United States District Court, D. Maryland
JAMES A. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
LAZER SPOT, INC., Defendant.
BETH P. GESNER, Magistrate Judge.
The above-referenced case was referred to the undersigned for all proceedings with the consent of the parties (ECF Nos. 24, 25), pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 636(c) and Local Rule 301.4. (ECF No. 22.) Currently pending is defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment ("Motion") (ECF No. 41), plaintiff's Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 43), and defendant's Reply to Plaintiff's Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 46). No hearing is deemed necessary. Loc. R. 105.6. For the reasons discussed herein, defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 41) is GRANTED.
The following is a summary of the evidence in this case, viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. In November 2011, plaintiff James A. Williams ("plaintiff"),  age sixty-eight, applied for a yard jockey position with defendant Lazer Spot, Inc. ("defendant"). (Supp. to Compl., ECF No. 4 at 2; ECF No. 43 at 3.) Defendant is a commercial motor carrier that serves Baltimore customers through shuttle services and trailer loading and unloading. (ECF No. 41-1 at 1.)
Plaintiff heard about defendant's available yard jockey position from a member of his church who suggested that plaintiff call her son, defendant's employee Anthony Hudson ("Hudson"). (Pl.'s Depo., ECF No. 41-4 at 59:1-60:7.) Plaintiff stated that he spoke with Hudson, who told plaintiff that he would mail plaintiff an application. (Id. at 60:17-19.) Plaintiff then mailed his completed application back to Hudson (Id. at 61:4-14), addressing the application to Lazer Spot at Holabird business park in Baltimore. (Id. at 62:18-63:2.) When Hudson subsequently told plaintiff he did not receive plaintiff's application, plaintiff called defendant's Georgia office and spoke with Laura Hauser Simon ("Hauser Simon") in defendant's Human Resources department. (Id. at 62:15-65:12.) Thereafter, plaintiff mailed or faxed a second application, which Hauser Simon told him had been received by defendant. (Id. at 69:3-70:9; 116:4-117:7.) Plaintiff waited several weeks after submitting his application and ultimately called Hudson, who told him "we wanted somebody that just got out of truck school." (Id. at 73:1-4.) Subsequently, in 2012, Hudson told plaintiff "we hire people your age or we got them your age." (Id. at 74:17-18.)
On June 23, 2012, plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (ECF No. 41-4 at 84:3-5.) The EEOC investigator concluded that, although plaintiff belonged to a protected group and defendant had a vacant position, plaintiff had neither applied for the position nor was qualified for the position and defendant did not select a lesser-qualified person outside of plaintiff's group for the position. (ECF No. 41-3 at 3.) On June 24, 2013, plaintiff, acting pro se, filed a Complaint against defendant, alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 ("ADEA") for discrimination based on age. (Compl., ECF No. 1 at 1.)
II. Summary Judgment Standard
Summary judgment is appropriate when "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine dispute remains "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is properly considered "material" only if it might affect the outcome of the case under the governing law. Id . The party moving for summary judgment has the burden of demonstrating the absence of any genuine issue of material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Pulliam Inv. Co., Inc. v. Cameo Props. , 810 F.2d 1282, 1286 (4th Cir. 1987). On those issues for which the non-moving party will have the burden of proof, however, it is his or her responsibility to oppose the motion for summary judgment with affidavits or other admissible evidence specified in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Mitchell v. Data Gen. Corp. , 12 F.3d 1310, 1315-16 (4th Cir. 1993). If a party fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an essential element on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial, summary judgment is proper. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986).
When reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the court does not evaluate whether the evidence favors the moving or non-moving party, but considers whether a fair-minded jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party on the evidence presented. Anderson , 477 U.S. at 252. In undertaking this inquiry, the court views all facts and makes all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp. , 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). The non-moving party, however, may not rest on its pleadings, but must show that specific, material facts exist to create a genuine, triable issue. Celotex , 477 U.S. at 324. A "scintilla" of evidence in favor of the non-moving party, however, is insufficient to prevent an award of summary judgment. Anderson , 477 U.S. at 252. Further, "mere speculation" by the non-moving party or the "building of one inference upon another" cannot create a genuine issue of material fact. Cox v. Cnty. of Prince William , 249 F.3d 295, 299-300 (4th Cir. 2001). Summary judgment should be denied only where a court concludes that a reasonable jury could find in favor of the non-moving party. Anderson , 477 U.S. at 252.
