United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
L. ROBART, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the court is Defendant State of Washington Seattle Central
College's (“Seattle Central” or “the
College”) motion for summary judgment. (MSJ (Dkt. #
35).) Initially, the motion applied to all
Defendants and all of Plaintiff Dedra
Strickland's claims. (See id.) However, on
December 9, 2019, the court entered a stipulated order
dismissing Individual Defendants, as well as Ms.
Strickland's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims. (Stip. Order
(Dkt. # 41).) The December 9, 2019, order rendered certain
portions of Seattle Central's summary judgment motion
moot. Accordingly, the court addresses only
those portions of the motion that pertain to Ms.
Strickland's remaining claims against Seattle
Central. The court has considered Seattle
Central's motion, the parties' submissions in support
of and in opposition to the motion, the applicable law, and
the relevant portions of the record. Being fully advised, the
court GRANTS Seattle Central's motion and enters summary
judgment in its favor on all of Ms. Strickland's
Strickland is an African-American woman with Native American
roots. (Strickland Decl. (Dkt. # 37) ¶ 28.) Seattle
Central hired Ms. Strickland in April 2008. (Foster-Brown
Decl. (Dkt. # 35-2) ¶ 3, Ex. 2 (“Strickland
Dep.”) at 26:9-13, 26:25-27:9.) Ms. Strickland worked
in the College's Career Services Center as a Program
Coordinator until she resigned in February 2018. (Compl.
(Dkt. # 1) ¶ 5.1; Strickland Decl. ¶ 60 (“I
did not resign until February 2018.”).) David
Skogerboe, as the Career Services Supervisor, supervised Ms.
Strickland in her role as a Program Coordinator.
(Foster-Brown Decl. ¶ 4, Ex. 3 (attaching the
College's organizational chart).)
2016, Mr. Skogerboe resigned from his position as Career
Services Supervisor. (See Strickland Decl. ¶
18.) During an August 2016, staff meeting, Ms. Strickland
asked Brigid McDevitt, Dean of Student Resources, and Mr.
Skogerboe if she could be appointed the interim Career
Services Supervisor while the College conducted a search for
Mr. Skogerboe's replacement. (See Id.
¶¶ 18-20; see also Strickland Dep. at
82:6-12; 84:17-85:16.) Ms. McDevitt responded that the
College had never appointed an interim Career Services
Supervisor and she doubted that it would do so now, but she
advised Ms. Strickland that Ms. Strickland could apply for
the permanent position when it was posted. (See
Strickland Decl. ¶¶ 19-21; Strickland Dep. at
85:7-16; 86:1-3.) Ms. Strickland, however, recalls that
Kristen Davey had said that she had previously served as
interim Career Services Supervisor. (Strickland Decl. ¶
20.) Further, because the staff meeting was held in an open
area of the Career Services Center, Ms. Strickland felt
“humiliated” when she was told she would not be
appointed as interim Career Services Supervisor.
(Id. ¶ 26, Exs. E, F.) Accordingly, Ms.
Strickland filed a grievance with her union, which
recommended training for Ms. McDevitt and that Ms. McDevitt
provide a written apology to Ms. Strickland. (See
id.) Ms. Strickland attests that despite not being
appointed the interim Career Services Supervisor, she
nevertheless continued to perform the job duties of that
position. (Id. ¶ 21.) In late September or
early October 2016, Ms. Strickland formally applied for the
Career Services Supervisor position. (Id.
to Mr. Skogerboe's departure from Seattle Central, Ms.
McDevitt asked him to create a job description for his
position and to organize a hiring committee to search for his
replacement. (McDevitt Decl. (Dkt. # 35-5) ¶
Ms. Strickland complained to Ms. McDevitt that Mr. Skogerboe
should not take part in forming the hiring committee that
would interview candidates for his position. (Strickland
Decl. ¶ 42.) Ultimately, Mr. Skogerboe did not form the
hiring committee; instead, Ms. McDevitt formed the committee.
(McDevitt Decl. ¶ 8.)
McDevitt attests that it is her standard practice to chair a
hiring committee for a director or manager within her area,
but she decided not to do so for the Career Services
Supervisor position because she felt that Ms. Strickland
would not believe that she was impartial. (Id.
¶ 9.) After asking several individuals who declined to
serve as chair, Ms. McDevitt asked Jessica Norouzi, who
agreed to serve as the chair of the hiring committee.
(Id. ¶¶ 10-11.) Ms. Norouzi informed Ms.
McDermitt that she had previously worked with Brian Kenney,
who was one of the applicants for the position. (Id.
were four panelists on the hiring committee. (Norouzi Decl.
