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Thomas v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

United States District Court, D. Maryland

December 4, 2019

ERNEST A. THOMAS, Plaintiff,
v.
WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          PAULA XINIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the Court is Defendant Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (“WMATA”)'s motion for summary judgment.[1] ECF No. 15. The motion is fully briefed, and no hearing is necessary. See D. Md. Loc. R. 105.6. For the following reasons, summary judgment is denied.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Ernest A. Thomas (“Thomas”) has worked at WMATA since he was first hired as an electrical mechanic in 2005. ECF No. 1 at 6; ECF No. 19-3 ¶ 6. Thomas was eventually promoted to Senior Vehicle Engineer. ECF No. 19-3 ¶ 6. Thomas, a black male originally from Liberia, is trained and educated in engineering. ECF No. 15-4; ECF No. 15-6 at 7:18-8:4. This discrimination case arises from WMATA's decision to not promote Thomas to the position of “Manger, Operations Training” (“the position” or “Training Manager”) in the summer of 2017. ECF No. 1 at 10.

         On May 19, 2017, WMATA posted an announcement for the Training Manager position. ECF No. 15-2 ¶ 4. This position, classified as one in the engineering department, is responsible for creating and administering technical training programs for WMATA employees. ECF No. 15-9 at 1-3; ECF No. 19-9 at 15:16-17. To apply for the position, applicants first submitted resumes online. See ECF No. 19-9 at 5:9-18; ECF No. 19-10 at 6:4-7. WMATA Human Resources (“HR”) Recruiter, Marcus Washington, then reviewed these resumes to determine if the applicants were “minimally qualified.” ECF No. 15-2 ¶ 7; ECF No. 19-9 at 5:19-6:13. According to WMATA's job posting, an applicant is minimally qualified if he or she has either (1) “[g]raduat[ed] from an accredited college or university with a bachelor's degree in Engineering, Engineering and Technology, Transportation Management, or related field” and has at least eight years' experience “in maintenance, engineering, or technical management with specific experience that includes training and supervision, ” or (2) has “an equivalent combination of post high school education, industrial or vocational training” plus 12 years' experience “in maintenance, engineering, or technical management with specific experience that includes training and supervision.” ECF No. 15-9 at 4.

         Washington evaluated 86 applicants, nine of whom, including Thomas, were deemed “minimally qualified.” ECF No. 15-2 ¶¶ 6-7; ECF No. 19-10 at 6:8-11. Washington forwarded the nine applicants' resumes to the hiring official, Joseph Robinson. ECF No. 15-2 ¶¶ 3, 7. Robinson, as the hiring official, decided which candidates to interview from the pool of minimally qualified applicants. ECF No. 19-9 at 6:16-19. Robinson attests that he evaluated the applicants' resumes for experience in training and management of training programs, knowledge of the construction and maintenance of railroad systems, and management experience more broadly. ECF No. 15-2 ¶ 10. He based his decision of whom to interview solely from the information included in the applicants' resumes. ECF No. 15-2 ¶¶ 12, 15; ECF No. 19-10 at 6:11-12. Robinson then decided who to hire from the interviewed applicants. ECF No. 19-10 at 6:13-16.

         Ethel Roy is WMATA's Director of Talent Acquisition. ECF No. 15-6 at 12:1-5. Roy explained that the Talent Acquisition Department, a subdivision of the HR Department, is responsible for the “managing and oversight” of the recruitment process. ECF No. 19-9 at 10:22-11:2. Although Robinson remained the “ultimate decision maker” as to hiring for individual positions, see Id. at 10:11-13, 11:3-4, according to Roy, Talent Acquisition recruiters may attend interviews and review the hiring manager's “selection document[s] . . . for thoroughness and the like” and “[i]f there's any question or anything along those lines, the appropriate parties are engaged, ” id. at 7:14-18, 12:1-7.

         On June 16, 2017, Thomas emailed Roy to ask about the status of his application. ECF No. 19-5 at 6. Ten days later, Roy informed Thomas that WMATA had decided “to proceed with a first round of candidates whose resumes demonstrate current relevant training experience before considering additional candidates, such as yourself, who meet the minimum qualifications but whose relevant experience may be less current.” ECF No. 19-5 at 4. Roy also told Thomas that as of June 26, “the department has not yet commenced interviews” for the position and that Thomas' application remains pending. Id. Roy maintains that the information she communicated to Thomas “was supplied to [her], ” possibly through an HR recruiter, although she does not remember by whom. See ECF No. 19-9 at 22:22-23:5.

