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BOYD v. SNOW

LINDA BOYD, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN W. SNOW, Secretary of the Treasury, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROSEMARY COLLYER, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Linda Boyd brings this action against her employer, the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS"), under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.*fn1 She asserts that her first-level supervisor, Joel Helke, sexually harassed her; that the agency retaliated against her after she reported his alleged harassment; and that Mr. Helke violated the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a(b), by disclosing her rebuttal statement to her June 1999 performance evaluation to others in the office. Pending before the Court is the IRS's motion for summary judgment. For the following reasons, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part. Judgment will be granted in the IRS's favor on Ms. Boyd's retaliation claim, but trial will proceed on her sexual harassment and Privacy Act claims.

I.

  On July 6, 1998, Ms. Boyd began working as a trial attorney in the IRS's Office of Chief Counsel, Field Services Division ("FS Division"), Financial Institutions and Products Branch ("FIP Branch"). Previously, she had clerked for a judge on the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, had worked in private practice, and had served in the Office of the Attorney General of Maryland According to Ms. Boyd, she was hired at the IRS "at the grade 13, step 10 and after one year [she was to] be promoted to a grade 14, step 10." Pl.'s Dep. at 27. From July 6, 1998, to June 20, 1999, Mr. Helke was Chief of the FIP Branch and thus Ms. Boyd's first-level supervisor. Deborah Butler, then Assistant Chief Counsel of the FS Division, and Curtis Wilson, then Deputy Assistant Chief Counsel, were Ms. Boyd's second-level supervisors during that same time period.

  Ms. Boyd alleges that Mr. Helke "started harassing and intimidating her, making inappropriate sexual remarks, touching himself in private areas, and creating a hostile work environment almost immediately after [she] began working at the agency and continued for most of the one year period of his supervision of [her]." Pl.'s Mem. of Pts. & Auths. in Opp. to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. ("Pl.'s Opp.") at 3. Specifically, she asserts that Mr. Helke backed her into a file cabinet or wall and touched her shoulders or arms once in October 1998, twice in November 1998, once in December 1998, once in January 1999, and twice in February 1999. Pl.'s Dep. at 65-69, 72-79, 79-81, 90-92, 109. Ms. Boyd also contends that "any time [she] saw [Mr. Helke] he would invariably make a sexual reference of some sort or he would stand there and grab his penis and testicles and rearrange himself." Id. at 53. His remarks allegedly included, "I wish I were wellhung" and "I'm having trouble getting it up." Id. at 51.

  Ms. Boyd initially complained about Mr. Helke's conduct to Patrick Putzi and Eileen Shatz following the alleged incidents in October and November 1998 and February 1999, respectively. Mr. Putzi and Ms. Shatz were senior, non-supervisory attorneys assigned to Ms. Boyd's section. Ms. Boyd later voiced her concerns to Teri Culbertson, Technical Assistant for the Assistant Chief Counsel, on March 5, 1999. Ms. Culbertson suggested that Ms. Boyd talk about her problem with Mr. Wilson, which she did on March 10 or 11, 1999. During her first meeting with Mr. Wilson, Ms. Boyd told him "about Helke's harassment, including the physical part, but downplayed the physical part because she was terrified of what Helke would do if he found out." Pl.'s Opp. at 5. She also asked to be transferred out of the FS Division. Ms. Boyd had two other similar discussions with Mr. Wilson in March and one in May.

  On May 13, 1999, Ms. Boyd met with Ms. Butler and Mr. Wilson regarding Mr. Helke's treatment of her. Ms. Boyd again asked for a transfer. The next day, Ms. Butler and Mr. Wilson met with Carol Nachman, Special Counsel, and Mr. Helke. Both Ms. Nachman and Mr. Helke denied Ms. Boyd's allegations. On May 17, 1999, Ms. Butler and Mr. Wilson contacted Judith Dunn, Associate Chief Counsel, and Daniel Wiles, Deputy Associate Chief Counsel. Mr. Wiles recommended that Ms. Butler contact Elaine Green, Director of the Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") Office. Thereafter, Ms. Green assigned Bea Bernfeld to interview Ms. Boyd and Mr. Helke. Both interviews occurred by June 1, 1999. Ms. Bernfeld apparently concluded that Ms. Boyd's claims did not constitute sexual harassment, although she did consider them serious. Ms. Butler and Ms. Bernfeld therefore discussed other available options. Ms. Green arranged for JoAnn Vaught to consult with Mr. Helke and make recommendations on how to improve the situation within the FIP Branch.

  In subsequent meetings between Ms. Boyd and Ms. Butler, Ms. Butler remarked that Ms. Boyd would need a waiver from her union before being allowed to change positions due to the freeze on transfers. Ironically, on May 17, 1999, Mr. Helke informed Ms. Boyd that he was moving her office closer to his. Frightened at this prospect, Ms. Boyd called Dan Wiles, Deputy Chief Counsel, and arranged a meeting for May 19, 1999. Mr. Wiles said that he would consider her issues concerning Mr. Helke and her request for a transfer, and that he would stop her office move. In addition, he "advised that he wanted to have an EEO representative look into her allegations." Def.'s Mem. of Pts. & Auths. in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. ("Def.'s Mot.") at 7. A couple of days later, Mr. Wiles told Ms. Boyd that he wanted her to stay in the FS Division pending an evaluation by Mr. Helke. Ms. Boyd received her final evaluation on June 9, 1999. Although Ms. Boyd's ratings in nine of 24 categories were lower than what she had been given in April 1999, Pl.'s Dep. at 125, her overall rating remained the same, "fully successful." On June 11, 1999, Mr. Wiles and Mr. Wilson met with Ms. Boyd and, with the approval of the union, offered to transfer her to another division, Branch 4.

  On June 16, 1999, Ms. Boyd delivered to Ms. Butler a rebuttal statement to the June 1999 performance appraisal. Mr. Helke's supervisors then instructed him to prepare a response to her allegations of discrimination and harassment. He allegedly showed the rebuttal statement to several branch attorneys, including Elizabeth Handler.

  Ms. Boyd contacted an EEO counselor on July 7 or 8, 1999. On October 22, 1999, she filed a formal administrative complaint with the IRS's EEO office. A final agency decision was issued on May 31, 2001.

  II.

  Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). This procedural device is not a "disfavored legal shortcut" but a fair and efficient method of resolving cases expeditiously. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327 (1986). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the Court must view all facts and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Tao v. Freeh, 27 F.3d 635, 638 (D.C. Cir. 1994).

 
Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. . . . [S]ummary judgment will not lie if the dispute about a material fact is "genuine," that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable ...

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