“Disturbing Procedural Practices” Support Employee’s Claim of Discrimination

Harrison Paige

In Edwards v. Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control, Chris Edwards, a Black man, brought claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), alleging that the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control (“OBN”) refused to promote him to the Agent in Charge (“AIC”) position because of his race. On January 30, 2017, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma denied OBN’s motion for summary judgment.

In its motion, OBN argued that Mr. Edwards did not receive the promotion because he (1) was not qualified for the position, and (2) performed poorly during the interview. In response, Plaintiff argued that, with respect to the first point, OBN did not consider qualification in its decision. Mr. Edwards alleged that the OBN division director responsible for hiring for the AIC position, Darrell Weaver, preselects candidates for promotions and holds sham interviews to hide the preselection, thereby making a candidate’s qualifications for the position obsolete. In support, Mr. Edwards alleged that, on previous occasions, Mr. Weaver had sent employees through “chief school” before those employees had been promoted to the “chief” position; Mr. Weaver then held interviews with those two employees for the chief role and, unsurprisingly, chose them for the job.

With the AIC position, Mr. Edwards claimed that Mr. Weaver traveled with another OBN employee, Brian Veazey, to Philadelphia “just before the AIC interview” and gave Mr. Veazey the same preselection treatment as the two employees sent to “chief school” by promoting Mr. Veazey to the AIC position after the trip. With respect to Mr. Edwards’ alleged poor interview performance, although Mr. Edwards conceded that he “froze” during the interview, Plaintiff argued that Mr. Veazey performed poorly at his interview as well, according to Mr. Veazey’s own self-rating.

Mr. Edwards further argued that Mr. Weaver chose Mr. Veazey, who is of Hispanic descent, for the AIC position to shield against accusations that he held animosity against Hispanics. Around the time of the AIC vacancy, OBN was facing a separate employment discrimination lawsuit brought by a Hispanic plaintiff, William Diaz. A longtime coworker of Mr. Weaver who testified at the Diaz trial observed that Mr. Weaver “tends to frame things in the light that best suits him,” implying that he would make employment decisions to save face in the wake of the discrimination lawsuit.

Ultimately, the Court denied Defendant’s motion, finding that Mr. Edwards had produced evidence from which the inference could be drawn that OBN’s reasons for denying him a promotion were pretextual. Mr. Edwards possessed the bachelor’s degree required for the job, as well as 18 years of relevant experience—far greater than the job requirement of three years’ law enforcement experience. Further, unlike Mr. Veazey, Mr. Edwards had never been reprimanded by OBN. Ultimately, the court found that Mr. Edwards had “combatted Defendant’s reasons with ‘evidence that the employer didn’t really believe its proffered reasons for action and thus may have been pursuing a hidden discriminatory agenda.”

If you believe your employer has discriminated against you because of your race, including subjecting you to unfair hiring or interviewing procedures, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.