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Thomas v. Paulson

August 28, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton United States District Judge


Lionel Thomas ("the plaintiff") brings this action against his employer, the Department of the Treasury ("the defendant"), pursuant to, inter alia, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. (2000), alleging that he was discriminated against based on his race when he was twice denied a promotion by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing ("BEP"), Facilities Planning and Management Division, and seeking compensatory damages and equitable relief.*fn2 Complaint ("Compl.") at 1, 4-6, 13. Currently before the Court is the defendant's motion for summary judgment ("Def.'s Mot.").*fn3 For the reasons set forth below, the defendant's motion is granted.

I. Factual Background

The following facts are undisputed except where otherwise noted by the Court.*fn4 The plaintiff, an African-American male with thirty years' experience in the field of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning ("HVAC"), has been employed at the BEP Power Plant in Washington, D.C., as a Stationary Engineer since 1994.*fn5 Compl. ¶ 4; Def.'s Mot., Exhibit ("Ex.") 4 (Affidavit of Lionel Thomas) ("Thomas Aff.") at 2; see also Pl.'s Suppl. Opp. at 4 (stating that the plaintiff "continues to be employed as a Stationary Engineer" as of October 2006). The plaintiff's performance in this position "has been rated more than satisfactory whenever he has been rated." Compl. ¶ 4; see also Answer at 4. Prior to his employment with the BEP, the plaintiff, inter alia, attended several schools for vocational training, earned a diploma from the Lincoln Technical Institute, and owned a HVAC business for ten years. Thomas Aff. at 2 (detailing the plaintiff's educational and vocational experience); Pl.'s Suppl. Opp. at 15 (same). In addition, the plaintiff possesses a HVAC Master's License from the District of Columbia. Thomas Aff. at 2; Pl.'s Suppl. Opp. at 15.

A. The Acting Assistant Supervisor Vacancies

In 2001, the BEP advertised two vacancies for the position of Acting Stationary Engineer Assistant Supervisor ("Acting Assistant Supervisor") through Vacancy Announcement No. 2001-146-VMS. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 2; Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 2.*fn6 Among other things, the major duties of the position include the supervision of "employees[] engaged in the operation, maintenance and repair of the [BEP] electric substation, high and low pressure steam distribution systems for heating, drying, air-conditioning and refrigerating systems, and air and water pressure systems throughout the 1.2 million square feet of the [BEP]." Def.'s Mot., Ex. 7 (Position Description) at 2; see also id. at 3 (stating that an Acting Assistant Supervisor "[h]as general supervision over approximately 12 employees consisting of Stationary Engineers and Maintenance Workers of the Power Plant on one of three shifts"); Pl.'s Opp. at 16 (stating that an Acting Assistant Supervisor "supervises employees engaged in the operation, maintenance[,] and repair of the [BEP] electric substation"). An Acting Assistant Supervisor must also be able, inter alia, "to direct emergency repairs requiring a knowledge of areas such as plumbing, steam fitting, [and] machine and electrical systems when journeym[e]n in th[o]se trades are off duty or are not readily available." Position Description at 3. The plaintiff applied for this position in October 2001, along with four other applicants. See Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 4 (stating that there were "five applicants for the position in question"); Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 4 (same); see also Def.'s Mot., Ex. 8 (October 11, 2001 Application of Lionel Thomas) ("Thomas Application") at 2-8. Among the other applicants were William Turner, at that time a BEP Stationary Engineer and a Utility Systems Repair Operator Leader, Def.'s Mot., Ex. 8(b) (October 8, 2001 Application of William Turner) ("Turner Application") at 2-8; Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 21; Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 21, and Kendall Leatherman, at that time a BEP Stationary Engineer and the president and owner of Leatherman Electric Company, Def.'s Mot., Ex. 8(a) (October 2, 2001 Application of Kendall Leatherman) ("Leatherman Application") at 1, 3; Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 22; Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 22.*fn7 Turner had held the position of Utility Systems Repair Operator Leader since June 1991, and in that capacity had supervised seven employees. Turner Application at 8; Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 21; Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 21 (stating that Turner's supervisory experience is "[n]ot disputed, but not relevant"). And Leatherman supervised up to six employees at Leatherman Electric Company, see Def.'s Mot., Ex. 6 (June 21, 2002 Affidavit of Christopher Bowie) ("Bowie Aff.") at 6, in addition to serving previously as the foreman of twenty-five subordinates at another electrical business, id.; see also Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 22 (stating that "Leatherman had been a foreman responsible for twenty-five employees at R&D Electrical"); Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 22 (stating that Leatherman's supervisory experience is "[n]ot disputed, but not relevant").*fn8

