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Harris v. Chao

March 20, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Emmet G. Sullivan United States District Judge


Plaintiff Willie Harris brings this action against Elaine Chao, Secretary of Labor, under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 631 et seq., and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2 et seq. Plaintiff alleges discrimination on the basis of race, age, and sex based on his non-selection for a promotion to a GS-15 position at the Department of Labor. Currently pending before the Court is defendant's motion for summary judgment, which argues that plaintiff is unable to establish a prima facie case for discrimination and that he his unable to demonstrate pretext in the face of defendant's legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for the promotion decision. Upon consideration of the motion, the response and reply thereto, the applicable law, and the entire record, the Court determines that plaintiff is unable to demonstrate that defendant's promotion explanation is pretext and thus cannot meet his burden at summary judgment. Therefore, for the reasons stated herein, defendant's motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.


Plaintiff is an African-American male who was 53 years old in 2001. He was originally hired by the Department of Labor as a Procurement Clerk in 1974. Over the years, he was promoted to a GS-14 Grants Management Specialist position, the latest promotion occurring on December 30, 2000. In this position, plaintiff was a team leader for the Workforce National Grant Program. Plaintiff reported to the Chief of Federal Assistance, Janice Perry.

Perry retired in January 2001, leaving a vacancy in her position, GS-15 Grants Management Specialist in the Division of Federal Assistance. This position was in the Employment and Training Association's ("ETA") Office of Grants and Contracts Management, which provides centralized services to ETA's National Office for Federal Assistance to ensure effective and uniform implementation of procurement regulations within ETA. A vacancy announcement for this position was advertised from January 9 to January 19, 2001. To qualify for the position, applicants must have had at least one year of specialized experience equivalent to the next lower grade in federal service. Candidates must have met the time in grade requirements by the closing date of the announcement, in this case January 19, 2001.

Plaintiff did not apply for the GS-15 position during the advertised period. Instead, he contacted the agency's Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") Office after the position closed and asked that he be allowed to submit his application. Despite the fact that plaintiff failed to meet the time in grade requirement for the position, his name was placed on a certificate of eligible candidates as a result of administrative error on the part of a personnel specialist.

Due to a change in presidential administration, defendant did not receive authority to fill the GS-15 position until approximately August 2001. The four best qualified candidates listed on the certificate of eligible candidates, which included plaintiff, were interviewed in August 2001. All interviews were conducted by Robert Parker, the former Procurement Officer in the Division of Assistance Services and the Division of Contract Services. Parker was specifically looking for a candidate who could effectively work with other federal agencies and articulate the organization's policies, direction, and expectations. Parker evaluated the candidates by reviewing each of their applications against the advertised criteria and asking the candidates three standard questions during the interview. Parker did not take notes during the interviews.

Parker selected Laura Cesario for the GS-15 position on August 22, 2001. Cesario is a white female who was 39 years old at the time of the promotion. Parker has stated that his selection was based solely on Cesario's qualifications, and that her completed application and responses to the interview questions were superior to the three other candidates. See Def.'s Ex. C, Report of Investigation ("ROI") Tab F1, Parker Aff. Parker specifically contended that Cesario had better communication skills than plaintiff, and that her interview responses demonstrated a greater understanding of relevant new technology and the proper role of a division director. Parker noted that plaintiff had the technical experience for the position, but that he did not communicate effectively. Parker also stated that Cesario's application materials reflected greater leadership skills and a broader set of experiences, including experience with high-level management and other federal agencies.

In October 2001, plaintiff reported to an EEO counselor that his non-selection for the GS-15 position was discriminatory. When the matter could not be resolved informally, plaintiff filed a formal complaint on April 3, 2002, claiming discrimination on the basis of race, age, and sex. A final agency decision was issued on June 29, 2004, finding that plaintiff had failed to establish his claims of discrimination. On July 24, 2004, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a judgment affirming the final agency decision. Plaintiff filed suit in this Court on November 1, 2004, bringing claims of race, age, and sex discrimination under Title VII and the ADEA. Following discovery, defendant moved for summary judgment.


Summary judgment should be granted only if the moving party has shown that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56; Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Waterhouse v. District of Columbia, 298 F.3d 989, 991 (D.C. Cir. 2002). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the Court must view all facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). The non-moving party's opposition, however, must consist of more than mere unsupported allegations or denials and must be supported by affidavits or other competent evidence setting forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); see Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324.


All of plaintiff's claims are analyzed under the familiar McDonnell Douglas framework. Within that framework, defendant's first argument is that plaintiff is unable to establish a prima facie case for all claims because he did not meet the time in grade requirement for the GS-15 position, and thus did not possess the minimum qualifications for the promotion. Defendant's second argument is that plaintiff does not have ...

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