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Chappell-Johnson v. Bair

September 3, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Royce C. Lamberth, Chief Judge


Defendant Sheila M. Bair*fn1 ("Bair"), Chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation ("FDIC"), has moved [17] for summary judgment in her favor in this employment discrimination suit. The Court has considered the parties' filings, the entire record herein, and the applicable law. For the reasons explained below, defendant's motion shall be GRANTED.


Plaintiff Dorothy Chappell-Johnson ("Chappell-Johnson") has worked for FDIC and its predecessor agency since the early 1990s. (Compl. ¶ 6.) Over the years, she has filed several complaints with the agency's Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") office, the latest of which led to this lawsuit. (EEO Counselor's Report, Ex. 11 to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., at 1)

That complaint concerned Chappell-Johnson's non-selection for a vacant position in the Administration Division. (See id. at 1-2.) Specifically, on August 24, 2004, FDIC posted a vacancy announcement for a Human Resources Specialist (Information Systems and Compensation) position ("the position"). (See Vacancy Announcement, Ex. 30 to Def. Mot. for Summ. J., at 1.) The announcement listed the following "Quality Ranking Factors (Desirable Knowledge, Skills and Abilities)" against which applicants for the position would be evaluated:

1. Knowledge of the rules and regulations related to human resources processes and procedures, in order to provide technical assistance and factual information to HR Operations customers.

2. Ability to use personnel automated systems to process complex personnel actions, (i.e., retroactive personnel actions, garnishments, child support, alimony payment cases).

3. Ability to communicate orally to explain and provide assistance to employees and administrative staff on personnel procedures and processes.

4. Ability to communicate in writing to prepare reports and correspondence to employees. (Id. at 2.) It further described tasks the selectee would be expected to perform in relation to certain data processing systems.*fn3 (Id.) While the announcement listed the position's "full performance" grade level as CG-11, it also indicated that the position would be "entry-level" and "designed to develop the employee selected to perform at the full performance level." (Id.) Thus, the selectee could also be hired at the CG-7 and CG-9 grade levels. (Id.)

Chappell-Johnson, then a Human Resources Specialist (Benefits) at the CG-9 grade level in the Administration Division, applied for the position. (Chappell-Johnson Dep. at 1, Ex. 7 to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J.) Seeking to hire from within its ranks, FDIC compiled a Merit Promotion Roster listing six then-current employees, including Chappell-Johnson, whose qualifications rendered them eligible for the position. (See Merit Promotion Roster, Ex. 15 to Def.'s Mot.) Chappell-Johnson was eligible for appointment at all three grade levels, while the other five were each eligible at the CG-7 and CG-9 grade levels. (See id.)

The selecting official, Lorinda Potucek ("Potucek"), elected to follow FDIC's "best business practice[s]" by conducting a "structured interview process."*fn4 (Candidate Selection Recommendation, Ex. 6 to Def.'s Mot.; Second Potucek Dep., Ex. 7 to Def.'s Mot., at 122-23; FDIC Guidance, Ex. 13 to Def.'s Mot., at 1.) In this process, a panel interviews each applicant, posing the same series of questions to each and measuring each against the same benchmarks, with questions and benchmarks based on the job requirements listed in the vacancy announcement. (See FDIC Guidance at 1.) The selecting official then relies on documentation from these interviews, any discussions with panel members, and candidates' application materials in making a final selection. (Id. at 3.)

Potucek tasked two other employees -- Susan Boosinger ("Boosinger"), a 56 year-old female, and Jo Rita Campbell ("Campbell"), a 54 year-old female -- to serve as interview panelists. (See Boosinger Aff., Ex. 2 to Def.'s Mot., at 1; Campbell Aff., Ex. 5 to Def.'s Mot. at 1; First Potucek Dep., Ex. 19 to Def.'s Mot., at 44.) Neither Boosinger nor Campbell had any knowledge of Chappell-Johnson's prior EEO complaints. (See Boosinger Aff. at 1.)*fn5 Potucek, however, had once heard a supervisor mention that he needed to visit FDIC's legal division to discuss an EEO complaint "regarding" Chappell-Johnson. (See First Potucek Dep. at 74-75.)

FDIC's structured interview process guidelines suggest that a Selecting Official "should participate in the interviews," (FDIC Guidance at 2), but Potucek did not do so in this instance, (Second Potucek Dep. at 67.) During the interview process, Boosinger and Campbell briefly reviewed each candidate's application materials and then met with each of the six. (Boosinger Dep., Ex. 3 to Def.'s Mot., at 58-59, 63-64.) For each pre-formulated question, the panelists rated each applicant's response as "outstanding, satisfactory, not satisfactory, or unsatisfactory" according to the established benchmarks, and at some point, either between interviews or after the full round, they discussed overall ratings for each candidate. (See id. at 62-64.) After agreeing on the two top contenders, Roger Little ("Little") and Paula Foreman ("Foreman"), Boosinger and Campbell met with Potucek, who asked them how they had rated the candidates. (Id. at 64-65.) Boosinger and Campbell explained that Little and Foreman were "tied for first . . . for different reasons," (Second Potucek Dep. at 124), and the three women then discussed Little and Foreman's interviews, (Boosinger Dep. at 65-66).*fn6 Neither Boosinger nor Campbell believed Chappell-Johnson to be as qualified for the position as Little. (See Boosinger Aff. at 2 ("She was not recommended because she was not the best qualified candidate in our opinion. Roger Little was determined to be the best qualified . . . ."); Campbell Aff. at 1 ("[Chappell-Johnson] was not ranked as high as the Selectee as it relates to the interview process").)

After learning from her panelists that Foreman and Little were the top two contenders, Potucek reviewed Foreman and Little's applications, examined the interviewers' notes and the response benchmarks, and took into account her own past experiences with Little, a former subordinate.*fn7 (Second Potucek Dep. at 145-46, 177; First Potucek Aff. at 2.) Specifically, she considered Little's quite recent experience with various database systems as well as his "extraordinary communications skills" and extensive software knowledge. (Second Potucek Dep. at 170-71; First Potucek Aff. at 2.) Potucek ultimately selected Little to fill the vacancy at the lowest possible grade level, CG-7. (See Pl.'s Statement of Genuine Issues at 18 (admitting these facts).)

On November 3, 2004, Chappell-Johnson learned she had not been selected to fill the position. (See EEOC Counselor's Report at 3.) She contacted an EEO Counselor on December 17, 2004, and after mediation proved unsuccessful, she filed a formal discrimination complaint on April 12, 2005. (Id. at 1; Acceptance of Formal Discrimination Complaint, Ex. 1 to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., at 1.) Chappell-Johnson contended she was more qualified than Little and blamed her non-selection on sex and age discrimination and reprisal, but after a formal investigation, FDIC concluded no discrimination or retaliation had occurred. (See Final Agency Decision, Ex. 12 to Def.'s Mot. at 2, 8.)

Dissatisfied with FDIC's findings, Chappell-Johnson filed this suit on June 12, 2006. Her complaint raises claims for sex discrimination, in violation of 42 U.S.C. section 2000e-16(a) ("Title VII"), age discrimination, in violation of 29 U.S.C. section 633a ("ADEA"), and retaliation based on her prior EEO activity, also in violation of Title VII.*fn8 (See Compl. ...

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