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Henderson v. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

June 17, 2019





         Plaintiff Darry Henderson brings this action against the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (“MBTA”) alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Henderson, a black man and long-time MBTA employee, claims that the MBTA denied him a promotion because of his race and retaliated against him for complaining about what he believed to be a supervisor's race-based comment by denying him an overtime opportunity.

         After hearing, the Court ALLOWS the MBTA's motion for summary judgment (Docket No. 53).


         The following facts are undisputed except where otherwise stated.

         I. The MBTA's Hiring Process

         The MBTA follows a standard hiring procedure. Human resources (“HR”) posts a listing for the open position that includes a number of “minimum entrance requirements” (“MERs”). HR reviews the applications to determine whom to interview. A candidate need not satisfy all of the MERs to receive an interview. For example, HR does not screen for MERs that are not readily quantifiable or apparent from an application and those for which the MBTA screens post-interview (e.g., background check, medical testing). Instead, HR focuses on the easily determinable MERs, such as educational and work history.

         HR then assembles a selection committee to conduct the interviews. The committee consists of at least one representative from HR and one or more members of the department in which the individual to be hired will work. The committee asks the candidates a set of uniform questions during the interviews. Each committee member scores each answer the candidates give based on guidelines provided by HR. Committee members generally do not discuss the candidates and their answers before recording their scores. The MBTA hires the candidates who receive the top scores, unless they fail a background check or medical screening. Before making a final hiring decision, HR provides a summary of the process and the resumes of the recommended candidates to the diversity department for approval.

         II. Henderson's Employment History with the MBTA

         Henderson, a black male, began working at the MBTA in 1991 as a construction laborer. In 1995, he was promoted to laborer foreperson. In this position, he leads a crew of two to four laborers to identify and fix maintenance issues. From 2000 to 2005, he served as a temporary supervisor. Duties of a supervisor include managing maintenance projects, responding to emergencies, and maintaining records of repair activities. Supervisors manage teams of around thirty workers across two or three different trades.

         When he served as a temporary supervisor in the early 2000s, Henderson unsuccessfully applied to be a permanent supervisor. One of the two supervisors the MBTA hired instead was Debra Gilcoine, who was promoted to the position of superintendent after three or four years. Henderson resumed his job as a laborer foreperson in 2005 because he had not been permanently promoted. He never again expressed interest in being a temporary supervisor, nor did the MBTA reoffer him the position.

         III. Job Posting for New Supervisors

         The MBTA posted an opening for two permanent supervisors of Building and Station Maintenance in November 2011. The MERs for the position included a high school diploma or GED, at least five years of work history in building and equipment maintenance, supervisory experience, and the ability to use certain software applications. Although the MBTA received some applications, it did not conduct interviews because of a temporary hiring freeze.

         Before reopening the job posting the next summer, Steve Emde, then a staffing manager in HR, met with current employees in Charlestown to recruit internal applicants. Gilcoine and Henderson were present. At the end of the meeting, Gilcoine told Henderson she would be on the selection committee for the supervisor position. Henderson was concerned because Gilcoine was friends with a painter foreperson named Bernadette Higgins who was applying for the position. Higgins began working at the MBTA in March 1992 as a painter and was promoted to painter foreperson in 2000. Since 2011, she had worked as a temporary supervisor. She and Gilcoine became friends when she started as a painter: Gilcoine was her foreperson, and they were in the union together. Gilcoine did not encourage her to apply for the supervisor position and did not talk to her about her application.

         Henderson met with Emde to express his concern that Gilcoine's participation in the hiring process was unfair. Emde notified his supervisor about Henderson's concern, and they decided to remove Gilcoine from the selection committee. Emde did not tell anyone else involved in the hiring process about this issue.

         HR reposted the job listing for the supervisor position on September 5, 2012. Henderson and Higgins both submitted applications. In her application, Higgins listed Gilcoine as a reference. William Melchionda, an external candidate with two decades of construction and building maintenance experience, also applied. He left the computer skills section of his application blank. His application listed Bill Perez, the head of the MBTA's HR department, and Perez's brother as references. Melchionda and Perez had worked together previously, and Melchionda was friends with Perez's brother. Perez never spoke to anyone involved in the hiring process about Melchionda, and the selection committee did not discuss the fact that Perez was listed as a reference. In total, the MBTA received 119 applications for the supervisor position.

         HR reviewed the applications to determine whom to select for interviews. HR screened for only four MERs: 1) a high school diploma or GED, 2) five years of relevant work experience, 3) supervisory experience, and 4) (for internal candidates) a satisfactory work record for the preceding two years. For reasons that are unclear in the record, HR did not screen for the ability to use the computer applications that had been listed as one of the MERs in the job posting. HR invited twenty-three candidates to interview, twenty of whom accepted.

         On October 12, while HR was reviewing applications for the supervisor position, another laborer foreperson was assigned to “podium duty” instead of Henderson. Podium duty involves setting up the podium and speakers for speeches by government officials and MBTA executives. A crew assigned to podium duty often receives overtime, although sometimes the work is conducted during the regular workday. The union steward generally determines who receives overtime opportunities such as podium duty, but Gilcoine had some say as superintendent. Henderson had worked podium duty for five years before ...

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