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Devonish v. Napolitano

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Northern Division

February 4, 2014

FRANCES M. DEVONISH, Plaintiff,
v.
JANET NAPOLITANO, SECRETARY, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

WILLIAM D. QUARLES, Jr., District Judge.

Frances M. Devonish sued Janet Napolitano, in her official capacity as Secretary of the United States Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") for employment discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII")[1] and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 ("ADEA").[2] ECF No. 1. Pending is the defendant's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim or for summary judgment. ECF No. 18. No hearing is necessary. Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2011). For the following reasons, the defendant will be granted summary judgment.

I. Background[3]

In 1990, Devonish, an African-American female born in 1952, was hired by the Coast Guard-a department within DHS-as a materials handler. See ECF Nos. 18-2 at 1, 18-4 at 5, 18-11 at 2. In 2001, she became a supply technician-a GS-6 level federal government job-and was supervised by Deborah Harris. See ECF No. 18-4 at 4, 7-8.

Overall, Devonish performed her job well. See, e.g., ECF No. 22-7 at 5; ECF No. 18-11 at 3 (Devonish notes that she "always" received performance ratings of "Exceeds" expectations). She was considered so knowledgeable and experienced that she was often tasked with training her fellow employees. See, e.g., ECF Nos. 18-4 at 7, 18-11 at 3, 22-11 at 18. In her 2009-2010 performance review, Harris gave Devonish the highest performance rating possible-"exceeds expectations."[4] See ECF No. 22-1 at 11. In the written comments, Harris wrote that "Devonish is doing an excellent job as a customer service representative [and] has an outstanding rapport with the customers." Id. at 16. Harris also stated that Devonish had run a variety of reports "effortlessly" and "trained other product line Supply Technicians" on various aspects of the job. See id. In 2010, Harris gave Devonish a monetary award for her performance. See ECF No. 22-2 at 3.

On June 22, 2010, the Coast Guard posted a vacancy announcement for a GS-7 level supply technician job. See ECF No. 18-2 at 1. As an internal candidate, the required qualifications to receive a promotion included "52 weeks of service at the next lower grade, " and the announcement noted that the job was "open to veterans who are preference eligibles." See id. at 1-2. Prospective applicants had to submit a written application and resume, and "[t]he most highly qualified candidates [would] be referred to the hiring manager for further consideration and possible interview." Id. at 3-4. Devonish applied for the job by submitting a written application and resume. See ECF No. 18-4.

Harris was the "selecting supervisor" and recruiter for the new GS-7 level job. See ECF No. 18-3 at 2. Four people were selected to interview, including Devonish. See ECF No. 18-10. The interviewing panel consisted of Harris, a white female born in 1957, Lane Sherlock, a white male born in 1962, and Luanna Straker, an African-American female born in 1959.[5] ECF Nos. 18-3 at 2, 18-6 at 2, 18-7 at 2. The panel asked each applicant the same 13 questions. See ECF No. 18-3 at 2, 4. Each panel member wrote notes about the applicant's responses to the questions and was directed to score the responses from 1-10.[6] See, e.g., ECF No. 18-8 at 6-10.

In affidavits filed after the interviews, all three panel members stated that Devonish performed poorly at her interview. Harris averred that Devonish "pretty much bombed her interview." ECF No. 18-3 at 4. She noted that Devonish had only answered "2 questions [scored] better than average" and had answered "8 questions below average." Id. According to Harris, Devonish "did not elaborate enough on her answers, " despite her long tenure with the Coast Guard. See id. Devonish also did not sufficiently explain what "tools she uses to organize herself, " appeared to lack experience in several relevant areas, and "lacked a can-do attitude." See id. Finally, Devonish stated during the interview that "she was a last minute person, " which Harris perceived "negative[ly]" because the statement implied that Devonish "leaves tasks to the last minute and has to rush to complete them." Id.

Straker averred that Devonish's answers to the interview questions "were not specific or correct." ECF No. 18-6 at 3. Sherlock averred that he had known Devonish professionally for over seven years, and "[s]he failed to demonstrate within the interview that she had all the experience that [he knew] she possessed to sell herself on these criteria. She also failed to sell herself that she was motivated to continue to grow and learn more in her career.... [He] did not recommend [Devonish for the job] because she did not interview well."[7] ECF No. 18-7 at 3.

The panel also interviewed Mandy Goble, a white woman in her thirties, who was a GS-6 level Coast Guard employee with five years of experience as a supply technician.[8] ECF Nos. 18-5 at 6, 18-11 at 5. Before joining the Coast Guard, Goble had served in the Army as a Unit Supply Specialist and was eligible for a hiring preference as a veteran. ECF No. 18-5 at 1, 8. All three interviewers averred that, in her interview, Goble performed best of the four candidates. Harris noted that Goble "was a go-getter[, ] seemed to be a quick learner[, and] was well organized." ECF No. 18-3 at 3. During the interview, Goble "spoke well" and "answered the questions promptly." Id.

According to Harris, Goble discussed her strategies to ensure she met deadlines, the relevant training she had received, and her previous experience. See id. Harris also stated that she chose Goble "because [she] felt she was better qualified" and "brought more to the table especially with her experiences in the Army as a Supply Specialist. Her attitude, organization skills." Id. at 4. Sherlock averred that Goble "demonstrated throughout the interview process 2 areas which [he] considered were important to the job - internal [Coast Guard] experience and the willingness/motivation to work hard and learn." ECF No. 18-7 at 2. Straker simply noted that "2 candidates... probably scored higher" than Devonish "based on [Straker's] interview scores, " and one was Goble who "gave the best answers to all the questions." ECF Nos. 18-15 at 2, 18-6 at 3.

After the interviews, each candidate's numerical scores for each question were averaged and the totals added together to obtain an overall interview score, which was then factored into each candidate's overall rating. ECF Nos. 18-7 at 3, 18-9, 18-10. Goble and Devonish had identical scores for job-specific experience and education, but Goble's resume was rated higher. ECF No. 18-10. Devonish had the lowest combined interview and resume score of all four candidates and was ranked third overall, while Goble was ranked first.[9] Id. Harris chose Goble for the job. See ECF No. 18-3 at 4.

On August 30, 2010, Devonish learned that she had not been selected for the promotion. ECF No. 18-11 at 2. On September 7, 2010, Devonish met with Harris, Harris's supervisor, Lisa Krynick, and a union representative to discuss why Devonish had not been selected.[10] See id. at 6. After hearing Harris's and Krynick's comments at the meeting, Devonish "felt like [she] was shown that [she] was too old or that they didn't want an older black female in that position.... To [her] they wanted someone younger and not of color."[11] Id. at 2, 6.

On September 15, 2010, Devonish requested written feedback from Harris on her interview performance. Id. at 6. On September 23, 2010, Harris replied by email. Id. at 7. Harris explained that, although she knew Devonish's capabilities because they had worked together for so long, "the other panel members [did] not know this information. Therefore, it [was] inappropriate for [her] to consider facets" of Devonish's skills that she "did not elaborate upon" during the interview. ECF No. 18-12 at 2. She also identified which questions "earned [Devonish] ...


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