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Wilson v. Nicholson

February 24, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr.


Plaintiff Harold Wilson claims that he was discriminated against on the basis of his race, age, and gender when he was not promoted as a housekeeping aide at the Hines Veterans Affairs Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. He also claims that the failure to promote him was retaliation for prior EEO activity. Defendant, R. James Nicholson, Secretary of the United States Department of Veteran Affairs, has filed a summary judgment motion [27] on all of Plaintiff's claims. For the following reasons, the Court grants Defendant's motion.

I. Background

Plaintiff, an African-American and American-Indian, was born in November 1942. He is a veteran of the United States Armed Forces and has been employed at the Hines Veterans Affairs medical facility ("the VA") in Hines, Illinois, as a housekeeping aide, grade WG-2, since 1987. Plaintiff's primary duties include infection control, cleaning patient rooms, treatment rooms, and restrooms, making and washing beds, and moving equipment, supplies, and furniture. While employed at Hines, Plaintiff has received service awards, including a twenty-five year service pin as well as performance awards and certificates of appreciation. Plaintiff also has filed six EEO claims, all related to the VA's failure to promote him within the organization.

In September 2005, the VA posted a vacancy for a grade WG-3 housekeeping aide. Plaintiff applied for the position, which is one grade above his current WG-2 position. A three-member screening panel reviewed the applicants, including Plaintiff, and selected two candidates for interviews. Plaintiff and Tyrone Carter advanced to the interview stage.*fn1 In October 2005, Plaintiff and Carter were interviewed by (i) Judy Aldridge, a forty-nine year old African-American female with prior EEO activity; (ii) Martin Anderson, a fifty year old African-American male, and (iii) Robert Dunson, a fifty-six year old African-American male with prior EEO activity. Based on the interviews, Plaintiff received scores of 19 (Aldridge), 20 (Anderson), and 9 (Dunson), for a total of 48, while Carter received scores of 25 (Aldridge), 24 (Anderson), and 16 (Dunson), for a total of 65.*fn2 According to the panel members, Plaintiff scored lower than Carter because Plaintiff's answers to the interview questions were vague and because Carter demonstrated extensive knowledge of the housekeeping process. The panel then referred the two applicants, along with their interview scores, to the "selecting official."

According to Plaintiff, he and Martin Anderson, one of his interviewers, have a tense relationship. Plaintiff contends that he has been involved in several "confrontational situations" with Anderson. Plaintiff also claims that Anderson threatened to hit him once. Plaintiff believes that Anderson helped prepare Carter for the interview and that Carter was selected for the position because Carter and Anderson are friends.

In November 2005, Laurin Devine, a Caucasian male over forty, selected Carter for the WG-3 vacancy. According to Devine, he selected Carter over Plaintiff because Carter's interview scores were higher. After learning that he was not selected for the vacancy, Wilson filed a formal EEO complaint with the Department of Veteran Affairs, claiming that he was denied a promotion based on his age, race, color, and retaliation for prior EEO activity. On December 6, 2006, the Department issued a final agency decision, denying Plaintiff's claim. Plaintiff then appealed the decision to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which denied his appeal on May 24, 2007. Plaintiff then filed his complaint in this Court, alleging that Defendant discriminated against him on the basis of his age (Count I) in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621-634, and his race and gender*fn3 (Counts II and III) in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000(e) et seq. Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant unlawfully retaliated against him for filing prior EEO claims (Count IV), in violation of Title VII.

II. Analysis

A. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is proper where "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In determining whether there is a genuine issue of fact, the Court "must construe the facts and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Foley v. City of Lafayette, Ind., 359 F.3d 925, 928 (7th Cir. 2004). To avoid summary judgment, the opposing party must go beyond the pleadings and "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). A genuine issue of material fact exists if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. at 248. The party seeking summary judgment has the burden of establishing the lack of any genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Summary judgment is proper against "a party who 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." Id. at 322. The non-moving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). "The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-movant's] position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-movant]." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

No heightened standard of summary judgment exists in employment discrimination cases, nor is there a separate rule of civil procedure governing summary judgment in employment cases. Alexander v. Wisconsin Dept. of Health and Family Servs., 263 F.3d 673, 681 (7th Cir. 2001)(citing Wallace v. SMC Pneumatics, Inc., 103 F.3d 1394, 1396 (7th Cir. 1997)). However, intent and credibility frequently are critical issues in employment cases that in many instances are genuinely contestable and not appropriate for a court to decide on summary judgment. See id. Nevertheless, summary judgment in favor of the defendant is hardly unknown or, for that matter, rare in employment discrimination cases. Wallace, 103 F.3d at 1396.

B. Plaintiff's Title VII and ADEA Discrimination Claims

Plaintiff claims that Defendant discriminated against him on the basis of race, sex, and age in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the ADEA. Title VII prohibits discrimination in employment: "It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer * * * to discharge any individual because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). The ADEA similarly proscribes employment discrimination on account of a person's age. 29 U.S.C. § 623. To prove a case of discrimination under Title VII or the ADEA, a plaintiff may show discrimination under either the "direct" or "indirect" methods of proof. Atanus v. Perry, 520 F.3d 662, 671-72 (7th Cir. 2008) (explaining the misleading nature of this nomenclature and reiterating that the direct method may be proven with either direct or circumstantial evidence and that the indirect method proceeds under the burden-shifting rubric set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 803 (1973)); see also Hemsworth v., Inc., 476 F.3d 487, 490 (7th Cir. 2007). Under the direct method of proof, the plaintiff may introduce either direct or circumstantial evidence to create a triable issue as to whether the adverse employment action was motivated by a discriminatory intent. Id.; see also Isbell v. Allstate Ins. Co., 418 F.3d 788, 794 (7th Cir. 2005); Essex v. United Parcel Serv. Inc., 111 F.3d 1304, 1308 (7th Cir. 1997). In other words, the plaintiff must show either "an acknowledgement of discriminatory intent by the defendant or circumstantial evidence that provides the basis for an inference of intentional discrimination." Dandy v. United Parcel Service, Inc., 388 F.3d 263, 272 (7th Cir. 2004) (citing Gorence v. Eagle Foods Ctrs., Inc., 242 F.3d 759, 762 (7th Cir. 2001)).

Under the indirect method of proof initially set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, a plaintiff first must establish a prima facie case of discrimination. 411 U.S. 792, 802-04 (1973). In order to establish a prima facie case of race, sex, and/or age discrimination, a plaintiff must establish that: (1) he was a member of a protected class; (2) he was qualified for the job or was otherwise meeting the defendant's legitimate performance expectations; (3) he suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) the defendant treated similarly situated employees outside the protected class more favorably. See Fane v. Locke Reynolds, LLP, 480 F.3d 534, 538 (7th Cir. 2007). "The McDonnell Douglas framework ...

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