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Camlin v. South Carolina Department of Natural Resources

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Florence Division

May 17, 2016

Robin D. Camlin, Plaintiff,
v.
South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          KAYMANI D. WEST, Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Robin D. Camlin ("Plaintiff" or "Camlin") filed this action against her employer, Defendant South Carolina Department of Natural Resources ("Defendant" or "DNR"), alleging DNR violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, when it failed to promote her to the position of Lieutenant-Investigations ("L-I"). At the close of discovery, Defendant moved for summary judgment. ECF No. 46. Plaintiff responded to the Motion, ECF No. 50; and Defendant filed a reply, ECF No. 64. This matter is before the court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2) (D.S.C.) for a report and recommendation ("Report") regarding Defendant's pending dispositive motion. Having reviewed the parties' submissions and the applicable law, the undersigned recommends Defendant's Motion, ECF No. 46, be granted and this matter be ended.

         I. Factual background[1]

         A. DNR organization

         Plaintiff is employed by DNR in the Investigations Section of its Law Enforcement Division ("LE"). In addition to the Investigations Section, the LE Division has field offices and an administrative division. Within the Administrative Division is the Education Section, which provides education and outreach. DNR's Investigations Section includes overt (uniformed) investigators, covert operations (undercover), marine theft, and aids to navigation. The Section also conducts the marine event program, boating saturation ("BSAF") team, abandoned boat program, river-shack program, basic marine law enforcement training, and boat accident data entry. Investigative activity within the Investigations Section includes, but is not limited to: boating fatalities, hunting fatalities, marine theft, aids to navigation, regulatory, aquatic investigations and recovery, background checks, and internal staff investigations. The Investigations Section is a standalone area led by Captain Gary Sullivan, who reports directly to Colonel Chisolm Frampton, who is Deputy Director over the LE Division. Colonel Frampton reports to DNR Executive Director Alvin Taylor. See Affidavit of DNR Human Resources ("HR") Director Terri McGee ["McGee Aff."], ECF No. 46-2 at 2, 6.[2]

         B. The L-I position at issue

         Plaintiff's sole cause of action is one for Title VII[3] gender discrimination. Plaintiff alleges she was not promoted to the L-I position at issue because of her gender. As set out in the Job Announcement or "Posting", the L-I position has responsibility for the supervision of all overt law enforcement investigations and programs. The L-I is expected to supervise and direct the majority of staff in the Investigations Section, assist with Section duties, assign investigators, complete work schedules, manage equipment and inventory, supervise marine events, prepare reports, approve time sheets and schedule staff training. McGee Aff. ¶ 5 & attached documents, ECF No. 46-2 at 2, 12-14. The Posting sets out the following pertinent information:

         Minimum and Additional Requirements:

Internal Posting for DNR Employees Only
Five (5) years experience as a DNR Law Enforcement Officer. Prefer one (1) year of DNR LE Officer experience in a supervisory position in DNR Law Enforcement.

         Additional Comments:

Internal Posting for DNR Employees Only
Possess a thorough understanding of title 50 code of laws and federal laws that apply to Section Programs or Enforcement issues. Must be knowledge[able] of the legislative process. Must be focused strong management and leadership skills.

         ECF No. 46-2 at 12-14.

         The L-I position had been held by Gary Sullivan for years. In December 2011, Sullivan was promoted to Captain, but retained supervisory duties over all Investigators. During that time, there was not an L-I position. Management decided to create a new L-I position, which was posted for applications on October 3, 2012. Captain Sullivan was the hiring manager, and the new L-I would report to him. Sullivan, with McGee's assistance, created the position description and Posting, assembled an interview panel (discussed more thoroughly below), scheduled interviews, chose questions to be asked, determined how the candidates would be rated, and determined which candidate to recommend to Colonel Chisolm Frampton for LE Division-level approval. Once Colonel Frampton and the HR Director approved the recommendation, DNR Executive Director Alvin Taylor would consider the recommendation and make the final decision. This chain-of-command consideration was followed in filling the L-I position. See ECF No. 46-2 at 12-14, Sullivan Dep. 41-42.

         C. The applicants

         Six individuals applied for the L-I position. As it is uncontested that Plaintiff and Investigator Larry Donald Pritcher ("Pritcher") were the top two candidates, see Sullivan Dep. 67, the court focuses only on them.

         1. Plaintiff's background

         DNR's predecessor agency hired Plaintiff in 1990 as a field/conservation officer in the LE Division-a position she held until 1998. Pl.'s Dep. 3-4, ECF No. 46-7. Plaintiff's job responsibilities involved the enforcement of state and federal wildlife and boating laws, litter laws, and regulations. Plaintiff also presented programs to schools and organizations. See Pl.'s Resume, ECF No. 46-2 at 22-26. In 1998, Plaintiff applied for, interviewed, and received a position as an Education Officer in the Hunter and Boater Education Section of the LE Division. Pl.'s Dep. 6-8. In 2007, Plaintiff applied for, interviewed, and received a position as an Investigator in the LE Division of DNR. She held the rank of sergeant at that time. Id. at 10. During the 2007 interview process Sullivan was the L-I of the Investigations Section, served on that interview panel, and recommended Plaintiff be selected for the investigator position. Plaintiff remains in that investigator position today. Id. at 10-11.

