The opinion of the court was delivered by: William J. Martini, U.S.D.J.
This action comes before the Court on Defendants' motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. For the reasons stated below, the Court will GRANT Defendants' motion and dismiss Plaintiff's remaining claims.
I.PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL HISTORY
Plaintiff Dr. William Carr is an African-American male and was employed by Defendant New Jersey Judiciary (collectively with the State of New Jersey and the Superior Court of New Jersey, the "Entity Defendants") for approximately 35 years. In 2006, while he was employed as an Assistant Chief Probation Officer, Plaintiff applied for the position of Court Executive 2B, Chief Probation Officer, Essex Vicinage. Defendant Collins E. Ijoma, the Trial Court Administrator for the Essex Vicinage, appointed a three-person panel to conduct the first round of interviews for the position. That panel included Defendant Peter Conorly, who was the outgoing Chief Probation Office for Essex Vicinage (collectively with Defendant Ijoma, the "Individual Defendants"). Based on their review of each applicant's overall experience and qualifications for the positions, the panelists selected eight applicants, including Plaintiff, for the first round of interviews. Three of the selected applicants were African-American, including Plaintiff, four were Caucasian, and one was Hispanic. The goal of the first round of interviews was to winnow down the pool of applicants and decide who should participate in a second round of interviews. The panel selected three individuals to participate in a second interview, but Plaintiff was not among them.
In his pleadings, Plaintiff alleges a variety of claims based on his not receiving a second interview, not all of which have survived to this stage. Plaintiff's remaining claims are for: racial discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., against the Entity Defendants; retaliation in violation of Title VII against the Entity Defendants; racial discrimination in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("NJLAD"), N.J.S.A. 10:5-1, et seq., against the Individual Defendants; retaliation in violation of the NJLAD against the Individual Defendants; and violation of Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment Rights against the Individual Defendants in their individual capacities pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for racial-discrimination.*fn1
Defendants now move for summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's remaining claims.
A. Summary Judgment Standard
A party seeking summary judgment must "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Hersh v. Allen Prod. Co., 789 F.2d 230, 232 (3d Cir. 1986). The threshold inquiry is whether there are "any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986) (noting that no triable issue exists unless there is sufficient evidence favoring nonmoving party for jury to return verdict in its favor). In deciding whether triable issues of fact exist, this Court must view the underlying facts and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Pa. Coal Ass'n v. Babbitt, 63 F.3d 231, 236 (3d Cir. 1995). However, the non-moving party "may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but his response, by affidavits or as otherwise provided in this rule, must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. If he does not so respond, summary judgment, if appropriate, shall be entered against him." Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586; see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(3).
B. Claims for Racial Discrimination Under Title VII, NJLAD, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendants argue that even if the Court were to find that Plaintiff has established a prima facie case of racial discrimination, Plaintiff has failed to adduce sufficient evidence to rebut Defendants' legitimate non-retaliatory reason for not selecting Plaintiff for a second interview. Defendants are correct.
In the absence of direct evidence of discrimination, causes of action for racial discrimination based on failure to hire under Title VII, NJLAD, and Section 1983 are subject to the same burden-shifting analysis first established by the United States Supreme Court in McDonnell Douglas Corporation v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). Victor v. State, 4 A.3d 126, 140-41 (N.J. 2010) (acknowledging adoption of McDonnell-Douglas analysis for employment discrimination claims under NJLAD); Stewart v. Rutgers, The State University, 120 F.3d 426, 431-32 (3d Cir. 1997) (applying same burden-shifting analysis to racial discrimination claim under Section 1983). In order to establish a prima facie case for racial discrimination based on failure to hire, the plaintiff must show by a preponderance of the evidence that: (1) he is African-American; (2) he was qualified for the position; (3) he was not called in for second interview and thus did not receive the position; and (4) after rejection the position remained open and the employer continued to seek applications from persons of similar qualification under circumstances that raise an inference of discriminatory action. See Sarullo v. U.S. Postal Service, 352 F.3d 789, 798 (3d Cir. 2003); Bergen Commercial Bank v. Sisler, 723 A.2d 944, 955 (N.J. 1999) (quotations omitted). The plaintiff bears the initial burden of establishing a prima facie case of discrimination, but once the plaintiff has done so, the burden shifts to the defendant to establish a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its employment decision. Fuentes v. Perskie, 32 F.3d 759, 764 (3d Cir. 1994). The burden then shifts back to the plaintiff who must point to some evidence that either the legitimate nondiscriminatory reason articulated by the defendant was merely a pretext for discrimination or that racial animus was more likely than not a motivating or determinative cause of the defendant's action. Id. at 764-65. In order to survive a motion for summary judgment based on evidence that the defendant's articulated reason is mere pretext, the plaintiff "must demonstrate such weaknesses, implausibilities, inconsistencies, incoherencies, or contradictions in the employer's proffered legitimate reasons for its action that a reasonable fact finder could rationally find them unworthy of credence, and hence infer that the employer did not act for the asserted non-discriminatory reasons." Id. at 765 (quotations omitted).
Plaintiff has produced sufficient evidence to establish his prima facie case of racial discrimination. He is African-American. He was qualified for the position, which Defendants do not meaningfully dispute.*fn2 He did not receive a second interview. And finally, Defendants interviewed and ultimately hired a Caucasian candidate with similar qualifications.*fn3
Defendants have produced evidence, much of it undisputed, establishing that they had a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for not selecting Plaintiff for a second interview: he did not perform as well in the first interview as the candidates who were called for a second interview. Plaintiff admits that the panelists asked every candidate the same questions and scored every candidate based upon the candidate's responses using the same scoring scale, which assessed the candidate's competencies in five key areas: Leadership/Technical Knowledge/Cooperative Relationships; Administrative/Management/Interpersonal Skills; Communication Skills/Managing Human Resources; Customer Service; and Total Quality Management. Defendants further claim that the panelists were assessing the interviewee's ability to apply his or her background and experience in answering questions. Plaintiff admits that the interviewees' scores formed the basis of the panel's determination of who should be invited back for a second interview. Plaintiff admits that he scored a 32 out of 60 possible points while the candidates called in for a second interview all scored significantly higher: 45, 47, and 59 points, respectively. And Plaintiff admits that the panelists, including Defendant Conerly, all found that Plaintiff failed to answer the questions asked of him and instead offered responses that were "long winded", "disjointed", and "not on target". One panelist, James Agro, specifically noted that Plaintiff "failed to incorporate his vast knowledge of Probation into the responses." Poor performance in an interview is a ...