North Island engineer has racial hiring discrimination claim rejected by jury

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Alex Riggins

The San Diego Union-Tribune

A federal jury has rejected the claim of a White civilian engineer who worked for the Navy in Coronado and claimed he was racially discriminated against when his Hispanic supervisor promoted his Hispanic colleague to a supervisory position instead of him.

Brett Gardner, a senior avionics engineer who worked at Naval Air Station North Island’s Fleet Readiness Center Southwest, sued the secretary of the Navy in 2020, claiming he was discriminated against because of his race and ethnicity. He also claimed the same supervisor retaliated against him after he made an equal employment opportunity complaint against her.

The case went to trial last week, and on Thursday the seven-person jury deliberated for about an hour before returning a verdict in favor of the Navy.

The jury decided Gardner and his attorneys had not proven that his race “was a motivating factor” in the “decision to not promote” him, according to the jury form.

One of Gardner’s trial attorneys, D.N. Brady, wrote in an email to the Union-Tribune that he “sees a strong basis for the verdict being reversed on appeal.”

According to court documents in the case, Gardner worked from 2001 to 2020 at the Naval base in Coronado, where he and his colleagues at Fleet Readiness Center Southwest provided support — including overhaul, repair and maintenance — to aircraft from the Navy and Marine Corps. Specifically, Gardner was assigned to a team that worked on F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets.

In the summer of 2018, Gardner and two other men — one White and one Hispanic — applied for a promotion to a supervisor role. Gardner and the candidate who is Hispanic, who had also worked since 2001at Fleet Readiness Center Southwest, ultimately became the two finalists for the position.

In his lawsuit, Gardner claimed that “he had plainly superior qualifications … (but) instead, the position went to a far less qualified Hispanic man.” Gardner claimed that decision was made by a Hispanic supervisor who was part of a “Hispanic Engagement Action Team” in the workplace and “skewed the selection process to favor” the Hispanic candidate.

Attorneys for the Navy argued the hiring decision entailed a standard process that included a three-person advisory and interview panel. The attorneys argued that the candidate who was promoted had better knowledge than Gardner of their employer’s national strategy and priorities. They also argued that while the candidate who was promoted had a lower resumé score than Gardner, he graded out much higher than Gardner in the interview.

“(Gardner’s) supervisors … recognized (his) technical skills but had concerns about his communication issues,” the Navy’s attorneys wrote in one pre-trial filing, noting that these issues were “documented throughout his employment.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office, which represented the Navy, said in a statement that “multiple current and former” employees of Fleet Readiness Center Southwest testified during the trial “about the thorough, unbiased process the Navy follows” to ensure promotions are based on merit and are not discriminatory.

This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.

©2022 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Visit sandiegouniontribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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