         Robinson testified, however, that he did not evaluate the resumes based on the recency of relevant experience, as Roy described. ECF No. 19-10 at 21:7-14. Robinson further confirmed that he never spoke with Roy about the status of Thomas' application. Id. at 20:14- 20. In fact, by the time Roy responded to Thomas, WMATA not only had completed the interview process, but had hired a Caucasian man, Christopher DiFatta, for the position. ECF No. 15-3 at 1-2; ECF No. 19-3 ¶ 11.

         Robinson attested that the selection of DiFatta occurred as follows: Robinson invited five of the nine minimally qualified applicants to interview, two of whom declined. ECF No. 15-2 ¶¶ 8-9. Thomas was not among the invitees. Id. Three WMATA employees, including Robinson, conducted the interviews. ECF No. 15-3 at 1; ECF No. 15-2 ¶¶ 16-18. The interviewers used an “interview script” and ask each interviewee a standard template of questions. ECF No. 19-9 at 7:19-8:3. Each interviewee was scored based on the interview. See ECF No. 15-3 at 1. DiFatta received 126 points and was ranked as “exceeds expectations.” Id. The other two interviewees received scores of 91 and 83 and were ranked as “d[id] not meet requirements.” Id.

         DiFatta and Thomas' education and experience differ in material ways. Thomas earned his bachelor's degree in mathematics from the University of Liberia in 1977, a master's degree in electrical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology and a postgraduate certificate in power system engineering from General Electric. ECF No. 15-4 at 1. For 20 years, Thomas worked as an instructor in the field of electrical engineering at the University of Liberia. Id. at 3. He has taught in the United States at DeVry University in Pennsylvania. Id. Also, for about 20 years, Thomas designed and managed “telecommunication systems” as well as the “development and expansion of electric power distribution systems” at Liberia Telecommunications Corporation and the Liberia Electricity Corporation. Id. at 2. During his time at WMATA, Thomas taught a course on railcar maintenance, which was so well received it became part of the mandatory curriculum for all engineers and engineering managers in WMATA's Office of Chief Vehicle Engineer. Id.

         DiFatta, on the other hand, was not educated as an engineer. ECF No. 19-10 at 9:11-14.; see ECF No. 15-3 at 7. DiFatta, a high school graduate, briefly attended the Community College of Baltimore County in 2005. ECF No. 15-3 at 7. DiFatta has spent 12 years working in the railroad industry. See Id. at 5-7. While employed at North American Rail Solutions from 2004 to 2010, his job duties included investigating accidents, inspecting machinery, and managing and overseeing railway workers. Id. at 6-7. From 2010 to 2012, DiFatta next worked for Amtrak as a Document Control Specialist/Material Specialist. Id. at 6. DiFatta then went briefly to work at Alstom, where he planned and coordinated “supplier activities.” Id. Then DiFatta moved to Bombardier Transportation in 2013, where he worked as a Trainmaster and “[c]oordinat[ed] commuter rail movement” with dispatchers. Id. In 2015, Bombardier promoted to DiFatta to the position of Manager of Training and Regulatory Compliance, where he was responsible for creating and administering a “training program in accordance with regulatory and contractual requirements.” Id. at 5. DiFatta next accepted a consulting job at the Boyd Canton Group in 2016 and was there until WMATA hired him in June 2017. Id. At the Boyd Canton group, DiFatta “review[ed] organization staffing and training for operations functions at rail transit agencies, ” among other consulting-related tasks. Id.

         Robinson has proffered three reasons why he chose not to interview Thomas. ECF No. 15-2 ¶ 11. First, Robinson noted errors in Thomas' resume, to include misspelling “North Carolina” as “North Caroline, ” and listing interest in a position at WMATA different than the one under consideration. Id.; see ECF 15-4 at 1. To Robinson, these errors reflected Thomas' lack of attention to detail and failure to tailor his resume to the open position. ECF No. 19-10 at 34:10-35:2. Notably, however, DiFatta's resume includes similar typographical and grammatical errors, and is likewise not tailored to the relevant position. ECF No. 15-3 at 5-7 (“Responsibilities include investigated [sic] accidents . . ., demonstrated [sic] use of safety equipment.” (emphasis added)); Id. at 6 (stating DiFatta's “objective” is “[t]o achieve a position with a growing company that will allow [him] to utilize [his] skills in Transportation to initiate change and growth within the organization.” (emphasis added)).

         Second, Robinson asserts that Thomas was not selected because of his “very limited classroom training and training management experience.” ECF No. 15-2 ¶ 11; ECF No. 19-10 at 27:11-16. Thomas' prior experience at WMATA's was confined to the Vehicle Engineering Department, whereas the open position would encompass the entirety of WMATA's Rail Department. ECF No. 15-2 ¶ 11; ECF No. 19-10 35:12-19. Robinson viewed Thomas' prior ...


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