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Wesley v. Austal USA, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

August 3, 2018

SHARON WESLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
AUSTAL USA LLC, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          CALLIE V. S. GRANADE, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 40), Plaintiff's opposition thereto (Doc. 48), and Defendant's reply (Doc. 52). For the reasons explained below, the Court finds that summary judgment should be granted in favor of Defendant.

         FACTS

         The Plaintiff in this case is a black female who alleges she was discriminated against by her employer, Austal, USA, LLC (“Austal”) on the basis of her race and gender when she was denied a promotion from a Test and Activation Specialist I (“Specialist I”) to a Test and Activation Specialist II (“Specialist II”), in 2015. (Doc. 1). Austal, headquartered in Mobile, Alabama, is the prime contractor, designer and manufacturer of the U.S. Navy's Independence-variant Littoral Combat Ship (“LCS”). (Doc. 42-1, ¶ 2). Plaintiff became employed with Austal in March 2011 as an electrical Apprentice and later became a Specialist I on April 7, 2014. (Doc. 42-1, ¶ 5).

         Mike Bell, who was Austal's Vice President of Operations, Steve Williamson, Austal's Director of Tests and Activation, and Scott Brown, Austal's Hull Tests Manager determined the need for multiple Specialist II positions. (Doc. 42-2, ¶ 7). Bell and Williamson gave Brown the direction and authority to move forward in that regard and gave Brown full authority to make the selection decision with feedback from Senior Specialists Jarrod Stubbs and Conrad Harris. (Doc. 42-2, ¶ 7). On April 16, 2015, Austal posted internally a list of job openings that included openings for the position of Test and Activation Specialist II. (Doc. 42-1, p. 7). The qualification, knowledge and experience listed for the position included:

Two (2) to four (4) solid years Test and Activation experience in a shipyard environment OR Test training equivalent to 2 years technical trade school or military technical school, AND/OR-Navy, Coast Guard or Merchant Mariner experience. …

(Doc. 42-1, p. 8). According to Brown, the “keystone factor” he was looking for in any applicant that had worked as a Specialist I “was a demonstrated readiness to ‘own' a system.” (Doc. 42-3, ¶ 3). Brown explained this factor as follows:

… whereas a Specialist I is an entry-level testing position working under close supervision to perform routine test technician duties in support of Test Engineers and higher-level Specialists, the Specialist II works under limited supervision to perform moderately complex test technician duties on the system(s) that he/she “owns:” based on a combined assessment of skill, proficiency, experience, and interest, a Specialist II is assigned “ownership” of one or more of the ship's systems, in which case that employee has the primary responsibility for seeing the system's testing through to successful fruition and completion. … I was looking to promote the Specialist Is who already had been acting and performing as a system owner even before formally promoting to a Specialist II.

(Doc. 43-3, ¶ 3). Brown reports that he gave no consideration to how long an applicant had been employed at Austal or as a Specialist I. (Doc. 43-3, ¶ 4).

Motivation and self-drive were key factors in determining the applicants that got selected for the promotions. If the applicant had not shown that he/she was ready to own a system, regardless of the extent of his/her tenure at Austal, time as a Specialist I, or prior work history or experience, I was not going to promote him/her.

(Doc. 42-3, ¶ 4). Brown conferred with Stubbs and Harris and Brown made the selection decision. (Doc. 42-3, ¶ 5).

         Plaintiff applied for the Specialist II promotion on April 21, 2015, by submitting a resume that showed she had approximately one year of testing experience by virtue of her tenure as a Specialist I since April 2014 and did not mention any prior testing experience or testing equivalent. (Doc. 42-1, ¶ 5; Doc. 42-3, ¶ 6). Plaintiff listed her experience as an Electrical Apprentice at Austal but did not include the fact that she had performed connectivity or continuity tests as an electrical Apprentice. (Doc. 42-3, ¶ 6, Doc. 42-3, pp. 17-18). Plaintiff testified at her deposition that as an electrical apprentice she conducted connectivity tests and continuity tests but according to Defendant, her reported “tests” are really just “checks” and are not the same as the “formalized, documented, and witnessed Stage Tests” that Specialists conduct. (Doc. 42-4, p. 1; Doc. 42-2, ¶ 3).

         Brown reports that he still considered Plaintiff's application as if she was qualified, but he did not believe she was among the most qualified applicants because she had not demonstrated her readiness to “own” a system. (Doc. 42-3, ¶ 7). Stubbs, who was the Senior Specialist with testing oversight of a vessel on which Plaintiff had worked as a Specialist I, did not recommend Plaintiff for the promotion because he also did not believe she was among the most qualified applicants because she had not demonstrated her readiness to “own” a system. (Doc. 42-5, ¶ 4). Brown assessed Plaintiff's work as a Specialist I and her readiness to be promoted to a Specialist II as follows:

As a Specialist I, Ms. Wesley was assigned to support the 60 Hz, AFFF, Bilge, HFP, and Water Mist systems. In supporting those systems, I did not assess that she was proactive in initiating testing activity to take ownership of those systems. Ms. Wesley did not look ahead of the schedule and plan tasks according to the work that was lying ahead, rather she simply waited to be assigned testing tasks to complete, which is consistent with the expectations of a Specialist I but not consistent with the expectations of a Specialist I striving to advance to a Specialist II. I observed that Ms. Wesley was productive as long as she was assigned tasks and that she was willing to help out as long as assistance was needed within her comfort zone, but I was looking to promote the Specialist Is who had sought growth within the department by volunteering or requesting stretch assignments beyond their Specialist I job description, which Ms. Wesley had not done. More specifically, I observed that Ms. Wesley showed little-to-no interest, drive, or ability to become a lead by initiating testing tasks vis-a-vis working from limited documentation, schematics, diagrams, notes, production prints, or layouts, performing operational/functional tests, troubleshooting or debugging assemblies, subassemblies, and systems to isolate faults and determine remedies for malfunctions, setting-up specialized test equipment for checkout of non-routine assemblies and systems, utilizing normal or specialized manufacturing tests or diagnostic equipment specific to the products, preparing diagnostic tests or assisting in the design, construction, test, or checkout of complex test equipment and test procedure development, or utilizing a wide variety of developmental/manufacturing test or diagnostic equipment to checkout, test, and troubleshoot complex or complete systems. Whether because of her perceived disinterest in taking on system ownership or because she, in fact, lacked a more advanced skillset, either way Ms. Wesley only demonstrated to me a limited ability to read and interpret electrical and piping system diagrams, schematics and drawings, and testing procedures, as well as only cursory knowledge of marine equipment operation, mechanical and electrical propulsion and electrical power-generating equipment, industrial or marine ancillary machinery systems installation and operation, and diesel engines or gas turbines. In short, she simply did not show me that she was ready for the next step, and I genuinely did not believe that she was among the most qualified of the applicants, if she was qualified at all.

(Doc. 42-3, ¶ 8). Plaintiff admits that “sometimes” she lacked motivation to offer “assistance to team members” when she worked as a Specialist I. (Doc. 42-4, p. 5).

         Twenty-seven employees were considered as applicants. Twenty-three of those applicants, including Plaintiff, were considered minimally qualified and moved forward for consideration and twenty of those were ultimately selected for the Specialist II positions. Of the twenty, fourteen were Caucasian males, three were African-American males, one was an African-American female, and two ...


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