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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

November 7, 2019

EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Plaintiff,
v.
BOARD OF REGENTS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN SYSTEM, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          James D. Peterson District Judge.

         Plaintiff Equal Employment Opportunity Commission brought this suit on behalf of Bambi Butzlaff Voss, who worked as a university services program associate for defendant Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System until she was laid off in May 2016. EEOC alleges that the Board rejected Butzlaff Voss's application for another position because of her age, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

         The Board has filed a motion for summary judgment, which the court will deny. Although EEOC hasn't presented any evidence directly pointing to age bias, it has adduced evidence that Butzlaff Voss was significantly more qualified than the Board's chosen applicant (who is 30 years younger than Butzlaff Voss) and that the subjective, vague reasons the Board gave for its decision are pretexts. That is enough to show a genuine issue of material fact, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 56, so EEOC is entitled to present its claim to a jury.

         UNDISPUTED FACTS

         The following facts are undisputed, unless otherwise noted.

         Bambi Butzlaff Voss was a university services program associate in the marketing department at UW-Waukesha, which is one of 13 two-year campuses around the state. Collectively, these campuses are called UW Colleges and are part of the University of Wisconsin System.

         As a services program associate, Butzlaff Voss was responsible for assisting in the development of campus printed-materials and website maintenance; serving as the campus public information officer; planning campus events; serving as campus liaison to UW-Waukesha alumni and friends; hiring, training, and supervising student employees to assist with departmental projects; and assisting with other campus and departmental activities as needed. Butzlaff Voss says that she performed additional duties as well, including running the marketing department when the director position was vacant, writing news releases, developing education ads, designing online promotional materials, editing videos, managing the website and social media, videotaping student interviews, archiving, and building relationships with high school counselors.

         In 2015, in response to budget cuts, UW Colleges consolidated its marketing departments from its 13 campuses into one centralized office. Butzlaff Voss's position was identified as one of 13 positions that would be eliminated due to the centralization of marketing and communications. Butzlaff Voss and the employees identified for lay off were invited to apply for any of the seven positions that were then available in the centralized office.

         Butzlaff Voss selected four of the seven positions, including the associate marketing and communications specialist position, which was an entry-level position. She was 53 years old at the time. She had 26 years of experience working in the UW system and 37 years of experience in the field of communications and marketing.

         A six-person committee conducted the recruiting process. Rodee Schneider (the associate director of marketing for UW Colleges) was the chair of the committee, which also included Vicki Keegan (the director of the marketing department). The committee decided to interview all of the internal candidates before considering outside applicants.

         The committee interviewed Butzlaff Voss between January 28 and 30, 2016. She was not selected for any of the positions she requested. The committee members unanimously agreed not to choose Butzlaff Voss, but Schneider made the final decision. The committee also rejected the other internal candidates who applied for the position.[1]

         The associate marketing and communications specialist position was reposted and this time outside candidates were allowed to apply. Again, Schneider was the chair of the recruitment committee. Butzlaff Voss submitted another application in response to the outside job posting, but she was not interviewed.

         The committee selected five finalists for an interview, including IF, who was 23 years old at the time.[2] IF had been working as a student intern for marketing at UW Colleges for approximately two months. She worked at central marketing and Schneider supervised her. Before working for UW Colleges, she had 11 months of experience in the field of communications and marketing.

         Other finalists included HH, MO, SN, and SK. HH graduated from college in 2013, had no more than one year of experience working as an intern in the UW system, and had no more than one year of professional experience in the field of communications and marketing. MO graduated from college in 2013, had no experience working in the UW system, and one year of professional experience in the field of communications and marketing. SN graduated from college in 2013 and had no experience working in the UW system. ...


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