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O'Donnell v. Associated General Contractors of America

August 4, 1994

KAREN O'DONNELL, APPELLANT
v.
ASSOCIATED GENERAL CONTRACTORS OF AMERICA, INC., ET AL, APPELLEES



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; (Hon. Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, Trial Judge)

Before Terry, Steadman, and Sullivan, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sullivan

SULLIVAN, Associate Judge: Appellant, Karen O'Donnell, was terminated by appellee, Associated General Contractors of America, Inc. ("Associated General") in July 1990, after working there for approximately two years. Appellant challenged her termination on a number of grounds and argued primarily that her termination was sexually discriminatory in violation of D.C. Code §§ 1-2501, -2512 (1992 & 1993 Supp.) and 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, -2000e-2 (1988). *fn1 Appellee's defense to all counts was essentially that appellant was fired because she repeatedly complained about and verbally attacked her colleagues.

In an order issued June 25, 1992, the trial Judge granted in part appellee's motion for summary judgment on the ground that appellant had failed to establish a prima facie showing of discrimination in the decision to terminate her. The trial Judge did, however, find that appellant had made a prima facie showing of disparate treatment regarding the manner of termination, thereby withstanding appellee's motion for summary judgment on that claim. Appellee then sought reconsideration of that part of the June 25th order denying its motion for summary judgment. In response to appellee's motion for reconsideration of the issue of discrimination in the manner of termination, the trial Judge reversed her earlier position and granted summary judgment in favor of appellee because appellant had failed to come forward with any evidence, beyond hearsay testimony, to support her claim of disparate treatment.

On appeal, appellant contends that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of appellee on the issue of discriminatory termination and discrimination in the manner of termination. Finding no error, we affirm.

"To prevail upon a motion for summary judgment, the moving party must clearly demonstrate that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that he or she is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Beard v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 587 A.2d 195, 198 (D.C. 1991); Hancock v. Bureau of Nat'l Affairs, Inc., 645 A.2d 588 (D.C. 1994) (affirming grant of summary judgment in favor of employer in employment discrimination suit). The adverse party must present evidence, via affidavit or otherwise, "to demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue for trial." Raskauskas v. Temple Realty Co., 589 A.2d 17, 25 (D.C. 1991). "The evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion, and that party is entitled to all favorable inferences which may reasonably be drawn from the evidentiary materials." Beard, supra, 587 A.2d at 198 (citations omitted). Thus, a motion for summary judgment is properly granted where the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Byrd v. Allstate Ins. Co., 622 A.2d 691 (D.C. 1993).

A. The Decision To Terminate

On reviewing a case of employment discrimination where disparate treatment is alleged[,] this court generally adopts the approach of the Supreme Court with respect to allocation of burdens and order of presentation of proof for a claim of disparate treatment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Shaw Project v. District of Columbia Comm'n on Human Rights, 500 A.2d 251, 253 (D.C. 1985) (per curiam). Here, in order to establish a prima facie case of sexual discrimination in the decision to terminate, appellant had to come forward with evidence that she was fired from a job for which she was qualified while men, similarly situated to her, were not terminated, but rather treated more leniently. Texas Dep't of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 67 L. Ed. 2d 207, 101 S. Ct. 1089 (1981); Bellissimo v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 764 F.2d 175, 179 (3rd Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1035, 89 L. Ed. 2d 353, 106 S. Ct. 1244 (1986); Rowe v. Kidd, 731 F. Supp. 534, 536 (D.D.C. 1990). As the Supreme Court has consistently noted, "the ultimate burden of persuading the trier of fact that the defendant intentionally discriminated against the plaintiff remains at all times with the plaintiff." St. Mary's Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, U.S. , 113 S. Ct. 2742, 2747, 125 L. Ed. 2d. 407 (1993) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Burdine, supra, 450 U.S. at 253).

Appellant did not produce any specific evidence, beyond mere allegations in her complaint, suggesting that the decision to terminate her was discriminatory. In her opposition to appellee's motion for summary judgment, appellant simply stated that she could and would prove her prima facie case at trial. However, "conclusory allegations by the nonmoving party are insufficient to establish a genuine issue of material fact or to defeat the entry of summary judgment." Beard, supra, 587 A.2d at 198. Super. Ct. Civ. R. 56 (e) provides, in relevant part, that:

an adverse party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of the adverse party's pleading[;] the adverse party's response, by affidavits or as otherwise provided in this Rule, must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.

Appellee provided ample evidence establishing that no genuine issue of material fact existed regarding appellant's claim of discriminatory termination. First, it was undisputed that appellant was the only female professional terminated at Associated General since 1985. According to the affidavit of John Gentille, Executive Director of Associated General, four professional men had been terminated in that period for reasons related to conduct. *fn2 Two of those terminated employees, like appellant, received four weeks severance pay, one received two weeks pay, and one received no severance pay at all. Second, Gentille stated in his sworn affidavit that appellant was terminated because of misconduct and not because she was a woman. According to appellee's affidavits, appellant verbally attacked two co-employees, Richard Chriss and Susan Loomis. This attack, in part, caused Loomis, who is Associated General's Executive Director for Congressional Relations, to tender her resignation. Gentille stated that he, along with the other executives of Associated General, wanted Loomis to remain at the company, and therefore decided that appellant should be terminated.

Although appellant has consistently denied any wrongdoing, and thus argues that her firing was not "for cause," as in the cases of the four discharged male employees, she has failed to produce any competent evidence indicating that the decision to terminate her was discriminatory. As Beard, supra, clearly states, appellant's conclusory allegations of discrimination are insufficient to establish a genuine issue of material fact or to defeat the entry of summary judgment. *fn3

Summary judgment for appellee was proper because appellant failed to establish a prima facie case of sex discrimination. See Nader v. de Toledano, 408 A.2d 31, 49 (D.C. 1979); (a plaintiff opposing a motion for summary judgment in essence must produce enough evidence to make out a prima facie case in support of her claim), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 1078, 62 L. Ed. 2d 761, 100 S. Ct. 1028 (1980). On appeal, appellant relies primarily on Proffitt v. Anacomp, Inc., 747 F. Supp. ...


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