         2. Pritcher's background

         DNR's predecessor agency hired Pritcher as a Boating Education Officer in the LE Division in September 1986. He held that position until 1992, at which time he became a Boating and Hunting Education Officer for DNR. See Pritcher Resume, ECF No. 46-2 at 34-35. In May 1997, Pritcher was selected to join DNR's first Investigations Section as an Investigator, where he remains. Id. In addition to investigative duties, Pritcher's duties included working on the Aids to Navigation Program. Id.

         D. The interview process

         DNR's LE Division's Directive D348 sets out its Officer Promotion Plan. See ECF No. 46-2 at 27-29. In addition to other directives, the Plan provides for a Promotion Board, comprised of "the Captain, if appropriate 2) the appropriate Major, 3) the Lieutenant Colonel, and 4) a representative from the Office of Human Resources, " to interview applicants for investigator positions not assigned to particular regions. Id. at 28. The Promotion Board is often referred to as the "Panel."

         The Panel for the L-I position consisted of three individuals: Captain Sullivan, who is Captain over the Investigations Section and the hiring manager; Mike Sabaka, who is an Administration Captain with experience in the Investigations Section; and HR Manager Stephanie Welch. ECF No. 46-2 at 8. Captain Sabaka was selected for the Panel because of his experience and because the Investigations Section did not have a Major, and the LE Division did not have a Lieutenant Colonel, as D348 had contemplated. Id., [4] Sullivan Dep. 51.

         Sullivan selected Captain Sabaka to serve on the panel because of Sabaka's interest and experience in Investigations. Id. at 47, 62-63. Sullivan recalled that he and Sabaka had served on a prior interview panel. Id. at 61-62. Although DNR Directive 348 II.B.4.b (D348) called for a lieutenant colonel and an "appropriate major" to sit on the Panel, there was neither over the Investigations Section at that time. Sullivan testified that, other than Executive Director Taylor, Captain Sabaka was the highest ranking DNR officer knowledgeable about investigations at that time. Id. at 50-51, 133-34. Sabaka had worked directly with both Sullivan and Pritcher. Sullivan Dep. 17-20. Sabaka had gone through basic training with Plaintiff and had worked with Plaintiff on occasion prior to 2012; however, he noted he had not worked directly with Plaintiff when she was an Investigator. Sabaka Dep. 35, 45, ECF No. 46-5. Sabaka did recall investigating a marine fatality with Plaintiff, although he did not recall many specifics of that interaction. Id. at 39-41.

         McGee recommended Stephanie Welch as the HR representative for the Panel. Sullivan approved and chose Welch, noting she had previously worked in the marine-theft office. Sullivan Dep. 47, 55. He was also aware Welch had worked with Pritcher in the marine-theft office. Id. at 55. Sullivan had no knowledge of Welch's prior experience serving on interview panels. Id. at 61.

         As the hiring manager, Captain Sullivan devised questions to be asked of the candidates during their interviews, and identified critical "competencies, " or job requirements on which the Panel would rate the candidates using a one-to-six scale: 1) Job Knowledge/Responsibilities; 2) Planning; 3) Organizing; and 4) Supervisory & Leadership Potential. Sullivan Dep. 68-74.[5] Sullivan wanted to select the best person for L-I position and believed the most important qualities for the position were "[o]verall job knowledge, overall section knowledge, overall ability to do those jobs and to know how they're done, experience as an investigator and [as] a DNR officer." Id. at 90-91.

         E. The interviews

         On October 24, 2012, Captain Sullivan, Captain Sabaka, and Stephanie Welch interviewed six applicants, including Plaintiff and Investigator Pritcher. Pritcher was the successful applicant. The interviewers each completed "Applicant Evaluation Forms" on which they gave each candidate scores in the four job-related competencies. The numerical scores given by each are set out in the following table:[6]

         

Investigator Pritcher Investigator Camlin (Plaintiff) Sullivan Welch Sabaka Sullivan Welch Sabaka

         

Job 5 6 5 4 5 4 Knowledge/ Responsibilities Planning 6 6 6 4 4 4 Organizing 6 6 6 5 5 5 Supervisory & 5 5 5 5 5 5 Leadership Potential Total 22 23 22 18 19 18

         Pritcher and Camlin were the two highest-scoring applicants. ECF No. 46-2 at 8. Each Panel member gave Pritcher a higher score than Camlin overall and in three of the four competencies, and the Panel unanimously concurred that Pritcher was the best qualified candidate for the position. Captain Sullivan recommended to Colonel Frampton that Pritcher be selected to fill the L-I position. Colonel Frampton, the HR Director, and Executive Director Taylor approved the recommendation.

