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Young v. Onslow Water & Sewer Authority

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division

January 12, 2018




         On August 1, 2017, Onslow Water and Sewer Authority ("OWSA" or "defendant") moved for summary judgment concerning Sherilyn Young's ("Young" or "plaintiff”) Title VII claims [D.E. 16] and filed a Local Rule 56.1 statement of undisputed material facts [D.E. 18]. On August 2, 2017, OWSA filed Joetta Guist's declaration [D.E. 20] and an amended memorandum of law [D.E. 21]. On August 25, 2017, Young filed an untimely response in opposition [D.E. 22].[1] As explained below, the court grants OWSA's motion for summary judgment.


         On August 9, 2004, OWSA hired Young, an African-American woman, as a Customer Service Representative ("CSR"). See Compl. [D.E. 1] ¶¶ 8-9. In 2008, Young applied for a promotion to Customer Account Specialist ("CAS"). See Young Dep. at 10 [D.E. 15-1]. OWSA selected Courtney Lynxweiler, a white female, for the position. See Young Dep. at 20-21. Shortly thereafter, Young filed a written grievance with OWSA management alleging race discrimination due to her non-selection for the CAS position. See Id. at 13. Young received a pay increase as settlement for the grievance. See Id. at 20.

         In August 2014, a CAS position became available for the first time since 2008. See Id. at 28. OWSA accepted applications only from internal candidates. See Guist Aff. ¶ 4 [D.E. 20]. A panel of five members of OWSA's management conducted interviews. See Id. ¶ 6. The panel members were from different departments within OWSA, and none of the panel members were involved with Young's 2008 grievance. See id ¶¶ 7, 13. The panel interviewed five candidates, including Young, and the interviews took place on the same day. See id ¶¶ 8, 10. The candidates were asked the same questions, and the panel members individually graded the candidate's responses. See Id. ¶ 8. The panel tallied the scores, and OWSA offered the position to the candidate with the highest score, Lisa Kaczmarski. See id.¶¶ 8-10. Based on her scores, Young was ranked fourth. See Id. ¶ 10. On December 2, 2014, Young filed an EEOC charge alleging that OWSA discriminated against her based on her race when it did not promote her to the CAS position. See Def. Exs. [D.E. 15-2] 32.

         Approximately three months after OWSA promoted Kaczmarski, Kaczmarski left OWSA due to her husband's job relocation. See Guist Aff. ¶ 11. OWSA again posted the CAS job opening, however, this time both internal and external candidates could apply. See id. Several candidates applied for the position, including candidates who had received higher scores than Young during the prior selection process. See Id. ¶ 12. OWSA did not interview Young because she had a recent disciplinary action, and per OWSA policy, employees who had formal disciplinary actions in the past twelve months were not eligible to apply for open positions. See Def. Exs. at 20-21; [D.E. 22] 2. In January 2015, OWSA selected Jason Glasper, an African-American male and external applicant, for the position. See Guist Aff. ¶ 12. On September 15, 2015, Young filed an amended EEOC charge alleging retaliation. See Def. Exs. at 32. Young contends that OWSA did not promote her in January 2015 in retaliation for filing her December 2014 EEOC charge. See Compl. ¶¶ 15-16. Young also contends that OWSA retaliated against her in February 2015 by moving her to the front desk and a new cubicle. See Id. ¶ 17.


         In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant and applies well-established principles under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See, e.g., Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325-26 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby. Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-55 (1986); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585-87 (1986). Summary judgment is appropriate "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); see Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48. The party seeking summary judgment must initially demonstrate an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 325. Once the movant meets its burden, the nonmoving party then must affirmatively demonstrate that there exists a genuine issue of material fact for trial. See Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587. "[T]here is no issue for trial unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. Conjectural arguments will not suffice. See Id. at 249-52; Beale v. Hardy, 769 F.2d 213, 214 (4th Cir. 1985) ("The nonmoving party... cannot create a genuine issue of material fact through mere speculation or the building of one inference upon another."). Nor will a "mere... scintilla of evidence in support of the [nonmoving party's] position...; there must be evidence on which the [fact finder] could reasonably find for the [nonmoving party]." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. In evaluating material submitted in support of or in opposition to a motion for summary judgment, the court may reject inadmissible evidence (such as hearsay). See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4); Evans v. Techs. Applications & Serv. Co., 80 F.3d 954, 962 (4th Cir. 1996).


         Title VII prohibits employers from failing to promote an individual "because of such individual's race." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). A plaintiff may establish such a Title VII violation in two ways. First, a plaintiff may demonstrate through direct evidence that illegal discrimination motivated an employer's adverse employment action. Alternatively, a plaintiff may proceed under the burden-shifting framework established in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). See generally Hill v. Lockheed Martin Logistics Mgmt. Inc., 3 54 F.3d 277.284-85 (4th Cir. 2004) (en banc), abrogated on other grounds by Univ. of Tex. Sw. Med. Ctr. v. Nassar, 133 S.Ct. 2517, 2533(2013).

         Direct evidence is evidence from which no inference is required. To show race discrimination by direct evidence, a plaintiff typically must show discriminatory motivation on the part of the decisionmaker involved in the adverse employment action. See Id. at 286-91. Such direct evidence would include a decisionmaker's statement that he did not promote plaintiff due to her race. See Id. at 303. The decisionmaker must be either the employer's formal decisionmaker or a subordinate who was "principally responsible for, " or "the actual decisionmaker behind, " the allegedly discriminatory action. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 151-52 (2000); Holley v. N.C. Dep't of Admin., 846 F.Supp.2d 416, 427 (E.D. N.C. 2012).

         Young lacks direct evidence of race discrimination, and instead relies on the McDonnell Douglas framework. Under this framework, a plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case of discrimination. See, e.g., St. Mary's Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 506 (1993); Tex. Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 252-53 (1981). If a plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the defendant to produce evidence that the defendant took the adverse employment action "for a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason." Burdine, 450 U.S. at 254. If the defendant offers admissible evidence sufficient to meet its burden of production, "the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the employer's stated reasons were not its true reasons, but were a pretext for discrimination." Hill, 354 F.3d at 285 (quotation omitted); see, e.g., Reeves, 530 U.S. at 143; Burdine, 450 U.S. at 256; King v. Rumsfeld, 328 F.3d 145, 151 (4th Cir. 2003).

         To establish a prima facie case of failure to promote based on race, a plaintiff must show (1) that she belongs to a protected class; (2) that she applied for the position at issue; (3) that she was qualified for that job; and (4) that the defendant rejected her application under circumstances supporting an inference of unlawful discrimination. See, e.g., Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 319 n.6 (4th Cir. 2005). An African-American female may prove the fourth element by showing that the employer rejected her application for promotion and filled the job with a white person. See Carter v. Ball, 33 F.3d 450, 458 (4th Cir. 1994).

         Young alleges that OWSA discriminated against her based on race when it promoted Kaczmarski in August 2014 to the CAS position. See Compl.¶¶ 12-14. The court assumes, without deciding, that Young established a prima facie case. Thus, the burden shifts to OWSA to provide a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for promoting Kaczmarski over Young. A defendant's burden of providing a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason is one of production, not persuasion. St. Mary's Honor Ctr., 509 U.S. at 509. A defendant must present its legitimate, non-discriminatory reason "with sufficient clarity so that the plaintiff will have a full and fair opportunity to demonstrate pretext." Burdine, 450 U.S. at 255-56. For example, an employer's good faith belief that another candidate is better qualified due to that employee's job performance and experience is a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for an ...

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