(Dkt. # 35-6) ¶ 3.) In addition to Ms. Norouzi, who
served as the chair, the panel consisted of Kelli Adams,
Crystina Mostad, and Claire Makens. (Chen Decl. (Dkt. # 35-4)
¶ 14, Ex. 1 (attaching Seattle College District HR
Investigation Report) at 6.) The panelists were all women, and
one of the panelists identified as a person of color.
(Id. ¶ 9.) The role of the committee was to
screen candidates that the committee believed were qualified
for the Career services Supervisor position and then
recommend candidates to the hiring authority-in this case,
Yoshiko Harden, VP of Student Services-who would ultimately
make the final hiring decision. (Norouzi Decl. ¶¶
Strickland asserts that Career Services Supervisor position
required “a master's degree in Education or Public
Administration, knowledge of the Community College System,
teaching experience, proficiency in Washington State
Occupational Information System (WOIS), Dependable Strengths
and Myers Briggs assessment tools.” (Strickland Decl.
¶ 24.) However, as Seattle Central points out, these are
merely “preferred qualifications” and not part of
the “required education, experience and
abilities” listed in job posting, which is attached to
Ms. Strickland's declaration. (See Id. ¶
24, Ex. D at 3.) Indeed, the job posting stated that the
position did not require a master's degree but only a
“Bachelor's Degree OR any combination of relevant
education, training and experience that indicates successful
performance of the essential functions of the
noted above, a former co-worker of Ms. Norouzi, Brian Kenney,
applied for the position. (Id. ¶ 7.) Ms.
Norouzi disclosed her former affiliation with Mr. Kenney to
the other panelists on the hiring committee. (Id.;
Mostad Decl. (Dkt. # 35-3) ¶ 8).) Ms. Norouzi stated her
belief that Mr. Kenney met the minimum qualifications for an
interview with the committee, but also indicated that the
committee as a whole needed to decide whether Mr. Kenney was
offered an interview based on the committee's rating
rubric. (Norouzi Decl. ¶ 7.) Ultimately, the committee
determined that Mr. Kenney met the requirements for the
position and should be offered an interview. (Id.)
Mr. Kenney is Caucasian and, at the time of the interview,
was 37 years old. (Strickland Decl. ¶ 28.)
Norouzi also told the panelists on the hiring committee that
she was excited that-with Ms. Strickland's
application-they had an internal candidate of color in the
applicant pool. (Norouzi Decl. ¶ 8.) The hiring
committee did not allot bonus points to internal candidates.
(See Chen Decl. ¶ 14, Ex. 1 at 7; see
also Strickland Decl. ¶ 43 (“There was
nothing in my scoring to note that I was an internal
candidate.”).) Nevertheless, Ms. Norouzi stated that
she believed the committee needed to prioritize Ms.
Strickland as a candidate. (Norouzi Decl. ¶ 8.) Ms.
Norouzi explained that she “fundamentally felt that it
[was] to the institution's benefit to elevate candidates
of color, particularly those who [we]re internal [to the
College], if they ha[d] the skills needed to succeed in the
roles they [we]re seeking.” (Norouzi Decl. ¶ 8).
Although the hiring committee did not unanimously select Ms.
Strickland for an interview, the hiring committee did give
her extra consideration because she was an internal
candidate, and the committee did ultimately extended her an
interview. (Chen Decl. ¶ 14, Ex. 1 at 7.) At the time of
her interview, Ms. Strickland was 56 years old. (Stickland
Decl. ¶ 28.)
fairness and equity, the hiring committee read the same
interview questions to all applicants and provided the same
amount of time for each applicant to answer. (Mostad Decl.
¶ 7.) Ms. Norouzi attests that Ms. Strickland provided
responses during her interview “that did not convey her
qualifications or enthusiasm for the role.” (Norouzi
Decl. ¶ 9.) Ms. Norouzi attests that, despite her
encouragement, Ms. Strickland failed to “share
experience [sic] that were relevant to the job she was
applying for.” (Id. ¶ 11.) Ultimately,
the hiring committee concluded that Ms. Strickland was not
qualified for the position. (See Mostad Decl. ¶
5.) Ms. Strickland disputes Ms. Norouzi's description of
her interview. (See Strickland Decl. ¶¶
32, 34-39.) Ms. Strickland believes that she did not limit
her responses as Ms. Norouzi describes and believes that Ms.
Norouzi confused her with someone else. (See id.)
