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TSEHAYE v. WILLIAM C. SMITH & CO.

September 26, 2005.

TEKLE TSEHAYE, Plaintiff,
v.
WILLIAM C. SMITH & CO., INC., Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOHN BATES, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Tekle Tsehaye brings this discrimination action pursuant to the District of Columbia Human Rights Act ("DCHRA") and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 against defendant William C. Smith & Co., Inc. ("Smith"), asserting claims of discrimination and retaliation based on race and national origin. Presently before the Court is Smith's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the Court will grant Smith's motion for summary judgment.

BACKGROUND

  Smith is a residential property management company headquartered in Washington, D.C. Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Facts at 1 ¶ 1 ("Def.'s Statement"). In 1995, Tsehaye, an Ethiopian male, began working for Smith as a full-time janitor in an apartment building located at 2701 Connecticut Avenue, NW ("2701"). Id. at 2. 2701 contains approximately 71 units. Id. As part of his compensation package, Tsehaye was permitted to live in 2701 without paying rent. Pl.'s Exh. 20. In his capacity as janitor, Tsehaye was responsible for vacuuming, dusting common areas, mopping stairways, preparing vacant apartments for occupancy, and similar tasks. Def.'s Statement at 1-2 ¶ 2. Tsehaye was also hired to perform landscaping duties for 2701. See Tsehaye Aff. at 1-2; see also Pl.'s Statement of Genuine Issues of Material Facts Necessary to be Litigated at 1 ¶ 2, 3 ¶ 9 ("Pl.'s Statement").

  For the first seven years of his employment at 2701, Tsehaye was only loosely supervised. Def.'s Statement at 2 ¶ 3. This laissez-faire approach to employee management was the direct result of an unfortunate combination of employee turnover, illness, and death at the supervisory levels of 2701. Id. at ¶¶ 3, 5, 8, 10. In April of 1997, a new Resident Manager, John Horan, was hired and became Tsehaye's supervisor. Id. at ¶ 5. In January of 1998, Horan also assumed the duties of Property Manager, which required him to manage several properties on a full-time basis while still acting as 2701's Resident Manager part-time. Id. at ¶ 5. Jane Loos took over as the on-site Resident Manager in October 2001, enabling Horan to work solely as Property Manager and to operate off-site from Smith's headquarters. Id. at ¶ 6. As Property Manager, Horan was responsible for maintaining and evaluating the expenses and financial allotments of his properties, overseeing staff management at those properties, and monitoring the condition of those properties. Id. at ¶ 5.

  Shortly after Loos took over, she was diagnosed with terminable cancer and was unable to perform the full functions of her job as Resident Manager, which left Tsehaye and the other 2701 employees without much direct oversight. Id. at 3 ¶ 8. Loos became incapacitated in October 2002, and Smith did not hire a replacement until March 25, 2003. Id. at ¶¶ 8, 11, 12. At this time, Smith employed only one full-time employee in addition to Tsehaye: an African American man by the name of Louis Carter. Id. at ¶ 12. Carter was employed as a Maintenance Engineer, and as such was responsible for making repairs in both occupied and unoccupied units, mostly regarding electrical, heating, and carpentry problems. Id. A part-time janitor named Jose Ramos, of Hispanic origin, was also employed at 2701 beginning in early 2002. Pl.'s Statement at 4 ¶ 22. At this time, Ramos worked four hours per day at 2701. See Plaintiff's Memorandum in Opposition to Defendants Motion for Summary Judgment at 27 ("Pl.'s Mem. Opp'n"); see also Pl.'s Exh. 12.

  On March 25, 2003, Smith hired Susan Petree to replace Loos. Def.'s Statement at 3 ¶ 12. Petree's management style stood in marked contrast to those of Loos and Tsehaye's previous supervisors. Petree ran a tight ship, keeping close tabs on the whereabouts of employees, the hours they worked, and how quickly and thoroughly they completed their assignments. See id. at 4 ¶ 14. She instituted several new policies and procedures, including one that required employees to complete timesheets on a daily basis in order to detail their work hours. Id. She also instituted the use of checklists to ensure that employees completed their tasks in a satisfactory manner. Id.

