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Fields v. Johanns

September 5, 2008

SEDERIS FIELDS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MIKE JOHANNS, SECRETARY U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Henry H. Kennedy, Jr. United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Sederis Fields ("Fields") brings this action against Mike Johanns, Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture ("USDA"), asserting that the agency discriminated against her on the basis of her race and gender in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"). Before the court is the USDA's motion for summary judgment. On the basis of the motion, the opposition thereto, and the record of the case, the court concludes that the USDA's motion for summary judgment must be denied.

I. BACKGROUND

Fields, a Black female, is a GS-13 employee who works in the office of the Deputy Administrator for Field Operations ("DAFO") of the USDA. In 2003, the DAFO advertised three vacancies at the GS-14 level. Two vacancies were Administrative Management Services ("AMS") positions, and one vacancy was a Program Management ("PM") position. Fields, along with Ken Nagel ("Nagel") and Pat Spalding ("Spalding"), who are both White and male, applied for the AMS positions. Nagel also applied for the PM position.

The application process for the AMS positions included two rounds of interviews. Fields had her first interview on July 8, 2003. A representative from the Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") Office was present during this interview. Before her second interview, John Chott ("Chott") who is the Assistant to the DAFO, contacted the USDA's human resources department to inquire whether an EEO observer was necessary for the second interview. A Human Resource Specialist advised Chott that an EEO observer was not necessary. When Fields had her second interview on July 21, 2003, an EEO observer was not present.

On the same day as her interview, Fields was informed that she was not selected for either of the AMS positions. The following day, Chott announced that Nagel and Spalding received the positions.

II. ANALYSIS

Fields asserts that she was not selected for the AMS position because of her race and gender. The USDA rejoins that Fields was not selected because Nagel and Spalding were more qualified than Fields. Fields contends that the USDA's explanation is pretextual. Because there is enough evidence to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the USDA's explanation is pretextual, the court must deny USDA's motion for summary judgment.*fn1

A. Legal Standard

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act makes it "an unlawful employment practice for an employer . . . to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Until recently, at the summary judgment stage when there was no direct evidence of discrimination, this court's analysis of disparate treatment claims was governed by a complex burden shifting procedural framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-04 (1973). In Brady v. Office of Sergeant at Arms, the D.C. Circuit simplified this framework. 520 F.3d 490, 493-94 (D.C. Cir. 2008). Pursuant to Brady, if an employer asserts a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for the treatment at issue, a court only needs to determine whether an employee has produced sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find that the employer's asserted non-discriminatory reason is not the actual reason and that the employer intentionally discriminated against the employee on the basis of race or gender. Id. In other words, a court only needs to determine whether there is enough evidence for a jury to find that the employer's legitimate non-discriminatory reason is pretextual.

B. The USDA has Come Forward With a Legitimate Non-Discriminatory Reason as to Why Fields was Not Hired

The USDA asserts that Nagel and Spalding were hired because they were more qualified than Fields. According to the USDA, Nagel and Spalding: (1) had more relevant job experience and (2) performed better in their interviews. These are legitimate non-discriminatory reasons as to why Nagel and Spalding, as opposed to Fields, were hired for the AMS positions. Accordingly, the court must now determine whether there is enough evidence whereby a reasonable jury can conclude that these reasons are pretextual.

C. Fields Has Provided Sufficient Evidence of Pretext

Fields asserts that the USDA's explanation is pretextual because: (1) she was more qualified than Nagel and Spalding; (2) Nagel was preselected for the AMS position; and (3) the USDA violated regulations by not having an EEO observer present at her second interview. There is evidence in the record that demonstrates Nagel may have been preselected and that the USDA violated regulations during Fields' interview. Standing alone, these two pieces of evidence would probably not be sufficient to overcome ...


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