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U.S. Equal Employment v. American Samoa Government

October 5, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Michael Seabright United States District Judge



On August 30, 2011, Plaintiff U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("Plaintiff" or "EEOC") filed this action asserting that Defendant American Samoa Government ("ASG") and its Department of Human Resources ("DHR")*fn1 subjected employee Eseneiaso Liu and a class of similarly situated individuals to unfavorable job reassignments and other adverse employment actions on the basis of age in violation of Age Discrimination Employment Act of 1967, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. (the "ADEA").

Currently before the court is ASG's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment to Limit Scope of Claims in Lawsuit. ASG argues that the EEOC seeks to use discovery impermissibly to find and assert discrimination claims throughout the entire ASG, even though its investigation and conciliation during the administrative process was limited to Liu and the DHR. Based on the following, the court GRANTS the ASG's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment.


A. The ASG and the DHR

The Territory of American Samoa has a total land area of seventy-six square miles, which consists of five islands and two atolls. See Doc. No. 36-20, Pl.'s Ex. 19. The largest island, Tutuila Island, is only eighteen miles long and six miles wide, Doc. No. 36-21, Pl.'s Ex. 20, and is where all of the ASG's departments are located, save for some satellite offices on other islands. Doc. No. 36-22, Pl.'s Ex. 21.

Despite America Samoa's limited geographical size, the ASG has thirty-three departments and/or offices, and employs approximately 5,000 people.

See Doc. No. 31-10, Evelyn Langford Decl. ¶ 2.*fn2 Each department/office is overseen by a director, who generally has authority over only that specific department/office. Id. ¶ 3.

The DHR consists of approximately forty-seven employees and is overseen by Evelyn Langford, who was appointed by Governor Togiola Tulafono to the position of Director of the DHR in January 2009. Id. ¶ 4; Doc. No. 36-5, Pl.'s Ex. 4 at EEOC00064. The DHR is in charge of government-wide, centralized personnel policies and practices. Doc. No. 36-19, Liu Decl. ¶ 9. As a result, Langford's duties include, among other things, implementing, administering, and ensuring compliance with EEO policies and the Affirmative Action plan throughout the ASG, see ASG Admin. Code §§ 4.0237, 4.1103, as well as approving removals, suspensions, demotions, and involuntary reassignments of all ASG employees. Id. §§ 4.0802, 4.0804(a).

B. Liu's Charge of Discrimination

In August 2009, Liu, an employee in the DHR, filed a Charge of Discrimination ("Charge") with the EEOC asserting, among other things, that the DHR had discriminated against her on the basis of age. Doc. No. 36-2, Pl.'s Ex. 1.

Specifically, the Charge asserts:

On March 20, 2009, [Langford] announced in a staff meeting that all employees (50 years and older) should retire and let the younger generation take over their jobs. In the same meeting, [Langford] also said that she does not want to give orders to a female who was in the same age group because it was giving orders to her own grandmother.

On April 6, 2009, [Langford] issued me a letter reassigning [me] from my Chief, Personnel Division position to Chief, Human Capital Strategic Planning Division. This position did not exist in the Human Resources Organizational Chart. Further, I do not believe that I am qualified to perform the position's duties. I am aware that a younger, male was placed in my previous position.

I believe that I have been discriminated against because of my age (59) in violation of the [ADEA] . . . .


C. The EEOC Investigation

The EEOC proceeded to investigate Liu's Charge. In an August 26, 2009 Notice of Charge of Discrimination addressed to Langford, "Human Resources Director, American Samoa Government, Dept of Human Resources," the EEOC asked that she provide by September 28, 2009 "a statement of your position on the issues covered by [Liu's Charge] . . . ." Doc. No. 36-3, Pl.'s Ex. 2.

On October 15, 2009, Langford responded by outlining her non- discriminatory reasons for transferring Liu and explaining her statements at the March 20, 2009 meeting. Doc. No. 36-12, Pl.'s Ex. 11, at EEOC00345. Langford explained that on March 20, 2009 she held her initial department meeting to explain her "guidance and vision in accordance with . . . 1) Governor's vision of the Department of Human Resources[;] 2) Governor's Transition Report, December 2008[;] 3) Legislative Branch (Senate & House) during Confirmation Hearings[; and] 4) DHR Employee Interviews (conducted with every DHR Employee upon my arrival)[.]" Id. She further explained that her comment at the meeting that she did not want to give orders to a female in the same age group was "in relation to the cultural aspects of rendering respect for our elders." Id. Langford also denied that she stated that all employees fifty years and older should retire. Rather, Langford asserted that she referred to the retirement of the "senior workforce" in conjunction with a retirement package incentive to be introduced by Governor Tulafono in the next legislative session. Id.; see also Doc. No. 36-5, Pl.'s Ex. 4, at EEOC00065 (Langford EEOC interview in which she reiterated that her comment regarding the "senior work force" was directed to the Governor's plan for a retirement package incentive "across the government" to free up positions held by top level individuals for more vacancies for mid-level managers and students returning home).

Langford attached to her position statement a press release providing Governor Tulafono's July 13, 2009 statement to the legislature explaining his legislative agenda, which included ...

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