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Coles v. Kelly Services

October 17, 2003


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rosemary M. Collyer, United States District Judge.


Pending before the Court is Kelly Services, Inc.'s ("Kelly Services") motion for summary judgment. Elena Coles, who is proceeding pro se, opposes this motion.*fn1 At issue is whether Kelly Services violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"), by allegedly subjecting Ms. Coles to sexual harassment and then discharging her after she complained. Having carefully considered the parties' briefs and accompanying materials, the Court grants Kelly Services's motion for summary judgment and dismisses the complaint.*fn2


Kelly Services, a temporary employment agency, hired Ms. Coles on September 6, 2000, and placed her as a medical clerk/receptionist in the Infectious Disease Clinic ("Clinic") at Walter Reed Army Medical Center ("WRAMC" or "Walter Reed").*fn4 At the time of the relevant events, Kelly Services maintained a management office in Building 1 at WRAMC, which was within immediate walking distance of the Clinic. Ms. Coles visited that office each Friday to turn in her timecard. Kelly Services's on-site supervisors were Linda Pree and Mona Ghounem. Ann DeSoto, a Supervisory Administrative Coordinator at the Clinic, oversaw Ms. Coles's work and usually signed her weekly timecard. See Pl. Opp. Ex. 4.

In April 2001, Sgt. Gregory Lawrence became the Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge of the Clinic. Sgt. Lawrence interacted with Ms. Coles on a daily basis, although he did not possess any supervisory authority over her. Ms. Coles alleges that Sgt. Lawrence sexually harassed her beginning on May 24, 2001. Specifically, she claims that he sent her between five and ten sexually-explicit e-mails from May 24 until June 25, 2001, and described a sexual encounter in front of her.*fn5 Coles Dep. at 96-97, 104. When Ms. Coles made it clear that she wanted this behavior to cease, she asserts that Sgt. Lawrence began to make physically threatening gestures toward her and that he swore at her and used profanity. For example, on July 3, 2001, Ms. Coles observed a patient waiting for Sgt. Lawrence to take his blood pressure. When she reminded Sgt. Lawrence that the patient was waiting for him, Sgt. Lawrence allegedly spoke rudely and harshly to her. Pl. Opp. Ex. 10.

These matters came to a head on Friday, July 6, 2001. That morning there was just "normal clinic business[.]" Coles Dep. at 120. Later, however, as described by Ms. Coles,

[Around 3:30 p.m.,] I went into the waiting room, and a tennis match was on. So I was just sitting there briefly. [Sgt. Lawrence] came in, and he told me that he was watching something. I told him that no one was in the waiting room while I was there. He went on over to the television and turned it off. I told him that he was being rude, so I turned it back on. It just continued back and forth. He made a threatening gesture towards me, and told me to get the f--- out.

Id. at 122-23. At this point, Ms. Coles decided to report Sgt. Lawrence's behavior, which she had not done previously. She immediately went to see Mr. Ansley, complaining about sexual harassment by Sgt. Lawrence and describing his conduct that she considered threatening. Mr. Ansley was "busy at the moment" and told Ms. Coles to wait in his office, during which time she called the Kelly Services office in Building 1. Id. at 125. She states that she informed the receptionist at Kelly Services that she "was being sexually harassed and threatened" and that she wanted to speak with either Ms. Pree or Ms. Ghounem. Id. at 128. "The receptionist said they were unavailable and to call back on Monday, July 9." Id. at 130. Mr. Ansley returned to his office shortly after Ms. Coles concluded her call.

In the meantime, Sgt. Lawrence reported a very different version of the July 6th encounter to his superiors at WRAMC.*fn6 In a memorandum prepared on July 6, 2001, Sgt. Lawrence wrote that he was watching television in the waiting room when Ms. Coles entered the room and changed the channel:

I then said, "Ms. Coles, what are you doing, do you see me in here watching television?" Ms. Coles then said," [ sic ] I want to watch the tennis match." Then I said "No, I was watching television and that is rude to come in here and change the channel while I was watching television." As I tried to change the channel Ms. Coles smacked my hands. I then said to her "Ms. Coles, please do not touch me again." I then tried to change the channel again, and a second time Ms. Coles smacked my hands down. I told Ms. Coles "No one was watching television and that she needed to leave the lounge area so that I could lock up the lounge." Ms. Coles then said to me "You are the most ghetto and ignorant bastard that I have ever met." I then said "Thank you Ms. Coles."... I reported this to Dr. [Clifton] Hawkes[, Chief of the Infectious Disease Service,] and [said] that I could no longer work with Ms. Coles.

Pl. Opp. Ex. 8. While Ms. Coles was talking with Mr. Ansley, Sgt. Lawrence was meeting with Dr. Hawkes. Ms. Coles later spoke to Dr. Hawkes by telephone from her home. She reported her allegations of sexual harassment and threatening behavior and profanity directed toward her by Sgt. Lawrence. Dr. Hawkes stated that he wanted to arrange a meeting for Ms. Coles, Sgt. Lawrence and himself to discuss the situation and improve their ability to work together. Ms. Coles responded that she had to prepare a written statement and have one of her supervisors from Kelly Services in attendance. When Dr. Hawkes suggested that she not involve Kelly Services, Ms. Coles insisted that, based on Kelly Services's policy, all allegations of harassment must be reported.

On Sunday, July 8, 2001, Mr. Ansley contacted Ms. Coles at her home and purportedly encouraged her not to write a statement or to report sexual harassment by Sgt. Lawrence. Ms. Coles informed Mr. Ansley that she was afraid of Sgt. Lawrence and that she was not going to return to WRAMC until she had reported sexual harassment to Kelly Services.

When Ms. Coles called Kelly Services to speak with either Ms. Ghounem or Ms. Pree on Monday morning, July 9th, they were again unavailable and she left a message "stating that she was not going to be at work because she did not feel safe being around Sgt. Lawrence." Pl. Opp. at 7. She also called Ms. DeSoto at 6:00 a.m. that morning to inform Ms. DeSoto that "she was supposed to come in for a meeting with Dr. Hawkes, but that she had been unable to get in contact with her Kelly Services supervisors Mona Ghounem and Linda Pree." Id. at 8. In that conversation, Ms. Coles related the incident of July 6th, but did not describe any of the other alleged harassment or threats. Coles Dep. at 150-51; Pl. Opp. Ex. 12. Ms. Coles spoke with Mr. Ansley on Monday, as well, telling him that she would not be in to work because she had not yet spoken with her supervisors at Kelly Services. Coles Dep. at 151-52. She called Dr. Hawkes in the afternoon of July 9th to give him the same message. Id. at 152. During Ms. Coles's conversation with Dr. Hawkes, he told her that Kelly Services had fired her because of a timecard discrepancy for lunch on Friday, July 6, 2001. Coles Dep. at 153-56. Ms. Coles responded that it was strange that there was a sudden timecard discrepancy right after she had registered a complaint regarding sexual harassment. Id. She did not hear from Kelly Services on that day, however, so she was unable to confirm her employment status.

On that same Monday, July 9, 2001, Ms. DeSoto contacted Ms. Ghounem at Kelly Services and informed Ms. Ghounem that Ms. Coles had falsified her timecard,*fn7 had been rude to patients and co-workers, and had slapped a co-worker's hand.*fn8 Pl. Opp. Ex. 19. Ms. DeSoto also told Ms. Ghounem that Ms. Coles had resigned her assignment at the Clinic; Ms. DeSoto asked Kelly Services to send a replacement. ...

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