Riley v. Delaware River and Bay Authority

Decision Date13 October 2009
Docket NumberC.A. No. 05-746-MPT.,C.A. No. 07-336-MPT.
Citation661 F.Supp.2d 456
PartiesRonald S. RILEY, Plaintiff, v. The DELAWARE RIVER AND BAY AUTHORITY, James Johnson, Individually, James Walls, Individually, Trudy Spence-Parker, Individually, and Consuella Petty-Judkins, Individually, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Delaware

James P. Hall, Esquire, Phillips, Goldman & Spence, P.A., Wilmington, DE, for Plaintiff Ronald S. Riley.

William W. Bowser, Esquire, Adria B. Martinelli, Esquire, and Lauren Hudecki Esquire, Young Conway Stargatt & Taylor, LLP, Wilmington, DE, for Defendants Delaware River & Bay Authority, James Johnson, and James Walls.

Kevin J. Connors, Esquire, Marshall Dennehy Warner Coleman & Goggin, Wilmington, DE, for Defendant Trudy Spence-Parker.

Daniel L. McKenty, Heckler & Frabizzio, Wilmington, DE, for Defendant Consuella Petty-Judkins.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

THYNGE, United States Magistrate Judge.

I. Introduction

This is an employment discrimination case. Plaintiff Ronald Riley claims race discrimination against defendant the Delaware River and Bay Authority ("DRBA") under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). Riley also asserts this claim individually against DRBA employees James Johnson, James Walls, and Trudy Spence-Parker under 42 U.S.C. § 1981.1 Riley further asserts a claim of retaliation against the DRBA under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). Evidence was presented to this court in a two-day bench trial held on December 16 and 17, 2008. Post-trial briefing was completed on February 26, 2009. This opinion is the Court's determination of Riley's claims.2

II. Findings of Fact3

1. Plaintiff Ronald Riley is an African-American male employed at the Delaware River and Bay Authority ("DRBA").

2. Defendant DRBA is a bi-state agency established by Delaware and New Jersey to advance economic development and improve traffic flow between the two states. The DRBA operates the Delaware Memorial Bridge, the Cape May-Lewes and Three Forts Crossing ferry systems, and several airport facilities.

3. Defendant James Johnson is the DRBA's Executive Director.

4. Defendant James Walls is the DRBA's Chief Operating Officer.

5. Defendant Trudy Spence-Parker was the DRBA's Chief Human Resources Officer from March 2003 to March 2008.

6. Riley's employment at the DRBA began in 1995 with a seasonal position in its Maintenance Department. That position was made permanent in 1996. At that time, Riley assumed the title of Airport Maintenance Technician and was transferred to the New Castle Airport facility (the "Airport"), where he has been stationed to this day.

7. In 1999, Riley was injured in a work-related automobile accident. After undergoing surgery to treat those injuries, he returned to work in September 2001. Riley's injury restricted him to 20 hours of light-duty work per week.4

8. As a result of his injury, Riley was unable to continue in his previous position as Airport Maintenance Technician. The DRBA therefore created a temporary position for him within the DRBA's Airports Safety Department.5 This move did not result in a reduction in his rate of pay.

9. The DRBA's salary structure is organized alphabetically, with "E" level executives receiving the most compensation and "R" level custodial, food service, and utility staff receiving the least.6 As an Airport Maintenance Technician, Riley was a level "Q" employee.7

10. Riley's new position did not previously exist at the Airport. At no time was it publically posted, nor was Riley required to compete for it. Riley is the only individual ever to have held it.

11. In early 2002, Riley helped develop a written job description for his temporary post.8 This description was formally adopted by the DRBA in Spring 2003.9 It listed Riley's essential duties and responsibilities as follows: (1) managing the ID badge system for Airport tenants;10 (2) receiving and routing telephone calls and messages from, among others, the Federal Aviation Administration, the police, and airport administration; (3) coordinating with Operations Specialists to issue and cancel Notices to Airmen ("NOTAMS"); (4) greeting and assisting visitors, DRBA employees, and airfield users; (5) notifying Operations staff of visitors; (6) preparing correspondence on behalf of Operations staff; (7) maintaining correspondence files pertaining to airfield users and tenants; (8) assisting Operations Specialists; (9) maintaining logs of visitors and contractors at the airport; (10) communicating with DRBA employees using two-way radios; and (11) other related duties as may be assigned.11

