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Stokes v. Detroit Public Schools

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

June 17, 2019



          Paul D. Borman United States District Judge.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Gregory Stokes, an African-American male who was 55 years of age during the relevant time period, was previously employed by Defendant, Detroit Public Schools ("DPS")-[1] After his contract expired, and he was not selected to fill the newly-created position of Executive Director - Talent Management, Plaintiff filed a four-count Complaint (September 20, 2017, ECF #1) against DPS, alleging wrongful termination and failure to promote on the basis of age under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 USC §621, et seq., and age and gender under Michigan's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act ("ELCRA"), MCL §37.2101, et seq. On November 22, 2017, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint (ECF #3), to include two counts under Title VII, 42 USC §2000e, for gender and age discrimination, as follows:

Count I: Failure to Promote on the Basis of Gender - Title VII, 42 USC §2000e-2(a)
Count II: Unlawful Termination on the Basis of Gender - Title VII, 42 USC §2000e-2(a)
Count III: Failure to Promote Based on Age - ADEA, 29 USC §621
Count IV: Unlawful Termination Based on Age - ADEA, 29 USC §621
Count V: Denying Promotion on the Basis of Age/Gender - Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Act, MCL §37.2101, et seq.
Count VI: Unlawful Termination on the Basis of Age/Gender - Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Act, MCL §37.2101, et seq.

         Before the Court are the Parties' cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (ECF #16, 23.) On December 17, 2018, the Parties filed their Motions. (ECF #15, 16.)[2] On January 31, 2019, Defendant filed its Response to Plaintiffs Motion (ECF #19), and Plaintiff filed his Response to Defendant's Motion (ECF #20). On February 14, 2019, Plaintiff filed his Reply. (ECF #21.) Defendant did not file a reply in support of its Motion. On May 3, 2019, the Court held a hearing on the instant Motions.

         II. FACTS

         A. Plaintiffs Initial Employment with DPS

         Plaintiff, a 55 year-old African-American male during the time of the alleged adverse actions, began his employment with DPS in 2006 as a Human Resources Administrator. (Dep. of Gregory Stokes, June 18, 2018, ECF #24-2, 15:12-19, PgID 2869). In 2010, the Human Resources Director at that time, Robyn Diamond, promoted Plaintiff to the position of Talent Acquisition Manager. (Id. at 17:22-18:21, PgID 2871-72.) Plaintiff did not have to go through an application and interview process for this promotion. Id. In March 2013, Gwendolyn DeJongh, the newly appointed Chief Human Resources and Labor Relations Officer, appointed Plaintiff to the position of Interim Executive Director of recruitment.[3] (Id. at 22-23.)

         B. The New Teacher Project

         DPS had been under the control of emergency management since 2009. As part of an effort to restructure the central office into a "network model," DPS entered into a contract with consultants The New Teacher Project ("TNTP") in June 2015. (Dep. of Errick Greene, July 10, 2018, ECF #24-23, 45:9-17, PgID 3577.) As part of this effort, TNTP evaluated and reconfigured roles where necessary to "rightsize" the organization, including roles within the Human Resources and Talent Management areas. (Id. at 35:17-23, PgID 3567.) TNTP was also engaged to assist with the transfer of control back to the school district from the emergency manager system. (Id. at 20:10-20, PgID 3552.) In October 2015, when Plaintiff was informed that his contract would not be extended, Darnell Earley was the emergency manager, and Errick Greene was his special assistant. (Id. at 7:21-22, PgID 3539.)

         Nicholas Denton-Brown, a TNTP employee, was the Talent Acquisition Manager for the restructure. (Dep. of Nicholas Denton-Brown, July 26, 2018, ECF #24-9, 16:9-10, PgID 3084.) Denton-Brown's role was to recruit individuals for the various positions created, which included conducting initial screening interviews and assisting with the resume verification process. (Id. at 81:4-82:20, PgID 3149-50.) The Parties dispute whether "employment" had to be verified during the hiring process, or whether contacting references satisfied that aspect of the candidate screening process. (Id. at 81:13-82:1, PgID 3149-50.) It is notable that neither Party has produced a written recruiting, hiring and/or interviewing policy that was effective during 2015.

         Once Denton-Brown recruited and screened an applicant, he would refer viable candidates to an interview committee for that particular position. (Id. at 68:24- 69:2, PgID 3136-37.) The hiring manager for the position of Executive Director -Talent Management was Errick Greene. (Id. at 68:19, PgID 3136.)

         On June 30, 2015, Plaintiff was offered a six-month contract as Acting Deputy Director Executive Director, still reporting to DeJongh. (See Def.'s Mot. ECF #16-5, Ex. B, PgID 828; Dep. of Cassandra Washington, June 19, 2018, ECF #24-11, 44:6-14, PgID 3253.) Plaintiff began reporting to DeJongh's replacement, Cassandra Washington, on July 6, 2015. (Washington Dep., ECF #24-11, 54:4-5, PgID 3263.)

         On October 22, 2015, Plaintiff received a notice of non-renewal of his contract as of December 31, 2015 due to "Economic Necessity and/or Reorganization." (Def.'s Mot, ECF #16-6, Ex. C, PgID 843.)[4]

         Chanel Hampton, who was not a DPS employee at the time, first applied for the higher position of Deputy Superintendent - Talent Management on November 3, 2015. (Denton-Brown Dep., ECF #24-9, 125:5-14, 29:13-17, PgID 3097, 3193; Def.'s Mot, ECF #16-10, Ex. G, PgID 1012.) She submitted a cover letter expressing her interest in that position as well as her resume. (Denton-Brown Dep., ECF #24-9, 29:8-17, PgID 3097.) Denton-Brown testified at his deposition that Hampton's references were contacted by phone and verified. (Id. at 81:16-18, PgID 3149.)

         On November 30, 2015, Denton-Brown emailed several TNTP employees a list of follow-up questions on various issues, including the progress of Hampton's Deputy Superintendent interview and the Executive Director - Talent Manager position:

...5. Miriam, any update from Cassandra about the talent acquisition logistics for the ED, Talent role? e.g. posting on DPS site vs on a 3rd party site? Who will manage processes like background checks, etc. for this role considering the conflict of interest with [Plaintiff]?
6. Andrew, any update on a Deputy Supe, Talent interview for Chanel Hampton? Ideally she would interview for that role and, if strong but not quite qualified for that position as we and Errick Greene suspect, she would be offered the ED, Talent position.

(PL's Mot, ECF #16-11, PgID 1014.) (Emphasis added.)

         Hampton went through the interview process for Deputy Superintendent - Talent Management, and the interviewers, including Greene and Emergency Manager Darnell Earley, determined that although she did not have sufficient experience for that position, she was a strong candidate for the Executive Director - Talent Manager position. (Denton-Brown Dep., ECF #24-9, 29:18-22, PgID 3097.) That position was yet to be posted as available, but Denton-Brown testified that Hampton was asked to apply for that role, as evidenced by emails between TNTP consultants and Greene on December 3 and 4, 2015. (Id. at ...

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