LaFleur v. Wallace State Community College

Citation955 F.Supp. 1406
Decision Date18 June 1996
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 94-D-747-N.
PartiesWendolyn LaFLEUR, Plaintiff, v. WALLACE STATE COMMUNITY COLLEGE, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Alabama

Anita L. Kelly, Kenneth L. Thomas, Montgomery, AL, for plaintiff.

Edward M. George, Harry A. Lyles, Jeffery A. Foshee, Montgomery, AL, James R. Knight, Cullman, AL, Renee Culverhouse, Office of Atty. Gen., Montgomery, AL, for defendants.


DE MENT, District Judge.

Plaintiff Wendolyn LaFleur, a black female, brought this race discrimination action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2000e17, and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, as enforced by 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The plaintiff, a former business education instructor at Wallace State Community College ("Wallace College") in Hanceville, Alabama, claims that Wallace College and its President, Dr. James C. Bailey,1 discriminated against her because of her race when they refused to renew her nine-month probationary contract of employment.2 The plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, reinstatement, back pay and lost benefits, as well as attorneys' fees and costs.

The court presided over a three-day bench trial in this case on July 12-14, 1995, at which time the parties presented oral testimony and introduced numerous exhibits into evidence. After careful scrutiny of all the evidence as applied to the applicable law, the court finds in favor of the plaintiff and against the defendants. Pursuant to Rule 52(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the court hereby enters its Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law.


Subject matter jurisdiction is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, 28 U.S.C. § 1343, and 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3). The parties do not contest personal jurisdiction or venue. Furthermore, the court finds that the plaintiff has fulfilled the two jurisdictional prerequisites for instituting a Title VII lawsuit. The plaintiff timely filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), wherein she asserted a claim of race discrimination. Furthermore, after receiving a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC, the plaintiff seasonably filed this action. See McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 798, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 1822, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973).


The burden of proof in civil cases is the same regardless of whether the finder of fact is a judge in a bench trial or a jury. Cabrera v. Jakabovitz, 24 F.3d 372, 380 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 876, 115 S.Ct. 205, 130 L.Ed.2d 135 (1994). That is, a plaintiff bears the burden of satisfying the finder of fact that he or she has proven every element of his or her claim by a preponderance of the evidence. A preponderance of the evidence means such evidence as, when considered with that opposed to it, has more convincing force, and demonstrates that what is sought to be proved "is more likely true than not true." See Pattern Jury Instructions (Civil Cases) of the District Judges Assoc. of the Eleventh Circuit, Basic Instruction No. 6.1 (1990).

In bench trials, the judge serves as the sole fact-finder and, thus, assumes the role of the jury. In this capacity, the judge's function includes weighing the evidence, evaluating the credibility of witnesses, and deciding questions of fact, as well as issues of law. Childrey v. Bennett, 997 F.2d 830, 834 (11th Cir.1993) (holding that "it is the exclusive province of the judge in non-jury trials to assess the credibility of witnesses and to assign weight to their testimony").

Moreover, "a trial judge sitting without a jury is entitled to even greater latitude concerning the admission or exclusion of evidence." Goodman v. Highlands Ins. Co., 607 F.2d 665, 668 (5th Cir.1979) (citing Wright v. Southwest Bank, 554 F.2d 661 (5th Cir. 1977)). See also Lee v. Russell County Bd. of Educ., 684 F.2d 769, 776 n. 5 (11th Cir. 1982) (stating that the court has "broad discretion over the admission of evidence in a bench trial").3


Defendant Wallace State Community College ("Wallace College"), located in Hanceville, Alabama, is a State of Alabama public institution of postsecondary education. See Ala.Code § 16-60-110 (1996). Since the inception of Wallace College, the majority of the faculty members have been white, and, during the 1992-93 academic year, four of the ninety-two faculty members were black. Since 1975, Wallace College has been under federal court orders to actively recruit qualified black applicants for full-time faculty positions.

Defendant James C. Bailey ("President Bailey"), a white male, is President of Wallace College and acts as its employing authority. He has served in this capacity since 1971.