Kenney was the final candidate interviewed by the hiring
committee. (Norouzi Decl. ¶ 16.) Ms. Norouzi did not
actively participate in Mr. Kenney's interview. (See
Id. ¶ 16 (“I reminded the committee that I
knew the candidate, therefore, I would be sitting silent for
the interview, and asked them to lead by asking our
predetermined questions.”); see also Mostad
Decl. ¶ 8 (“At no time did Jesica Norouzi seek to
influence the panelist [sic] in favor or disfavor towards
hiring [Mr.] Kenney.”).)At the end of the interview
process, the hiring committee determined that Mr. Kenney was
the only candidate that they should recommend to the hiring
authority, Ms. Harden. (Norouzi Decl. ¶¶ 17-18;
Mostad Decl. ¶ 9 (“Following discussion concerning
each candidate for the position, the panel unanimously agreed
Brian Kenney was the only qualified individual for the Career
Services Supervisor position. Therefore, his was the only
applications [sic] moved forward . . . .”).) Mr. Kenney
out scored all other candidates, and Ms. Strickland's
scores were among the lower ranks. (Chen Decl. ¶ 10.)
Ultimately, Ms. Harden met with Mr. Kenney and decided to
hire him. (Norouzi Decl. ¶ 19.) Ms. Strickland
“believe[s] that she was not afforded a fair and equal
opportunity to apply for the position . . . because of [her]
age, race[, ] and sex.” (Strickland Decl. ¶ 27.)
Strickland also argues that she “engaged in a number of
protected activities” by “attempting to address
health and safety concerns in Career Services, using the
grievance process available to her through the [Collective
Bargaining Agreement], ” and “trying to gain
promotion and the related pay to the position that she was
doing for the [C]ollege on an interim basis.” (Resp. at
17.) She states that she “made numerous complaints
about the discriminatory, retaliatory hostile working
environment actions of . . . [D]efendants. . . . [and] about
numerous safety and security concerns that placed [her] life
and others at risk.” (Id. ¶ 29.) However,
she provides few testimonial specifics. (See generally
id.) She references generalized “harass[ment] and
bullying” in connection with obtaining her signature on
a job description. (See Id. ¶ 29, Ex. G.) She
also states that she did not receive an evaluation for three
years and believes that she was entitled to more frequent
evaluations to support her efforts to obtain a promotion.
(Id. ¶ 49.) She also requested a copy of her
personnel file and discovered that it contained “none
of [her] credentials”-even those paid for by Seattle
Central. (Id.) She states that someone “gained
access” to her personal information and anonymously
sent her a DVD entitled “Men in Grief” through
the inner office mail. (Id. ¶ 51.) She returned
the DVD to the library, but the librarians would not disclose
any information about who checked out the DVD. (Id.)
Finally, she attests that she was “treated differently
and unfairly” because the front desk at the Career
Center was left unattended while she “was behind closed
doors with the student.” (Id. ¶¶
to applying for the Career Services Supervisor position, Ms.
Strickland began seeing Dr. Michael Kane for what he
describes as “family issues, regarding family
relationship.” (Foster-Brown Decl. (Dkt. # 35-2) ¶
2, Ex. 1 (“Kane Dep.”) at 23:22-24:1.) However,
during 2017, Dr. Kane determined that Ms. Strickland needed
“ to have an extended period away from her employment.
(Strickland Decl. ¶ 58, Ex. M.) On February 2, 2018, Dr.
Kane authorized “Ms. Strickland to return to work on
February 5, 2018, and resume her job-related duties.”
(Foster-Brown Decl. ¶ 5, Ex. 4.)
February 5, 2018, Ms. Strickland sent a letter to Seattle
Central resigning her position. (Id. ¶ 6, Ex.
5.) She states in her letter that she “enjoyed working
in the career services center for nine years . . . .”
(Id.) However, she attests that she “chose to
leave [her] employment because . . . the work environment had
become increasingly more hostile than before.”
(Strickland Decl. ¶ 56.) She states that she asked for
an investigation into the DVD issue and the apparent
compromise of her personal information but did not get one,
was humiliated when she was asked to supervise interns until
a supervisor was selected, and was falsely accused by Mr.
Kenney of creating a “hostile work environment.”
(Id.) She did not understand why she was asked to
train Mr. Kenney if he possessed the qualifications for the
job. (Id. ¶ 57.) Ultimately, she found her work
environment “so untenable” that she no longer
“want[ed] to stay” in such a “tense,
hostile working environment.” (Id. ¶ 57.)
20, 2018, Ms. Strickland filed suit against Seattle Central
and Individual Defendants. (See Compl.) She alleged
claims for (1) race and sex discrimination in violation of
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e
et seq., and the Washington Law Against
Discrimination (“WLAD”), RCW 49.60, et
seq., (2) age discrimination in violation of the Age
Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29
U.S.C. § 621, et seq., (3) civil right
violations against all of the individual defendants pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and (4) retaliation in violation of
Title VII and WLAD. (See generally id.) On November
12, 2019, Seattle Central and Individual Defendants moved for
summary judgment on all of Ms. Strickland's claims.
(See generally MSJ.) On December 9, 2019, the court
entered a stipulated ...