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Wallace v. Shadden

May 30, 2002

KATHERINE T. WALLACE, APPELLANT,
v.
SKADDEN, ARPS, SLATE, MEAGHER & FLOM LLP, ET AL., APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CA-8634-95 & CA-1053-96) (Hon. Geoffrey M. Alprin, Trial Judge)

Before Steadman and Reid, Associate Judges, and Belson, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reid, Associate Judge

Argued April 11, 2002

These are consolidated cases involving an action for discrimination brought by appellant Katherine T. Wallace, Ph.D, against her former law firm and individual partners of the firm, appellees Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP ("Skadden") and Antoinette Cook Bush, Thomas J. Casey, and Neal S. McCoy (collectively "appellees"). Dr. Wallace appeals from the grant of summary judgment in favor of appellees on her discrimination complaint (No. 00-CV-1168), and from judgments relating to costs awarded to appellees (Nos. 00-CV-844 & 00-CV-1330). *fn1 We affirm.

FACTUAL SUMMARY

Dr. Wallace's background and part of the history of this case are set forth in Wallace I and need not be repeated. Suffice it here to highlight only a few salient facts. *fn2 Dr. Wallace began work at Skadden on September 7, 1993. She was assigned to Skadden's International Trade Group. After Dr. Wallace encountered problems in that practice group, she was transferred to the Communications Group where she worked until she was terminated on September 20, 1995.

Following her termination, Dr. Wallace filed a defamation complaint against Skadden and others in November 1995, followed by a discrimination complaint in September 1996. Her discrimination complaint contained four counts: (1) discrimination in compensation based on race and marital status (married and the mother of three children) in that she was denied a full mid-year discretionary bonus; (2) discrimination in the terms and conditions of employment because her ninety-day probation status was discriminatory and pretextual based on race and marital status; (3) discriminatory discharge conducted in a manner to humiliate her because of her race and marital status; and (4) discrimination traceable to Skadden's refusal to refer her for other employment, which deprived her of employment opportunities because of her race and marital status.

Eventually, appellees filed a motion for summary judgment on the discrimination complaint in September 1999, and Dr. Wallace filed an opposition. *fn3 The trial court issued an order granting defendants/appellees' summary judgment motion on Dr. Wallace's discrimination complaint. In essence, the trial court found that there was a "lack of evidence upon which a jury could reasonably conclude that [defendants/appellees'] `for cause' explanations were a pretext for discrimination based on plaintiff's race and/or marital status . . . ." Specifically, the trial court concluded, in part:

The evidentiary record before the court is replete with examples of the numerous ways in which plaintiff's work product and attitude did not satisfy the rigorous standards mandated by the Firm. Of particular significance is the fact that plaintiff does not contest that she received several negative or "mixed" reviews and made errors in performing the tasks assigned . . . . Moreover, the explanations plaintiff offers to excuse her repeated failure to meet deadlines, reluctance to work the hours required, typographical and substantive errors, insubordinate attitude toward superiors, inability to take criticism and failure to meet client expectations do not give rise to the requisite showing of pretext sufficient to rebut defendants' stated legitimate business reasons. Furthermore, plaintiff's contention that defendants' unreasonable performance expectations give rise to an inference of pretext is undermined by her own deposition testimony in an unrelated case. Plaintiff was asked:

Did you think any aspect of your evaluation in the summer of 1995 was unfair because of your race?[To which she responded] No. Toni Cook Bush, [one of the three-named partner defendants,] is black. I don't think that she was. She does everything she can to try and protect me and give me whatever advice she can give me. So I take from her that there was a true concern, whether or not it is something that was procedural or substantive, that is something that I have to deal with and that I can effectively deal with just by tightening up my office procedures.

In a footnote, the trial court stated that although the focus of its order was the pretext issue, Dr. Wallace failed to satisfy the fourth element of a prima facie discrimination case.

Later, in response to Skadden's motion for costs in both the defamation and discrimination actions, the trial court awarded only a portion of the amount requested: $1,500.00 in defamation costs compared with the demand for $7,282.72, and $7,342.72 in the discrimination action instead of the requested $22,226.23.

Dr. Wallace filed timely ...


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