  From the start, Petree and Tsehaye became embroiled in an intense personality conflict. Petree found Tsehaye to be insubordinate, unresponsive and difficult, and described his job performance as poor. Id. at ¶¶ 14-15. Tsehaye claims that Petree treated him "like a stinking dog", Plaintiff's Complaint at 9 ¶ 40 ("Pl.'s Compl."), by: (1) behaving in an unfriendly manner toward both Tsehaye and his wife, see Pl.'s Statement at 6 ¶ 38; (2) displaying affection for every employee at 2701 but Tsehaye, see id. at 6-7 ¶ 39; (3) paging Tsehaye incessantly, Pl.'s Compl. at 4 ¶ 18; (4) requiring Tsehaye to re-perform tasks that Tsehaye urges he had already completed in a timely and satisfactory fashion, see id. at 8 ¶ 37; (5) yelling at Tsehaye and pointing her fingers in his face, id. at 6-7 ¶ 27, 28; (6) forcing Tsehaye to clean up after other employees, id. at 8 ¶ 37; (7) requiring Tsehaye to work later than he was originally scheduled to work, Pl.'s Compl. at 4 ¶ 18; see also Pl.'s Statement at 7 ¶¶ 40-41; (8) physically jostling Tsehaye in an aggressive fashion, Pl.'s Compl. at 6 ¶ 27; and (9) generally pestering him in an unpleasant manner, see id. at 4-6; see also Pl.'s Statement at 7 ¶¶ 40-42.

  The record establishes that Petree issued a series of memoranda to Tsehaye, citing various inadequacies regarding his performance. See Pl.'s Exh. 23, 24, 40; Def.'s Statement at 5 ¶¶ 18-22. These memoranda generally asked Tsehaye to be more responsive, to be more efficient, to complete his tasks in a proper fashion, and to stop arguing with Petree and resisting her authority. See Pl.'s Exh. 23, 24, 40; Def.'s Statement at 5 ¶¶ 18-22. Tsehaye was never suspended or demoted as a direct result of these memoranda. See Def.'s Statement at 6 ¶ 23.

  Horan had received several complaints about Petree's behavior, from both Tsehaye and Carter. Horan Tr. at 44-45, 54-55, 71; Carter Tr. at 38. In fact, Horan himself has described Petree as "rude," "insubordinate," and "argumentative." Horan Tr. at 39-40, 83. Because Tsehaye and Petree were so openly unable to function in a working relationship, Horan became involved. Horan held a meeting with Tsehaye and Petree on May 21, 2003 in an attempt to mediate their differences. See Horan Tr. at 45-46; Petree Tr. at 86-90. However, this meeting proved unproductive, as it quickly became confrontational and escalated to Tsehaye storming out of the room. See Horan Tr. at 54; Carter Tr. at 72-73; Petree Tr. at 88-89. Tsehaye alleges that he explicitly accused Petree of discrimination at this meeting. Tsehaye Aff. at 11-12 ¶ 35; Pl.'s Statement at 9 ¶ 47.

  Six days later, Tsehaye filed a discrimination complaint with Carol Longmore, a Human Resource Generalist in Smith's Human Resources Department, regarding the way Petree treated him. Pl.'s Statement at 10 ¶ 51; see also Longmore Tr. at 32-33; Horan Tr. at 65-66; Tsehaye Tr. at 164-68. Horan was present when the complaint was filed, and was aware that Tsehaye was complaining of discrimination. Tsehaye Aff. at 12 ¶ 37; Longmore Tr. at 39. According to Longmore, Tsehaye said that he did not care for the way Petree had treated him, stating that Petree had pushed him, shouted at him, and interrupted him while he was speaking at the May 21 meeting. Longmore Tr. at 37-38. Tsehaye's complaint made its way to Smith's Human Resources Director, Bob Grzesik, who held a meeting with both Petree and Tsehaye on May 29, 2003. Longmore Tr. at 33, 51-54; see Tsehaye Tr. at 173-75. Grzesik told Tsehaye that Petree was his superior and, thus, he must follow her orders. Longmore Tr. at 52-53, 55. Tsehaye alleges that on or about May 28, 2003, Petree promised to fire him for having complained about her. Pl.'s Compl. at 8 ¶ 35; Pl.'s Statement at 11 ¶ 52; see also Tsehaye Aff. at 12-13 ¶ 38. On June 9, 2003, Petree called Tsehaye a "dumb Ethiopian who did not know his rights" and stated that "all Ethiopians are dumb or ignorant." Pl.'s Statement at 11 ¶ 58; see also Pl.'s Compl. at 10 ¶ 44.

