Arrington v. Cobb County, No. 96-9114

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtBIRCH
Citation139 F.3d 865
Decision Date24 April 1998
Docket NumberNo. 96-9114
Parties76 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 1270, 73 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 45,369, 11 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. C 1284 Nancy ARRINGTON, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. COBB COUNTY, Robert Hightower, in His Official Capacity as Director of Cobb County's Public Safety Commission, Nathan Wilson, in His Official Capacity as Fire Chief of Cobb County's Department of Fire and Emergency Service, Defendants-Appellees.

Page 865

139 F.3d 865
76 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 1270,
73 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 45,369,
11 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. C 1284
Nancy ARRINGTON, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
COBB COUNTY, Robert Hightower, in His Official Capacity as
Director of Cobb County's Public Safety Commission, Nathan
Wilson, in His Official Capacity as Fire Chief of Cobb
County's Department of Fire and Emergency Service,
Defendants-Appellees.
No. 96-9114.
United States Court of Appeals,
Eleventh Circuit.
April 24, 1998.
As Amended May 28, 1998.
Rehearing Denied July 1, 1998.

Page 867

Harlan S. Miller, III, David C. Ates, Kirwan, Parks, Chesin & Remar, P.C., Atlanta, GA, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Jerry Lovvorn Gentry, Christine C. Daniel, Office of Cobb Cty. Atty. Law Dept., Marietta, GA, for Defendants-Appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

Before TJOFLAT, BIRCH and MARCUS *, Circuit Judges.

BIRCH, Circuit Judge:

In this appeal, we determine whether material questions of fact exist with regard to plaintiff-appellant Nancy Arrington's gender discrimination claims against defendant-appellees

Page 868

Cobb County, Robert Hightower, and Nathan Wilson. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of appellees after finding that Arrington had failed to show that she had been discriminated against on the basis of her gender. For the reasons that follow, we REVERSE.

I. BACKGROUND

From 1984 to 1994, Arrington held the job of Assistant Fire Chief for the Cobb County Fire Department. In 1994, however, appellees eliminated the Assistant Fire Chief position and demoted Arrington to Lieutenant. This case stems from appellees' decision to demote Arrington rather than to promote her to Fire Chief or transfer her to Deputy Chief. Because this appeal is from the district court's grant of summary judgement, we view the facts in the light most favorable to Arrington. See Southpace Properties, Inc. v. Acquisition Group, 5 F.3d 500, 504 (11th Cir.1993).

Prior to her demotion in 1994, Arrington served for over twenty years in a variety of roles within the Cobb County Fire Department. Although County rules during the 1970's prohibited women from becoming firefighters, Arrington joined the Department in 1971 as a secretary, later receiving promotions to Fire Prevention Officer (1978-79) and Fire Lieutenant in charge of Fire Prevention (1979-84). When Cobb County lifted its prohibition on female firefighters in 1980, Arrington became a certified firefighter but never took an active firefighting position.

In 1984, Arrington won promotion to the position of Assistant Chief for Administration after submitting to a competitive examination. 1 In choosing Arrington over three other candidates for the Assistant Chief position, Fire Chief W.D. Hilton relied on Arrington's "performance on the examination, her excellent job performance ... and her knowledge of fire department operations and administration." R2-26 Exh. A p 10 at 3 (Hilton Aff.). 2 Hilton promoted Arrington to Assistant Chief with the concurrence of the County Manager and the Civil Service Board.

In her position as Assistant Chief for Administration, Arrington had a number of official responsibilities. As the chief administrator for the Department, Arrington supervised and assessed all six of the Department's Colonels, who regularly reported to Arrington regarding their respective "Training," "Extinguishment," "Fire Marshal," "Budget," "Research and Development," and "Building and Fleet Maintenance" responsibilities. In addition, Arrington assisted Chief Hilton in preparing and presenting the Department's budgets, wrote technical reports, met with the County Manager and County Board of Commissioners, and spoke to other professional and community groups. Further, Arrington managed a variety of the Department's special projects. In 1985, for example, Arrington oversaw the development of an Emergency Medical Services (EMS) program that soon "was reputed to be the best in the State and one of the best in the Southeast." Id. p 12 at 4. Similarly, Arrington lead the Department's successful 1988 effort to reduce its insurance classification, assisting the Department's cause "greatly" with her "knowledge of all aspects of firefighting, including administrative and operations knowledge." Id. p 15 at 5. At the same time, Arrington was responsible for "a territory equal to [that of] other management staff members to be on call for major fires and emergencies." Id. p 21 at 7.

