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Sederis Fields v. Tom Vilsack

January 30, 2012


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



Sederis Fields brings this action against Tom Vilsack, Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture ("USDA" or "agency"), claiming 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"). Presently before the Court is the plaintiff's pro se*fn1 motion [82] to alter or amend the judgment [81]. Upon consideration of the filings, the entire record herein and the relevant law, the Court DENIES the plaintiff's motion.


A.Factual Background

Plaintiff, who is a Black female, has been employed at the GS-13 level in the office of Douglas Frago, the Deputy Administrator for Field Operations in the Farm Services Agency of the USDA since 1999. In 2003, the USDA posted two GS-14 vacancies for positions in Administrative Management Services ("AMS"). Fields applied for the AMS positions, as did USDA employees Ken Nagel and Pat Spalding, who are both White males. Nagel also applied for the APS vacancy, but Fields did not.

After the human resources department determined whether each applicant met the minimum qualifications, the department sent Frago a list of the "best qualified" applicants based on their answers submitted through a computer program. The plaintiff was included in this list. Under agency rules, Frago was permitted to select two applicants from the best qualified list for the AMS positions without holding any interviews. He chose, however, to hold two rounds of interviews for the AMS positions. During the first round, a panel interview*fn2 questioned each applicant on the best qualified list. This panel consisted of Frago; Frago's assistant, John Chott, USDA employee Salomon Ramirez, a Hispanic male; and Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") representative Sean Clayton, a Black male. Fields' first interview was held on July 8, 2003.

The five applicants, including Fields, who earned a "High" ranking after the first round interviews were offered a second interview. Prior to conducting the second round interview, Chott asked Carolyn Taylor, a human resources personnel staffing specialist, whether an EEO observer was needed for the second round interview. Taylor informed him that "[t]he EEO representative is only required for the 'panel interview' process. If you are doing a second interview, which is usually with the selecting official or representative, you do not need an EEO present." Mem. Op. at 2, July 19, 2011; Joint Exhibit ("JX") 22 (7/11/03 Email from Taylor to Chott). Frago, Chott, and Linda Treese, a new employee who would be supervising the employees selected for the AMS positions, conducted Fields' second interview. No EEO representative was present for this interview.

On the same day as her second interview, Fields learned she had not been selected for the AMS position. The next day, Chott announced that Frago selected Nagel and Spalding for the two AMS vacancies.

B.Procedural Background

Fields filed a complaint on March 22, 2006 alleging that she was not selected for the AMS position due to unlawful discrimination on the basis of her race and gender. The USDA moved for summary judgment, contending that Nagel and Spalding were selected instead of Fields because they were more qualified. The Court (per Judge Kennedy) denied the USDA's motion for summary judgment, concluding that there was "enough evidence to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the USDA's explanation [for not selecting Fields] is pretextual." Mem. Op. at 2, Sept. 5, 2008. The Court found "no evidence that Fields was significantly more qualified than Nagel and Spalding for the AMS position," and "substantial evidence shows that Nagel and Spalding were just as qualified-and perhaps even more qualified-as Fields." Id. at 6. However, the Court held that a factual dispute existed as to whether Nagel was preselected, and as to which set of regulations regarding interview procedures applied at the time of Fields' application. Id. at 7. Because preselection and the failure of an agency to follow its own procedures could be evidence of pretext, the Court held that it could not grant summary judgment for the USDA. Id.

A jury trial was held, and at the close of all the evidence, the USDA moved for a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50 judgment as a matter of law, which the Court took under advisement. Because the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict, the Court declared a mistrial.

The USDA subsequently renewed their motion for judgment as a matter of law, which the Court (per Judge Kennedy) granted. In so doing, the Court held that there was insufficient evidence presented at trial that the USDA's proffered reason for not selecting Fields was pretextual. Mem. Op. at 6, July 19, 2011. The Court also held that the evidence presented did not establish that Fields was significantly ...

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