United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. Hood Senior U.S. District Judge
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.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
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
September 23, 2009, Brown selected Seaton for the position on
the basis of a unanimous recommendation from the
committee. [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.].
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. [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.].
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.].
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].
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
Standard of Review
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.
Age Discrimination in Employment Act