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Brown v. King County

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

February 15, 2018

CLAUDE BROWN, Plaintiff,
KING COUNTY, Defendant.



         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Defendant King County's Motion for Summary Judgment, docket no. 32 (the “Motion”).[1] Having reviewed all papers filed in support of, and in opposition to, the Motion, the Court enters the following order.


         This is an employment discrimination case alleging racial and disability discrimination. Plaintiff Claude Brown (“Plaintiff” or “Brown”) seeks damages from his employer, King County (“Defendant” or “King County”) to redress a series of allegedly unlawful employment practices. King County moves for summary judgment on each of Brown's seven (7) claims asserted in Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint, docket no. 16 (the “Complaint”): (1) racial discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1981; (2) retaliation under 42 U.S.C. § 1981; (3) discrimination under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12112(a) and 12112(b)(6); (4) violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA); (5) retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; (6) racial discrimination under the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD); and (7) retaliation under the WLAD.

         A. Brown's Race and Disabilities

         Brown is an African American who “was originally hired at Seattle Transit in 1972 as a Transit Operator.” Declaration of Claude Brown in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, docket no. 43 (“Brown Declaration”), at ¶¶ 1, 3.[2] He is currently “a Light Rail Operator for the King County Department of Transportation Division Rail Section.” Complaint at ¶ 7; Brown Declaration at ¶ 5.

         Brown suffers from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), chronic asthma, and chronic mobility issues. Brown Declaration at ¶¶ 28, 48. Brown began developing the symptoms underlying his COPD and chronic asthma in late 2012. Id. at ¶ 28.[3] Brown states that he is “physically disabled as a result of [his] ambulatory problems and [his] asthma or COPD.” Id. at ¶ 63.

         B. 2011-2012

         a. Defendant's Three Refusals to Promote Brown to RSIT

         Brown attempted to obtain a promotion from Defendant on three different occasions in 2011 and 2012. The first time was in 2011 when Brown applied for the Rail Supervisor in Training (“RSIT”) position. Brown Declaration at ¶¶ 13, 15. Brown was informed that he was not qualified to test for the position. See Id. at ¶ 15. Upon protest, Brown and several other minority employees were given “less than 24-hours [sic] notice to prepare for the [RSIT] exam.” Id. Five of the employees wrote a letter to Transit Operations Manager Jim O'Rourke to protest the insufficient time they had been given to prepare for the exam. Id.

         Two Caucasians-Rail Operations Chief Terry Rhoads and Rail Operations Training Chief Amanda Nightingale-interviewed Brown for the RSIT position. Id. at ¶ 13. Brown states that Rhoads was impatient and ignored Brown during portions of the interview. Id. Defendant did not select Brown for the position and instead chose Hazel Henderson, a Caucasian employee who Brown contends “was unqualified . . . and . . . not properly trained . . . .” Id. at ¶ 13. Brown complained to the King County Office of Civil Rights that Defendant's selection process for the RSIT position discriminated against Brown by not giving him the opportunity to compete because of his race. Brown Declaration at ¶ 14.

         Brown states that Mr. Rhoads “has always interacted with [Brown] in a harsh and disrespectful manner[, ]” including calling Brown a “packrat” and “spastic.” Brown Declaration at ¶ 16. A fellow train operator for Sound Transit Link Light Rail submitted a declaration in support of Brown's Opposition stating that, from 2008 through 2016, he “experienced repeated racial discrimination by . . . rail chief Terry Rhoads, who would question my former co-workers in an effort to find reasons to discipline me.” Declaration of Frank King, docket no. 45 (“King Declaration”), at ¶ 2. Mr. King's declaration does not indicate that he witnessed Brown being discriminated against.

         In April 2012, Brown again applied online for an RSIT position. Brown Declaration at ¶ 18. This time he was given a computer test, during which “a Caucasian female stood by [his] desk and watched [him] take the test and then physically stopped [him] from writing further and yelled ‘time.'” Id. Brown could hear other people in the room still typing their answers. Id. Mr. Rhoads informed Brown that no one had passed the computer test and refused to show Brown his score. Id.

