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Press Release

Federal Jury Vindicates Navy’s Merit Selection Promotion Process, Rejects Allegations of Discrimination

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of California

Assistant U. S. Attorney Morgan Suder (619) 546-8819 and Betsey Boutelle (619) 546-8764  

NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – November 2, 2022

SAN DIEGO – A federal jury has returned a unanimous verdict on Thursday in favor of the United States, rejecting allegations that the Navy wrongfully discriminated in selecting a Hispanic applicant over a Caucasian applicant for a supervisory engineering position in 2018. 

The dispute focused on the process for promoting civilian engineers at Fleet Readiness Center Southwest (“FRCSW”), which supports the nation’s aviation warfighters through overhaul, repair, and maintenance of Navy and Marine Corps front line tactical, logistical, and rotary-wing aircraft and their components. In 2018, FRCSW posted a vacancy announcement for a Supervisory Electronics Engineer, a high-level supervisory position requiring excellent communication, problem-solving, and collaboration skills. The plaintiff, Brett Gardner, one of three internal applicants, was not selected.  Gardner then initiated administrative proceedings, alleging that the selecting official, a Hispanic woman, discriminated against him based on race.  Two years later, the plaintiff voluntarily left the Navy to start a consulting business.

Following a lengthy administrative process and two years of litigation in U.S. District Court, the case proceeded to trial before a jury on October 24, 2022.   During four days of evidence, multiple current and former FRCSW employees testified, about the thorough, unbiased process the Navy follows to ensure that promotion decisions are based on merit, not on impermissible factors such as race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, or disability.

During the 2018 promotion process, the selecting official—the department head of Avionics and Propulsion and Power—appointed a three-member advisory panel to evaluate the applicants.  One panel member served as EEO representative for the process, and he received additional EEO training immediately before the candidate interviews. 

The advisory panel members all testified that they independently reviewed and scored the applicants’ resumes, and that each candidate was asked the same five interview questions. The selecting official explained that she drafted the interview questions but gave the panel chairperson flexibility to modify them if desired. 

The three panel members all testified that they scored the candidates based on merit, and that the selected candidate outperformed the plaintiff in the interview process. They presented the scores and a recommendation to the selecting official, and she followed the panel’s recommendation.  Many witnesses testified about the selecting official, emphasizing that she makes promotion decisions based on qualifications, not on race or other impermissible factors. She had promoted numerous Navy engineers of many races over the past decades, and she did not consider race in any of those decisions.

After deliberating less than an hour, the jury of seven citizens returned a unanimous verdict for the Navy on October 27, 2022, rejecting the claims of racial discrimination. 

“The jury’s verdict confirms that the Navy’s process in this case was fair and merit-based,” said First Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Haden. Haden thanked the trial team for their excellent work on this case.

“Fleet Readiness Center Southwest takes its duty to eliminate discrimination seriously,” said Katerina Chau, attorney with the Office of Counsel, Fleet Readiness Center Southwest.  “We thank the jury for their time in hearing and considering the evidence in this important case.”

Case Number

Brett Gardner v. Secretary of the Navy, 20-cv-2172-MMA-RBB


  1. Race Discrimination in Violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Unanimous Jury Verdict in favor of the Navy)
  2. Retaliation in Violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Summary Judgment entered for the Navy prior to trial)


Department of the Navy – Fleet Readiness Center Southwest        

Updated November 2, 2022

Civil Rights
Press Release Number: CAS22-1102-Gardner