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Sellman v. Spencer

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 28, 2019

SHARON SELLMAN
v.
RICHARD
v.
SPENCER, Secretary Department of the Navy

          MEMORANDUM

          CATHERINE C. BLAKE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pending 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 judgment.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff 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.[1] 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, respectively.

         On or 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.

         On July 12, 2016, the selection committee conducted a telephone interview with Ms. Sellman.[2] 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. 8.

         On or 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.

         Ms. 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 judgment.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Federal 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)).

         ANALYSIS

         Title 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).[3] 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)).

         The Age 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).

         i. ...


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