosby had been employed with SAC since 2003. (Id. at 2.) At the time of his promotion, McCosby was an Accredited Airport Executive with a Master of Business Administration in Aviation degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. (Id.) He also had prior purchasing and management experience. (Id.) Before becoming the purchasing agent supervisor, McCosby supervised SAC security and compliance. (Id. at 3.) In his new role, McCosby retained some of his duties overseeing security and compliance at SAC. (Id.)

         In Plaintiffs view, Rauback made the decision not to promote Plaintiff to the position of purchasing agent supervisor because of her race. As evidence, Plaintiff alleges that Rauback never hired any minorities for management positions. (Doc. 44, Ex. 8 at 17.) In addition, Plaintiff reports that Rauback once stated that he did not know why Greg Kelly, SAC s executive director, was "pushing to hire blacks." (Id. at 20.) On April 30, 2015, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). (Doc. 33, Ex. 12.) In her charge, Plaintiff alleged that Defendant SAC improperly discriminated against her due to her race and gender by failing to promote her over McCosby to purchasing agent supervisor. (Id.) After filing her EEOC charge of discrimination, Plaintiff continued to work at SAC. (Doc. 33, Ex. 1 at 50.) Eventually, Plaintiff was promoted to a buyer II position. (Id. at 47.)

         Despite her promotion, Plaintiff contends that her EEOC complaint affected her working environment at SAC. (Id. at 41. } Plaintiff alleges that a fellow employee told her that Rauback stated in a meeting that Plaintiff was a "troublemaker" and that people should be careful what they said around her. (Id.) Other than Rauback's comment, Plaintiff does not provide any specific interactions or conversations where other employees treated her differently or referenced her EEOC complaint. (Id. at 50.) Plaintiff, however, contends that her coworkers began to "look at her different [ly] ." (Id. at 83.) She even reports that her relationship with the Airport Director, Lenard Robinson, became generally "strained and different." (Id. at 45-6.)

         On October 11, 2017, Plaintiff filed suit in this Court. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiff has since filed an amended complaint and seconded amended complaint in this action. (Doc. 14; Doc. 15.) In her second amended complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant SAC improperly discriminated against her due to her race and gender by failing to promote her for a position for which she was qualified. (Doc. 15 at 6.) In addition, Plaintiff contends that she was subject to a hostile work environment and retaliation after she made complaints about Defendant SAC's alleged practices of discrimination. (Id. at 6-7.) As relief, Plaintiff requests a "retroactive promotion to the GS-15 level, with all attendant back pay, benefits, and other emoluments of employment," $1, 500, 000.00 in compensatory damages, front pay, and attorneys' fees and costs. (Id. at 7-8.)

         For its part, Defendant has now filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, seeking dismissal of the entirety of Plaintiff s complaint. (Doc. 3 3.) Defendant contends that Plaintiff has failed to allege sufficient evidence to support her claims that Defendant SAC discriminated against her by failing to promote her or retaliated against her after she made an EEOC complaint. In addition, Defendant argues that Plaintiff has not offered any evidence to support her hostile work environment claim.



         According to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), "'[a] party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense-or the part of each claim of defense-on which summary judgment is sought." Such a motion must be granted "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." Id. The "purpose of summary judgment is to "pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial.'" Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 advisory coiruni11ee notes) .

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the nonmovant "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The substantive law governing the action determines whether an element is ...

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