Carter v. Three Springs Residential Treatment

Decision Date06 January 1998
Docket NumberNo. 97-6256,97-6256
Citation132 F.3d 635
Parties76 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 1635, 72 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 45,148, 11 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. C 925 Charles L. CARTER, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. THREE SPRINGS RESIDENTIAL TREATMENT, Defendant-Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit

John R. Brenn, Sheffield, AL, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

David J. Middlebrooks, Christopher S. Enloe, Brent L. Crampton, Birmingham, AL, for Defendant-Appellee.

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

Before HATCHETT, Chief Judge, and FAY and FARRIS *, Senior Circuit Judges.

FAY, Senior Circuit Judge:

Plaintiff-Appellant Charles L. Carter, a black male, brought this Title VII action against his employer, Defendant-Appellee Three Springs Residential Treatment ("Three Springs"), alleging that Three Springs' decision to promote Greg Haynes, a white male, to the position of Program Director at its Courtland, Alabama facility was motivated by unlawful racial discrimination. After the close of discovery, the district court entered summary judgment for Three Springs, finding that Carter failed to produce either direct evidence of racial discrimination, or circumstantial evidence in satisfaction of the elements of a prima facie case of disparate treatment as set out in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973). Because we find that the evidence in this record, when viewed in the light most favorable to Carter, satisfies the McDonnell Douglas elements and could be found to cast doubt on the legitimacy of Three Springs' reasons for not promoting Carter, we reverse the entry of summary judgment and remand for trial.

I. FACTS
A. Background

Three Springs' facility in Courtland, Alabama (the "Courtland facility"), which opened in 1990, specializes in the treatment of young males with histories of sexual crimes or other serious mental health problems. The population of the Courtland facility tends to be very aggressive, consisting of children and young adults who can be sociopathic in nature and have great difficulty telling right from wrong. The Courtland facility addresses these problems through psychotropic medicine, psychological counseling, and educational services.

To deliver this care, the Courtland facility has a large staff, much of which is under the supervision of the facility's Program Director. According to the published job description, the Program Director "is responsible for the sound management and effective service of all clinical departments. This position coordinates the clinical services of the facility to maximize effectiveness and eliminate duplication of effort." The departments supervised by the Program Director include Family Services, Educational Services, Admissions, Administration, and Nursing. The Assistant Director of Nursing supervises the various categories of Counselors at the facility, including the positions occupied by Carter during his tenure as a Three Springs employee. The Program Director's direct supervisor is the facility's Administrator. At the time that Carter was considered for promotion to the position of Program Director, the Administrator was Dr. Pam Cook. It is uncontested that the decision not to promote Carter was made by Cook and her immediate supervisor, Beverly McLemore, Three Springs' Director of Operations.

Carter applied for a position at the Courtland facility in September 1990 at the age of 57. He had retired about a year earlier from a long career as an educator in Alabama public schools. In 1956, Carter had his first job as a coach and teacher at Cherokee High School in Colbert County, Alabama. After just four years, he was hired to be principal of the Webster School in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. In 1967, the Webster School was closed and turned into a Head Start Center, a pre-school for underprivileged children. Carter stayed on as a teacher until 1971.

In 1971, Carter was hired as a physical education teacher at Avalon Middle School and Muscle Shoals High School. In 1972 he became principal of Avalon Middle School, in part by order of the old Fifth Circuit. 1 The school board fired Carter for insubordination in 1977. He sued and was denied relief in an order affirmed by this court. 2 After a brief hiatus, he was hired by his alma mater, Alabama State University, to teach education administration in the graduate school of education. In 1978, he left the university to become a project director for the National Employment Service, a program funded by the Department of Labor and charged with helping the unemployed find work. After the program lost its funding, Carter worked briefly for an attorney helping him to prepare racial discrimination lawsuits. In 1982, he returned to public education as principal of Bullock County High School. After six years on the job, he retired in 1988.

In addition to his job experience, Carter also boasted a bachelor's degree from Alabama State University in Physical Education and History received in 1956, and a master's degree from Indiana University in Educational Administration-Guidance received in 1966. He continued to take courses in the field of educational administration at the University of Alabama until 1978.

Carter was hired to be a Counselor Aide at the Courtland facility after interviewing with McLemore in September 1990. Carter testified in his deposition that, as a Counselor Aide, his job was to man a post and check in with his supervisor for the assignment of various tasks. These tasks included talking with students, going for walks with them, playing sports with them, and "counsel[ing] with them." Carter described these counseling sessions: "Well, some children come from Georgia or someplace, and they needed a--just to talk. They needed to tell you about their problems. And you just mainly--sometimes you'd just listen. And if they asked you a question, you'd try to help him solve it." Carter testified that he would report his conversations with students to psychiatrists and social workers.

Carter served as Counselor Aide until January 1991 when he was promoted by McLemore and Cook to the position of Counselor I. Carter testified that he asked Cook and McLemore for the promotion and received it after "[s]omebody got fired or quit." Carter described his responsibilities as Counselor I:

My job duties as a counselor was to again do the one-to-one counseling, teach counselors--teach Life Skills at night one day a week--or two days a week, two days a week, and supervise the group when I go to lunch, supervise them on the playground, supervise them in the hall, and in the mornings, wake them up, see to it that everybody took a bath and get ready for breakfast at 6:00, and whatever I was told--whatever else I was told to do.

Three Springs' official job description for the position of Counselor I was, "Provides direct service delivery to resident population and assures quality documentation in resident medical report."

In September of 1992, Carter was made a shift supervisor by Cook with supervisory responsibility over other counselors. Although he was considered for vacancies in the position of Program Director in late 1992 and early 1993, he was not promoted. In May of 1993 Carter was again promoted to the position of Counselor II. The job description for the position of Counselor II is identical to that of Counselor I. Later, in 1993, he was again considered for the position of Program Director, but the position never became vacant.

In general, Carter's performance as a Counselor received high marks from his supervisors, and the general quality of his work as a counselor is not disputed by Three Springs. He received one oral reprimand for his involvement in an incident where two residents escaped from the facility. On another occasion he was informed that he needed to improve the quality of his written reports.

B. The Employment Decisions at Issue

The controversy in this case revolves around Three Springs' efforts, once in 1992 and twice in 1993, to fill the position of Program Director. Carter testified in deposition that as early as 1990 he made his interest in the position clear to Cook and McLemore, and they do not dispute that he was considered for the promotion on at least three different occasions.

Three Springs had written policies that pertain to the process of filling the position. First, Three Springs had the policy that "[a]ll open positions will be announced internally by posting the position on the staff bulletin board in order for employees to be aware of, and apply for, positions for which they are qualified." Second, "[i]f more than one staff member qualifies for the same position, the promotion decision will be based upon (in this order): 1) job performance in existing role; 2) seniority within the job classification; 3) seniority within the organization." Last, Three Springs had a written job description for the position of Program Director that included a list of the "position requirements":

EDUCATION: Master's degree from an accredited college or university in mental health-related clinical field, or administrative field, or Ph.D. in clinical or administrative area.

EXPERIENCE: Three to five years of clinical experience with prior administrative experience in a psychiatric in-patient setting. Licensure or certification by appropriate state body if applicable to educational degree. Prior experience in facility which meets JCAHO and Medicare standards desired.

SPECIAL KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS: 1) Exceptional verbal and written skills are required to effectively express ideas and views when (a) speaking to groups, medical staff, clinical personnel, and administrator; (b) for preparing written reports in technical language; for (c) clarify [sic] in supervising and delegating responsibility to department heads. 2) Ability to evaluate and utilize data from statistical reports, budgets, descriptions of programs. 3) Must...

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