United States District Court, D. Maryland
CATHERINE C. BLAKE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
before the court is a motion to dismiss, or alternatively,
for summary judgment, filed by defendant Richard Spencer,
Secretary of the Department of the Navy. For the reasons
stated below, the court will grant the motion for summary
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Sharon Sellman has worked as a GS-13 financial management
analyst ("FMA") at the Patuxent River, Maryland
Naval Air Station for the United States Department of the
Navy since March 1997. Ms. Sellman is an African-American woman
who at all times relevant to this matter was over forty years
of age. Defendant is the Secretary for the United States
Department of the Navy (the "Navy"), a position
currently occupied by Richard Spencer. During all times
relevant to this matter, Ms. Sellman's first and second
level supervisors were Susan Munford and Linda Mattingly,
about June 15, 2016, pursuant to a job announcement, Ms.
Sellman applied for a GS-14 supervisory financial management
analyst position. ECF 12-10. Ms. Sellman and six other
candidates were identified as the best qualified applicants
for the position, ECF 12-6, and Ms. Sellman claimed, without
further evidence, that she was the only member of her race,
color, and age group to be interviewed, ECF 12-20 at p. 9.
12, 2016, the selection committee conducted a telephone
interview with Ms. Sellman. Karin Branch, Sean Case, Kelly
Nelson, Todd Washington, Patrick Dean, and Charles Cooley
comprised the selection committee and are all Caucasian, with
Mr. Washington serving as the selecting official. ECF 12-12;
ECF 12-22 at p. 2. At all times relevant to this matter, Ms.
Mattingly was Ms. Branch and Ms. Nelson's first level
supervisor, ECF 12-22 at p. 3, and Mr. Washington was Ms.
Mattingly's first level supervisor, ECF 12-22 at p. 2.
Mr. Cooley and Ms. Mattingly had worked together previously,
ECF 12-24 at p. 2, and Ms. Lynch had worked with Mr. Cooley,
ECF 12-24 at p. 4. Ms. Sellman both implied and asserted,
without evidence, that the selection committee's various
overlapping professional relationships put various
supervisors in the position to influence unfairly the
committee's decision based on Ms. Sellman's race,
color, and age. See ECF 12-20 at p. 6; ECF 22 at p.
7 ("Mattingly was in the position to influence the
decisions of Branch, Case, and Nelson against the selection
of Sellman, on the basis of race."). Ms. Sellman also
alleged, but did not provide evidence to support, that, in
nineteen years, Ms. Mattingly and Cynthia Burke, Ms.
Sellman's former second level supervisor, had never
selected a person of Ms. Sellman's race or color for a
GS-14 supervisory financial management position. ECF 22 at p.
about August 9, 2016, Ms. Mattingly informed Ms. Sellman that
she had not been selected for the position, and that the
committee had selected Robbyn Lynch instead. Ms. Sellman
asserted that she has more experience in financial management
analysis ("FMA"), more time in government service,
and more superior qualifications than Ms. Lynch. See
ECF 12-8; ECF 12-13. Ms. Sellman also asserted that her
supervisors always have rated her FMA work as more than
satisfactory, and that she has received certifications and
awards for her work. See ECF 12-8 at pp. 4-5.
Sellman had twice before applied for a GS-14 position, and,
after not being selected either time, Ms. Sellman had filed
grievances alleging race and age discrimination on April 21,
2014, and January 26, 2015, respectively. ECF 12-20 at pp.
3-1. On December 20, 2016, Ms. Sellman filed a formal
complaint with the Navy's Equal Employment Opportunity
("EEO") office, alleging race, color, and age
discrimination. ECF 12-4; see generally Balas v.
