Moore v. Jackson Cnty. Bd. of Educ. & Kenneth Harding

Decision Date28 October 2013
Docket NumberCivil Action No. CV–12–S–2007–NE.
Citation979 F.Supp.2d 1251
PartiesDebrah J. MOORE, Plaintiff, v. JACKSON COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION and Kenneth Harding, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Alabama


Edward Still, Birmingham, AL, for Plaintiff.

E. Dianne Gamble, Mark S. Boardman, Boardman Carr & Hutcheson PC, Chelsea, AL, John F. Porter, III, John F. Porter III PC, Scottsboro, AL, for Defendants.


C. LYNWOOD SMITH, JR., District Judge.

Plaintiff, Debrah J. Moore, asserts a single claim for disability discrimination pursuant to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq. (the Rehabilitation Act or the Act), against her former employer, the Jackson County Board of Education, as well as against Kenneth Harding, the Superintendent of the Jackson County Board of Education.1 The case currently is before the court on defendants' motion for summary judgment. 2 Upon consideration of the motion, briefs, and evidentiary submissions, the court concludes that the motion should be granted.


Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that a court “shall grant summary judgment 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 other words, summary judgment is proper “after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who 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, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). “In making this determination, the court must review all evidence and make all reasonable inferences in favor of the party opposing summary judgment.” Chapman v. AI Transport, 229 F.3d 1012, 1023 (11th Cir.2000)(en banc) (quoting Haves v. City of Miami, 52 F.3d 918, 921 (11th Cir.1995)). Inferences in favor of the non-moving party are not unqualified, however. [A]n inference is not reasonable if it is only a guess or a possibility, for such an inference is not based on the evidence, but is pure conjecture and speculation.” Daniels v. Twin Oaks Nursing Home, 692 F.2d 1321, 1324 (11th Cir.1983) (alteration supplied). Moreover,

[t]he mere existence of some factual dispute will not defeat summary judgment unless that factual dispute is material to an issue affecting the outcome of the case. The relevant rules of substantive law dictate the materiality of a disputed fact. A genuine issue of material fact does not exist unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a reasonable jury to return a verdict in its favor.

Chapman, 229 F.3d at 1023 (quoting Haves, 52 F.3d at 921) (emphasis and alteration supplied). See also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251–52, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986) (asking “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law”).


Plaintiff, Debrah J. Moore, began her employment with the Jackson County Board of Education (“the Board”) in 1979, as a substitute cafeteria worker.3 She continued to work for the Board in various cafeteria-related capacities until her retirement on June 1, 2011.4 Her last position, and the one she occupied at all times relevant to her claims in this lawsuit, was as the Child Nutrition Program (“CNP”) cafeteria manager at Bridgeport Elementary School.5 At all relevant times, Bridgeport Elementary School serviced approximately 200 students, and its cafeteria employed two workers, in addition to the Cafeteria Manager.6

The job description for the Child Nutrition Program Cafeteria Manager states that the “essential functions” of the job are:

1. Supervise receiving and storage of all CNP products.

2. Insure [sic] that all Federal and State health regulations are followed.

3. Insure [sic] that a quality menu is prepared and served on time.

4. Prepare or insure [sic] preparation of all paperwork required by CNP.

5. Monitor the operation and maintenance of all equipment.

6. Maintain current and accurate records of all Free/Reduced applications and food production records.

7. Responsible for the cleanliness and appearance of cafeteria.

8. Attend all manager meetings and workshops as required.

9. Insure [sic] that all employees are properly trained.

10. Work with principal and/or CNP Supervisor to correct any problems that arise.

11. Exhibit good hygiene and dress appropriately.

12. Relate well with co-workers, students, and staff.

13. Demonstrate a supportive attitude toward the CNP Program.

14. Maintain confidentiality of all CNP records.

15. Any and other [sic] essential functions assigned by the Superintendent or his/her designee.7

Kenneth Harding, the Superintendent of Education, attested that plaintiff's duties as cafeteria manager included all the duties listed in the job description and that, additionally,

