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STEWART v. ASHCROFT

July 25, 2002

HOWARD P. STEWART, PLAINTIFF,
V.
JOHN ASHCROFT, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Urbina, District Judge.

  MEMORANDUM OPINION

GRANTING THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

I. INTRODUCTION

Howard P. Stewart ("the plaintiff" or "Mr. Stewart") brings this employment discrimination case against the United States Department of Justice ("the defendant" or "DOJ"). Mr. Stewart alleges that the DOJ violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., by discriminating against him on the basis of his race. Specifically, the plaintiff claims that the defendant discriminated against him when it passed him over on two occasions for the position of Chief of the Environmental Crimes Section ("ECS") of the DOJ's Environmental and Natural Resources Division ("ENRD") giving the promotion to two white male employees. The defendant now moves for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, the court grants the defendant's motion on both counts.

II. BACKGROUND

An African-American man, Mr. Stewart worked for more than 15 years at the DOJ as an attorney in various departments, including the Criminal Division's Fraud Section, the U.S. Attorney's Office of Pennsylvania, and the ECS. Compl. at 3-4. After performing well as a prosecutor during his service at the DOJ, he was promoted to the Senior Executive Service ("SES"). Id. Ronald A. Sarachan, then ECS Chief, recommended him for the position to Lois J. Schiffer, then Assistant Attorney General in charge of the ENRD. Id.; Pl's Opp'n to Mot. for Summ.J. ("Pl.'s Opp'n") Ex. 4 at 1. In 1995, Mr. Stewart became the only SES-level employee in the ECS other than the person holding the position as Section Chief. Compl. at 4. At the same time, the DOJ appointed Mr. Stewart to his current position, Senior Litigation Counsel. Id.

The principal factual allegations are as follows. In 1997, the position of ECS Chief became vacant and Mr. Stewart applied. Id. After evaluating 10 candidates, Ms. Schiffer selected Steven Solow, a white male, for the position because "he had the temperament and expertise to provide the leadership to the Section. . . ." Mot. for Summ.J. at 1, 8. In August 1998, Mr. Stewart filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") alleging racial discrimination because he believed he was the most qualified candidate for the position of Chief. Pl's Opp'n at 2, 12, 17. In 2000, the position of ECS Chief became vacant again, and Mr. Stewart again applied. Compl. at 5. Ms. Schiffer chose David Uhlmann after apparently receiving strong recommendations in support of his candidacy. Mot. for Summ.J. at 25, 26 (citing Cruden Dep. at 10-11; Sobeck Dep. at 84-85). Ms. Schiffer ultimately concluded that, "[c]ertainly Mr. Stewart had great strengths, but I thought that Mr. Uhlmann had greater strengths." Id. at 25.

On both counts, Mr. Stewart contests that he suffered adverse employment actions since the ECS Chief position would have entailed "significantly elevated supervisory duties and responsibilities" as compared to his current job. Pl's Opp'n at 18. Mr. Stewart contends that the DOJ unlawfully discriminated against him because of his race by favoring less qualified, lower-graded white candidates. Id. at 2. On February 5, 2001, the plaintiff filed suit seeking $600,000 in compensatory damages, a retroactive promotion, including back pay and adjustment of benefits, and permanent injunctions against the defendant to prevent any further acts of discrimination or retaliation. Compl. at 7-8. The defendant now moves for summary judgment on both of the plaintiffs claims.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard for Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED.R.CIV.P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Diamond v. Atwood, 43 F.3d 1538, 1540 (D.C.Cir. 1995). To determine which facts are "material" a court must look to the substantive law on which each claim rests. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). A "genuine issue" is one whose resolution could establish an element of a claim or defense and, therefore, affect the outcome of the action. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505.

In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must draw all justifiable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor and accept the nonmoving party's evidence as true. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505. A nonmoving party, however, must establish more than "the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" in support of its position. Id. at 252, 106 S.Ct. 2505. To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the moving party must show that the nonmoving party "fail[ed] 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, 477 U.S. at 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548. By pointing to the absence of evidence proffered by the nonmoving party, a moving party may succeed on summary judgment. Id.

In addition, the nonmoving party may not rely solely on allegations or conclusory statements. Greene v. Dalton, 164 F.3d 671, 675 (D.C.Cir. 1999); Harding v. Gray, 9 F.3d 150, 154 (D.C.Cir. 1993). Rather, the nonmoving party must present specific facts that would enable a reasonable jury to find in its favor. Greene, 164 F.3d at 675. If the evidence "is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50, 106 S.Ct. 2505 (internal citations omitted).

Finally, the D.C. Circuit has directed that because it is difficult for a plaintiff to establish proof of discrimination, the court should view summary-judgment motions in such cases with special caution. Aka v. Washington Hosp. Ctr., 116 F.3d 876, 879-80 (D.C.Cir. 1997), rev'd on other grounds, 156 F.3d 1284 (D.C.Cir. 1998) (en banc); see also Johnson v. Digital Equip. Corp., 836 F. Supp. 14, 18 (D.D.C. 1993).

B. The McDonnell Douglas Framework

To prevail on a claim of race discrimination under Title VII, a plaintiff must follow a three-part burden-shifting analysis. McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802, 93 S.Ct. 1817. The ...


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