Himtington Ingalls Indus., Inc., 711 F.3d 401, 406 (4th
Cir. 2013) ("An employee seeking redress for
discrimination cannot file suit until she has exhausted the
administrative process") (citing 42 U.S.C. §
2000e-5(b)). On or about November 1, 2017, the EEO issued its
final decision. ECF 12-29. Ms. Sellman initiated this suit on
February 5, 2018. The Navy filed its motion on August 6,
2018. It has been fully briefed and is ripe for review.
Because the court has considered material outside the
pleadings, the motion will be treated as one for summary
Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that summary judgment
should be granted "if the movant shows that 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) (emphases added). "A dispute is
genuine if 'a reasonable jury could return a verdict for
the nonmoving party.'" Libertarian Party of Va.
v. Judd, 718 F.3d 308, 313 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting
Dulaney v. Packaging Corp. of Am., 613 F.3d 323, 330
(4th Cir. 2012)). "A fact is material if it 'might
affect the outcome of the suit under the governing
law.'" Id. (quoting Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). Accordingly,
"the mere existence of some alleged factual
dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise
properly supported motion for summary judgment[.]"
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48. The court must view
the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving
party, Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1866 (2014)
(per curiam) (citation and quotation omitted), and draw all
reasonable inferences in that party's favor, Scott v.
Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007) (citations omitted);
see also Jacobs v. N.C. Admin. Office of the Courts,
780 F.3d 562, 568-69 (4th Cir. 2015). At the same time, the
court must "prevent factually unsupported claims and
defenses from proceeding to trial." Bouchat v. Bait
Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 526 (4th Cir.
2003) (quoting Drewitt v. Pratt, 999 F.2d 774,
778-79 (4th Cir. 1993)).
VII prohibits an employer from discriminating against an
employee on the basis of, inter alia, the
employee's race or color. 42 U.S.C. §
2000e-2(a). Absent direct evidence of discrimination,
plaintiffs alleging employment discrimination largely must
rely on the familiar burden-shifting framework first
established in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411
U.S. 792, 802 (1973). In failure-to-promote cases, plaintiffs
must first establish a prima facie case of discrimination by
demonstrating by a preponderance of the evidence that 1) they
are members of a protected class; 2) the employer had an open
position for which they applied or sought to apply; 3) they
were qualified for the position; and 4) they were rejected
for the position under circumstances giving rise to an
inference of unlawful discrimination. Anderson
v; Westinghouse Savannah River Co., 406
F.3d 248, 268 (4th Cir. 2005) (internal citations omitted);
Evans v. Techs.. Applications & Servs. Co., 80
F.3d 954, 959-60 (4th Cir. 1996) (internal citations
omitted). If a plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the
burden of proof shifts to the defendant to "articulate a
legitimate, non-discriminatory justification for its
allegedly discriminatory action." Anderson, 406
F.3d at 268. If the defendant provides a non-discriminatory
reason for not promoting the plaintiff, the plaintiff must
then establish that the proffered reason is pretext by
proving "both that the reason was false,
and that discrimination was the real reason."
Adams y. Trustees of the University of
N.C-Wilmington, 640 F.3d 550, 560 (4th Cir. 2011)
(citing Jiminez v. Mary Washington Coll, 57 F.3d
369, 378 (4th Cir. 1995) (quotation omitted)); see also
Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133,
148 (2000) (if plaintiffs establish a prima facie case and
show the proffered explanation to be false, a jury may infer
discrimination was the real reason unless no rational
factfinder could conclude that the action was discriminatory
(internal citation and quotation omitted)).
Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29
U.S.C. §§ 621 et seq. (2012), prohibits
age-based employment discrimination. Ms. Sellman's ADEA
claim similarly involves the McDonnell Douglas
framework, requiring Ms. Sellman to prove that 1) she was at
least forty years old at the time of the vacancy; 2) the
committee had an open position for which she was qualified
and applied; 3) she was rejected despite her qualifications;
and 4) the position was filled by someone substantially
younger and similarly qualified, regardless of whether the
applicant is also a member of the protected class.
Davenport v. Anne Arundel County Bd of Educ, 998
F.Supp.2d 428, 436 (D. Md. 2014) (citing Laber' v.
Harvey, 43% F.3d 404, 430 (4th Cir. 2006)). Should Ms.
Sellman accomplish this, the Navy could proffer a
non-discriminatory reason for not selecting Ms. Sellman for
the GS-14 position, which Ms. Sellman then would need to
establish is pretext for age discrimination in order for her
claim to succeed. Laber', 438 F.3d at 430-31
("the plaintiff must do more than simply show the
articulated reason is false; he must also show that the
employer discriminated against him on the basis of age")
(internal citations omitted).