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Hopkins v. Women's Division

September 29, 2003

LAURA J. HOPKINS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WOMEN'S DIVISION, GENERAL BOARD OF GLOBAL MINISTRIES, THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter comes before the Court upon the defendants' motion for summary judgment, following the issuance of the Court's December 12, 2002, Memorandum Opinion dismissing all of the plaintiff's claims,*fn1 except for her race discrimination claims under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. See Hopkins v. Women's Div., Gen. Bd. of Global Ministries, 238 F. Supp. 2d 174 (D.D.C. 2002) (Walton, J.). The plaintiff, a Native American of the Cahuilla and Tohono O'Odham tribes, was employed by defendant Women's Division, General Board of Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church ("Women's Division"), Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment ("Defs.' Mot."), Statement of Material Facts as to Which There is No Genuine Issue ("Defs.' Stm. of Mat. Facts") ¶¶ 13, 15, and has asserted claims for disparate treatment for alleged discriminatory actions that occurred during the course of her employment and for discrimination on the basis of her race with respect to her termination. See Amended Complaint and Prayer for Jury Trial ("Am. Compl.") ¶¶ 27-29, 36-38. These claims have been brought against both the United Methodist Church's General Board of Global Ministries' Women's Division and the United Methodist Church's General Board of Global Ministries. Upon consideration of the parties' submissions and for the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant summary judgment to the defendants on these remaining claims.

I. Factual Background

A general factual background regarding all of the plaintiff's claims in her complaint and a brief description of the United Methodist Church and its affiliates is contained in the Court's December 12, 2002, Memorandum Opinion. See Hopkins, 238 F. Supp. 2d at 175-77. However, the Court finds it appropriate to set forth the plaintiff's specific claims with respect to both her disparate treatment claims for adverse actions that occurred during the course of her employment and with respect to the termination of her employment.

(A) Plaintiff's Disparate Treatment Claims During the Course of Her Employment

(1) Denial of Requests for Equipment

The basis for the plaintiff's disparate treatment claim with respect to the alleged denials of her requests for equipment is that she purportedly"repeatedly made requests to her supervisor for necessary office equipment to carry out her job function tasks, and that while her supervisor promptly addressed such requests from her executive peers, she would not address [p]laintiff's requests." Defs.' Stm. of Mat. Facts ¶ 26 (citing Am. Compl. ¶ 15). Specifically, the plaintiff"alleges that she was not given a video TV monitor or a laptop computer[.]" Id. ¶ 28 (citing Defs.' Mot., Ex. B (Plaintiff's Deposition on December 19, 2000) pp. 261:22-262:5, 262:11-14, 263:19-22). However, upon a review of the plaintiff's deposition, it appears that the request for the video TV monitor was for the entire office, which apparently was denied, and the request for the laptop computer was granted, as the plaintiff stated that a laptop computer was designated for the use by the entire office.*fn2 Id. ¶ 29 (citing Defs.' Mot., Ex. B pp. 262:11-265:19). Therefore, while the plaintiff alleges in her Statement of Material Disputed Facts ("Pl.'s Stm. of Mat. Facts") that her"supervisor ignored her requests for supplies (whereas such requests by [her] non-Indian co-workers were immediately approved)," Plaintiff's Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment ("Pl.'s Opp'n") at 8, this statement is contradicted by her deposition testimony. The plaintiff's testimony acknowledges that her request for a video TV monitor was for the office's use and that nobody in the office was given a video TV monitor. In addition, she also states that the entire office was given a laptop computer to use.*fn3 Moreover, the plaintiff has failed to provide any evidence of other requests that were granted by her supervisor to her former non-Indian co-workers.

(2) Requests to Have Support Staff Disciplined

The basis for the plaintiff's disparate treatment claim with respect to alleged requests she made to have a support staff disciplined is that she purportedly"repeatedly made requests to her supervisor to have support staff disciplined for poor job performance, and that while her supervisor promptly addressed such requests from her executive peers, she would not address [p]laintiff's requests." Defs.' Stm. of Mat. Facts ¶ 31 (citing Am. Compl. ¶ 15). However, it appears from the plaintiff's deposition that the support staff member who was performing poorly, Brendell Smith, was also supervised by two other individuals, and one of these individuals also complained about Ms. Smith. Id. ¶¶ 33, 35 (citing Defs.' Mot., Ex. B pp. 276:4-8, 274:6-275:4, 411:1-3.). The defendants note that"[w]hile [p]laintiff asserts that certain of her executive peers were able to have their concerns about support staff addressed, she was unable to name any of these support staff employees, to identify to whom her peers allegedly complained, or to state that she had personal knowledge of what, if any action was taken against these unnamed employees." Id. ¶ 38. Thus, once again, plaintiff's claim is not only contradicted by her deposition testimony, but she fails to provide any evidence that shows that non-Indian employees received preferential treatment.

(3) Complaints about Abusive Work Environment

The basis for the plaintiff's disparate treatment claim with respect to the purported abusive work environment she was subjected to, included her allegations that the same staff person, Ms. Smith, would"not cooperate with tasks that were delegated to her...[,]" that she received"unsolicited sexually-oriented mail... [,]" that her office was vandalized, id. ¶¶ 44 (citing Defs.' Mot., Ex. B pp. 441:7-442:16.), 49 (citing Defs.' Mot., Ex. B p. 290:9-19.), and"work relating to Native American issues was not even distributed[,]" id. ¶ 49 (citing Defs.' Mot., Ex. B p. 290:9-19.). Purportedly, on approximately three separate occasions between the Fall of 1998 and the Spring of 1999, the plaintiff received"sexually oriented mail" at her work site. Id. ¶ 45. On April 27, 1999, the plaintiff sent a memorandum to her supervisor indicating the receipt of this material, but concluding that she believed it was"a waste of time to ponder the possibilities and... that the matter should be dropped, but she would advise [her supervisor] if it should happen again." Id. (citing Defs. Mot., Ex. B-41 (Memorandum from plaintiff to Lois Dauway dated April 27, 1999)).

