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Judon v. City of Charlotte

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

November 13, 2017



          Robert J. Conrad, Jr. United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, (Doc. No. 21); Defendant's Memorandum in Support, (Doc. No. 21-1); and Plaintiff's Memorandum in Opposition (Doc. No. 26). The motions have been fully briefed, a hearing has been held, and the issues are ripe for adjudication.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural Background

         Herbert Judon (“Plaintiff”) originally sued both the City of Charlotte (“Defendant”) and Charlotte Douglas International Airport for violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §1981, and the North Carolina Equal Employment Practices Act. (Doc. No. 1 at 9-10). Since his initial filing, Plaintiff amended his complaint, dropping his age discrimination claim. (Doc. No. 2). After both defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss, (Doc. No. 7), this Court followed Magistrate Judge Cayer's recommendation, (Doc. No. 13), and dismissed with prejudice: (1) all claims against Charlotte Douglas International Airport; (2) Plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. §1981 claim; and (3) Plaintiff's North Carolina Equal Employment Practices Act claim. (Doc. No. 14). As a result, Plaintiff is left with a Title VII disparate impact claim against the City of Charlotte. Defendant now moves for summary judgment on Plaintiff's remaining claim, arguing that Plaintiff has failed to properly support his disparate impact theory. (Doc. No. 32). This Court agrees with Defendant and hereby grants their Motion for Summary Judgment.

         B. Factual Background

         At the time this lawsuit was filed, Plaintiff was employed by Defendant as Assistant Aviation Director of Operations at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. (Doc. No. 2, ¶4). As an Assistant Aviation Director, Plaintiff was one of four who answered to the Deputy Director who in turn answered to the Aviation Director. (Id. ¶ 29). In July of 2013, the North Carolina General Assembly transferred control of Charlotte Douglas International Airport to another entity. (Doc. No. 21-1 at 2-3). This legislation failed to take effect after a judge ordered a temporary injunction. (Id.). This situation created uncertainty as to the airport's future governance. (Id. at 3). Amidst this uncertainty, Jerry Orr, the Aviation Director, abruptly left his position on July 13, 2013. (Doc. No. 26 at 3). This left both the Aviation Director and Deputy Director positions above the four Assistant Directors vacant (Id.). Among the four Assistant Deputy Directors was Plaintiff, Mark Wiebke, John Christine, and Brent Cagle. (Doc. No. 21-1 at 4). Plaintiff was the only African American Assistant Director. (Id.) Among these four Assistant Deputy Directors, Cagle had 1.5 years' experience at the airport, all of which was as Assistant Director. Christine had 16 years' experience at the airport, 2 of which were as an Assistant Director. Wiebke had 25 years' experience at the airport, 12 of which were as an Assistant Direct. Plaintiff had 16 years' worth of experience at the airport, with one year as an Assistant Director. (Id.) (citing Doc. Nos. 21-8, 21-10-12).

         After Orr's departure, the City Manager appointed Assistant Director Cagle as interim Aviation Director. (Doc. No. 26 at 3). The appointment of Cagle was consistent with the City Manager's power to fill interim positions in the event that a Department Director position opens. (Doc. No. 21-1 at 4). As such, Cagle's appointment was a “closed process” in that the position was not advertised or opened for interviews. (Id.). After his appointment, Cagle temporarily promoted Christine, one of the remaining Assistant Directors, to the vacant Deputy Director position. (Id.). This interim appointment, like that of the interim Aviation Director position, was closed in that neither Plaintiff nor Wiebke were offered the opportunity to interview for the position. (Id.).

         These closed hiring processes are not the norm. City hiring policy provides that “[a]ll vacant positions shall be posted unless under unusual circumstances as approved by the Human Resources Director.” (Doc. Nos. 21-1 at 7; 26 at 6). However, Defendant defines the governance issues affected by the North Carolina legislation, as well as the sudden departure of Orr, as “unusual circumstances” that did not require following the norm or posting the positions. (Doc. 21-1 at 9-10).

         In 2014, Cagle reorganized the Aviation Department's management structure by adding a second Deputy Director position between the Aviation Director and the four Assistant Director positions. (Id. at 6). In doing so, Cagle made Christine's interim position permanent and allowed the newly created second Deputy Director position to remain open until a permanent Aviation Director was announced. (Id.). Again, there was no interview process in filling the Deputy Director role permanently. (Id.). This closed process used to appoint Christine to Deputy Director left Plaintiff, an African American male, and Wiebke, a Caucasian male, in their old roles as Assistant Aviation Directors without a chance to apply for the permanent Deputy position.

         Plaintiff has 19 years of experience with the City working as Airport Operations Manager, Airport Facilities Manager, Airport Ground Transportation Manager, and Airport Operations Officer. (Doc. 26 at 2). In terms of the quality of Plaintiff's work, Orr rated Plaintiff's 2012-2013 performance as Aviation Assistant as “completely satisfactory.” (Id. at 5). Thereafter, from 2013-2015, Plaintiff's performance evaluations were rated as “entirely satisfactory.” (Id.).

         Defendant does not question Plaintiff's qualifications, but emphasizes that Christine was chosen for legitimate reasons entirely separate from race. First, Airport stakeholders such as American Airlines and the federal Transportation Security Administration expressed concern regarding Plaintiff's ability to work with them. (Doc. 21-1 at 4-5). Second, Cagle based Christine's appointment on past work performance in addition to already established positive relationships with the Airport stakeholders that had concerns about Plaintiff. (Id.).


         Summary judgment shall 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). A factual dispute is genuine “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 material only if it might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law. Id. The movant has the “initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (internal quotation ...

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