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Byers v. Alamance County

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

July 15, 2015

RANDY WALTER BYERS, Plaintiff,
v.
ALAMANCE COUNTY, NORTH CAROLINA, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JAMES A. BEATY, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Defendant Alamance County's ("Defendant") Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. #29] and Plaintiff Randy Walter Byers's ("Plaintiff") "Brief in Support of Summary Judgment for Trial Proceeding and Supporting Documents as Evidence for a Summary Judgment Decision to Move to Trial, " construed as Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. #34]. The motions are fully briefed and ripe for adjudication. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant Defendant's motion and deny Plaintiff's motion.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The undisputed facts are as follows. Plaintiff is an African American man who obtained his college degree from North Carolina Central University ("NCCU"). On September 30, 2010, Plaintiff attended a job fair held at the Holly Hill Mall in Burlington, North Carolina. Defendant participated in the job fair and provided Plaintiff with a handout listing Defendant's current job openings. The list included two positions for which Plaintiff felt he was qualified, those of Clerk to the County Board/Executive Assistant to the Board II ("Clerk position") and Income Maintenance Caseworker II ("IMC II position"). Plaintiff submitted applications for these two positions at the job fair.

The application materials as to each position included Plaintiff's resume and the Alamance County Application for Employment form. This form nowhere requested applicants to provide information about their racial identity, and Plaintiff's application materials did not voluntarily supply such information. In his deposition, Plaintiff acknowledged that the applications themselves did not ask applicants to identify their racial or ethnic backgrounds. Plaintiff believed that an "EEOC form" may have been included with his application, but could not recall for certain. (Byers Dep. [Doc. #36-1], at 122:3-123:8.) Plaintiff's application materials referenced Plaintiff's educational background, including that he received a bachelor of arts degree from NCCU, which is a historically black college or university ("HBCU"). Plaintiff's materials did not allude to this characteristic of his alma mater. Plaintiff acknowledged in his deposition that white students attend NCCU, but that "it is a majority black school" and "is known as a historically black university." (Id. at 122:24-123:12.)

Plaintiff's respective applications were considered separately through independent application and interview processes, and he was not invited to interview for either the IMC II position or the Clerk position. On November 8, 2010, Defendant hired Kristine Gamblin to fill the IMC II position for which Plaintiff's application was considered. Latawnya Hall, an African American woman, was directly involved in hiring for the three IMC II vacancies. In her affidavit, Ms. Hall explained that she currently serves as the Social Work Program Manager (Adult and Family Services) for the Alamance County Department of Social Services ("ACDSS"). In the fall of 2010, when Plaintiff applied for the IMC II position, Ms. Hall was employed as the Economic Services Program Manager for ACDSS. Ms. Hall confirmed that the application forms for the IMC II positions did not contain any questions asking applicants to disclose their racial or ethnic background. If Plaintiff had submitted his application directly to ACDSS, his application would have included an attachment entitled "Alamance County Application Attachment Sheet-Equal Opportunity Information." (Hall Aff. [Doc. #32], at ¶ 6.) This form requested gender, age, and ethnic background information from applicants, but did not request applicants' names. The form included a disclaimer explaining its purpose in tracking equal employment statistical information, and stating that "[t]he information requested below will in no way affect you as an applicant." (Id. at ¶ 6.) However, ACDSS received Plaintiff's application through the County Human Resources Department after Plaintiff submitted his application at the September 30, 2010 job fair. According to Ms. Hall, because Plaintiff's application was not submitted directly to ACDSS, it did not include the Equal Opportunity Information attachment, and Plaintiff's IMC II application did not otherwise contain any racial or ethnic background information.

The applications for the IMC II positions were carefully and systematically reviewed by ACDSS. More than 92 individuals, including Plaintiff, applied for the three IMC II vacancies. These 92 applications were divided into three smaller pools according to the three IMC II open positions. Ms. Hall completed an initial, independent review of the applications. She "used a consistent and uniform screening criteria" consisting of nine specific factors: "(a) nature and consistency of the applicant's work history, (b) administrative work experience, (c) data entry experience, (d) customer service experience, (e) interviewing experience, (f) level of client/customer interactions, (g) accounting experience, (h) knowledge or work experience with the DSS client population, and (i) knowledge of computer systems." (Id. at ¶ 10.) Based on this initial screening, Ms. Hall concluded that some of the applicants, including Plaintiff, "were not qualified for further consideration of the IMC II position." (Id. at ¶ 7.) These applicants were eliminated from the field of applicants going forward. As a result, Plaintiff's application did not progress to the next stage of the application evaluation process.

