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Brown v. Small

January 19, 2007

MELBA BROWN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LAWRENCE M. SMALL, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SECRETARY OF THE SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge

Document No. 9

MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

I. INTRODUCTION

The plaintiff, an African-American female employee at the National Zoological Park ("the National Zoo"), brings suit against the defendant, the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institute,*fn1 under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"). The plaintiff alleges that her supervisor at the National Zoo, motivated by racial and gender discrimination, selected a Caucasian male over the plaintiff for the position of biologist. The defendant claims that a neutral selection board evaluated the applicants and recommended the Caucasian male candidate for the position based on the candidates' respective qualifications and interview performance. The defendant moves for summary judgment arguing that the plaintiff cannot show that it was motivated by racial or gender discrimination. Because the court concludes that the plaintiff cannot prove that the defendant's rationale is a pretext for discrimination or that the defendant was motivated by racial or gender discrimination, the court grants the defendant's motion for summary judgment.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Factual History

The plaintiff has worked at the National Zoo since 1985 and has served as an Animal Keeper with the Small Mammal Unit for twelve years. Compl. ¶ 7. Robert King is a Caucasian male employed as the Assistant Curator and Supervisory Biologist of the Small Mammal Unit, and he was the plaintiff's supervisor during the period of time at issue in this suit. Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. ("Def.'s Mot.") at 7; Pl.'s Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J ("Pl.'s Opp'n") at 1.

In April 2003, King announced a vacancy for the biologist position at the Small Mammal Unit and his plans to appoint someone to a temporary detail for the position. Def.'s Mot. at 2. Three employees -- David Kessler, a Caucasian male, Angela Marlow, a Caucasian female, and the plaintiff -- applied for the temporary position. Pl.'s Opp'n at 2.In June 2003, a panel consisting of Lisa Stevens, an African-American female, Belinda Resser, a Caucasian female, and King interviewed the three applicants for the position. Id. King considered all of the candidates to be qualified for the temporary position, but he allegedly selected Kessler for the detail because Kessler, unlike the other applicants, had never been afforded an opportunity to gain administrative skills. Def.'s Mot. at 2.

Once Kessler took the temporary biologist position, King told the plaintiff that he wanted her to transfer from the Small Mammal House to the Kid's Farm. Pl.'s Opp'n at 2. The plaintiff, however, was interested in the permanent biologist position at the Small Mammal House and declined the transfer. Id.

In preparation for hiring a permanent biologist, King oversaw the drafting and the approval of the job announcement and crediting plan for the position. Def.'s Mot. at 3. He submitted the draft job announcement for review and input to Scarlitt Proctor, a Human Resources Specialist for the National Zoo. Id.; Pl.'s Ex. 7-8. On February 3, 2004, King posted the job announcement for the permanent biologist position as a Grade 9 job with potential promotion to Grade 11. Def.'s Mot. at 3; Def.'s Ex. 10-B. Both the plaintiff and Kessler applied for the position. Compl. ¶ 8; Def.'s Mot. at 3.

After the plaintiff applied for the biologist position, King questioned her twice more about transferring to the Kid's Farm. Pl.'s Opp'n at 3. He also informed the plaintiff that the individual hired for the biologist position must arrive at work at 6:30 a.m. to survey the collection, to lead a 6:40 a.m. staff meeting, and to perform other duties beginning around 7:10 a.m. Def.'s Mot. at 4; Pl.'s Opp'n at 3. King questioned whether the plaintiff would be able to work the hours required of the biologist because the plaintiff had previously requested an 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. shift to allow her to take her daughter to child care. Def.'s Mot. at 4; Def.'s Mot., Ex. 9; Pl.'s Opp'n at 3. He informed the plaintiff that "if she could not work the earlier shift, she would not be considered for the position and there was no need for her to go any further in the application process." Pl.'s Opp'n at 3. Subsequently, King informed the plaintiff that he wanted to detail her to the temporary biologist position. Id. King later learned from a department administrator that the plaintiff believed that King's questions regarding the plaintiff's child care were improper. Def.'s Mot., Ex. 4 at 8.

By February 23, 2004, the plaintiff and Kessler were the only two qualified applicants for the permanent biologist position. Def.'s Mot. at 4. King assembled an interview panel and a set of interview questions. Pl.'s Opp'n at 4; Def.'s Mot. at 4. King sent the draft questions to the panel members and to Proctor for review and input, Def.'s Mot. at 5, and he included in the interview sheets for both applicants a question regarding the applicants' ability to work the early shift, Def.'s Mot., Ex. 10-D.

Because of the plaintiff's concerns regarding King's question about the plaintiff's child care arrangements, King and his supervisors determined that King would not sit on the interview panel. Def.'s Mot. at 4. The panel consisted of Lisa Stevens, an African-American female and the Assistant Curator for Primates and Pandas; Michael Davenport, a Caucasian male and Assistant Curator; and Sara Hallager, a Caucasian female and a Museum Specialist at the Birds Unit. Id. at 5. King told the panel and his supervisors that he would follow the panel's recommendation in selecting the candidate to hire as biologist. Id.

The panel interviewed the plaintiff on March 11, 2004, and it interviewed Kessler on March 12, 2004. Pl.'s Opp'n at 4. The defendant asserts, and the plaintiff does not dispute, that the panel members gave Kessler higher overall scores than they gave the plaintiff. Def.'s Mot., Exs. 10-D & 10-E. King followed the recommendation of the panel and selected Kessler for the permanent biologist position. Def.'s Mot. at 6; Pl.'s Opp'n at 4.

The plaintiff received notice of her non-selection on March 22, 2004. Pl.'s Opp'n at 4. When she questioned King about the decision, he replied that the panel made an independent decision, and the plaintiff should seek explanations from the panel members. Id. The plaintiff then emailed each of the three panel members, asking them why she was not selected. Id.

Stevens replied that she felt that the plaintiff did not interview well for the job, did not provide very concise answers, and did not project a programmatic vision for the unit. Id.; Def.'s Mot., Ex. 3, p. 23 (email from Stevens to Brown). At King's request, the other two panel members withheld their response to the plaintiff's question until they received guidance from Proctor as to what they should or could say to the candidates regarding the selection process. Pl.'s Opp'n at 4-5; Def.'s Mot., Ex. 3-4.

The plaintiff filed a formal administrative charge of discrimination on June 9, 2004. Compl. ΒΆ 17. She received the Final Agency ...


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