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Royall v. National Association of Letter Carriers

August 29, 2007

CHARLES ROYALL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF LETTER CARRIERS, AFL-CIO, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Charles Royall ("the plaintiff") brings this action against the National Association of Letter Carriers ("NALC" or "the defendant") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (2000) ("Section 1981"), alleging that he was unlawfully terminated from his position as the accounting manager for the NALC's finance department because of his race. Complaint ("Compl.") ¶¶ 1, 6-10. In response, the defendant asserts that it discharged the plaintiff from the position after six months of at-will employment as a result of his unsatisfactory job performance. See Answer ¶ 6. Currently before the Court is the defendant's motion for summary judgment ("Def.'s Mot.").*fn1

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.*fn2 In January 2002, the defendant, a national labor union representing letter carriers employed by the United States Postal Service, advertised a vacancy in the position of accounting manager in the finance department of its Washington, D.C., headquarters. Def.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 2, 5. The principal duties of this position are as follows:*fn3 (1) supervising the timely and accurate production of payroll; (2) ensuring the timely and accurate filing of payroll-related tax reports; (3) ensuring the timely and accurate payment of payroll taxes; (4) assisting the Director of Finance with the general supervision of employees in that department; (5) assisting the Director of Finance and the Accounts Payable clerk with duties related to the Accounts Payable software system; (6) ensuring that accurate payroll deductions were taken from employees' paychecks; and (7) ensuring the "timely payment of Postal Service premiums for benefits for NALC officers."*fn4 Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 16; Pl.'s Stmt. at 3 (not disputing the duties of the position as described by the defendant); see Def.'s Mem., Exhibit ("Ex.") E (Deposition of Charles Royall) ("Royall Dep.") at 38:13-18 (agreeing that the accounting manager "had principal authority and responsibility for payroll"). At the time the defendant publicized its advertisement seeking applicants for the accounting manager vacancy, the position had been vacant for approximately five months, from August 31, 2001, to January 2002. Pl.'s Stmt. at 3; see Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 15. As a result of the length of time the position was vacant, a backlog of payroll- and accounting-related work had built up in the finance department. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 15; Pl.'s Stmt. at 3. The defendant contends, and the plaintiff does not dispute, that the vacancy was advertised in an attempt to remedy this situation. See Def.'s Reply at 15 (stating that "[t]he position of accounting manager was vacant for some time prior to [the] plaintiff's employment, and there was no individual to hold accountable for late-filed taxes").

In response to the defendant's advertisement, the plaintiff, an African-American male, applied for the accounting manager position. Def.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 1, 6; Compl. ¶¶ 3, 6. The plaintiff, along with several other applicants, was selected for an interview, and on February 12, 2002, he was interviewed by a panel consisting of William Young, at that time Executive Vice-President of the NALC, Ronald Stubblefield, at that time Director of Finance for the NALC, and Jane Broendel, Secretary-Treasurer of the NALC.*fn5 Def.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 6-7; Pl.'s Stmt. at 2; Royall Dep. at 32:5-11. Young was the primary decision-maker participating in the interview, having been delegated the responsibility over all personnel matters pertaining to the NALC finance department, including hiring and firing, by the NALC's then-President, Vincent Sombrotto.

Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 8; see also Def.'s Mem., Ex. A (Deposition of William Young) ("Young Dep.") at 5:14-10:13. After all of the candidates had been interviewed, the panel conducted an internal discussion regarding the hiring decision. Young Dep. at 10:4-6. According to Young, there were three candidates in particular for the position, including the plaintiff, who he considered equally qualified. Id. at 15:16-19 (stating that he "couldn't make a distinction between the candidates personally. . . . [because he] liked them all"). Ultimately, however, he was persuaded by Stubblefield-with whom the new accounting manager would be working most closely-that the plaintiff "had some abilities in spreadsheets that the other two didn't have."*fn6 Id. at 15:20-21; see id. at 10:7-10 (stating that "I made the decision [to hire the plaintiff], but I let Stubblefield decide because I knew that he had to have somebody that he was compatible with in order for us to get back, because not only was there a lot of work to do, but there was a backlog there"); 16:1-3 (stating that Stubblefield "ended up convincing [Broendel] and I that because of [the plaintiff's] abilities with these spreadsheets[,] he was the right guy for the job"); 16:4-7 (recollecting that he told Stubblefield: "You've been pushing for this position, and it's important that you have somebody. If that's what you think, then that's what we'll go with"). The plaintiff was then invited back for another interview with Young, at which time he was offered, and accepted, the accounting manager position. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 9; Royall Dep. at 35:2-10.

On February 25, 2002, the plaintiff commenced employment at the NALC. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 12; Royall Dep. at 35:16-36:6. During his time as the NALC's accounting manager, the plaintiff was supervised by Stubblefield, who in turn reported to Broendel. Def.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 18-19. As an at-will employee, the plaintiff "had no written or implied employment contract with [the defendant,] . . . [n]or was he covered by a collective bargaining agreement while he was employed [as the NALC's accounting manager]," Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 13, and it is therefore undisputed that "the NALC could terminate [him] at any time without cause, . . . [and] for any reason at all," Royall Dep. at 54:15-22.