The applications for the IMC II positions which advanced beyond Ms. Hall's screening were then reviewed by two of Ms. Hall's subordinates, Eva Fulcher and Lisa Lloyd, both of whom are white females. Ms. Fulcher and Ms. Lloyd reviewed these applicants according to the nine criteria and determined that 14 of the candidates should continue to be considered for the IMC II positions. Ms. Hall, Ms. Fulcher, and Ms. Lloyd then interviewed each of the 14 candidates and further narrowed the pool to six candidates. This group of six consisted of three African American females, a Hispanic female, and two white females. These candidates were then recommended to the Director and Assistant Director of ACDSS who made the final hiring decisions. The three successful candidates were Kristine Gamblin, a white female, Nanette Davis, an African American female, and Tabitha Tucker, an African American female. When the 92 original applications were initially divided into three smaller pools, Plaintiff's application was in the same pool as Ms. Gamblin's. Plaintiff learned he was unsuccessful as to this position when he contacted Defendant to inquire as to his application.

Plaintiff's application for the Clerk position, which was reviewed separately from his application for the IMC II position, also did not advance far in the application process. On November 15, 2010, Defendant hired Tory Frink, an African American woman, to fill the Clerk position. Sherry Hook, the Director of the Human Resources Department for Defendant, was directly involved in the process of hiring for the Clerk position. In her affidavit, Ms. Hook explained that she assisted in reviewing applications submitted for the Clerk position, including Plaintiff's materials. Ms. Hook also assisted with interviewing candidates for the position. She explained that "[d]uring this entire process, we used a consistent and uniform screening criteria for evaluating the information contained in each job application and its supporting documents (e.g., resumes), if any." (Hook Aff. [Doc. #30], at ¶ 3.) Ms. Hook explained that Plaintiff's application did not demonstrate that Plaintiff had a consistent work history and that his past employment did not involve skills he would need for the Clerk position. Ms. Frink was selected as the successful candidate because of her superior qualifications as compared with other applicants, including her steady, relevant work history and her paralegal certificate. Since her hire in November 2010, Ms. Frink has continued to serve in the Clerk position. Ms. Hook sent Plaintiff a letter on November 10, 2013, informing Plaintiff that he had not been selected for the Clerk position. Plaintiff stated in his deposition that he called Defendant to inquire about the IMC II position at some point, and that he may have received a letter explaining that the position was filled. (Byers Dep. [Doc. #36-1], at 119:22-120:09.)

Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") regarding Defendant's hiring practices toward Plaintiff. The EEOC assigned an investigator, Jeffery Walters, to Plaintiff's case. Mr. Walters eventually sent Defendant a letter pertaining to Defendant's allegedly discriminatory hiring practices toward Plaintiff and two African American women who applied for jobs with Defendant. Mr. Walters sent a proposed conciliation agreement to Defendant regarding Plaintiff's charge, but also included the two African American women as asserted class members to the agreement. After Defendant rejected any such conciliation, the EEOC issued Plaintiff a right-to-sue letter on September 11, 2013. Plaintiff subsequently filed his Complaint [Doc. #1] on December 11, 2013. Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss [Doc. #10] arguing Plaintiff's Complaint was untimely as not being filed within 90 days of receipt of the right-to-sue letter. This Court rejected Defendant's argument, determining that Plaintiff received the letter on September 14, 2013, and in turn, Plaintiff's Complaint was timely filed within the 90-day period. (See Order, [Doc. #17], at 3.) On April 10, the Parties filed their respective motions for summary judgment.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a court shall grant summary judgment when there exists no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Zahodnick v. Int'l Bus. Machs. Corp., 135 F.3d 911, 913 (4th Cir. 1997). "In considering a motion for summary judgment, the district court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the' nonmoving party." Jacobs v. N.C. Admin. Office of the Courts, 780 F.3d 562, 568 (4th Cir. 2015) (quoting Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1866, 188 L.Ed.2d 895 (2014) (per curiam)). A court's belief that the movant would prevail on the merits at trial is insufficient to grant a motion for summary judgment. Id . The court cannot make credibility determinations or weigh evidence, and "must disregard all evidence favorable to the moving party... that a jury would not be required to believe." Edell & Assocs., P.C. v. Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos, 264 F.3d 424, 436 (4th Cir. 2001); see Jacobs, 780 F.3d at 568-69. However, the party opposing summary judgment may not rest on mere allegations or denials, and the court need not consider "unsupported assertions" or "self-serving opinions without objective corroboration." Evans v. Techs. Applications & Serv. Co., 80 F.3d 954, 962 (4th Cir. 1996); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

III. DISCUSSION

Plaintiff asserts that Defendant discriminated against him in the hiring process for the Clerk and IMC II positions on account of his race. Specifically, Plaintiff contends that Defendant knew he was African American because he attended NCCU, an HBCU, and that Plaintiff did not advance in the hiring process because of this alleged racially identifying information. Defendant contends that it did not discriminate against Plaintiff as to either position, and that Plaintiff has not produced direct evidence of discrimination nor has he established a prima facie case using the applicable indirect method of proof. The material facts are not in dispute, and thus summary judgment is proper. As is discussed ...


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