In January 1992, Wallace College announced a job vacancy for the position of "Professor of Business & Secretarial Science," which listed the following qualifications: "Masters degree required[;] 18 hours graduate semester hours in field[;] Work experience in field[;] Instructional experience preferred[.]" Pl.'s Trial Ex. 3. The job announcement listed the "Salary Range" as "9 months = $20,686-$39,120 — Salary based on level of formal education, work experience, and number of years full time teaching experience."4 Id.

In response to this announcement, the plaintiff applied for the position by letter dated March 23, 1992. It is undisputed that the plaintiff met the advertised requirements for the position of Professor of Business and Secretarial Science: (1) She had received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Education and also a Master of Science Degree in Business Education from Alabama A & M University, as well as a Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Business Administration from the American University of Science and Technology; (2) she had at least the equivalent of eighteen semester hours of graduate study in the field of business and/or business education; and (3) she had instructional and work experience in field.

The Academic Dean, Dr. Robert Guthery ("Dean Guthery"), interviewed the plaintiff in person on at least three occasions and also corresponded with her several times by telephone and through the mail. Dean Guthery's job duties included the recruitment and recommendation for employment of faculty.5 During her first interview, the plaintiff met with Dean Guthery, and he addressed the job requirements, hours of employment, work schedule and salary. Subsequently, the plaintiff met with Dean Guthery and President Bailey, during which time she discussed her academic training and background. During a third meeting, the plaintiff met with Dean Guthery and JoAnn Hathcoat ("Ms. Hathcoat"), the chairperson of the Business Education Department. Ms. Hathcoat inquired about the plaintiff's computer skills and reviewed with her the fall teaching schedule. Both Dean Guthery and Ms. Hathcoat are white.

Dean Guthery was favorably impressed with the plaintiff during the interview process. In fact, both President Bailey and Dean Guthery testified that they wanted to hire the plaintiff. Hence, the plaintiff was offered and accepted employment in the Spring of 1992 for the 1992-93 academic year. When the plaintiff was hired, the appropriate deans and department heads submitted hiring recommendations to the President of Wallace College. Hence, the court may reasonably infer, and so finds, that both Dean Guthery and Ms. Hathcoat participated to some extent in President Bailey's decision to offer the plaintiff the position.

Wallace College hired the plaintiff under a nine-month contract as a Professor of Business and Secretarial Science for the first three academic quarters of the 1992-93 academic year. The plaintiff was the only black person ever employed in an instructional capacity in the Business Education Department. During the plaintiff's employment, Ms. Hathcoat was the plaintiff's immediate supervisor.

The plaintiff was employed pursuant to the Revised Hearing Procedure of the State Board of Education. Under the Revised Hearing Procedure, full-time instructors are hired for contracts of three, nine, or twelve months and are on probationary status for three years from the date of initial employment. During the three-year probationary period, the instructor's employment contract may be nonrenewed with or without cause at the end of any contract, upon written notice of nonrenewal to the employee at least fifteen days prior to the end of the contract.

The court heard extensive testimony about an ongoing and vigorous dispute between the plaintiff and Wallace College administrators regarding her salary. According to the plaintiff, the salary listed in her teaching contract ($29,288) was approximately $7,000 less than Dean Guthery had represented during her initial employment interview. In an attempt to resolve the problem with her placement on the Salary Schedule, the plaintiff had at least one face-to-face meeting with Dr. Karen Stanfield,6 at least one meeting with Dean Guthery and Dr. Jerry Galin,7 and at least two meetings with President Bailey.

The court finds that the details of this salary dispute are unimportant for resolution of this lawsuit. It is important, however, that the continued argument about the plaintiff's salary created intense friction and tension between the plaintiff and Wallace College administrators. This dispute may be summarized as follows: During the plaintiff's initial hiring interview, Dean Guthery represented to the plaintiff that he thought she would qualify for Rank IV, Step 10 placement on the Salary Schedule ($36,720). At trial, Dean Guthery testified that his statement was based upon an erroneous assumption that the plaintiff's Ph.D. was from an accredited graduate school.8 However, when he later received her transcripts, he learned...

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