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Breeding v. U.S. Department of Interior

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

April 21, 2015



LANCE M. AFRICK, District Judge.

The Court has pending before it an opposed motion[1] for summary judgment filed by defendant, Salley Jewell, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior. For the following reasons, the motion for summary judgment is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.


Plaintiff works as a physical scientist for the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.[2] She was 58 years old at the time of the disputed events, and she suffers from facial paralysis, asthma, and psoriasis.[3] This case arises out of various alleged discriminatory and/or retaliatory actions taken against plaintiff during 2012 on the basis of (1) her gender, in violation of Title VII; (2) her disability, in violation of the Rehabilitation Act; and (3) her age, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA").[4] Because the facts actually material to defendant's motion for summary judgment are substantially narrower than the sprawling factual record presented by the parties, the Court will summarize the general background of plaintiff's allegations and address the details of the summary judgment record in connection with the specific grounds for defendant's motion.

Plaintiff has four main claims. First, plaintiff contends that she applied for an internal promotion to a supervisory position ("the GS-14 position"), but that she was rejected in favor of Terri Thomas ("Thomas"), a younger non-disabled woman.[5] Second, plaintiff contends that she was denied a fair opportunity to apply for two other positions ("the GS-13 positions") because the application process for those positions partially took place while she was on vacation and while she was occupied packing her office for a move.[6] Third, plaintiff contends that she was subjected to a hostile work environment.[7] Fourth, plaintiff alleges that she was retaliated against by her employer for engaging in activity protected by federal law.[8]


Summary judgment is proper when, after reviewing the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits, the court determines there is no genuine issue of material fact. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. "[A] party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The party seeking summary judgment need not produce evidence negating the existence of material fact, but need only point out the absence of evidence supporting the other party's case. Id. ; Fontenot v. Upjohn Co., 780 F.2d 1190, 1195 (5th Cir. 1986).

Once the party seeking summary judgment carries its burden pursuant to Rule 56, the nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). The showing of a genuine issue is not satisfied by creating "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, ' by conclusory allegations, ' by unsubstantiated assertions, ' or by only a scintilla' of evidence." Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (citations omitted). Instead, a genuine issue of material fact exists when the "evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The party responding to the motion for summary judgment may not rest upon the pleadings, but must identify specific facts that establish a genuine issue. Id. The nonmoving party's evidence, however, "is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [the nonmoving party's] favor." Id. at 255; see also Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 552 (1999).

The Court observes that "Rule 56 does not impose upon the district court a duty to sift through the record in search of evidence to support a party's opposition to summary judgment, especially where, as here, the nonmoving party is well aware of the existence of such evidence." Skotak v. Tenneco Resins, Inc., 953 F.2d 909, 915 n.7 (5th Cir. 1992). "Rule 56 allocates that duty to the opponent of the motion, who is required to point out the evidence, albeit evidence already in the record, that creates an issue of fact." Id.

Plaintiff's arguments and citations to the record are scattered haphazardly throughout a 25page opposition memorandum, a 24-page response to defendant's statement of uncontested facts, a 67-page affidavit, and handwritten annotations on several hundred pages of exhibits. The Court has endeavored to glean plaintiff's factual and legal contentions from her submissions and such substandard filings will not be accepted by the Court in the future.


Defendant moves for summary judgment as to all of plaintiff's claims and the Court addresses each in turn.

A. Gender, Age, and Disability Discrimination

Plaintiff alleges that she was discriminated against on the basis of her gender, age, and disability, in connection with (1) defendant's failure to promote her to the GS-14 position and (2) the application process for the GS-13 positions. Because plaintiff relies on circumstantial evidence of discrimination, the McDonnell Douglas three-stage burden-shifting framework applies to plaintiff's claims. See Cardiel v. Apache Corp., 559 F.Appx. 284, 288 (5th Cir. 2014) (explaining that McDonnell Douglas framework applies to Title VII and ADEA ...

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