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Failure to Hire Claim May Go to a Jury After Court Doubts Employer’s Assertions

The U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland recently ruled that a former employee of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) may proceed with trial in his race and national origin discrimination case against the transit service agency based, in part, on several of the employer’s questionable assertions concerning their hiring process.  Thomas v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, No. PX-18-00175 (D. Md. 12/4/19).

Thomas, who is black and Liberian, began to work for WMATA as an electrical mechanic.  Roughly 12 years later, Thomas applied for a training manager position.  The job posting provided that the minimum requirements included (a) a bachelor’s degree in engineering, engineering and technology, transportation management or a related field, and eight years’ experience in maintenance, engineering, or technical management with training and supervisory experience; or (b) an equivalent combination of post high school education or vocational training plus 12 years’ experience in maintenance, engineering, or technical management with training and supervisory experience.  After applicants were screened by HR for minimal qualifications, hiring official Robinson determined which applicants to interview and which interviewee to hire.

WMATA never interviewed Thomas and ultimately hired a white male, DiFatta.  Thomas, who had a bachelor’s in mathematics, a master’s in electrical engineering, and a postgraduate certificate in power systems engineering, also had worked in the field for roughly 20 years and taught at the University of Liberia and DeVry University.  DiFatta, on the other hand, only attended community college “briefly,” was not educated as an engineer, and had spent only 12 years working in the railroad industry.   Of those interviewed, DiFatta managed to “outscore” the others significantly.

Thomas brought a failure to hire claim under Title VII for discrimination based on race and national origin and retaliation for having filed an EEO complaint against his former WMATA supervisor.  The district court denied WMATA’s motion for summary judgment, finding that Thomas presented enough evidence to let a jury decide his case.

Among the reasons it denied summary judgment as to the discrimination claim, the court noted the stark differences in Thomas’s and DiFatta’s relative education.  It disagreed that Thomas lacked sufficient management experience because he had held managerial positions for 20 years.  It took particular issue with WMATA’s undervaluing Thomas’s experience teaching in the field in Liberia as “inextricably tied” to his race and national origin.  It pointed out that even though Thomas’s resume contained some errors, DiFatta’s did as well.  And, it found that WMATA’s failure to allow Thomas “a fighting chance at competing for this position” via an interview was especially concerning in light of the fact that the other two interviewees were deemed substantially less qualified than DiFatta.

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