Sometime during the evening of April 12-13, 1999, the plaintiff's desk was vandalized, causing"damage to her desk drawer, but she did not know if any papers were taken." Id. ¶ 46 (citing Defs. Mot., Ex. B pp. 442:14-444:3.). The defendants have submitted as evidence an April 15, 2003, memorandum from the plaintiff to the Controller of the Women's Division discussing the vandalism, which indicates that others in the office"said they noticed some items in their work areas being moved as well[,]" Def.'s Mot., Ex. C-1 (Memorandum from plaintiff to Connie Takamine dated April 15, 1999), and an April 16, 2003, memorandum from the Women's Division to an employee of the building maintenance department advising the employee about somebody tampering with the plaintiff's desk drawer and complaining that"the'night' clean up crew..." had left the conference room door unlocked on several occasions, Def.'s Mot., Ex. C-2 (Memorandum from Women's Division to Building Maintenance dated April 16, 1999). The April 16 memorandum also requested a meeting to"discuss our concerns and possible repairs to [the plaintiff's] desk." Id.

Finally, with respect to plaintiff's allegation that work relating to Native American issues was not evenly distributed, the plaintiff admitted in her deposition that other staff members worked on Native American issues and that she specifically requested to do work on such issues and attend Native American events. Defs.' Stm. of Mat. Facts ¶¶ 49–51 (citing Def.'s Mot., Ex. B pp. 290:9-19, 290:20-22, 341:14-342:14, 379:19-21, 291:3-293:16; Ex. B-28 (Memorandum from plaintiff to Lois Dauway dated June 12, 19970; Ex. B-29 (Memorandum from plaintiff to Lois Dauway dated February 10, 1998)).

(B) Plaintiff's Disparate Treatment Claim Regarding Her Termination

On Wednesday, June 9, 1999, the plaintiff contacted her supervisor's assistant because the plaintiff needed to inform her supervisor that she could not attend two meetings: the June 14-15, 1999, National Seminar Planning Committee meeting and the June 18-22, 1999, Midwest Regional School meeting. Id. ¶ 70 (citing Defs.' Mot., Ex. B pp. 112:20-114:5.). The "National Seminar Planning Committee is a group of staff that plans the different parts of the National Seminar[,]" which is an event that is held every four years that "provides United Methodist Women from diverse backgrounds and age groups the opportunity to meet on common ground to explore God's requirement in [their] lives." Id. ¶¶ 57-59 (citations omitted). The"[p]laintiff was a part of this planning committee [and was] responsible for heading a group planning issue group discussions to occur on August 15 and 16, 1999." Id. ¶ 60 (citations omitted). According to the defendants, "[a]ttendance at the meeting was essential" because this was the final meeting before the National Seminar and "this was where all the final program plans were being brought together and all the staff of the sections to which [the plaintiff] belonged were expected to be present and to report their progress." Id. ¶¶ 61-62 (citations omitted). The second meeting, the Midwest Regional School meeting is, according to the defendants, "an important annual event." Id. ¶ 65 (citing Defs.' Mot., Ex. B p. 106:12-17.). The

Regional Schools are an annual delegated leadership event sponsored by the Women's Division.... Each school is planned primarily for the elected leaders of the five (5) jurisdictions and conference organizations of United Methodist Women and for those with teaching responsibility in Conference Schools of Christian Mission. Each school is planned by elected representatives of United Methodist Women.

The purpose of Schools of Christian Mission and mission education events is to provide opportunities for persons to grow in understanding of the mission of the Church in the current world context. They give particular attention to the responsibility of women in fulfillment of this mission; strengthen the leadership and membership of United Methodist Women and initiate opportunities for spiritual and educational experiences, especially in preparation for leadership roles in the organization, the Church and the world. Every activity at Regional School should contribute to education for mission.

Id. (citation omitted). The defendants state that all staff were expected to be present at the Regional School to which they were assigned, id. ¶ 66 (citation omitted), and the plaintiff "was responsible for leading six hours of Officer Updates over two days[,]" id. ¶ 68 (Defs.' Mot., Ex. B pp. 106:22-107:8.).

Because the plaintiff's supervisor was out-of-town when the plaintiff contacted the assistant, the assistant forwarded the plaintiff's phone call to the Assistant General Secretary for Administration of the Women's Division (the "AGSA"). Id. ¶¶ 72-74 (citations omitted). The plaintiff told the AGSA that she could not travel for personal reasons. Id. ¶ 77; Defs.' Mot., Ex. B at 117:16-118:19. While the plaintiff states in her affidavit and statement of material facts in dispute that she "sought and obtained the permission of the [AGSA] not to attend the meeting of Jun[e] 14-15, 1999[,]" Pl.'s Stm. of Mat. Facts ¶ 9; Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. B ¶ 6, this is flatly contradicted by her previously provided deposition testimony in which she admits that the AGSA "never gave [her] permission not to attend the two meetings[,]" Defs.' Mot., Ex. B at 121:7-12. In Pyramid Securities Ltd. v. IB Resolution, Inc., 924 F.2d 1114 (D.C. Cir. 1991), the District of Columbia Circuit stated that

[w]here a party emphatically and wittingly swears to a fact, it bears a heavy burden - - even in the summary judgment context - - when it seeks to jettison its sworn statement. Courts have long held that a party may not create a material ...


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