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Schell v. Mattis

United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division

August 31, 2017

HONORABLE JAMES N. MATTIS, Secretary of Defense, Defendant.



         Plaintiff, Kimberly Schell, has sued Secretary of Defense, James N. Mattis, [1] alleging discrimination and retaliation, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq. (Title VII). Mattis has moved for summary judgment, arguing that Schell has no evidence to support either of her claims. The motion is fully briefed and ready for decision.

         For the following reasons, the Court will grant Mattis's motion for summary judgment and dismiss Schell's complaint with prejudice.

         I. Facts

         In 2003, Schell began working for the Disposition Services branch of the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), an agency of the Department of Defense. Schell remains employed by the DLA. Schell began her career with the DLA as a resource analyst, a position in which she helped to manage the budget, reviewed and updated memoranda of agreement, and handled travel and travel reimbursements, payroll, and other personnel matters. (ECF No. 18-1 at PageID.97.) Disposition Services has its headquarters in Battle Creek, Michigan and has several Disposal Service Directorates in the United States and around the world. (Id. at PageId.99-100.)

         In 2010, DLA created a new directorate to handle disposal operations in the Gulf States, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The new Directorate, called the Central Region, was located in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Id. at PageID.31-33.) Schell applied for, and was selected as, the Deputy Director of the Central region. (Id. at PageID.32.) At that time, Schell had no prior experience handling property in the ways a Directorate disposes of excess property, including reutilizing, transferring, donating, scrapping, or auctioning property. (Id. at PageID.108.)

         Schell remained Deputy Director of the Central Region until July 2013. (Id. at PageID.108-09.) During that period, the Central Region had several Directors, to whom Schell reported. Rick Brunson was the first Director, followed by Marlowe Burns, Colonel Juan Arcocha, Kemper Watkins, and Colonel Rick Ellis. (Id. at PageID.124-128.) Although Schell was made Acting Director a few times in between Directors, she was not temporarily promoted to, and did not assume the responsibilities of, Director. (Id. at PageID.118; ECF No. 18-2 at PageID.163.)

         In December 2011, while serving as Deputy Director, Schell applied for the position of Supervisory Property Disposal Specialist, a GS-14 position in the Central Region. (ECF No. 18-1 at PageID.112.) Twila Gonzales was the ultimate selecting official for the position. (ECF No. 18-12 at PageID.230.) Schell, another woman, and two men were selected to be interviewed for the position. (ECF No. 18-8 at PageID.209-10.) Gonzales selected the interview panel, which consisted of three individuals: Jerry Rivas, Scott Micklewright, and Brian Moravek. (ECF No. 18-1 at PageID.115; ECF No. 18-9 at PageID.212-13.) The panel conducted three of the interviews, including Schell's, by telephone and one in person. (ECF No. 18-10 at PageID.217.) The format for each interview included Behavior Based Interview Questions and the standard Performance Based Leadership process. (Id.; ECF No. 18-11 at PageID.224.) The interviews lasted approximately two hours. (Id.)

         The panel ultimately concluded that no candidate was ready or suited for the position and recommended that no selection be made. (ECF No. 18-1 at PageID.116; ECF No. 18-12 at PageID.230.) Gonzales accepted that recommendation. (Id.) Rivas noted that Schell was unprepared for the interview and had a hard time answering questions. (ECF No. 18-10 at PageID.218.) He also noted that Schell was not very clear on describing her job duties and she could not provide an example about how she dealt with a problem employee. (Id.) Rivas believed that Schell needed additional experience operating a large multi-function operation. (ECF No. 18-9.) Moravek said that, although Schell had a strong financial background, she could not articulate a clear vision for the Disposition Services organization or articulate how her efforts were currently shaping the Central Directorate. (ECF No. 18-11 at PageID.224-25.) Micklewright said that Schell needed supervisory experience in a large organization. (ECF No. 18-9.)

         On January 27, 2012, Schell filed an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint alleging discrimination in connection with her rejection for the Supervisory Property Disposal Specialist position. (ECF No. 1 at PageID.10.) Schell filed additional EEO complaints in August or September of 2012 and in November or December of 2015. (ECF No. 18-1 at PageID.150-51.)

         In August 2012, Gonzales hired Major Christopher Johnson as the Director for the Central Region. Gonzales hired Major Johnson because of the long-term strategic benefits of filling the position with a military person. (ECF No. 18-12 at PageID.232.) The plan was to consolidate the Central Region with the Europe/Africa part of the organization, and having a military person in that position would allow for increased flexibility. (Id.)

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Material facts are facts which are defined by substantive law and are necessary to apply the law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510 (1986). A dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could return judgment for the non-moving party. Id.

         The court must draw all inferences in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, but may grant summary judgment when “the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party.” Agristor Fin. Corp. v. Van Sickle, 967 F.2d 233, 236 (6th Cir. 1992) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1356 (1986)). In deciding whether summary judgment is proper, a court may consider “materials in the record, including depositions, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56c)(1)(A). However, “it is black-letter law that the party opposing the motion for summary judgment may not rely solely on the pleadings . . .; if the nonmoving party fails to make a sufficient showing on an essential ...

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