United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Lynchburg Division
Jeffrey L. Buckner, Plaintiff,
Lynchburg Redevelopment & Housing Authority, Defendant.
K. MOON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Jeffrey Buckner brings a failure to hire claim under the Age
Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et
seq. (“ADEA”) against Defendant Lynchburg
Redevelopment and Housing Authority. Plaintiff alleges that
Defendant discriminatorily hired a younger mechanic instead
of himself, despite the fact that he had more relevant skills
and experience than the younger candidate. Defendant argues
that Plaintiff was overqualified for the position at issue,
which was essentially unskilled manual labor. Defendant seeks
summary judgment on Plaintiff's failure to hire claim on
the ground that Plaintiff's overqualification was a
legitimate reason not to hire him.
Court will grant Defendant's motion for summary judgment.
Defendant has presented evidence supporting its legitimate
overqualification rationale for not hiring Plaintiff -
namely, that he would not have been happy in the role and he
would have cost too much. Plaintiff has not met his burden of
demonstrating that Defendant's proffered reasons were
pretextual. Further, even if Plaintiff were successful in
demonstrating pretext, there is insufficient evidence in the
record to permit a reasonable trier of fact to conclude that
age discrimination was the “but-for” reason for
Defendant's failure to hire Plaintiff.
Lynchburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority is a political
subdivision of the Commonwealth of Virginia that owns and
operates several low income housing properties. (Dkt. 28-2
¶2). Plaintiff worked for Defendant for a number of
years tending to the maintenance needs of Defendant's
properties. (See dkts. 28-7; 28-13).
December 2013, Defendant terminated Plaintiff's
employment for budgetary reasons. (Dkt. 28-4 ¶¶ 6,
Defendant had decided to eliminate one Mechanic II position,
and Plaintiff was let go because he was the lowest rated of
the three Mechanic IIs. (Dkts. 28-4 ¶6, 28-5 ¶1-2).
A Mechanic II is a skilled position that requires working
independently, while a Mechanic I generally serves more as
manual labor and often works as a helper for a Mechanic II.
(Dkts. 28-5 ¶ 5, 28-19 at 19, 28-4 ¶ 16; 29-4 at
44). One of the factors that made Plaintiff the lowest rated
Mechanic II was his comparably weaker HVAC skills. (Dkt. 32-3
at 19, 21, 23). Employees of Defendant provided Plaintiff
with two positive letters of recommendation following his
termination. (See dkts. 28-7, 28-8).
September 2014, a Mechanic I working for Defendant resigned,
and Defendant decided to fill that vacant position. (Dkt.
28-4 ¶10). Maintenance Manager Loren McGarrahan, age 61,
advertised the vacant position as “entry level”
and “semi-skilled” and that its salary would be
“commensurate with experience.” (Dkts. 28-1; 28-5
¶ 5). McGarrahan was seeking to hire someone with
compensation in the range of $10-12 per hour. (Dkt. 28-5
52 at the time, applied for the Mechanic I position on
October 10, 2014. (Dkt. 28-8 ¶¶ 36-37). In his
application, he highlighted his “20 years'
experience” and training and certificates that he had
received that were relevant to the position. (Dkt. 28-13).
McGarrahan saw Plaintiff's application and concluded he
was overqualified for the position. (Dkt. 28-5 ¶ 8).
McGarrahan was aware that Plaintiff made $17.43 per hour
working for Defendant as a Mechanic II prior to his
termination. (Id.) The decision was also based on
the belief that Plaintiff would have been unhappy in the
Mechanic I role because of his extensive experience in more
skilled positions. (Dkt. 29-3 at 28). McGarrahan informed
Executive Director Dawn Fagan of his assessment, and Fagan
agreed. (Dkt. 28-5 ¶ 8.) Plaintiff was not hired for the
to Plaintiff's application, Clyde Dixon - Plaintiff's
former colleague as a Mechanic II - spoke to maintenance
foreman Keith Jackson about the possibility of hiring back
Plaintiff. (Dkt. 28-18 at 28). According to Dixon,
“[Jackson] said they may want someone younger. They put
it up there (the position) as an entry level person.”
(Dkt. 28-2 at 2). It is undisputed that Jackson was not in a
position to make the hiring decision for the Mechanic I
vacancy. (See dkts. 28-5 ¶ 7; 28-19 at 12).
Instead, McGarrahan was the primary decisionmaker on hiring,
although he also needed financial approval from his
supervisor, Executive Director Fagan, and Assistant Director
Bill Canfield. (Id.; dkt. 32-3 at 15,
Jackson denies ever making the alleged statement to Dixon.
(Dkt. 28-6 ¶5).
September 25, 2014 Will Suddith (36 at the time) applied for
the Mechanic I position. (Dkt. 29-11). He was hired for
the position in November 2014. (Dkt. 28-4 ¶ 12). Suddith
had some experience working in the HVAC field, primarily as a
manual laborer. (Dkt. 32-3 at 29). Suddith made $10.60 an
hour when he left this HVAC position. (Dkt. 28-4 at ECF 7).
Suddith did not have any relevant certifications, nor did he
have a high school diploma or GED. (Dkt. 29-11). Maintenance
foreman Keith Jackson knew Suddith personally and recommended
him to McGarrahan for the job. (Dkts. 28-6 ¶3, 28-5
¶ 6). McGarrahan interviewed Suddith, determined he was
qualified for the position, and hired him at $12.01 per hour
with approval of Fagan in November 2014. (Dkts. 28-5 ¶7,
filed a charge of age discrimination with the EEOC on March
25, 2015. (Dkt. 28-3). The EEOC was made aware of much of the
relevant evidence before the Court, including Mr.
Jackson's alleged statement, yet still concluded that the
evidence failed to support age discrimination because it
indicated that Plaintiff was overqualified for the entry
level position. (Dkts. 28-2, 28-16).
Standard of Review
Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that a court should
grant summary judgment “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.” “As
to materiality . . . [o]nly disputes over facts that might
affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will
properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.”
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
(1986). In order to preclude summary judgment, the dispute
about a material fact must be “‘genuine, '
that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could
return a verdict for the nonmoving party.”
Id.; see also JKC Holding Co. v. Washington
Sports Ventures, Inc., 264 F.3d 459, 465 (4th Cir.
2001). If, however, the evidence of a genuine issue of
material fact “is merely colorable or is not
significantly probative, summary judgment may be
granted.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. In
considering a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56, a
court must view the record as a whole and draw all reasonable
inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving
party. See, e.g., Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
477 U.S. 317, 322-24 (1986); Shaw v. Stroud, 13 F.3d
791, 798 (4th Cir. 1994).