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EASON v. NATIONAL HWY. TRAFFIC SAFETY ADMIN.

April 30, 1981

William EASON, Plaintiff,
v.
NATIONAL HIGHWAY TRAFFIC SAFETY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GREEN

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff, a Safety Standards Engineer, GS-14, seeks relief under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. (hereinafter "ADEA" or "the Act") alleging that the defendant, his employer, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (hereinafter "NHTSA") denied him seven promotions because of his age. The complaint challenges NHTSA's procedures for evaluating prior work experience, asking inter alia, that plaintiff be promoted retroactively and awarded back pay. As a rule, NHTSA gives full credit for any work experience accumulated within the past ten years and then, in addition, half credit for experience accumulated more than ten years ago. (This practice will be referred to as the half-credit rule.) Since the Court finds that the challenged rating procedures did not prevent the plaintiff from receiving any of the sought promotions and absent discrimination against him on the basis of age, as alleged, the defendant is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law.

 The material, undisputed facts follow. In the fall of 1975, plaintiff, aged forty-five, applied for seven GS-15 Safety Standards Engineer vacancies within NHTSA and was rejected each time. On February 23, 1977, plaintiff filed a grievance with the Office of Personnel Management alleging age discrimination; and this charge was forwarded to NHTSA's Office of Civil Rights. Subsequently, plaintiff contacted an Equal Employment Opportunity Counselor who conducted an informal inquiry and reported that although the half-credit rule "seemed" discriminatory, there had been no age discrimination against the plaintiff.

 Formal administrative proceedings were thereafter initiated by the filing of a complaint with NHTSA's Office of Civil Rights, which then conducted an on-site investigation. The inquiry's final report concluded that plaintiff had not suffered any age discrimination from the half-credit rule. Following this decision, plaintiff met with management officials to attempt an informal resolution of the complaint, but no agreement was reached, and on March 1, 1978, NHTSA issued a proposed disposition of the charge finding no discrimination and providing no corrective action. Plaintiff appealed this finding to the Civil Service Commission, which held a hearing on July 17, 1978. Based on oral testimony and documentary evidence adduced at the hearing, the Examiner recommended a finding of no discrimination, which finding was later adopted by the Administration.

 Having exhausted his administrative remedies, plaintiff filed suit in this Court. The matter is now ripe for disposition as both parties have moved for summary judgment.

 At the time plaintiff applied for the seven promotions, the Administration had detailed procedures for evaluating the applications of its employees who were seeking promotion, examining the applicant's experience, prior performance, training, awards, and outside activities. In considering whether an applicant was minimally qualified to even apply for a position, the Administration considered all experience equally. After this initial screening, a Ratings Panel examined all of the applicants' experience. According to Veronica Ellison, Personnel Management Specialist at NHTSA, the Panel then was directed to,

 
first identify the months and years of any creditable experience, and then determine the "quality' of that experience, which may be Directly Related, Related, or Indirectly Related (or intermediate steps between those three). After the quality of experience was determined, then points were assigned for each month of such experience as follows: 65 points for Directly Related, 55 points for Related, and 40 for Indirectly Related.... The "best' or highest point value for 72 months (i. e., 6 years) of experience were (sic) then used. While half credit only is given to experience more than ten years old, no more than 72 months experience could be used under any circumstances. The number of months of each quality of experience was then multiplied by the aforementioned point values for the quality determined, and the product of that multiplication was then divided by 72 (which represents the number of months) and the quotient represents the point value for experience.

 Affidavit of Veronica Ellison (II) at P 6. Thus, half credit was given to experience more than ten years old prior to the selection of the seventy-two months of "best" experience, which was used for comparison purposes. *fn1"

 This dispute centers on the half-credit rule, plaintiff claiming that it violated the ADEA because there is a direct relationship between age and experience and that older applicants will tend to have more directly related experience subject to the half-credit rule than younger applicants. The defendant, admitting all material facts, contends that the half-credit rule does not discriminate on the basis of age. Defendant asserts that the rule initially was adopted to ensure that older experience, that otherwise might have been completely discounted, was given some credit. Additionally, the defendant maintains that because of rapid technological change in the automotive industry, the half-credit rule is a reasonable employee selection device. Defendant also submitted affidavits demonstrating that, absent the half-credit rule, plaintiff would not have been promoted to any of the sought after positions.

 The ADEA prohibits both private and public employers from discriminating against persons "because of their age." 29 U.S.C. §§ 623, 633(a). The Act protects employees between the ages of forty and seventy. 29 U.S.C. § 631. Labor Department Regulations interpreting the Act provide that the clear purpose of the ADEA is to ensure that age is not a determining factor in employer decisions. 29 C.F.R. § 860.103(c).

 Under the Act, the plaintiff's burden of production is satisfied by the presentation of a prima facie case of age discrimination. See, e.g., Rodriguez v. Taylor, 569 F.2d 1231 (3rd Cir. 1977), cert. denied 436 U.S. 913, 98 S. Ct. 2254, 56 L. Ed. 2d 414 (1978); Hodgson v. First Federal Savings & Loan Association, 455 F.2d 818 (5th Cir. 1972). To satisfy this burden, plaintiff must demonstrate 1) that he belongs to the protected class, 2) that he applied and was qualified for a job for which the employer was seeking applicants, 3) that he was rejected despite his qualifications, and 4) that, after his rejection, the employer continued to seek applicants with similar qualifications for the position for which plaintiff applied. *fn2" Murnane v. American Airlines, Inc., 482 F. Supp. 135 (D.D.C.1979). After presentation of a prima facie case, the burden of production shifts to the employer "to articulate a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason" for the employee's rejection. Cartagena v. Secretary of the Navy, 618 F.2d 130 (1st Cir. 1980); Loeb v. Textron, 600 F.2d 1003, 1011 (1st Cir. 1979). Upon such a showing, the plaintiff's prima facie case is rebutted and the plaintiff has the burden of persuasion to prove that age was a determining factor in his nonpromotion. See Smith v. Flax, 618 F.2d 1062, 1066 (4th Cir. 1980); Loeb v. Textron, supra at 1011-1012, Kerwood v. Mortgage Bankers Association of America, Inc., 494 F. Supp. 1298, 1308 (D.D.C.1980). *fn3"

 Even assuming that plaintiff could establish a prima facie case, the defendant has justified the use of the half-credit rule for legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons. The rule is based on the NHTSA's needs because of the rapid technological and engineering changes occurring in the automotive industry, particularly in the area of fuel economy. Affidavit of Samuel F. Powel, III, Chief of the Technology Assessment Division, Office of Passenger Vehicle Research at NHTSA, at PP 3-4. Five of the six vacancies in issue are in the area of fuel economy. Given everchanging technologies, ...


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