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Whitener v. England

December 19, 2006

CLIFFORD C. WHITENER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GORDON R. ENGLAND, SECRETARY OF THE NAVY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Louis F. Oberdorfer United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Clifford C. Whitener is a 56 year-old African American male who in 2002 was employed by the Department of the Navy as a GS-14 General Engineer. He brought this suit against the Secretary of Navy, Gordon R. England. Plaintiff alleges that the Navy discriminated against him because of his age and race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 253, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), 81 Stat. 602, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., when it selected a younger white applicant for the position of GS-15 Supervisory General Engineer. Defendant moves for summary judgment arguing that the applicant whom it selected for the position was in its judgment better qualified than plaintiff. An accompanying order grants defendant's motion and dismisses the complaint for the reasons that follow.

BACKGROUND

I. The Supervisory Engineer Vacancy

Strategic Systems Programs ("SSP"), an agency within the Department of Navy, is responsible for the weapons system that deploys most of the United States' submarine-based nuclear arsenal. See Defendant's Memorandum in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment [Def. Mem.], at 1. SSP employs approximately 112 engineers at its headquarters, 30 of whom belong to the Technical Division of SSP. See id.

Whitener joined SSP's Technical Division in 1988 as a GS-13 Mechanical Engineer and rose to the position of GS-14 General Engineer. Defendant's Local Civil Rule 7(h) Statement Of Material Facts Not In Dispute [Def. R. 7(h) Stmt] ¶ 10. In 2001, Whitener's immediate supervisor left the Technical Division, and soon thereafter SSP announced a vacancy for his position, a GS-15 Supervisory Engineer. See Plaintiff's Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Pl. Mem.], at 4; Def. R. 7(h) Stmt ¶ 3. The vacancy announcement detailed several responsibilities, including: "assuring the physical/mechanical integration and compatibility of the entire weapon system"; "assuring system safety"; "weapon system accuracy"; "directly supervis[ing] four [SSP employees]"; and "devlop[ing] and direct[ing] necessary changes in SSP policy and procedures to comply with" changing federal regulations. See Def. Ex. 3, Vacancy Announcement (Aug. 20, 2001).

Whitener responded to the vacancy announcement on March 24, 2002 and submitted an online resume. Compl. ¶ 14. In April 2002, the Navy included Whitener on a list of ten SSP employees certified as "best qualified." Def. R. 7(h) Stmt ¶ 6. Whitener was the only African American; one was Asian American; the other eight were Caucasian. See Def. Ex. 1, Meserole Decl. ¶ 5.

The Technical Division's Chief Engineer, Marcus Meserole (who is now deceased), and its Deputy Chief Engineer, Charles LaSota, reviewed the ten applications and jointly interviewed the certified candidates. Def. R. 7(h) Stmt ¶ 9. At the interview and prior to the questioning, they provided each applicant with a written copy of four questions that would be asked during each interview. Id.; Def. Ex. 11., Whitener Dep., at 44 (Nov. 1, 2004). The four questions concerned nuclear safety, system accuracy, staff integration, and leadership. Id. at 45; see Def. Ex. 8, Whitener Interview Notes. The question on leadership stated: "This is a leadership position. What two things in your experience most qualify you for a leadership position?" Id.

After the interviews, Meserole and LaSota independently concluded that Steven Landau, an SSP Electronics Engineer, was the best qualified and offered him the position. Def. Ex. 5, LaSota Dep., at 47 (July 9, 2004).

II. Whitener's and the Selectee's Qualifications

A. Past Experience

Landau's resume showed that he had been a GS-14 Electronics Engineer since 1998, a GS-14 General Engineer from 1993 to 1998, and a GS-13 General Engineer from 1988 to 1993. Def. Ex. 7, Landau Resume. At the time of his selection, Landau's total SSP experience at the GS-14 level was thus 9 years, at the GS-13 level 5 years, for a total of 14 years experience as a federal employee at SSP. Id. Whitener's resume showed that he had been a GS-14 General Engineer since 1990, and a GS-13 Mechanical Engineer from 1988 to 1990. Def. Ex. 6, Whitener Resume. At the time of Whitener's non-selection, his total SSP experience at the GS-14 level was thus 12 years, at the GS-13 level 2 years, for a total of 14 years as a federal employee at SSP. Id. On the basis of years of experience alone, it appears that Whitener had approximately 3 more years of experience at the GS-14 level than Landau, but both had 14 years of total experience at SSP.

Both candidates graduated from college with similar grade point averages in relevant majors, Whitener with a 3.0 GPA in Chemistry and Landau with a 2.9 GPA in Mechanical Engineering. Def. Exs. 6 & 7, Whitener and Landau Resumes. However, Landau, at the time of the selection, was expecting to graduate with a degree in Project Management in 2003 from George Washington University with a GPA of 3.9. Def. Ex. 7, Landau Resume. Whitener, though he had completed two courses in government management and submarine design, had no expectation of obtaining a graduate degree. Def. Ex. 6, Whitener Resume. Meserole specifically testified at the administrative level that he preferred ...


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