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Flores v. Danberg

United States District Court, D. Delaware

March 25, 2015

RENE FLORES, Plaintiff,
v.
CARL C. DANBERG, MIKE DELOY, G.R. JOHNSON, LINDA VALENTINO, and DELAWARE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION., Defendants

Decided: March 24, 2015.

Stephen A Hampton, Esquire, Dover, Delaware. Counsel for Plaintiff.

Devera B. Scott, Esquire and Ryan P. Connell, Esquire, Deputy Attorneys General. Department of Justice, Dover, Delaware. Counsel for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Sue L. Robinson, United States District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This employment discrimination case was initiated by plaintiff Rene Flores (" plaintiff') against defendants Carl C. Danberg (" Danberg" ),[1] Mike DeLoy (" DeLoy" ),[2] G.R. Johnson (" Johnson" ),[3] Linda Valentino (" Valentino" ),[4] and the Department of Correction (" DOC" ). (D.I. 1,23) Plaintiff asserts that defendants: (1) discriminated against him based on his race and national origin; and (2) retaliated against him, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (" Title VII" ), 42 U.S.C. § § 1981 and 1983, as well as the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. Plaintiff also includes state tortious interference claims and violations of the Delaware Whistleblowers' Protection Act, 19 Del. C. § § 1703 and 1703(4). The court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § § 1331 and 1343.

Presently before the court are defendants' motions for summary judgment. (D.I. 64, 67) The issues are fully briefed. (D.I. 65, 66, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 88) For the reasons that follow, defendants' motions for summary judgment will be granted.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff,[5] a Hispanic male, graduated from the DOC's academy in 1994 and was assigned to the Delaware Correctional Center, now known as James T. Vaughn Correctional Center (" JTVCC" ). (D.I. 70 at DA343-344) In 1996, plaintiff was promoted to corporal and transferred to Sussex Boot Camp. ( Id. at DA344-346) In 1998, he was transferred to SCI. In July 2001, plaintiff was promoted to sergeant and transferred to Morris Community Correctional Center.

In September 2001, plaintiff was promoted to lieutenant and transferred to JTVCC. ( Id. at DA348) In 2002, he was transferred back to Sussex Boot Camp and, approximately a year later, was transferred to SCI with the rank of lieutenant.

In 2009, plaintiff interviewed for a vacant staff lieutenant position, but was not selected as a candidate. (D.I. 69 at DA70-71) Plaintiff filed a grievance, challenging the promotion selection process. Defendant DeLoy heard the grievance, found merit to plaintiff's contentions and recommended promotion. ( Id. at DA6) However, because another candidate had already been selected, plaintiff was promoted to a different staff lieutenant position, with adjusted back pay.

In 2010, plaintiff applied for a vacant captain position. ( Id. at DA24; D.I. 70 at DA415) At that time, the committee[6] considering candidates for positions with the rank of captain and higher, used a numerical score sheet to evaluate and rank both objective and subjective categories for each applicant. (D.I. 70 at DA226, DA119) Plaintiff was not the candidate selected for the position. (D.I. 69 at DA76) He filed a grievance challenging the selection process, which was later denied. ( Id. at DA77)

Subsequently, after learning that the other DOC wardens had abandoned using numerical score sheets in favor of a more subjective candidate evaluation process (" subjective system" ), defendant Johnson implemented the same procedure at SCI. (D.I. 70 at DA226-227; DA122) The advantages of the subjective system were explained by defendant Valentino:

I can't give you a specific. But typically, the discussion is you get the wrong candidate because you get somebody that high seniority or doesn't have the drive or the knowledge to do the job, and they knock out other people. So they might have education, high seniority. And somebody else who is a better candidate for the position encompassing all of the qualifications would get knocked out of it because of it. And it allows us to pick the best candidate, period.

(D.I. 70 at DA119)

In 2011, when a captain position became vacant, defendant Valentino chose Ernest McBroom, DOC trainer/educator, and Jeannette Christian, DOC human resources, as members of the selection panel (" the panel" )[7] responsible for filling the vacancy. (D.I. 70 at DA0121-22; DA428) Plaintiff[8] submitted an application for the captain position. ( Id. at DA427) The panel interviewed candidates in March 2011. (D.I. 70 at DA124)

On April 8, 2011, Ryan Hobbs (" Hobbs" ) contacted the SCI's warden's office, complaining that plaintiff had accessed Hobbs' criminal record illegally through the DELJIS[9] system and had disseminated the information. (D.I. 80 at PA147; D.I. 69 at DA31) As part of an Internal Affairs (" IA" ) investigation launched in response to the complaint, investigator Michael Tigue (" Tigue" ) interviewed Hobbs and discovered that: (1) Hobbs was dating plaintiff's daughter Chelsea; (2) plaintiff accessed Hobbs' criminal record between 2008 and February 2009 and shared this information with others, resulting in Hobbs' being arrested for drugs and his residence searched; (3) Chelsea and Hobbs had domestic problems, resulting in Chelsea obtaining a restraining order; and (4) Hobbs waited to report plaintiff's alleged misconduct because " [Hobbs] has been in court over issues with [Chelsea] for violating the restraining order." (D.I. 80 at PA147)

Tigue was unable to verify whether plaintiff had in fact accessed Hobbs' information because the DELJIS records for the pertinent time period were inaccessible. ( Id. at PA148) Consequently, Tigue reported that, " [without supporting documentation from DELJIS, the allegations made by Hobbs [were] unsubstantiated" and the IA investigation case was closed. ( Id. )

In a letter dated April 15, 2011, defendant Valentino announced the panel's selection for the captain position. The panel unanimously agreed that the top candidate was " JB," a Caucasian, male lieutenant with bachelors and associates degrees in criminal justice technology, perfect attendance during a two-year period, and experience as a watch commander.[10] (D.I. 69 at DA25) The panel's second choice, " DV", a Caucasian, male staff lieutenant with no college education. (D.I. 69 at DA25) Plaintiff was the third ranked candidate.[11] ( Id. at DA 25-26; D.I. 70 at DA123-24)

In explaining the panel's reasons for choosing JB for the position, defendant Valentino wrote:

The selection panel was unanimously impressed by the interview with JB. His answers were thorough, concise and well articulated. The panel agreed that it was one of the best interviews we had witnessed in a long time. DV's interview was very good as well, although he struggled with a few of the questions.

(D.I. 69 at DA25-26) Defendant Valentino testified that, at his interview, plaintiff stumbled with some of his responses. (D.I. 70 at DA123-124) Jeannette Christian's interview notes reflect that plaintiff " rambled" at points. (D.I. 69 at DA22-24) Plaintiff testified that the interview went very well and that the questions presented were easy. (D.I. 70 at DA431 - 434) On May 24, 2011, plaintiff filed a grievance, complaining that the captain selection process was deficient because: (1) the panel did not use an ...


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