  On June 5, 2003, Horan was replaced by Craig Channell, the Vice President and Director of Operations at Smith. Ritz Decl. at 3 ¶ 11; Channell Tr. at 23, 35-36. John Ritz, the President of Smith, had reviewed the proposed 2003 budget for 2701 in late October/early November of 2002 and began questioning whether the property was overstaffed. Ritz Decl. at 4 ¶ 12. However, this was during Loos' illness, and Ritz did not think that it was an appropriate time to downsize. Id. But when Ritz appointed Channell to replace Horan, he thought the time ripe for a complete review of the budget and staffing operations of 2701, and directed Channell to undertake such an analysis. Ritz Decl. at 3 ¶ 11. Channell was asked to review the entire operation of the building, including its personnel, payroll, leasing, financial performance, and physical condition. Id. When Channell's review was complete, he determined that, in light of 2701's size, payroll costs were unduly high and thus the actual earnings of 2701, as compared to its expected earnings, were unsatisfactory. Channell Tr. at 94-96. The two Smith properties that were most comparable in size to 2701 maintained payroll costs per month per unit of approximately twenty and thirty dollars less than those of 2701, although those properties actually had more units than 2701. Ritz Decl. at 4 ¶ 13.

  Petree primed Channell on her assessment of Tsehaye's attitude and job performance. Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Facts at 8 ¶ 33. Notwithstanding Petree's statements, or the financial assessment of 2701, Channell decided to let Tsehaye remain in his position to give him "time to improve his work performance and learn to work with Petree." Id.; see Channell Tr. at 54. But as he observed the situation at 2701, Channell became concerned about Tsehaye's attitude and performance. Channell Tr. at 61-64. Channell instructed Petree to tell Tsehaye to clean the building and to perform his other tasks more frequently and thoroughly. Chanell Tr. at 61-64. On June 20, 2003, Channell held a meeting with Tsehaye, during which he explained that Petree was Tsehaye's superior and Tsehaye was required to follow Petree's instructions. Tsehaye Tr. at 193-200. Channell also gave Tsehaye a formal letter to this effect, which clearly expressed Channell's views that 2701 did not need two full-time employees and that Tsehaye's position would likely be the one reduced to a part-time schedule. Pl.'s Exh. 25.

  According to Channell, Tsehaye's job performance did not improve. On one notable occasion in July 2003, Channell and Tsehaye worked together to prepare a vacant apartment for occupancy. When Channell asked Tsehaye to clean the bathroom, Tsehaye responded that he had already done so and did not intend to do it a second time. Channell Tr. at 101. Channell proceeded to clean the bathroom himself, and Tsehaye eventually took over. Channell Tr. at 101. For Channell, this was the proverbial last straw, prompting him to conclude in early July that Tsehaye would have to be terminated. Channell Tr. at 55. Tsehaye's treating physician diagnosed him with job related stress, anxiety, and insomnia on July 11, 2003, after which Tsehaye took ten days of medical leave. Pl.'s Statement at 13 ¶ 64; Pl.'s Exh. 29. Three days later, Ramos' work schedule was doubled, making him a full-time employee at 2701, and he took over Tsehaye's duties. Pl.'s Statement at 13 ¶ 66; Pl.'s Exh. 12. On July 21, 2003, Channell instructed Petree to direct Tsehaye to obtain his doctor's clearance before he would be permitted to resume his employment duties. Pl.'s Exhibit 30. On July 22, 2003, Channell informed Tsehaye that his employment was terminated, Tsehaye Tr. at 21-22; Pl.'s Exh. 31, notwithstanding the fact that Tsehaye had obtained the ...


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