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Charles H. Bolden v. Hillary Clinton

March 9, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge

Re Document No.: 94



The plaintiff, a former employee of the Department of State, alleges that he was the victim of unlawful discrimination and retaliation on the basis of his race and age. He brings suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 621 et seq., against Hillary Clinton in her official capacity as the Secretary of State. This matter now comes before the court on the defendant's motion for summary judgment. The defendant argues that its employment decisions were uniformly motivated by legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons. Because the court concludes that no reasonable juror could conclude that these reasons were simply pretext for unlawful discrimination, the court grants the defendant's motion.


The plaintiff is a former member of the Foreign Service, the diplomatic corps of the United States. Def.'s Stmt. of Material Facts ¶ 1. As a member of the Foreign Service, the plaintiff was employed by the defendant, the Department of State. Id. The plaintiff is an African-American who was born in 1953. Id.

The plaintiff began his employment with the defendant in 1986 with an assignment to the Foreign Service's Dallas Regional Office. Id. From 1990 to 1992, the plaintiff was assigned to the United States Embassy in Mexico City, Mexico. Id. ¶ 4. From 1992 to 2004, the plaintiff served in various positions in different geographical areas within the United States. Id.

When making decisions regarding which employees to promote, the Department of State convokes a Foreign Service Selection Board ("Promotion Board"). Id. ¶¶ 6-7. These Promotion Boards are composed of a group of individuals who rank the employees according to performance reviews, capability, and other metrics. Def.'s Mot. at 19-20. The information reviewed by the Promotion Boards did not contain any information with respect to any employee's age, race, color, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, disability or prior activity with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEO activity"). Id. at 22, see also id. Ex. 13-16, 18-32.

The plaintiff applied for a promotion in 2004 and 2005. Def.'s Stmt. of Material Facts ¶¶ 6-7. The 2004 Promotion Board considered 137 applicants; the Board recommended 56 individuals for promotion, three of whom were African-American and two of whom were over age 40. Id. The 2005 Promotion Board considered 169 applicants; the Board recommended two African-Americans for promotion and 29 employees aged 40 or over. Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 6; Def.'s Mot., Ex. 108. Neither the 2004 Promotion Board nor the 2005 Promotion Board recommended the plaintiff for promotion. Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶¶ 6-7.

In 2007, the plaintiff applied for a number of vacancies that had been announced for a position as Criminal Investigator. Id. ¶¶ 8-10. The first vacancy announcement pertained to three geographical vacancies (Dallas, Denver, and Los Angeles). Id. ¶ 8. The second vacancy announcement similarly advertised vacancies in several locations. Id. ¶ 9. The third vacancy announcement related to an available position in Virginia. Id. ¶ 10.

When selecting the candidate to be hired to fill these vacancies, the defendant convoked various panels of individuals to review the applicants. Def.'s Mot. at 8. These panels reviewed the applicants in terms of their relevant qualifications. Id. The individuals who served on these panels did not have access to information regarding the applicant's race, age or EEO activity. Id.; see id.; Ex. 44, 46. The panels reviewed the applications and ranked the applicants in light of their qualifications, but the panels did not conduct interviews. Def.'s Mot. at 8. Each panel then issued a recommendation for the individual that they collectively believed to be the most qualified. Id. at 9. The plaintiff was not selected for any of these positions. Id.

By 2007, the plaintiff was nearing completion of his job assignment in New Orleans. Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 11. Following the completion of this assignment, the plaintiff faced mandatory retirement. Id. According to the defendant's internal regulations, no individual may serve more than 15 years at the rank that the plaintiff had held. Id. Because the plaintiff had held the same rank for 15 years, the plaintiff was scheduled to be mandatorily retired at the end of September 2007. Id.

Employees facing mandatory retirement may choose to file a grievance. Def.'s Mot., Ex. 57. The plaintiff did so approximately one month before his mandatory retirement was set to take effect. Id., Ex. 74. The defendant's internal regulations stipulate that an employee who files a grievance while facing mandatory retirement is normally granted some form of interim relief. Id., Ex. 57. Interim relief does not restore the employee to his or her previous status; rather, it puts the employee in a status where no further actions can be taken to force retirement. Id.

Thus, if an employee who faces mandatory retirement files a grievance, the mandatory retirement is held in abeyance. Id. In addition, the employee is authorized to travel to Washington, D.C. for three days in order to consult with his or her employers. Id.

The plaintiff opted to travel to Washington, D.C. Id. At this point, the defendant admits that it erred in the plaintiff's favor by deviating from its standard procedures. Instead of granting the plaintiff permission to visit Washington D.C. for three days, the plaintiff was formally assigned to Washington, D.C., for an indefinite period. Def.'s Mot. at 12. In connection with his indefinite assignment to Washington, D.C. during the pendency of his grievance, the plaintiff was provided with travel authorization and allowances in the amount of $28,547.53 to complete his direct transfer from New Orleans, Louisiana, to Washington, D.C.*fn1 Id., Ex. 79. To ensure that the plaintiff had meaningful work during his time in Washington, D.C., the plaintiff was asked to assist with a staffing shortage in the Criminal Investigations Division. Id., Ex. 93.

The plaintiff settled his grievance with the defendant in January 2008, and as a result, the defendant granted the plaintiff two additional years in which he could apply for a promotion, thereby forestalling his mandatory retirement date. Def.'s Stmt. of Material Facts ¶ 28; Def.'s Mot., Ex. 17. In 2008, the plaintiff was assigned to Monterrey, Mexico. Def.'s Stmt. of Material Facts ¶ 28. In anticipation of the assignment to Monterrey, the plaintiff was asked to report to training in Washington, D.C. Def.'s Mot. at 12-13. During this time, the plaintiff used his government credit card for several charges associated with his temporary lodging there. Id., Ex. 89, 91. The plaintiff did not timely pay the credit card balances. Id. As a result, the plaintiff was suspended for 5 days without pay. Id.

In 2008 and 2009, the plaintiff once again applied for a promotion, but the Promotion Boards did not select the plaintiff. Def.'s Mot. at 13-14. By September 2010, the plaintiff had not been promoted during the two-year grace period created by the settlement of his grievance. Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 34; Def.'s Mot., Ex. 10. Accordingly, the plaintiff was mandatorily retired. Id.

The plaintiff filed suit in June 2008, alleging racial discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.*fn2 See generally Compl. Following discovery, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. See generally Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. ("Def.'s Mot."). With this motion ripe for adjudication, the court now turns to the relevant legal standards and the parties' arguments.


A. Legal Standard for Summary ...

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