III. Age Discrimination Standard
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 prohibits employers from "fail[ing] or refus[ing] to hire... any individual or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's age." 29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1). The ADEA protects individuals who are forty years of age or older. 29 U.S.C. § 631(a). To succeed on an ADEA claim, plaintiffs "must prove by a preponderance of the evidence (which may be direct or circumstantial) that age was the but-for' cause of the challenged employer decision." Gross v. FBL Fin. Servs., Inc. , 557 U.S. 167, 177-178 (2009). To prove age discrimination by direct evidence, such as derogatory statements about age, the plaintiff must demonstrate "some nexus between the alleged discriminatory statements and the defendant's employment decisions which are at issue." Malina v. Baltimore Gas & Elec. Co. , 18 F.Supp.2d 596, 603 (D. Md. 1998). In the absence of direct evidence of discrimination, a plaintiff's claim is evaluated under the burden-shifting framework created by McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green , 411 U.S. 792 (1973); Tavernier v. Health Mgmt. Assocs., Inc., 498 Fed.Appx. 349, 350 (4th Cir. 2012). A plaintiff establishes a prima facie case of discriminatory failure to hire by demonstrating: "(1) he is a member of a protected group; (2) he applied for the position in question; (3) he was qualified for the position; and (4) he was rejected for the position under circumstances giving rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination." Brown v. McLean , 159 F.3d 898, 902 (4th Cir. 1998). After the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the burden shifts "to the employer to articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the employee's rejection." McDonnell Douglas Corp. , 411 U.S. at 802. If the defendant offers a nondiscriminatory reason for its actions, the burden returns to the plaintiff "to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the legitimate reasons offered by the defendant were not its true reasons, but were a pretext for discrimination." Tex. Dept. of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine , 450 U.S. 248, 253 (1981).
Defendant moves for summary judgment, arguing that plaintiff has not offered direct evidence of age discrimination. (ECF No. 41-1 at 10.) Additionally, defendant argues that plaintiff cannot establish a prima facie case of discriminatory failure to hire based on age because plaintiff has not offered evidence that he applied for the position, that he was qualified for the position, or that defendant rejected him for reasons giving rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination. (Id. at 11.) Even if plaintiff were to prove a prima facie case, defendant argues that it had a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for declining to hire plaintiff and plaintiff cannot demonstrate that defendant's reasons for not hiring plaintiff are a pretext for discrimination. (Id. at 16-19.) Plaintiff maintains that summary judgment is inappropriate because material facts are in dispute regarding plaintiff's qualifications, defendant's receipt of plaintiff's application, defendant's preferred qualifications, defendant's knowledge of plaintiff's age, and defendant's reason for not selecting plaintiff. (ECF No. 43 at 3-8.)
The only direct evidence plaintiff offers relevant to age is two statements made by defendant's employee, Anthony Hudson. First, plaintiff states that Hudson told plaintiff in 2012 that "we hire people your age or we got them your age or something, you know, like that." (ECF No. 41-4 at 74:17-18.) This statement is not evidence of age discrimination; it is, at best, a statement that defendant does indeed have employees similar in age to plaintiff. Second, plaintiff alleges that Hudson told him "we wanted somebody that just got out of truck school." (ECF No. 41-4 at 73:3-4.) Although defendant challenges the veracity of this statement (ECF No. 42-1 at ¶ 10), such a hiring preference is permissible and does not, by itself, constitute unlawful age discrimination. See Arafat v. Sch. Bd. of Broward Cnty., 549 Fed.Appx. 872, 875 (11th Cir. 2013) (hiring recent graduates is permissible under the ADEA because "the bare fact that an ...