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Coleman v. Johnson

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 11, 2015

James Coleman, Plaintiff,
Jeh C. Johnson, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Defendant.


AMIT P. MEHTA, District Judge.


Plaintiff James Coleman is a Production Specialist with the Secretary's Briefing Staff in the Department of Homeland Security.[1] When a position came available to become a Supervisory Production Specialist, Plaintiff applied but was passed over in favor of two white, younger candidates. Plaintiff now claims that he was discriminated against based on his race and age in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 631(a).[2] Before the court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. After examining the record, the court concludes that Defendant has presented a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for not hiring Plaintiff, and that Plaintiff has failed to put forth evidence upon which a reasonable jury could conclude that Defendant's hiring decision was a pretext for discrimination. The court therefore grants Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.


Plaintiff is a 54 year-old male who identifies as African-American. Compl. ¶ 8. Since March 2008, he has been employed as a GS-13 on the Department of Homeland Security's ("DHS") Secretary's Briefing Staff ("SBS"), which is within DHS's Office of the Executive Secretariat. Id. ¶ 9. "SBS prepares daily, in-depth briefings for the Secretary and Deputy Secretary for national and global events." Heiser Decl., ECF No. 9-5, at 34. Its mission is to "provide[] the Office of the Secretary timely, accurate, [and] relevant information that supports events, meetings, and decision making." Rohner Suppl. Decl., ECF No. 33-7, at 3.

Plaintiff began his employment at SBS in 2008 as a Production Specialist. Compl. ¶ 9. His responsibilities included preparing briefing books that other DHS employees used to brief the Secretary. Coleman Dep., ECF Nos. 33-1, 37-2, at 17. Sometime between 2009 and 2010, Plaintiff temporarily functioned as "the de facto supervisory production specialist, ensuring that briefing books for the daily Secretarial briefings were complete." Brought Decl., ECF No. 36-11, ¶ 4. Plaintiff had a good rapport with his supervisor, SBS Director Boyden Rohner, who rated Plaintiff as an "exceeds expectations" performer in November 2010. Rohner Dep., ECF Nos. 33-2, 36-8, & 37-1, at 27.

Rohner became the Director of SBS in April 2009. Rohner Decl., ECF No. 9-2, ¶ 1. At that time, SBS did not officially reside within DHS's Office of the Executive Secretariat ("ESEC") but was "detailed" to that office. Rohner Suppl. Decl. ¶ 2. By the beginning of 2010, however, SBS had been "formally transferred" to ESEC. Id. As part of the transition, Rohner sought to combine the positions of "briefer"-employees who directly briefed the Secretary-with the position of Supervisory Production Specialist (the "Supervisory Position")-employees who prepared the reports used to brief the Secretary. Id. ¶ 3. Prior to SBS's reorganization, Rohner, as Director of SBS, was the only SBS employee to brief the Secretary, a concern that initiated the realignment. Id. ¶¶ 3-4.

In late 2009, Rohner convened a meeting, which Plaintiff attended, during which she delivered a PowerPoint presentation announcing her new vision for SBS, including the integration of the briefer and the Supervisory Position roles. Coleman Dep. at 25-27. According to Rohner, she explained that those in the integrated position would now be responsible for briefing the Secretary. Rohner Suppl. Decl. ¶ 5. Plaintiff disputes that Rohner articulated this vision for the Supervisory Position at the meeting. Coleman 2d Decl., ECF No. 36-4, ¶ 13.

In June 2010, Defendant posted Vacancy Announcement No. OS-20100328. Compl. ¶ 11. The Announcement described an opening for the Supervisory Position in SBS.[3] Id. Plaintiff applied and was interviewed for the position. Id. If selected, he would have been promoted from a GS-13 to a GS-14. Id. Because the position's responsibilities included briefing the Secretary, Plaintiff's interview included a mock briefing exercise. Coleman Dep. at 41. Plaintiff was not selected for the vacancy; nor was any other candidate. Compl. ¶ 11.

Afterwards, in an email to Rohner, Plaintiff acknowledged that he had performed poorly during the mock briefing portion of his interview. Heiser Suppl. Decl., ECF No. 33-5, at Ex. 3 ("I was upset and I whole heartedly agreed with your assessment of my interview (immediately after the interview I was disappointed)."). Plaintiff asked Rohner for her assistance in improving his briefings skills: "I only ask that you and I to have a mock briefing (you and I alone). Where we cover the articles in the briefing book based on the way you think the items should be briefed, why you thought it should be briefed in that manner and how you came to the conclusions that you did." Id. Rohner was receptive to Plaintiff's request and "offered to help [him]... in practicing his briefing." Rohner Dep. at 72-73.

In Fall 2010, Defendant posted Vacancy Announcement No. 362712, re-advertising two vacancies for the same Supervisory Position. Coleman Dep. at 40-41. Plaintiff reapplied and received an interview. Id. at 51. Candidates were again tasked with performing a mock briefing during the interview. Rohner Dep. at 67. According to Rohner, "[Plaintiff] did not significantly improve from his performance in early 2010." Rohner Decl. ¶ 7. Plaintiff admitted that, even though he performed poorly during his first mock briefing, Heiser Suppl. Decl. at Ex. 3, all he did to prepare for his second mock briefing was to "familiarize[] [himself] with certain articles that are presented in front of the Secretary, " Coleman Dep. at 61-62.

Plaintiff was not selected for the position. Instead, a selection board-comprised of Rohner, Donald Swain (Deputy Executive Secretary), and a Ms. Blackwell, Rohner EEO Decl., ECF No. 9-3, at 2; Rohner Dep. at 68-unanimously agreed to select two other candidates: John Destry and Alan Eckersley (the "Selected Candidates"), Heiser Decl. at 12. Destry was employed by the Defense Intelligence Agency ("DIA") when he applied to SBS. Destry Dep., ECF No. 33-4, at 12. While at DIA, Destry consistently briefed, Destry Decl., ECF No. 33-6, ¶ 4, and provided "daily morning desk-side briefings on current intelligence" to senior-level officials, Rohner Sealed Decl., ECF No. 8-2, at Ex. 2. He also previously served as a platoon commander in the Marines Corps. Id. Eckersley worked for the Joint Chiefs of Staff Directorate for Intelligence when he applied for the position. Id. at 9. At that time, he held the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and had experience managing intelligence-related assignments. Id. Eckersley also had experience conducting briefings-he "[p]resent[ed] operations and recommendations to senior leaders." Id. at 10.

In addition to having briefing experience, the Selected Candidates also performed well during the mock briefing portion of their interviews. According to Rohner, "[b]oth [the Selected Candidates] performed exceptionally during the interview and during the required briefing portion. Not only did both candidates have strong supervisory and managerial experience, but both candidates already had recent experience briefing senior officials on a day-to-day basis." Rohner EEO Decl. at 9.


Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, "[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A dispute over a material fact is genuine when "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). "[T]his standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment." Id. at 247-48.

In any dispute of fact, the court must "[review the evidence] in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and... draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party." Talavera v. Shah, 638 F.3d 303, 308 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255). Parties may cite to "materials in the record" or "show[] that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A)-(B). Summary judgment is properly granted if the plaintiff, "after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, ... fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Therefore, the district court must ...

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