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Jolivette v. City of Americus

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Columbus Division

December 13, 2018




         This is a race discrimination, comparative qualifications employment case. Roderick Jolivette, a black male, applied for the fire chief position in Americus, Georgia. Americus hired Roger Bivins, a white male, for the position. Jolivette claims that his qualifications were substantially superior to those of Bivins, and therefore, Americus's decision not to hire him must have been because of his race or in retaliation for his past discrimination suits against his previous employer. Americus responds that after considering all of the qualifications of Jolivette and Bivins, including their interviews, it determined that Bivins was the most qualified for the position. Because Jolivette's qualifications are not sufficiently superior to Bivins's such that it is obvious Jolivette was better qualified for the position and because Jolivette pointed to no other evidence that Americus's decision was motivated by race or unlawful retaliation, Americus is entitled to summary judgment on Jolivette's Title VII claims. Accordingly, Americus's motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 13) is granted.


         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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In determining whether a genuine 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. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). 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.


         Viewed in the light most favorable to Jolivette, the record reveals the following facts:

         In February 2017, Americus posted an external job posting for the position of fire chief. The job posting stated that the position required a bachelor's degree in fire science, public administration, or a closely related field, and that a master's degree was preferred. Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. A, Job Posting, ECF No. 13-3. City Manager Steve Kennedy had the authority to hire the new fire chief. Kennedy Aff. ¶ 6, ECF No. 13-5.

         I. Jolivette's Qualifications

         Twenty-six candidates applied for the position. Jones Aff. ¶ 7, ECF No. 13-7. Americus selected five candidates to move forward, including Jolivette and Roger Bivins, a white male who was then a battalion chief for the Americus fire department. Jolivette holds associate degrees in fire science technology and in management and supervisory development, a bachelor's degree in political science, and a master's degree in public administration. Jolivette Résumé 1, ECF No. 20-12. Bivins does not have a bachelor's degree. Bivins Résumé 1, ECF No. 20-11. Jolivette also holds numerous specialized training certificates, many of which Bivins did not have. Compare Jolivette Résumé 1 with Bivins Résumé 1 (demonstrating Jolivette's additional “specialized training”). Further, Jolivette is a fourth-year National Fire Academy executive fire officer student, while Bivins has only completed a few classes towards the certification. Jolivette Résumé 1; Bivins Dep. 68:3-9, ECF No. 20-6. Jolivette also has four NPQ Fire Officer certifications to Bivins's two and three NPQ Fire Instructor certifications to Bivins's one. Jolivette Résumé 1; Bivins Dep. 68:16-69:3. Additionally, unlike Bivins, Jolivette is a certified peace officer, CPR instructor, Georgia fire inspector, arson investigator, and deputized local fire marshal. Jolivette Résumé 1; Bivins Dep. 69:11-22 (admitting lack of these qualifications). Unlike Bivins, Jolivette is also a member of several professional firefighting organizations, serves on several community boards, and has received various civic awards. Jolivette Résumé 1-2.

         Jolivette also has more experience than Bivins as a fire chief and an assistant chief. Jolivette is currently the fire chief of Manchester, Georgia. He previously served several roles in the Albany, Georgia fire department, including assistant fire chief. Id. at 2. Bivins has never served as a fire chief. Bivins Dep. 71:4-11. Americus does not dispute that on paper Jolivette demonstrated impressive credentials. Jones Dep. 87:17-22, ECF No. 20-4. It also acknowledges that it initially placed Bivins's application into the “does not meet minimum qualifications” category. Id. at 59:17-21. Nonetheless, Americus still considered Bivins's application because of the “totality” of his skills, experience, and education, as permitted by the job description. Id. at 59:21-60:3.

         II. The Interview Process

         If Americus hired employees for such key positions as fire chief solely based upon a written résumé, then Jolivette likely would have gotten the job. But Americus, like many (perhaps most) employers, placed great weight on applicant interviews, as demonstrated by the extensive interview process used here. Americus conducted three rounds of interviews. The first interview panel consisted of Kennedy, Americus human resources director Dee Jones, and departing fire chief Allen Erkhardt. Jones Aff. ¶ 8. The second panel included city department heads, fire captains, fire engineers, and fire battalion chiefs. Id. ¶ 10. Four candidates moved forward after the second interview. Id. The remaining candidates then interviewed with a panel of fire chiefs from other local agencies. Id. ¶ 11.

         Americus collected the comments of twenty-eight of Jolivette's interviewers.[1] See generally Def.'s Reply in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. C, Interviewer Comments & Preferences, ECF No. 22-3. By the Court's count, nobody ranked Jolivette first, two interviewers ranked Jolivette second, and the remaining twenty-six interviewers ranked Jolivette third or fourth. By contrast, nineteen interviewers ranked Bivins as their top choice, two ranked him tied for first, two ranked him second, and four ranked him third. Another interviewer felt Bivins was the best choice if Kennedy and Jones wished to promote from within. See Email from J. Roth to D. Jones (Apr. 12, 2017), ECF No. 22-3 at 2. The interviewers far preferred Bivins to Jolivette. Thus, if Americus were to make its selection decision solely on the interview process, Bivins would be the clear choice.

         Before he left Albany, Jolivette sued the Albany fire department twice for race discrimination and retaliation. See Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Interrog. No. 9, ECF No. 13-6 (describing lawsuits in 2003 and 2009). Three of the twenty-eight interviewers expressed concern about the circumstances of Jolivette's departure from the Albany fire department. See Email from H. Williams to D. Jones (Apr. 10, 2017), ECF No. 22-3 at 7 (noting “several issues in [Jolivette's] past”); Email from H. Williams (on behalf of A. Erkhart) to D. Jones (Apr. 14, 2017), ECF No. 22-3 at 32 (explaining that Erkhart would have “liked to have known the details of the incidents in Albany and why [Jolivette] left”); Email from S. Morris to D. Jones (Apr. 9, 2017), ECF No. 22-3 at 10 (explaining that Jolivette “has a few negative issues in his past career path that could serve to project very negatively on the overall image of the City of Americus and The Americus Fire Department. These issues can easily be found through a simple Google search”).[2] Jolivette claims the interviewers “grilled” him on the topic of his past lawsuits. Jolivette Dep. 89:8-10, ECF No. 20-7. Jolivette felt the interviewers focused on the Albany lawsuits rather ...

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