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Lewis v. Mnuchin

United States District Court, District of Columbia

January 7, 2019

LISA LEWIS, Plaintiff,
STEVEN T. MNUCHIN, in his official capacity as U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Defendant.


          TREVOR N. MCFADDEN, U.S.D.J.

         Lisa Lewis works at the U.S. Department of the Treasury. In 2011, she and another Treasury employee, Evin Gossin, applied for a promotion. He was selected; she was not. Ms. Lewis now brings this case against Steven Mnuchin in his official capacity as Secretary of the Treasury, alleging that the Department's decision to promote Mr. Gossin and not her was based on unlawful race and gender discrimination. The Court disagrees, finding that Mr. Gossin was chosen because of his performance evaluations, qualifications, and superior application scores. Because there are no genuine issues of material fact, and because he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, the Court will grant Secretary Mnuchin summary judgment.


         Beginning in 2002, Ms. Lewis worked as a Personnel Security Technician in the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. Second Am. Compl. 2. She “performed her duties in a satisfactory manner and received satisfactory performance evaluations.” Id. at 3. Her direct supervisor was Ron Shelden, a Caucasian man. Id. She is African American.

         Mr. Shelden evaluated Ms. Lewis's performance annually. These evaluations consisted of numerical ratings of six “Skill Elements, ” an overall summary score, and narrative comments. See Def.'s Ex. 10, ECF No. 23-1 at 80-82. The Skill Elements assessed, among other things, an employee's teamwork, administrative knowledge, and organizational, technical, and communication skills. Id. Each Element was assigned a rating ranging from one to four points, with four being the best possible score. Overall performance was also rated on the four-point scale. Id.

         In Fiscal Year 2010, Mr. Shelden assigned Ms. Lewis an overall score of three. Id. at 81. She also received a score of three for each of the Skill Elements. Id. In his narrative remarks, Mr. Shelden noted that Ms. Lewis “consistently demonstrated professionalism and established effective working relationships with management, employees, peers, and external customers . . . .” Id. at 82. He added that she “made solid contribution[s]” to the team, and he praised her for “exhibit[ing] significant growth during this appraisal period.” Id.

         In Fiscal Year 2011, Mr. Shelden again assigned a rating of three to Ms. Lewis's overall performance. See Def.'s Ex. 3, ECF No. 23-1 at 31.[1] She scored a three on five of the Skill Elements. Def.'s Ex. 12, ECF No. 23-1 at 104. For the sixth element, Communications and Interpersonal Skills, she received the maximum score of four. Mr. Shelden described the year as “very challenging” for the Office. Id. at 105. He stated that Ms. Lewis “met the many challenges this year presented” and “perform[ed] her job in a productive manner . . . .” Id. Another reviewer, Ron Bell, complimented her “pleasant and effective customer satisfaction skills, ” and described her as “conscientious in her work.” Id.

         Mr. Gossin, a Caucasian male, was also a Security Technician supervised by Mr. Shelden. Second Am. Compl. 3. Like Ms. Lewis, in Fiscal Year 2010, Mr. Gossin received an overall performance score of three. Def.'s Ex. 11, ECF No. 23-1 at 92. But unlike her, on all but two of the Skill Elements, he received the maximum score of four. Id. In his narrative comments, Mr. Shelden wrote that Mr. Gossin “continues to distinguish himself as an integral part” of the team, adding that his “skill sets and initiative are invaluable.” Id. at 94. He also described Mr. Gossin as “an outstanding contributing member” of the office. Id.

         For Fiscal Year 2011, Mr. Gossin received an overall performance score of four. Def.'s Ex. 13, ECF No. 23-1 at 117. He also received fours on five out of the six Skill Elements. Id. Mr. Shelden noted that Mr. Gossin was “instrumental” to the team's success during a difficult year, and that he “perform[ed] his job in a highly efficient and effective manner.” Id. at 118. Mr. Bell added that Mr. Gossin was a “self-starter, quick study, and [was] always ready to volunteer to take on additional tasks, particularly in an effort to learn a new skill or new program.” Id.

         Mr. Gossin's performance led Roger Mahach, Mr. Shelden's supervisor, to explore the possibility of promoting him. Mr. Mahach asked the human resources department (“HR”) to “conduct a desk audit of Mr. Gossin, ” who he believed “was doing work that was above his NB-IV [pay] grade.” Def.'s Ex. 2, ECF No. 23-1 at 14. Noting that there were multiple employees with Mr. Gossin's job title and pay grade, HR recommended that “we should announce the position to give all a fair chance for promotion.” Id.

         That position-Security Specialist with a higher NB-V pay grade-was then publicly announced. See Def.'s Ex. 14, ECF No. 23-1 at 129. Both Ms. Lewis and Mr. Gossin applied. HR certified that both candidates were “highly qualified” and sent their applications to Mr. Mahach, the office's designated “selecting official.” Pl.'s Ex. B, ECF. No. 26-1 at 35-36. Because there were fewer than ten qualified applicants for the position, HR told Mr. Mahach that he had three selection options: HR could rank the applicants, Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) could rank the applicants, or Mr. Mahach could conduct interviews himself. Id. at 36. He chose the second option. Id.

         So two SMEs, Mr. Shelden and D'Mona Boykin, participated in an application ranking panel. Id. Ms. Boykin, an African-American female, was an IT Specialist in the Security and Compliance Services unit. Def.'s Ex. 8, ECF No. 23-1 at 70. She and Mr. Shelden evaluated the candidates' resumes and their knowledge, skills, and abilities (“KSAs”). Id. at 71. These materials were evaluated using assessment questions drawn from the job announcement. Id.

         Ms. Boykin awarded Ms. Lewis's application a score of 12 out of 18. Id. She awarded Mr. Gossin's application the maximum possible score of 18. Id. at 72. One factor that “weighed heavily” in his favor, she explained, was his training in Lean Six Sigma, a process improvement methodology. Id. While Mr. Gossin was “working on his black belt, ” Ms. Lewis had not yet been awarded the lower “green belt” certification. Id. Ms. Boykin also noted that Mr. Gossin's resume “identified a number of accomplishments that he had achieved in his tenure with [the office] and elsewhere.” Id. He “provided examples as to how he accomplished” these achievements. Id. By contrast, Ms. Lewis “said that she did some things, but did not explain how she accomplished them.” Id.

         Mr. Shelden also ranked Mr. Gossin higher. He awarded Ms. Lewis's application a score of ten and Mr. Gossin's a score of 18. Def.'s Ex. 9, ECF No. 23-1 at 76. He noted that Mr. Gossin “[s]howed evidence of fully meeting the requirements of each assessment question.” Id. Ms. Lewis, however, “showed no evidence of emergency management program or information security program experience.” Id. He also highlighted her lack of a Lean Six Sigma “Greenbelt or Blackbelt ...

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