The plaintiff remained employed by the NALC for a period of six months.*fn7 Compl. ¶¶ 6, 8; Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 74; Pl.'s Stmt. at 9. At the outset of his employment, the plaintiff was "given a list . . . of duties that had to be completed that had not been completed since the prior accounting manager left." Royall Dep. at 41:12-15. According to Young, however, it eventually became clear to Stubblefield, Broendel, and himself that the plaintiff "was not able to do all of the functions of the position that he was hired to do, and [the NALC] couldn't get the finance department in order without someone who was able to do the things he was supposed to do." Young Dep. at 50:16-20; see also id. at 27:16-28:2 (stating that Young concluded, based on his observations of the plaintiff as well as his discussions with Stubblefield, that "[the plaintiff] was absolutely incapable of fulfilling the position"); Def.'s Mem., Ex. B (Deposition of Jane Broendel) ("Broendel Dep.") at 85:5-11 (concurring in Young's judgment that the plaintiff's job performance warranted termination).

Specifically, Young states that (1) he was notified of penalties that the NALC had occurred as a result of the plaintiff's failure to timely pay certain payroll taxes, Young Dep. at 17:3-7; see id. at 20:22-21:2 (relating Young's personal knowledge of "a number of occasions after [the plaintiff] was hired [in which] there were tax penalties that had to be paid");*fn8 see also Def.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 57 (alleging that "[the] NALC was required to pay a penalty of $1,163.00 to the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS") for late-paid federal employment taxes for the tax period ending June 30, 2002," a payment which "should have been made on April 29, 2002"), 58 (alleging that "[the] NALC was required to pay a penalty of $2,796.79 to the IRS for late-paid federal employment taxes for the tax period ending March 31, 2002," a payment which "should have been made on March 29, 2002"); Pl.'s Stmt. at 12 (not disputing that payments were made delinquently); (2) he was told by Stubblefield on "five to ten" occasions that the plaintiff wasn't adequately performing his job,*fn9 Young Dep. at 17:8-14 (stating that Stubblefield told him "that he had to do what [the plaintiff] was supposed to do . . . and that he was right back where he was before"), 23:14 (stating that Stubblefield told him that the plaintiff was "struggling with [the position]");*fn10 (3) the plaintiff did not possess, and did not acquire over the course of his employment, the requisite familiarity with the database program used by the NALC's finance department, id. at 28:2-19 (alleging that the NALC "had chaos with [its] W-2s because [the plaintiff] didn't make entries in [the database] that would make the W-2s automatic at the end of the year"); (4) he received complaints from NALC employees and various third parties regarding the finance department's failure to timely pay its bills during the plaintiff's tenure as accounting manager, see id. at 29:15-31:18 (stating that a vendor told him that "the NALC was losing its reputation as being an organization that paid its bills on time"), 54:7-57:16 (stating that issues were raised about the plaintiff's performance "almost every single day" and providing examples of the plaintiff's alleged failure to timely pay Postal Service premiums and to properly forward payroll deductions). Young summarizes his state of mind regarding the plaintiff's job performance as follows:

It seemed like every day I came to work, there was another issue with somebody complaining about lack of performance out of that finance department, and I felt like I was . . . having Broendel up to my office, it seemed like, almost every day. It probably wasn't, but that's what it seemed like. It would be one thing right after another after another.

Id. at 59:13-21. Indeed, the defendant asserts, and the plaintiff does not dispute, that all three individuals who participated in the decision to hire the plaintiff as accounting manager subsequently expressed their belief that his employment should be terminated for performance-related reasons.*fn11 See Broendel Dep. at 82:20-83:4 (stating that Stubblefield came to Broendel and recommended that the plaintiff be terminated, and that she went to Young and recommended that the plaintiff be terminated). Accordingly, on August 27, 2002, upon the direction of Young, Broendel informed the plaintiff of his termination. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 74; Pl.'s Stmt. at 9; see Young Dep. at 26:17-27:21 (stating that he made the decision that the plaintiff's employment should be terminated after speaking to Broendel and Stubblefield); Broendel Dep. at 83:5-13 (same).*fn12

The plaintiff's immediate successor in the accounting manager position was James Delio, who is Caucasian. See Def.'s Reply, Ex. C (Deposition of James Delio) ("Delio Dep.") at 5:2-7:18; Young Dep. at 36:20-39:20. At the time that the plaintiff was terminated, Delio was employed as a computer programmer in the NALC's information technology department. See Delio Dep. at 6:8-10; Young Dep. at 37:19-21. Delio, who had some experience with the database software used by the finance department, see Young Dep. at 37:21-38:3, offered to take over as accounting manager on a trial basis when another individual who had been hired for the position failed to report to work, Delio Dep. at 6:12-7:1; Young Dep. at 38:11-12 (remembering Delio saying that he wanted to "take a shot at [the accounting manager] job"). Within one or two months, however, it became clear to Delio that he was not suited for the position, and he was transferred back to his computer programmer job at his request. See Delio Dep. at 5:10-6:11, 8:11-19; Young Dep. at 39:2-14 (representing that Delio told him that he didn't "have the accounting skills to do the job" and that he could "handle the software, but it's not working out"). At present, Delio remains employed with the NALC as a computer programmer. Delio Dep. at 4:13-20.

The plaintiff brought this action on August 26, 2005, alleging that the defendant unlawfully terminated his employment because of his race in violation of Section 1981. Compl. at 1. On September 18, 2006, the defendant moved for the entry of summary judgment in its favor, arguing that the plaintiff (1) has not demonstrated that his termination gives rise to an inference of discrimination and (2) has failed to provide evidence sufficient to rebut the defendant's assertion that it terminated his employment as a result of his unsatisfactory job performance.*fn13 Def.'s Mem. at 1-2. In ...


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