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Martin v. Wilkie

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

March 27, 2019

DANIEL MARTIN, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT WILKIE, Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs[1] Defendant.

          ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF NO. 37)

          JAMES R. SWEENEY II JUDGE

         Defendant Robert Wilkie's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 37) is fully briefed and ripe for decision. Having carefully considered the motion, response, reply, evidence, and applicable law, the Court concludes that the motion should be granted for the following reasons.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Daniel Martin (“Martin”) alleges claims against Defendant Robert Wilkie, Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (“Defendant”), for discrimination and retaliation in violation of Section 504 the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq. (Compl. ¶¶ 27-35, ECF No. 1 at 5-6.) Specifically, Martin alleges that Defendant, by failing to hire Martin for two positions at the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center (“Roudebush”), discriminated against him based on his disability and retaliated against him for his protected activity. (Id. ¶¶ 8-26.) Defendant now moves for summary judgment. (ECF No. 37.) Construing all facts and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to Martin, the pertinent, un-controverted summary judgment evidence is as follows:

         Martin has various disabilities arising from head injuries suffered during his military service, which resulted in his honorable discharge from the United States Navy. (Martin Dep. Tr. 24:8-10, 25:5-25, ECF No. 37-11 at 25-26.) Despite these disabilities, Martin has earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and a master's degree in business administration and has risen to the position of Chief Engineer, overseeing Defendant's Fort Wayne and Marion locations. (Id. at 22:24-23:5, 40:7- 16, 68:2-69:17.) The parties do not dispute that Martin is an “individual with a disability” within the meaning of the Rehabilitation Act, and there is evidence that de-cisionmakers at Roudebush were aware of his disability.

         Before the events at issue in this case, Martin applied for several jobs with Defendant to no avail, so Martin filed an EEO complaint against Defendant alleging disability discrimination. (Compl. ¶ 12, ECF No. 1 at 2.) Then Defendant hired Martin as Electrical Engineer and Acting Assistant Chief Engineer in Iowa City in June 2014, (ECF No. 37-2 at 128; Martin Dep. Tr. 101:13-14, ECF No. 37-11 at 102), and Martin and Defendant settled his EEO complaint on July 7, 2014. (ECF No. 37-18.) The Settlement Agreement provided that Martin would “receive priority consideration in the Veteran Direct Hire Program for one year from the date of the last signature on this settlement agreement or when the complainant is hired, whichever comes first.” (Id.) The parties do not dispute that Martin's 2014 EEO complaint constituted protected activity, and there is evidence that decisionmakers at Roudebush were aware of his protected activity.

         Martin applied for two positions at Roudebush after Defendant hired him in June 2014. In October 2014, Plaintiff applied for a general engineer position, Vacancy No. STA-583-15-1226952 EO BU. (ECF No. 42 at 7.) There were eleven applicants, six of whom were deemed eligible, including Plaintiff. (Chumley Decl. ¶ 6, ECF No. 37-1 at 2.) The vacancy was closed, and no one was hired. (Id.)

         Over six months later, on May 26, 2015, Defendant posted another general engineer vacancy. (Def.'s Interrog. Resp. ¶ 18, ECF No. 37-16.) Martin did not apply, and Defendant hired Stuart Swint for the vacancy on June 5, 2015. (Id.) Defendant posted seven additional general engineer vacancies at Roudebush over the next two years. (Id.) Martin did not apply to any of the vacancies, and all were closed without a hire.

         In April 2015, Martin applied for a lead engineer position, Vacancy No. STA-583-15-1378848. (Martin Dep. Tr. 139:2-15, ECF No. 37-11 at 140.) There were seven applicants, all of whom were deemed eligible. (Chumley Decl. ¶ 8, ECF No. 37-1 at 2.) The position was closed, and no one was hired. (Id.) Over six months later, in January 2016, Roudebush's Assistant Chief of Engineering relocated to Michigan, and his former position was posted as Vacancy No. MP-583-16-1597609 EO. (Def.'s Resp. Interrog. ¶ 19, ECF No. 37-16; Jerome Decl. ¶ 3, ECF No. 37-10.) Martin did not apply to the posting, and Defendant hired Andrew Hawk for the position on January 22, 2016. (Def.'s Resp. Interrog. ¶ 19, ECF No. 37-16.) No. other lead engineer vacancies at Roudebush were posted in the following two years. (Id.)

         II. Legal Standard

         Rule 56(a) provides that “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In considering a motion for summary judgment, the district court “must construe all the facts and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, ” Monroe v. Ind. Dep't of Transp., 871 F.3d 495, 503 (7th Cir. 2017), but the district court must also view the evidence “through the prism of the substantive evidentiary burden, ” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 254 (1986). “Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, ” summary judgment should be granted. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

         In this employment discrimination and retaliation case, Plaintiff bears the “substantive evidentiary burden, ” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 254, of proving by preponderance of the evidence a prima facie case of discrimination or retaliation, Tex. Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 252-53 (1981). Thus, summary judgment for Defendant is warranted if, viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, “the record as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact” to find that Plaintiff's disability or protected activity caused Defendant's failure to hire Plaintiff. See Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587; Ferrill v. Oak Creek-Franklin Joint Sch. Dist., 860 F.3d 494, 499 (7th Cir. 2017).

         III. Discussion

         In considering a motion for summary judgment in an employment discrimination or retaliation case, district courts should not sort evidence “into different piles, labeled ‘direct' and ‘indirect', that are evaluated differently. Instead, all evidence belongs in a single pile and must be evaluated as a whole.” Ortiz v. Werner Enters., Inc., 834 F.3d 760, 766 (7th Cir. 2016). Ortiz abrogated the distinction between direct proof and indirect proof but did not ‚Äúdisplace[ ] the burden-shifting analysis ...


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