Ms. Moore was required to assist in all other jobs or duties performed in the cafeteria which included, but are not limited to, cooking, cleaning, and any other duty performed by the CNP cafeteria workers. On a daily basis, if Ms. Moore did not assist the CNP workers in the performance of those duties, she was in essence neglecting her dutes [sic] as CNP cafeteria manager.8

Harding clarified during his deposition that cafeteria managers were required to “help[ ] out in the lunchroom,” because most cafeterias had only two or three employees, and there were not enough workers to cover the everyday tasks if the manager did not help.9 Joseph Vaughn, the Child Nutrition Program Supervisor, attested that plaintiff's duties “included, but were not limited to, supervision of CNP cafeteria workers, completion of paperwork for CNP, assist in handling, storing, and preparing food, and assistance in cleaning the cafeteria.” 10 Plaintiff testified that her duties as cafeteria manager included preparing paperwork, conducting inventory assessments, creating schedules, managing money, and making deposits. 11 She also assisted the other cafeteria workers with cooking and cleaning duties when she had time. Other cafeteria managers under whom plaintiff previously had worked did not assist with cooking and cleaning duties, however.12 Finally, Brenda McCrary, who became the cafeteria manager at Bridgeport Elementary School after plaintiff's retirement in August of 2012,13 and who also filled in for plaintiff while she was on sick leave, testified that her duties as cafeteria manager included planning menus, filing paperwork, operating the cash register, processing applications for free and reduced lunches, cooking breakfast, helping the other workers when “time allotted,” preparing and delivering snacks for the after-school program, cleaning, placing orders, conducting inventory assessments, processing food deliveries, and reporting any equipment malfunctions.14

On July 5, 2010, plaintiff telephoned Joseph Vaughn, the Child Nutrition Program Supervisor, to inform him that she had broken her ankle at home and had undergone surgery, but she had not yet been back to see her doctor after her surgery.15 Immediately after plaintiff's injury and surgery, her doctors provided her with crutches, but she soon switched to using a wheelchair, because the chair made it easier for her to move around. As her recoveryprogressed, she began using a walker, and then a cane. 16

During plaintiff's July 5 conversation with Vaughn, she did not make any statements about her ability to perform her job duties, and she did not state whether her physician had approved her to return to work.17 Plaintiff also did not request any job-related accommodation during that conversation. 18 Vaughn informed plaintiff that she would need to speak with Kenneth Harding, the Superintendent of Education, about her injury,19 and he transferred her call to Harding.20 Plaintiff informed Harding of her injury and subsequent surgery, and Harding told her to let him know when she got another report from her doctor regarding the progress of her recovery. 21

Plaintiff returned to her doctor on July 29, 2010. That same day, she telephoned Harding again to inform him that her doctor had released her to return to work, provided that she performed only her management duties, like paperwork and operating the cash register, and not any more active functions, like cooking or cleaning. Harding informed plaintiff that she could not return to work until she could perform all the functions required by her job, including cooking and cleaning.22 Harding testified that decisions about when Board employees are permitted to return from sick leave are made on a case-by-case basis, depending on the nature of the employee's sickness or injury and the nature of the employee' request.23 Although there is no formal, written policy to this effect, an employee generally is not permitted to return to work until he or she has a “full release”; or, in other words, until the employee can perform all duties of his or her job.24 Harding also attested that, if plaintiff had been permitted to return to work under the duty restrictions she requested (only performing paperwork and operating the cash register), the Board would have been required to hire another cafeteria worker to perform the other duties (cooking and cleaning) plaintiff could not perform.25

Plaintiff spoke to Harding again the next day, July 30, 2010, when Harding informed her that she could take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. (the “FMLA”) while she continued to recover.26 On July 31, 2010, plaintiff requested a six-week period of FMLA leave.27 On August 31, 2010, she requested that her leave be extended for an additional six weeks, because she needed additional physical therapy to be...

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