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Worthen v. James

United States District Court, C.D. California

May 7, 2018

DEBORAH LEE JAMES, Secretary of the Air Force Defendant.




         Plaintiff Darrell Worthen (“Plaintiff” or “Worthen”) brings an action against the United States Air Force for unlawful discrimination under Title VII. Defendant Deborah Lee James (“Defendant” or “the Air Force”) moves for summary judgment on all of Worthen's claims. For the reasons discussed below, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion.[1] (ECF No. 38.)[2]


         Worthen, who identifies as African American, was formerly employed as a federal police officer for the Air Force in the 61st Air Base Group.[3] (Def.'s Statement of Uncontroverted Facts (“Def.'s SUF”) ¶¶ 1-2, ECF No. 38-1; Pl.'s Statement of Material Facts (“Pl.'s SMF”) ¶¶ 1-2, ECF No. 46.) Worthen alleges that the Air Force unlawfully discriminated against him on a number of occasions based on his race and/or in retaliation for previous discrimination complaints, between September 2011, and November 2014. (First Am. Compl. (“FAC”) 2-3, ECF No. 16.) In response to the alleged discrimination, Worthen spoke with an Equal Opportunity Counselor and received notice of his right to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) for each of his claims (Claim No. 9D1S12020, Claim No. 9D1S13031, and Claim No. 9D1S15001). (Id. Ex. 2.)

         On March 10, 2015, Worthen initiated this Title VII employment discrimination case against the Air Force. (Compl., ECF No. 1.) Worthen claims that the alleged discrimination is manifested by a failure to promote, reduction in wages, working conditions that differed from similarly situated employees, harassment, bullying, intimidation, reprisal, retaliation, demotion, and wrongful discharge from employment for a period of time. (Id.)

         On May 9, 2016, Worthen initiated a second civil action, Case No. 2:16-cv-03181, asserting Title VII claims based on his fourth-and-final claim before the EEOC (Claim No. 9D1S15011). On September 13, 2016, the Court consolidated these two related actions. (ECF No. 26.)


         A 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). Courts must view the facts and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007). A disputed fact is “material” where the resolution of that fact might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, and the dispute is “genuine” where “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 (1968). Conclusory or speculative testimony in affidavits is insufficient to raise genuine issues of fact and defeat summary judgment. Thornhill's Publ'g Co. v. GTE Corp., 594 F.2d 730, 738 (9th Cir. 1979). Moreover, though the Court may not weigh conflicting evidence or make credibility determinations, there must be more than a mere scintilla of contradictory evidence to survive summary judgment. Addisu v. Fred Meyer, Inc., 198 F.3d 1130, 1134 (9th Cir. 2000).

         Once the moving party satisfies its burden, the nonmoving party cannot simply rest on the pleadings or argue that any disagreement or “metaphysical doubt” about a material issue of fact precludes summary judgment. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986); Cal. Architectural Bldg. Prods., Inc. v. Franciscan Ceramics, Inc., 818 F.2d 1466, 1468 (9th Cir. 1987). Nor will uncorroborated allegations and “self-serving testimony” create a genuine issue of material fact. Villiarimo v. Aloha Island Air, Inc., 281 F.3d 1054, 1061 (9th Cir. 2002). The court should grant summary judgment against a party who fails to demonstrate facts sufficient to establish an element essential to his case when that party will ultimately bear the burden of proof at trial. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.

         Pursuant to the Local Rules, parties moving for summary judgment must file a proposed “Statement of Uncontroverted Facts and Conclusions of Law” that should set out the material facts to which the moving party contends there is no genuine dispute. C.D. Cal. L.R. 56-1. Additionally, a party opposing the motion must file a “Statement of Genuine Disputes” setting forth all material facts as to which it contends there exists a genuine dispute. C.D. Cal. L.R. 56-2. “[T]he Court may assume that material facts as claimed and adequately supported by the moving party are admitted to exist without controversy except to the extent that such material facts are (a) included in the ‘Statement of Genuine Disputes' and (b) controverted by declaration or other written evidence files in opposition to the motion.” C.D. Cal. L.R. 56-3.


         Worthen bases his claims on four main adverse employment consequences, including where: (1) the Air Force suspended him in April 2012, and then delayed paying him; (2) Sergeant Lewis made negative comments, and then assigned him to Gate 1 duty in June 2013; (3) the Air Force restricted his ability to take leave in September 2014; and (4) the Air Force revoked his firearm authorization and subjected him to a further background check to maintain his security clearance. The Court will first address the legal framework for Worthen's Title VII claims and then address each of the events on which Worthen bases his causes of action.

         A. Legal Framework for Title VII Race Discrimination & Retaliation Claims

         Under Title VII, an employer may not “discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). This provision makes “disparate treatment” based on race a violation of federal law. See Villiarimo, 281 F.3d at 1062.

         The Supreme Court's decision in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973) provides the legal framework for ruling on a summary judgment in a Title VII case. Under this framework, to show disparate treatment under Title VII, Worthen must first establish a prima facie case of discrimination. Id. at 802. Specifically, he must show that (1) he belongs to a protected class; (2) he was qualified for the position; (3) he was subjected to an adverse employment action; and (4) similarly situated individuals outside of his protected class were treated more favorably. Id. “The requisite degree of proof to establish a prima facie case for Title VII . . . on summary judgment is minimal and does not need to rise to the level of a preponderance of the evidence.” Wallis v. J.R. Simplot Co., 26 F.3d 885, 889 (9th Cir. 1994).

         If the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the burden of production-but not persuasion-then shifts to the employer to articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the challenged action. McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802. If the employer does so, the plaintiff must show that the articulated reason is pretextual “either directly by persuading the court that a discriminatory reason more likely motivated the employer or indirectly by showing that the employer's proffered explanation is unworthy of credence.” Chuang v. Univ. of Cal. Davis, 225 F.3d 1115, 1123 (9th Cir. 2000) (quoting Tex. Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 256 (1981)).

         Worthen also alleges that he was discriminated against in retaliation for bringing claims before the EEOC. Under Title VII, it is unlawful “for an employer to discriminate against any of his employees . . . because he has opposed any practice made an unlawful employment practice by this subchapter, or because he has made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under this subchapter.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). The McDonnell Douglas framework applies to a retaliation claim as well. The plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case of retaliation by showing he engaged in a protected activity, that his employer then took adverse employment action, and that a causal link exists between the two. Cohen v. Fred Meyer, Inc., 686 F.2d 793, 796 (9th Cir. 1982). Once the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the defendant to articulate some legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for the adverse action. Id. If the ...

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