B. The Selection Process

In connection with the selection process for the Acting Assistant Supervisor position, a rating panel consisting of BEP employees Daniel Metcalfe, Sandra Tucker, and James Szamstel reviewed each application package in November 2001, ranking them in five categories of evaluation criteria according to the information provided by the applicants. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 4; Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 4; see also Def.'s Mot., Ex. 9 (collection of documents relating to Acting Assistant Supervisor selection process) at 4-18 (Merit Candidate Rating Sheets) ("Rating Sheets"). According the the BEP Personnel Manual, "[e]valuation criteria are the knowledge, skills, and abilities ["KSAs"] required of a specific position, which are used to evaluate education, experience, and outside activities against other qualified applicants. . . . Evaluation criteria are developed through an analysis of job requirements." Def.'s Mot., Ex. 13 (BEP Personnel Manual Chapter 35) ("Personnel Manual") at 335-1-5;*fn9 see also id. at 335-1-13 (stating that minimally-qualified applicants "will be further evaluated to determine the degree to which they possess jobrelated [KSAs]. . . . [and] [t]he end product of the evaluation is a determination of the applicant's demonstrated or potential ability to do the job").

For the position of Acting Assistant Supervisor, the five KSAs by which the application packages were evaluated by the rating panel are (1) the applicants' "[k]nowledge of safety, security, and internal control regulations within the Bureau"; (2) the applicants' "[a]bility to exercise technical supervision over subordinate craft employees"; (3) the applicants' "[a]bility to communicate effectively, both orally and in writing, on current and emerging production and facility maintenance issues"; (4) the applicants' "[a]bility to direct the distribution of work in accordance with the work of the program"; and (5) the applicants' "[a]bility to prepare and/or direct the preparation of reports on production and facility maintenance issues." See Rating Sheets at 4-18; see also Personnel Manual at 335-1-13 (stating that "[a]n applicant's rating for each KSA will be determined by information provided in his/her application package, including information contained in submitted performance appraisals, supplemental statements, and evidence presented of training, education, awards, etc."). The rating panel then established a composite application cut-off score of 16 out of a possible 25 points, which reduced the applicant pool to four candidates (including the plaintiff) for the two vacancies. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 4; Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 4. These four individuals comprised the "certificate of eligibles," indicating that they were deemed to be the "best qualified" candidates for the available Acting Assistant Supervisor positions. Def.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 7, 9; Pl.'s Resp. ¶¶ 7, 9; Def.'s Mot., Ex. 9 at 1 (Certificate of Eligibles); see also Personnel Manual at 335-1-13, 335-1-14. Of the four candidates, applicant Kendall Leatherman received a composite score of 22, the plaintiff and applicant William Turner received composite scores of 17, and applicant Christopher Nicholson received a composite score of 16.*fn10 Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 6; Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 6; see Def.'s Mot., Ex. 9 at 3 (Merit Register).

The application packages of these four "best qualified" applicants were then forwarded to an interview panel consisting of BEP supervisors Ronald Rye, John Stevenson, and Christopher Bowie.*fn11 Def.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 10-11; Pl.'s Resp. ¶¶ 10-11; see Bowie Aff. at 2-9 (describing the interview process). Id. at 9. After interviewing each of the four candidates, the panel recommended to the selecting official, James Sirinakis, that William Turner and Kendall Leatherman, both white males, be selected for the vacant Acting Assistant Supervisor positions. Def.'s Mot., Ex. 4 (December 10, 2001 memo from Ronald Rye to James Sirinakis) at 8 (stating the panel's belief that Turner and Leatherman "have demonstrated the knowledge, skills[,] and abilities that make them the most desirable for the [position of Acting Assistant Supervisor] from the certificate of eligibles"). In January 2002, Sirinakis followed the recommendation of the interview panel and selected Turner and Leatherman. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 20; Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 20; see Def.'s Mot., Ex. 4 (Affidavit of James Sirinakis) ("Sirinakis Aff.") at 5-6. In making this selection, Sirinakis "relied solely on the recommendation provided by [the interview panel] . . . [and] did not review any of the [application material provided by the candidates]." Sirinakis Aff. at 6 (also stating that he "had no reason to question the judgment of the recommending officials"). Moreover, Sirinakis represents, and the plaintiff does not dispute, that he "was not aware of [the plaintiff's] . . . color or race" at the time the selection was made. Id.; see Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 17; Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 17.