         Brown then interviewed for the RSIT position. Id. at ¶ 19. “[T]he same Caucasian female that stopped [his] test asked [him] questions during the interview. She then left and did not stay to interview anyone else.” Id. Mr. Rhoads informed Brown that she was “not needed for anyone else's interview.” Id. Brown did not receive the RSIT position. Id. He finished fourth behind three Caucasian employees. Id. at ¶ 20. Only one of those three employees-Brian Matthews-“had equivalent qualifications to [Brown].” Id. at ¶ 21. Matthews resigned a few weeks later, but Brown was not selected to fill the position “despite being contractually next on the list.” Id. at ¶ 22.

         In October 2012, Brown again applied for the RSIT position. Brown Declaration at ¶ 29. “In December of 2012, [he] was informed that [he] was not selected to compete or interview for the position.” Id. “Management declared that there were no qualified candidates on the property and moved to open the recruitment to the outside . . . .” Id. at ¶ 30. Brown complained to his union that Defendant was going outside of the organization “to keep from having to hire qualified minorities for the RSIT positions.” Id. at ¶ 31.

         b. Defendant's Selection Criteria

         Defendant explains that Brown was not selected to participate in the next stage of the RSIT position application in 2012 because he had scored lower than the other candidates in areas including skills, knowledge, and education. Nightingale Deposition at 68:9-69:21.[4] The “Application Scoring Criteria for External Posting October 2012” confirms that applicants were given weighted scores in on criteria including education, lead experience, computer skills, and rail operations. Exhibit D, Overbey Declaration. Ultimately, Defendant selected three other applicants to fill the open RSIT positions-at least two of whom were minorities. See Brown Deposition at 233:10-13, 492:3-10, 494:19-495:15.

         C. 2013

         a. Brown Files Complaint With KCOCR

         On March 24, 2013, Defendant filed a complaint with the King County Office of Civil Rights (“KCOCR”) “after being passed over” for the RSIT position in 2011 and 2012. Brown Declaration at ¶ 32.

         b. Defendant Promotes Brown to-But then Removes Him From-the ATT Position

         On June 28, 2013, Brown was appointed to an Acting Technical Trainer (“ATT”) position. Brown Declaration at ¶ 34, Exhibit B. Brown received a memorandum explaining the details of the ATT assignment, stating among other things that the assignment was to continue “no later than 10/11/13” and “may be revoked at any time.” See Brown Declaration, Exhibit D.[5] Brown began his ATT assignment on July 2, 2013, but was removed from the position ten days later on July 12, 2013, by Amanda Nightingale. Id. at ¶¶ 38, 44.[6] Within this ten day window, Brown states that Ms. Nightingale was “openly hostile” toward Brown, see Id. at ¶ 40, and engaged in “efforts to demean” him. See Id. at ¶¶ 41-43.[7] Upon removing Brown, Defendant filled the ATT assignment with Kevin Gumke. See Id. at ¶ 45.

         Ms. Nightingale testified during her deposition that she and another employee, Tom Jones, had discussed the possibility of splitting the ATT position between Brown and Mr. Gumke before giving the initial assignment to Brown. See Nightingale Deposition at 71:2-72:4.

         c. Brown Receives a Serious Infraction

         On October 30, 2013, Brown received a Serious Infraction from Defendant “allegedly for failing to call Link Control Center prior to departing the Beacon Hill Station.” Brown Declaration at ¶ 47. Mr. Rhoads, who recommended and imposed a one-day suspension for the infraction, explains that

Mr. Brown admitted that he violated a train order, which is defined in his union contract as a Serious Infraction. This was Mr. Brown's first Serious Infraction. The discipline I recommended was based entirely on Mr. Brown's admitted conduct and the union contract.

         Declaration of Terry Rhoads in Support of King County's Motion for Summary Judgment, docket no. 39 (“Rhoads Declaration”), at ¶ 8.

         d. Brown Undergoes Hip Surgery

         On December 3, 2013, Brown “underwent hip replacement surgery, after which [his] Physician required that [he] not work longer than three hours at a time.” Brown Declaration at ¶ 48. When Rhoads scheduled Brown for an eight-hour shift and Brown reminded him of the physician's limitation, Rhoads “became angry and argued with [Brown]” about returning to work after surgery. Id.

         e. Brown Begins ...

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