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Harter v. Brennan

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

July 5, 2018

JUSTIN HARTER, Plaintiff,
v.
MEGAN J. BRENNAN, Postmaster General, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          SALVADOR MENDOZA, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         In this case Plaintiff Justin Harter, a Native Alaskan man, alleges that Defendant's (the Postal Service) decision to terminate his temporary employment after Christmas 2014 and failure to rehire him for the holiday season in 2015 constituted gender and race discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The Postal Service moves for summary judgment, arguing that Harter fails to establish a prima facie case of gender or race discrimination and, in the alternative, that Harter fails to show that the Postal Service's articulated non-discriminatory reasons for terminating and not rehiring him were pretext for discrimination. Because Harter has not demonstrated that similarly situated female or non-Native American employees were treated more favorably or that other circumstances give rise to an inference of discrimination, he has not established a prima facie case of gender or race discrimination. Moreover, Harter has not demonstrated that the Postal Service's articulated reason for terminating him in 2014 (staffing reduction at the end of the holiday season) or decision not to hire him for a position in 2015 (a mediocre performance review from his 2014 supervisor) were pretext for gender or race discrimination.

         BACKGROUND

         A. Factual background

         Plaintiff Justin Harter is male and Native Alaskan. He graduated from Haskell Indian Nations University in May 2014, and he worked for the Gila River Indian Community in summer 2014. In November 2014, Harter was hired to work as a Postal Support Employee (PSE) over the holiday season at a processing and distribution center in Spokane. 43 PSEs were hired for the 2014 holiday season at the Spokane processing and distribution center.

         Harter worked from November 28, 2014, to December 26, 2014. Harter alleges that he was not absent or late, he had no write ups for discipline, and his work was satisfactory during that time. Another Postal Service employee, Anne Lohman, states that she saw Harter working every day during the 2014 holiday season and that he appeared to be a solid employee.

         Dorian Chastain supervised PSE employees at the Spokane distribution center, including Harter. Lohman, who has worked with Chastain for approximately 10 years asserts that she has observed Chastain favor younger female workers and that she has observed Chastain behave very negatively towards a male Native American employee. Another Postal Service Employee, Phillip Walker, who has worked with Chastain for many years, asserts that Chastain frequently gets angry with employees he supervises, but that he is much more patient with female employees. Another Postal Service employee, James Thornton, who is Native American and was previously supervised by Chastain, similarly asserts that Chastain favored female employees. Thornton also asserts that, while Chastain never directly commented on his Native heritage, Chastain did comment on his long hair, saying that he did not like men with long hair.

         At the conclusion of Harter's employment, Chastain filled out an evaluation form, in which he indicated that Harter was “late often, ” his “attitude was poor, ” and he “did not follow instructions, ” and recommended that Harter not be rehired. Harter did not receive a copy of this evaluation.[1] Chastain asserts that neither race nor gender affected his rating of Harter's performance and that he was not aware of Mr. Harter's race. Chastain also asserts that Harter was not terminated for cause. Chastain was told by two on-the-job instructors that Harter's performance was average.

         Termination of Harter's employment on December 26 was consistent with the Postal Service's practice of reducing PSE staffing based on workload after Christmas. Most of the PSEs at the Spokane facility were let go around this time, including nine on the same day and all by January 9, 2015. Two of these individuals were rehired in January. 17 other employees who worked as PSEs in 2014 have since been hired for other positions by the Postal Service.

         The Postal Service advertised for a 2015 holiday PSE Mail Processing Clerk position on September 27, 2015. Harter applied for this position (position #1) on September 28, 2015. His application did not list his race or ethnicity, but did indicate that he attended Haskell Indian Nations University. Harter completed an online assessment and received a passing score. He states that he never received a call or email to schedule an interview. Harter made several calls to Human Resources Specialist Grace Coldsnow, starting on October 19, 2015, to check on the status of his application. He did not reach Ms. Coldsnow until November 3, when she notified him that he was not selected for position #1 because he failed to respond to a request for an interview. The Postal Service has no record of any official contacting Harter by phone or email to schedule an interview. It is unclear whether he was actually contacted, and if not, why he was not selected for failing to respond. The Postal Service hired three males and four females for position #1.

         On November 4, 2015, the Postal Service advertised for another holiday term PSE mail processing clerk position (position #2). Harter applied for position #2 on November 5. His application did not list his race or ethnicity, but did indicate that he attended Haskell Indian Nations University.

         Harter was interviewed for position #2 by Lawrence Walkden on November 19, 2015. Walkden had no involvement in the hiring for position #1. During the interview, Harter told Walkden that he previously worked for the Postal Service.

         Following the interview, Walkden reviewed Harter's prior job evaluation and talked to Chastain about Harter's prior performance. Based on Chastain's evaluation, Walkden recommended that Harter not be selected for position #2. Walkden believed Harter was Caucasian, and stated that race and gender were not hiring considerations. Harter was notified on November 23, 2015, that he was not selected for position #2. The Postal Service filled Position #2 with 6 males and 3 females.

         Harter's father, who is a Postal Service employee, went to see Walkden on November 25, 2015, to find out why Harter was not selected. Walkden disclosed that the reason was a “bad review” regarding Harter's 2014 employment. Harter asserts that this was the first time he learned of any negative information concerning his 2014 employment.

         B. ...


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