C. The Panel's Stated Reasons for its Recommendations

According to Bowie and Rye, the interview panel based the recommendations they provided to Sirinakis primarily on the basis of the candidates' ability to demonstrate, through their interviews and application materials, that they possessed the appropriate supervisory qualifications for selection as an Acting Assistant Supervisor.*fn12 See, e.g., Def.'s Suppl. Reply, Ex. 3 (September 14, 2006 deposition of Christopher Bowie) ("Bowie Dep.") at 40:7-13 (stating that "clarity had to be delivered from the application for this position of [Acting Assistant Supervisor] and from the oral interview to be informative enough to feel comfortable and confident that a person can do the supervisory role which encapsulates the whole operation"), 57:7-10 (stating that "to be an assistant supervisor, you have to show credible evidence and quantifiable substance to show how you would be best suited for that position"); Def.'s Suppl. Reply, Ex. 4 (September 14, 2006 Deposition of Ronald Rye) ("Rye Dep.") at 58:17-18 (stating that the candidates' "answer[s] on the interview questionnaire and their applications" led him to recommend Turner and Leatherman for the Acting Assistant Supervisor position over the plaintiff). The defendant further contends that the interview panel recommended that Turner and Leatherman be selected for the Acting Assistant Supervisor position because they were best able to give "clear, articulate responses to what positions they held, the number of people they supervised, the impact their job had on the mission of where they worked, [and examples of] scenarios of situations and how they remediated them [as supervisors]." Bowie Dep. at 36:21-37:4; see also id. at 36:2-7 (stating that Turner and Leatherman "better illustrated" the "work-related experience" that "quantif[ied] . . . [their] being able to work in a supervisory capacity"), 59:13-17 (stating that the plaintiff's responses were not "as quantifiable and in depth as the other applicants"); see Rye Dep. at 48:13-15, 49:7-10, 58:3-6 (stating that while the plaintiff "did well" in the interview, "there were certain things that Mr. Leatherman answered in a better form than [the plaintiff] did . . . [and] certain things that . . . [the plaintiff] didn't answer to the satisfaction of the panel").

Indeed, Bowie elaborates in great detail numerous reasons for his belief that neither the plaintiff's application nor his interview "clearly articulated" the supervisory qualities sought by the interview panel, Bowie Dep. at 57:15-17, particularly when compared to the responses provided by Turner and Leatherman.*fn13 See, e.g., id. at 37:22-38:5 (stating that the plaintiff's application provided "a lot of reference to supervising and being at different positions, but [offered] no real extrapolation on what his responsibilities were, no real examples of problems encountered[,] and no clear examples of remediation"); see also Thomas Application at 5; see generally Bowie Aff. at 3-8.*fn14 Specifically, Bowie represents, inter alia, that Mr. Thomas was not able[, in his application material,] to extrapolate on the appropriate knowledge, skills, and abilities which would make a correlation from his past to present positions to adequately make him a suitable candidate for [the Acting Assistant Supervisor position]. [His reference to his] past experience at the Naval Research Laboratory provided no elaboration on his supervisory experience [there] . . . [and] does not expand on the actual responsibilities he had, . . . the number of subordinates he supervised, or . . . the tasks and/or accomplishments he may have initiated or supported. Mr. Thomas mentions supervising employees in their crafts but does not elaborate to show to what extent [he supervised them], or what the crafts responsibilities were and how he may have gained experience in regard to organizing their tasks to reach the goal of the mission/operation. Mr. Thomas did not include any illustrations or examples that would support his experience with employee issues pertaining to specific interventions he had supervising employees. . . . Mr. Thomas references being a store work leader . . . but did not elaborate on his responsibilities while in the leader position. . . . Mr. Thomas mentions supervising, managing, communicating, reports, etc. but does not specifically elaborate or explain how his past experience shows a correlation to a supervisor's responsibilities in a HVAC/Utility based mechanical operation. [His] work experience was mainly illustrated using the verbiage of respective [position descriptions] from his past and present positions, and rating element criteria from his present position. Mr. Thomas was not able to adequately illustrate past and present examples of his experience in his own words to quantify his supervisory qualifications.

Bowie Aff. at 3-4 (emphases added). Nor, in Bowie's view, was the plaintiff's interview any more successful in communicating the supervisory qualities necessary to ...

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