12. In March 2002 Riley, though still restricted to light-duty work, returned to a full-time schedule. About this time, Riley began expressing a desire to have his temporary position reclassified to a permanent, higher paygrade job.12 The DRBA formally processed Riley's request for reclassification on December 4, 2002.13

13. In Spring 2003, shortly after Riley's job description was finalized, the DRBA initiated the process of establishing a permanent position for him. Riley's job description and a "Position Description Questionnaire" (completed by Riley and his supervisor, Frank Shahan) were submitted to the Hay Group ("Hay"), an outside consultant previously retained by the DRBA to make recommendations on job classifications and paygrade levels. The Position Description Questionnaire weighted Riley's job responsibilities as follows: (1) managing the computerized badge system, 40 percent; (2) customer service, 20 percent; (3) main contact for FAA and flight services, 20 percent; (4) maintaining the tenant list and work order desk, 10 percent; and (5) assisting other airports 10 percent.14

14. Although Hay occasionally conducted employee interviews pursuant to its evaluations, Riley never met personally with anyone from the group.

15. Hay consultant, Kelly Graver, reviewed Riley's documents and presented her opinion to the DRBA in a memorandum dated April 18, 2003.15 Graver recommended a title of "Airport Security Clerk" with a paygrade of "O" based on her understanding that the position required knowledge of FAA regulations and had responsibility "to approve, revoke, or revise an individual's access permission to the airport[,] which adds risk to the position[.]"16

16. Upon receiving the memorandum, Director of Human Resources Linda Murphy felt there was "some misunderstanding" by Graver, testifying that she "wasn't quite certain that [Riley's] job was correctly reviewed."17 Murphy sought clarification from Shahan regarding the position's responsibilities. She never spoke with Riley himself. Shahan advised Murphy that the security aspects of Riley's job were overstated and that his responsibilities were limited to using a machine to "process" security badges.18 Murphy and Spence-Parker related this information to Graver via telephone. No written records of these conversations were made.

17. Following her conversation with Murphy and Spence-Parker, Graver issued a second memorandum dated April 28, 2003.19 Graver downgraded her recommendation for the position to a title of "Operations Clerk" with a paygrade of "P". She based this revision on "additional information" indicating the position "does not have the authority to close runways and taxiways."20

18. On April 29, 2003, the DRBA officially accepted the recommendations in Graver's second memorandum.21 Riley received a 5% increase in pay, applied retroactively beginning March 1, 2003.22

19. Unsatisfied with this classification, Riley initiated official grievances with the DRBA. Riley's first two grievances were denied because the supervisors to which they were addressed lacked the authority to reclassify him.

20. On June 15, 2003, Riley submitted a final "Step 3" grievance to Johnson.23 Johnson held a Step 3 meeting concerning this grievance on June 30, 2003. Spence-Parker, Rocco Tomanelli (then Director of Airports), and Walls were also in attendance. Riley testified that his grievance was summarily denied without affording him an opportunity to present his case.

21. Following the meeting, Spence-Parker provided Johnson with a factual chronology and a recommendation to deny the grievance. Johnson accepted Spence-Parker's recommendation and officially denied the grievance in a letter dated July 7, 2003.24 Johnson's denial stated, in part: "While I understand the points you raised in our meeting concerning your grievance I am not recommending a modification to the 5% adjustment you received. Based on the information I have reviewed, you are properly compensated for the responsibilities and duties detailed in your job description. At no time were you inappropriately paid for work performed in either the temporary capacity or in the permanent capacity."25

22. On August 25, 2003, Riley filed an internal complaint with the DRBA alleging race discrimination.26 Consuella Petty-Judkins (the DRBA's Equal Employment Officer and Recruitment Manager) investigated Riley's claim by reviewing his complaint, job description, and compensation history with Spence Parker and Murphy. Petty-Judkins concluded that Riley's compensation "had nothing to do with race".27

23. On September 24, 2004, a majority of DRBA employees in a potential bargaining unit voted to join the International Union of Operating Engineers, AFL-CIO, Local 542 (the "Union").28 As a result, the Union became the official representative of the bargaining unit, which covered Riley and many other positions at the Airport. The DRBA and the Union signed a Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA") in late January 2006 defining wages within the unit from 2006 through 2008.29

24. On May 24, 2005, Riley filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Delaware Department of Labor ("DDOL") and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") alleging race discrimination based on harassment and inadequate...

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