Beyond her official portfolio, Arrington also assumed a broad range of additional responsibilities during her tenure as Assistant Chief. Although the County technically had an Assistant Chief for Operations, H.K.

Page 869

Nixon, a management study of the Department found in 1992 that Arrington was functioning as Chief Hilton's second-in-command for operations as well as administration:

The Assistant Director, Administration [Arrington] is performing outside the boundaries of the job description as it was originally designed. The current incumbent is performing administrative and operational decisions....

....

The job description is written for management of the "Administrative Services Division." However, the current incumbent is serving as second in command and assisting in supervising and controlling all activities of the Fire Department (i.e., supervising/managing line and staff colonels). These are responsibilities of the Assistant Director, Operations' job description.

R2-26 Exh. C at 2, 6. 3 In response to this report, Chief Hilton wrote to the County Manager not only that he agreed that Arrington had assumed an operations-related role beyond her title, but also that he intended to expand her official job description to encompass the duties of the Assistant Chief for Operations (once Nixon retired). See R2-26 Exh. D. In fact, Chief Hilton has explained that he consciously made Arrington the de facto head of the Department upon his becoming President of the International Association of Fire Chiefs in 1990. See R2-26 Exh. A p 17 at 6 (Hilton Aff.) ("In my absence Assistant Chief Arrington performed the duties of Fire Chief and ran the department for me."). 4

Moreover, all of the evidence before the court indicates that Arrington excelled as Assistant Chief. Although appellees insist throughout their brief that Arrington had no right, as someone who did not rise through the ranks, to hold a high post in the Department, they have not offered any evidence that Arrington ever performed her official or unofficial duties as Assistant Chief in anything less than an exemplary manner. Indeed, appellees have made no attempt to refute Chief Hilton's assessment that "Nancy Arrington, throughout her tenure with the County Fire Department[,] has earned the respect of her peers, her department, and fire officials throughout the State and Country." Id. p 19 at 6.

In 1993, Chief Hilton announced his retirement (effective in 1994) as the County moved toward a restructuring of its public safety agencies. Central to this reorganization effort, the County planned to bring its separate Police, Fire, and Corrections Departments within one, consolidated Public Safety Department, thereby reducing administrative and other inefficiencies. Leading the County's reorganization effort, the newly-installed Public Safety Director, Robert Hightower, had responsibility for selecting the County's new Fire Chief. After conducting a series of interviews, Hightower chose Nathan Wilson as the new Chief, passing over Assistant Chief Arrington and eight other candidates for the position. 5 As an experienced firefighter, Wilson had risen through the ranks of the Department, from firefighter in 1965 to Colonel at the time of his selection as Fire Chief. In explaining and defending Wilson's promotion over Arrington in the course of this suit, Hightower has cited Arrington's lack of "operational experience" as the key element that rendered her unqualified for the position.

Once Wilson assumed his new position as Chief, he joined Hightower in determining how to integrate the County's Fire Department into the new Public Safety Department. Of particular relevance to this case, Wilson and Hightower decided to replace the two Assistant Fire Chief positions (Administration and Operations) with a new, consolidated

Page 870

second-in-command position of "Deputy Chief." 6 Upon the Board of Commissioners' acceptance of Wilson and Hightower's restructuring plan, Wilson chose David Hayes to serve as the new Deputy Chief, demoting Arrington to Lieutenant. 7 Like Wilson, Hayes had risen through the ranks from firefighter to Colonel before his most recent promotion to Deputy Chief, and Wilson has explained and defended his passing over of Arrington as a reflection of her lack of "operational experience" in fighting fires. 8

Following her demotion, Arrington brought suit against the County, Hightower, and Wilson in the district court. Specifically, Arrington alleged that appellees had discriminated against her on the basis of her gender in (1) denying her the Fire Chief position, (2) denying her the Deputy Chief position, and (3) demoting her to Lieutenant, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (enforced through 42 U.S.C. § 1983). Further, Arrington claimed that the appellees had violated the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d), by (1) paying her alleged "successor" Hayes a higher salary as Deputy Chief than she had received for her "substantially equal" work as Assistant Chief and (2) paying her less as a Lieutenant than her male Lieutenant peers.

