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Seaton v. Perdue

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

August 2, 2017

SONNY PERDUE, Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture, [1] Defendants.


          Joseph M. Hood Senior U.S. District Judge


         This matter is before the Court upon a Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment [DE 7] filed by Defendants Tom Fern, Tom Kostelnik, Cheri Gaudinier, Michele Witt, Allen Hatcher, Jeff Jones, and Gene Floyd, all of whom have been sued in their individual and official capacities. Plaintiff Kendell Seaton having filed a Response in Opposition [DE 12], and Defendants having submitted their Reply [DE 14], this matter is now ripe for the Court's review. For the reasons stated herein, the Motion to Dismiss is hereby GRANTED.


         In 2009, Seaton applied for the Area Director position with the USDA's Rural Development office in London, Kentucky. [DE 1, p. 5, ¶ 19]. Human Resources Manager Cheri Gaudinier ranked and scored each applicant based on their education and experience, as well as knowledge, skills, and abilities relevant to the position. [Id. at p. 5, ¶ 21]. This data was compiled in a Certificate of Eligibles and considered by a selection committee, which consisted of the Agency's State Director, Vernon Brown, as well as Administrative Program Director Tom Kostelnik, Housing Director Linda Chadwell, Business Director Jeff Jones, and Multi-Family Director Paul Higgins. Of the six eligible applicants, Seaton scored and ranked highest on the Certificate.[2] [Id.].

         On September 23, 2009, Brown selected Seaton for the position on the basis of a unanimous recommendation from the committee.[3] [Id. at p. 6, ¶ 20]. The following month, Seaton received a letter stating that he had been chosen for the Area Director Position. [Id.]. Seaton then completed the appropriate paperwork and submitted to a background check. [Id.].

         In November 2009, Tom Fern was appointed as the Kentucky State Director for the USDA's Rural Development office. [Id. at p. 6, ¶ 23]. The following January, he met with Kostelnik, Agency employee Michele Witt, and Director of Human Resources Allen Hatcher. [Id. at p. 7, ¶ 24]. Based on Witt's and Gaudinier's notes from that meeting, Seaton concludes that its purpose was to find a legitimate business reason for denying him the Area Director position.[4] [Id. at p. 7, ¶ 25-27]. Shortly thereafter, Seaton received a letter from Fern notifying him that the position had been cancelled due to a pending reorganization. [Id.].

         Although Fern cancelled five other open jobs at this time, the Area Director position was the only one that had already been filled. [Id. at p. 7-8, ¶ 30-31]. Seaton alleges that reorganization “was only a pretext to cover [his] removal … from the job, ” as Fern evinced an intent to re-announce the Area Director position at the meeting. [Id. at p. 8, ¶ 32-34]. On February 14, 2010, Fern, Kostelnik, Gaudinier, and Hatcher held another meeting. [Id. at p. 8, ¶ 36]. Notes from the meeting indicate that Seaton “will re-apply for the position & not be selected (results of NACI-doesn't matter)” and that he “would have to argue an EEO basis” to complain about it. [Id. at p. 8, ¶ 36-38]. The notes further state that “age disc. = 40 yrs.” [Id.].

         In March 2010, Fern submitted a reorganization plan to the USDA's national office that did not affect the Area Director position in London. [Id. at p. 9, ¶ 43]. The Agency re-announced the position one month later. [Id. at p. 9, ¶ 44]. Seaton re-applied. [Id. at p. 9, ¶ 45]. A younger candidate named Barry Hunter, who had applied for the position in 2009, also resubmitted his application. [Id.]. Although Hunter had scored the lowest on the Certificate of Eligibles in 2009, Fern presented Hunter to the selection committee as his choice and asked for the committee's approval, rather than their recommendation. [Id. at p. 9, ¶ 46-47]. The committee, comprised of Fern, Kostelnik, Jones, Brown, Witt, Gaudinier, and Agency employee Gene Floyd, approved Hunter for the Area Director position on June 25, 2010. [Id. at p. 9, ¶ 48].

         Seaton filed a formal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), charging the USDA with unlawful age discrimination. [Id. at p. 4, ¶ 15]. After exhausting his administrative remedies, Seaton received a Notice of Right to Sue and filed this civil action on August 15, 2016. [Id. at p. 4, ¶ 16-18]. Defendants filed the instant Motion shortly thereafter.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Standard of Review[5]

         A Complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). This statement should include “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly v. Bell Atl. Corp., 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that a defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. “[A] formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         B. Age Discrimination in Employment Act ...

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