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Azeem v. Nicholson

June 23, 2008

SYED A. AZEEM, PLAINTIFF,
v.
R. JAMES NICHOLSON, SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Amy J. St. Eve, District Court Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

In his Complaint, Plaintiff Syed A. Azeem alleges that his employer, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (the "VA") discriminated against him based on his race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Before the Court is the VA's Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. For the following reasons, the Court grants Defendant's motion.

BACKGROUND*fn1

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Syed Azeem is a federal employee who worked within the radiotherapy department at the Hines VA Hospital. (R. 45-1, Def.'s Rule 56.1 Stmt. Facts ¶ 3; R. 51-1, Pl.'s Rule 56.1 Stmt. Facts ¶ 1.) Azeem's pay grade level was GS-9. (Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 3; Pl.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 1.) In his Complaint, Azeem alleges that the VA discriminated against him based on his race (Asian) because it failed to upgrade his position from a grade level GS-9 to the grade level of GS-11. (Pl.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 2.)

II. Position Upgrade

The radiotherapy department at the Hines VA Hospital is an outpatient clinic jointly staffed by five or six VA employees and also doctors and nurses from the Loyola University Medical Center. (Id. ¶ 3; Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 5.) On August 23, 2001, Azeem sent an email to his supervisor, Dr. Barbara Temeck, regarding an upgrade of his grade level from GS-9 to GS-11. (Pl.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 5; Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 6.) In response, Dr. Temeck explained that a desk audit was necessary to determine if an upgrade was appropriate. (Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 6.) Thereafter, VA human resources employee, Molette Randle, conducted a desk audit of Azeem's position. (Pl.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 6; Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 7.) Randle concluded that Azeem's position could be reclassified to a GS-11 position, but that the VA Resource Committee had to approve any such upgrade. (Pl.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 7; Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 7.) On February 13, 2002, Dr. Elaine Adams, Azeem's new direct supervisor, proposed to the VA Resource Committee that Azeem's position be upgraded to GS-11 based on Randle's desk audit findings. (Pl.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 9; Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 8.)

III. Hines VA Hospital Reorganization

Sometime in 2002, the radiotherapy department was transferred from the chief of staff's office to the medical service department during Hines VA Hospital's reorganization. (Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 8.) Pursuant to the reorganization, Dr. Temeck became Azeem's second-level supervisor because she remained responsible for the overall administration of the hospital's clinical services. (Id.) On May 2, 2002, Dr. Temeck advised Azeem via email that the VA Resource Committee had deferred action on Randle's desk audit of Azeem's position due to the ongoing reorganization that impacted all positions in the hospital. (Id. ¶ 9; Pl.'s Stmt. Facts ¶¶ 9, 10.) In October and December 2002, the VA management approved two new organization charts that showed a second transfer of the radiotherapy department from the medical service area to the medicine and neurology line. (Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 10.) Under the reorganization, Azeem's position as a program specialist was listed as a grade level GS-9. (Id.)

IV. Communications About Position Upgrade

In May 2003, Azeem exchanged a series of emails with VA human resources employee, Eileen Pager-Williams, about the grade level classification for his position. (Id. ¶ 11.) Pager-Williams advised Azeem that the changed requirements of his position resulting from the reorganization were probably significant and that the earlier desk audit may not be applicable after the reorganization. (Id.) Pager-Williams also informed Azeem that she did not see a basis for an upgrade of Azeem's position based on the materials Azeem provided her. (Id.) On May 14, 2003, Pager-Williams sent Azeem a follow-up email discussing upgrades, reclassifications, and the proper role of a classifier when conducting a desk audit. (Id. ¶ 12.) Further, in the May 14 email, Pager-Williams explained that if higher-graded work is identified during a desk audit, this does not necessarily mean that the employee is entitled to an upgrade because the employee's manager is free to assign the higher graded work to another employee. (Id.)

In April 2004, Azeem exchanged another set of emails with VA employee, Anthony Chimento, seeking to obtain Chimento's assistance in obtaining an upgrade to GS-11. (Id. ¶ 13.) In an email dated April 30, 2004, Chimento informed Azeem that the chief of staff, Dr. Temeck, had questioned the validity of the prior desk audit completed by Randle and had requested that Pager- Williams review Randle's findings. (Id.) When Dr. Temeck was asked about the Randle desk audit at her deposition, she recalled discussing it with VA human resources employee Clare Hajduk and that Hajduk told her that the audit was not done properly. (Id.) Meanwhile, Hajduk testified that the desk audit was deficient because it only provided conclusory statements about the duties required for Azeem's position and failed to provide any analysis of how Azeem's position had changed to justify an upgrade to GS-11. (Id. ¶ 14; see also Pl.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 8.)

In June 2004, Azeem, Chimento, and Pager-Williams exchanged another series of emails regarding Azeem's upgrade request. (Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 15.) In an email dated June 10, 2004, Pager-Williams explained to Azeem that the value of the prior desk audit was questionable because the functions of his position changed following the hospital's reorganization. (Id.) Pager-Williams also stated that she would arrange for another desk audit if Azeem requested one. (Id.) On June 23, 2004, Pager-Williams sent Azeem, Chimento, and others another email providing a detailed explanation of the desk audit process. (Id. ¶ 16.) This email reiterated that Azeem's position did not involve sufficient complexity to justify a higher grade level. (Id.)

On October 6, 2005, VA employee Jane Moen sent an email to Pager-Williams explaining that she was Azeem's new supervisor, that Azeem had provided her with a packet of information regarding the Randle desk audit, and that Azeem wanted to know when to expect his upgrade to GS-11. (Id. ¶ 17.) Pager-Williams responded to Moen's email the next day and explained the various problems with Randle's audit, as well as her own conclusion that Azeem's position did not qualify for an upgrade. (Id.) On October 14, 2005, Moen documented a meeting that she had with Azeem regarding his request for an upgrade. (Id. ¶ 18.) At the meeting, Moen explained to Azeem that his position could not be upgraded because: (1) the original desk audit was too old and was completed before the hospital's reorganization; (2) Randle was not authorized to recommend an upgrade; (3) Azeem's current position was not complex enough to warrant an upgrade; and (4) Dr. Temeck or Dr. Schmitt -- the chief of the medicine & neurology service line -- would not support the upgrade. (Id.) October 20, 2005, Azeem sent an email to Moen confirming their discussion of his upgrade request on October 14. (Id. ¶ 19.) Azeem's email also noted that he had conferred with the human resources department and was told that he should ask his supervisor for a new desk audit. (Id.) Azeem then stated that he would like to "officially" request a new desk ...


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