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Sharrelle Higgins v. Inspector General

April 3, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ellen Segal Huvelle United States District Judge


Plaintiff Sharrelle Higgins has sued the Office of Inspector General ("OIG"), United States Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD"), under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. She alleges that, because of her race (African-American) and sex (female), she was not selected for the position of Deputy Assistant Inspector General ("DAIG"). Defendant now moves to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, defendant's motion for summary judgment will be granted.



Higgins was hired by OIG*fn1 in 2004 as Deputy Director of Human Resources. (Compl. ¶¶ 5, 7; Pl.'s Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. to Dimiss, Mot. for Summ. J. ("Pl.'s Opp'n"), Ex. 1 ("Higgins Application") at 2--3.)*fn2 In October 2005, Helen Albert, then serving as DAIG, promoted plaintiff to become Director of Human Resources. (Compl. ¶ 7; Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss, Mot. for Summ. J. ("Def.'s Mot."), Ex. 8 ("Albert Decl.") ¶¶ 2--3.) From that time until she left OIG, Albert was her first line supervisor and Dennis Raschka, the Assistant Inspector General ("AIG"), was her second line supervisor. (Id. ¶ 3; Def.'s Mot., Ex. D ("Raschka Decl.") ¶ 1.) Raschka focused on day-to-day administrative operations while Albert focused on external affairs, including congressional and media relations. (Raschka Decl. ¶ 3.) Although Albert was her direct supervisor, Higgins interacted more with Raschka, who was her mentor. (Def.'s Mot., Ex. A ("Higgins 1st Dep.") 104:2--104:11.)

In June 2009, Albert reclassified Higgins' position to make her the Director of OIG's Human Capital and Management Services, which gave her additional responsibilities to "round out her experience." (Def.'s Mot., Ex. C ("Raschka Dep.") 92:2-92:22; Raschka Decl. ¶ 2.) In this role, she assumed duties including contracting, procurement, and space management. (Higgins 1st Dep. 23:20-26:14.)

In fall 2009, Raschka announced that he was planning to retire and that Albert would be promoted to AIG. In November 2009, an announcement was circulated inviting applications for the newly vacant position of DAIG, which is a Senior Executive Service ("SES") position*fn3 with oversight of a staff of 47. (Def.'s Mot, Ex. 2 ("Vacancy Announcement") at 1.) The announcement described the DAIG's responsibilities, to include: coordinating strategic and contingency planning; overseeing the development of administrative and management reports (such as the mandatory semiannual report to Congress); directing assessments of OIG programs, policies, and procedures; providing management and leadership with respect to the budgetary process; overseeing OIG's procurement and contracting functions; providing leadership over all information technology policies and practices, human resources issues, and the program integrity (hotline) function; and overseeing congressional relations and public affairs, including external relations for OIG. (Id. at 1--2.) Because external relations had become so important to OMAP during Albert's tenure as DAIG (Raschka Decl. ¶ 3), Albert modified the draft announcement to ensure that congressional relations were identified as a key element of the position. (Def.'s Mot., Ex. E ("Farrior Decl.") ¶ 3.)

The requisite qualifications included executive-level leadership and management skills,*fn4 as well as demonstrated ability in position-specific areas. (See id. at 2--6.) Applicants were also required to show competency in a wide range of management support areas, including strategic planning and performance management and reporting, budget, procurement, contracting, space and property management, human resources management, training, information technology management, equal employment opportunity, program integrity, and matters involving congressional relations; leading the planning, managing, implementing, and directing of management and administrative support activities; and in meeting and reaching consensus on complex issues with individuals, groups, and high level officials. (Id. at 2--3.)

Applications that met the minimum qualifications were passed on to the Executive Review Board ("ERB") for ranking. *fn5 (See Farrior Decl. ¶¶ 3, 4; Exh. 3 (Instructions to ERB).) The ERB panel consisted of Raschka; Lester Davis, DAIG for the Office of Investigations; and Brenda Patterson, DAIG for the Office of Audit. (Farrior Decl. ¶ 4.) The applicants who the ERB rated as "best qualified" were interviewed by Raschka and Albert.*fn6 (Id. ¶ 7.) Among the "best qualified" were Higgins and Frank Rokosz, a Caucasian male who was then the Assistant Director at the OIG's Technical Oversight and Planning Division within the Office of Audit. (Id.) In addition to interviewing the candidates, Albert also spoke to their colleagues. (See Def.'s Mot., Ex. 6 ("Albert Aff.") at 6--7.)

In January 2010, Albert selected Rokosz as DAIG. (Id. at 8.) Inspector General Stephens subsequently concurred in her selection. (See Def.'s Mot., Ex. 9 (Merit Staffing Certificate); Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 14 ("Stephens Dep.") 46:16--46:19, 49:19--50:3; Raschka Dep. 93:7--93:19; Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 19 ("Albert Dep.") 44:15--44:18; see also Def.'s Mot., Ex. K ("Matthews Decl.") ¶ 7.) Albert personally told Higgins that she had not been selected (Albert Aff. at 7), and Stephens sent an email to all OIG employees informing them that Rokosz had been chosen. (See Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 21 at 12.) *fn7

After Rokosz' selection, Higgins left her position in OIG. (Albert Aff. at 14.) On November 24, 2010, she filed suit, claiming that she was discriminated against on the basis of her race and gender when she was not promoted to be DAIG. Following a period of discovery, defendant filed the instant motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment.



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