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Buckner v. Lynchburg Redevelopment & Housing Authority

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Lynchburg Division

June 15, 2017

Jeffrey L. Buckner, Plaintiff,
v.
Lynchburg Redevelopment & Housing Authority, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NORMAN K. MOON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff 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.

         The 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.

         I. Facts

         Defendant 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).

         In December 2013, Defendant terminated Plaintiff's employment for budgetary reasons. (Dkt. 28-4 ¶¶ 6, 7).[1] 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).

         In 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 ¶ 5).

         Plaintiff, 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 position.

         Prior 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, 30).[2] Jackson denies ever making the alleged statement to Dixon. (Dkt. 28-6 ¶5).

         On September 25, 2014 Will Suddith (36 at the time) applied for the Mechanic I position. (Dkt. 29-11).[3] 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, 28-4 ¶12).

         Plaintiff 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).

         II. Standard of Review

         Federal 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).

         III. ...


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