After appellees moved for summary judgment, the district court assigned the case to a magistrate judge for evaluation. In a Report & Recommendation ("R & R"), the magistrate judge suggested that the district court: (1) grant summary judgment in favor of appellees on...

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364 practice notes
  • Blalock v. Dale County Bd. of Educ., No. CIV. A. 97-D-650-S.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Middle District of Alabama
    • December 15, 1999
    ...Plaintiff's § 1983 claim based on a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. See Arrington v. Cobb County, 139 F.3d 865, 872 (11th Cir. 18. The court notes that there is no requirement that a plaintiff exhaust his or administrative remedies before filing suit un......
  • Martin v. Wrigley, CIVIL ACTION FILE NO. 1:20-CV-596-MHC
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Northern District of Georgia
    • May 21, 2021
    ...acting under color of state law. Livadas v. Bradshaw, 512 U.S. 107, 132, 114 S.Ct. 2068, 129 L.Ed.2d 93 (1994) ; Arrington v. Cobb Cnty., 139 F.3d 865, 872 (11th Cir. 1998). "[S]ection 1983 imposes liability only ‘for violations of rights protected by the Constitution, not for violations of......
  • Vinson v. Clarke County, Ala., No. Civ.A. 95-0819-RV-M.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Southern District of Alabama
    • June 17, 1998
    ...that the constitutional deprivation was caused by a person or persons acting under the color of state law. See Arrington v. Cobb County, 139 F.3d 865, 872 (11th Cir.1998). There is no question that all defendants were acting under the color of Alabama law. Counsel for defendants has not sug......
  • Smith v. Alabama Dept. of Public Safety, No. CIV.A.98-D-340-N.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Middle District of Alabama
    • September 20, 1999
    ...through circumstantial evidence. 411 U.S. 792, 802, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 1824, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973); see also Arrington v. Cobb County, 139 F.3d 865, 873 (11th Cir.1998) (stating that to establish a prima facie case of discrimination through circumstantial evidence, former assistant fire chief, ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
364 cases
  • Blalock v. Dale County Bd. of Educ., No. CIV. A. 97-D-650-S.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Middle District of Alabama
    • December 15, 1999
    ...Plaintiff's § 1983 claim based on a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. See Arrington v. Cobb County, 139 F.3d 865, 872 (11th Cir. 18. The court notes that there is no requirement that a plaintiff exhaust his or administrative remedies before filing suit un......
  • Martin v. Wrigley, CIVIL ACTION FILE NO. 1:20-CV-596-MHC
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Northern District of Georgia
    • May 21, 2021
    ...acting under color of state law. Livadas v. Bradshaw, 512 U.S. 107, 132, 114 S.Ct. 2068, 129 L.Ed.2d 93 (1994) ; Arrington v. Cobb Cnty., 139 F.3d 865, 872 (11th Cir. 1998). "[S]ection 1983 imposes liability only ‘for violations of rights protected by the Constitution, not for violations of......
  • Vinson v. Clarke County, Ala., No. Civ.A. 95-0819-RV-M.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Southern District of Alabama
    • June 17, 1998
    ...that the constitutional deprivation was caused by a person or persons acting under the color of state law. See Arrington v. Cobb County, 139 F.3d 865, 872 (11th Cir.1998). There is no question that all defendants were acting under the color of Alabama law. Counsel for defendants has not sug......
  • Smith v. Alabama Dept. of Public Safety, No. CIV.A.98-D-340-N.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Middle District of Alabama
    • September 20, 1999
    ...through circumstantial evidence. 411 U.S. 792, 802, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 1824, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973); see also Arrington v. Cobb County, 139 F.3d 865, 873 (11th Cir.1998) (stating that to establish a prima facie case of discrimination through circumstantial evidence, former assistant fire chief, ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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