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York v. Nicholson

February 12, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Milton I. Shadur Senior United States District Judge


James York ("York") originally filed a Complaint against Anthony Principi as Secretary of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs ("Department"), York's employer, charging racial discrimination and breach of a settlement agreement in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 43 U.S.C. §§621-634. In an Amended Complaint York added a claim that Department had further discriminated against him by failing to promote him.

At the close of discovery Department moved for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. ("Rule") 56, and York responded to its motion. For the reasons set forth in this memorandum opinion and order, Department's motion is granted in all respects and this action is dismissed.

Summary Judgment Standard

Well-established Rule 56 principles impose on Department the burden of establishing a lack of genuine issue of material fact (Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986)). For that purpose this Court must consider the evidentiary record in the light most favorable to non-movant York and draw all reasonable inferences in his favor (Lesch v. Crown Cork & Seal Co., 282 F.3d 467, 471 (7th Cir. 2002)). But to avoid summary judgment, York must produce "more than a mere scintilla of evidence to support [his] position" that a genuine issue of material fact exists (Pugh v. City of Attica, 259 F.3d 619, 625 (7th Cir. 2001)) and "must set forth specific facts that demonstrate a genuine issue of triable fact" (id.). If the record reveals that no reasonable jury could find in favor of York, summary judgment must be granted (see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)).

To enable this Court to evaluate that possibility, what follows is a summary of the facts, viewed in favor of non-movant York under the criteria described by Rule 56 and implemented by this District Court's LR 56.1.*fn1 That posture obviates the need to repeat "according to York" or the like, or to identify any conflicting account, though the latter is sometimes included for purely informational purposes.


York is an African-American man who has been an employee of Department's Hines Veterans Administration Hospital ("Hines") since 1975 (D. St. ¶5). Since a promotion in 1982 York has primarily worked in Hines' Environmental Management Service division, which provides laundry, sanitation and housekeeping services for the entire hospital (id. ¶¶5-6). During the largest part of his tenure at Hines York's position has been that of housekeeping aid supervisor, and in that post he was and is paid at the WS-05 pay level (id. ¶5). York's duties in that position have included supervising a team of approximately eight employees and ensuring that Hines had the necessary linens for its daily operations (id. ¶6).

In December 2003 York was selected to fill the position of Acting Textile Care Manager after a competitive bidding process (id. ¶7). That position was intended to be temporary because Hines had plans to outsource the textile care facility to an outside contractor (id. ¶8). When Hines eventually did so York returned to his former position, where he remains today (id. ¶9).

York's three decades at Hines have not been without conflict. In October 1992 he filed a lawsuit against Hines alleging that he had not been selected for the position of Assistant Chief of the Environment Management Services because of his race (D. St. ¶10). That suit was dismissed by one of this Court's colleagues via summary judgment in February 1995, a decision that was affirmed by the Seventh Circuit (id. ¶11). Next York filed another lawsuit in September 1995 alleging racial discrimination and retaliation when the Department abolished another position for which he applied (id. ¶12). That suit was also dismissed when another District Judge granted summary judgment in Department's favor in June 1997 (id. ¶13).

York filed additional discrimination complaints before 2001, all of which became the subject of a settlement agreement ("Agreement") that York and the Department entered into on July 11, 2001 (D. St. ¶¶14-15). Under the terms of the Agreement York agreed to withdraw all pending discrimination complaints and to waive all discrimination claims that arose before the date of the Agreement (id. ¶16). For its part Department agreed to place York in an "Individual Development Plan" ("Plan") that "[was] designed to assist him plan and carry out an organized approach to enhance his current job performance, as well as a means to achieve any career goals he may have" (id.). But those terms did "not guarantee placement in any designated or specific position," and York understood that the Agreement did not require Department to promote him (id. ¶17). To support the goals of the Plan, the Agreement provided that York could choose "his own personal mentor" or his supervisor to "work with him" on the Plan (id. ¶18). Finally, Department agreed to pay York $1,000 (id. ¶19).

After the parties signed the Agreement York was paid $1,000 and began working with a mentor he selected, Hines' Associate Director Maryann Semrad ("Semrad")(D. St. ¶22). That relationship went very well, but it ended when Semrad was transferred to another hospital (id.). Charles Williams ("Williams"), Chief of Environmental Management Services, then acted as a replacement mentor for York (id. ¶¶23-25). Under Williams' mentorship York had total autonomy over the textile care facility and took on the responsibility for purchasing equipment and supplies, as well as developing operating procedures for the laundry plant operation (id. ¶26).

Since he entered into the Agreement York has applied unsuccessfully for several positions within Hines, including Assistant Chief of the Environmental Management Services division (a GS-12 position) and several runs at the Chief position (a GS-13 position)(D. St. ¶29). York opted not to apply for any positions at the GS-7 or GS-9 levels because he believed that his military experience, education and many years of employment at Hines rendered him overqualified for those lower-level positions. Each time he applied but was rejected for a position, York believed that Department breached the Agreement (id. ¶31). In fact, each time he was not selected he filed an administrative claim charging discrimination and breach of the Agreement (id. ¶32).

In February 2005 Department again failed to select York for the position of Chief of Environmental Management Services (D. St. ¶37). Before choosing someone for that post Department assembled a five-member panel to review resumes, conduct interviews and communicate with the references listed by each candidate (including York)(id. ¶41). During the interviews the panel scored candidates on 11 performance-based interview questions. Four of the five members scored white male Laurin DeVine ("DeVine") higher than York (id. ¶42). Based on the panel's recommendation and on DeVine's education and ...

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