         F. The Panel members' evaluations of Pritcher and Plaintiff

         1. Sullivan

         In an October 25, 2012 memorandum, Captain Sullivan wrote the following to Colonel Frampton concerning his hiring recommendation:

This memo is to advise you that my selection for the above listed position is SSGT Larry Donald "Donnie" Pritcher Jr. SSGT Pritcher has all of the necessary abilities, skills and knowledge desired to perform the expected job duties outlined in the position description. SSGT Pritcher's long tenure in the section makes him a great selection and he has experience in every job duty or function based on his tenure. I expect that SSGT Pritcher's transition from the field into an administrative position will be smooth because he is already familiar with and has performed some of the administrative duties in my absence or during times when the section was short staffed. If you have any questions or concerns with my selection please let me know.

         ECF No. 46-3 at 28.

         Also on October 25, 2012, Sullivan completed a "Justification Summary Sheet, " regarding successful applicant Pritcher. These sheets are routinely requested by HR. Sullivan's sheet regarding Pritcher provided as follows:

1) What knowledge, skills, and abilities does this applicant have that make him/her capable of performing this job?
The above applicant has the most detailed knowledge of the job duties and section responsibilities over all of the other applicants. The applicant has the longest tenure in the section and has throughout his career done all of the job duties and functions within the section. The applicant possesses all of the skills necessary to do the job expected of him and has exhibited those skills, decision making, dependability, knowledge and problem solving to name a few, while doing his existing job duties.
2) What are the strengths that make this applicant able to perform this job?
The applicant's strengths are his overall knowledge of the job duties, responsibilities and functions conducted within the Investigations section. He has great interpersonal skills and the ability to resolve issues that arise with a satisfactory outcome.
3) Why do you feel this applicant is the best suited for this position?
This applicant is the best suited applicant for this position because of his long time experience in the section and his involvement in conducting every job duty that falls within the section's responsibilities. The applicant started his career in this section and has been part of the transition of where the section is today. The applicant possesses a great amount of knowledge about the section's needs and overall functions within the Law Enforcement Division and how important a role this section plays in the overall view of the agency. The applicant is well qualified for the position based on his educational background, continued Law Enforcement Training and his long time dedication to SCDNR.

         ECF No. 46-3 at 30.

         In deposition, Sullivan has further described his reasons for choosing Pritcher. Sullivan began his career as a marine theft investigator with DNR's predecessor agency in 1984 and worked much of his career as an investigator. Sullivan Dep. 8-30, 132-33. Sullivan and Pritcher began working together as investigators when Pritcher transferred to the Investigations Section in 1999. Id. at 75. In 2005, Sullivan, Pritcher, and other then-investigators competed for the previous L-I position-a position for which Sullivan was chosen. Id. at 21-22. At that time the Investigations Section was comprised of three investigators: Sullivan and Pritcher and one other. Id. at 27. During his tenure as L-I, Sullivan hired three additional investigators, including Plaintiff; he supervised those investigators as well as an officer in the marine-theft office. Id. at 29-30.

         At the time he chose Plaintiff as an investigator, Sullivan also interviewed several males.[7] Sullivan Dep. 102, 133. Sullivan recalls having met Plaintiff when she began as a field officer, and Plaintiff was working in the Education Section when Sullivan began in the Investigations Section in 1999. Sullivan Dep. 85. In December 2011, four other officers were transferred to the Investigations Section and were under Sullivan's supervision. Sullivan Dep. at 25. It was then that Sullivan's position was reclassified to that of captain. Id. at 23-24. Sullivan is still a captain and reports directly to Colonel Frampton and Executive Director Taylor. Id. at 24.

         As noted above, it was after Sullivan became a captain that it was determined that the L-I position at issue would be reinstated. Sullivan drafted a position description, which was approved and posted. After the application period ended, Sullivan obtained the applicants' submissions from HR, assembled an interview panel, and scheduled interviews. Sullivan Dep. 38, 46-47.

         Going into the interviews, Sullivan expected there were three applicants who were "fairly close in some qualifications": Plaintiff, Pritcher, and Tony Spires. Sullivan Dep. 67. Sullivan "felt like [those three] were pretty close based on their time in the department." He had not reviewed their training, credentials, and accomplishments at that time. Id. at 80. Sullivan's determination of who should get the job would be based on the candidates' credentials, their interviews, and his experience supervising them. Id. at 81.

         Sullivan indicated Plaintiff was not as confident or direct in her answers during the interview for the L-I position as he recalled her having been during the interview for the investigator's job in 2007. Sullivan Dep. 102. He "didn't think she had a good interview" for the L-I job, noting she began answering many questions based on her own experience as an investigator ...


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