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Chaple v. Johnson

September 22, 2006

MARIO P. CHAPLE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
STEPHEN L. JOHNSON,*FN1 ADMINISTRATOR, U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Mario P. Chaple took an "early out" and retired from the Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA"). Before he departed, he had filed equal employment opportunity ("EEO") complaints on March 20, 2001, August 31, 2001, July 11, 2002, January 21, 2003, February 12, 2003, September 17, 2003, and October 8, 2003. Failing satisfactory adjustments, Mr. Chaple brought this suit against Defendant Stephen L. Johnson, EPA Administrator, in his official capacity, seeking damages for alleged national origin and age discrimination, as well as retaliation for EEO activity. Specifically, Mr. Chaple complains of constructive discharge, one failure to promote, one failure to award him a promotional detail, one involuntary transfer, one reduction of duties, a hostile work environment, and retaliation. The parties have engaged in full discovery, and the EPA has filed a motion for summary judgment, which Mr. Chaple opposes. The Court will grant the motion in part and deny it in part.

I. BACKGROUND FACTS

Born in 1955 in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, Mr. Chaple is of Puerto Rican and Cuban heritage. Pl.'s Statement of Material Facts in Genuine Dispute ("Pl.'s Facts") at 1; Am. Compl. ¶ 4. The EPA hired him on February 14, 1999, as a Contract Specialist (Team Leader) in the Superfund/RCRA Procurement Operations Division ("SRRPOD"), Office of Acquisition Management ("OAM"), Office of Administration and Resources Management. Pl.'s Facts at 3. His position was non-supervisory and was classified on the General Schedule ("GS") at Grade 14. Id.

At the time, SRRPOD was organized into four Service Centers, each headed by a GS-15 supervisor. Id. Mr. Chaple worked first in the Enforcement and Laboratory Analysis Service Center ("ELASC") under Joseph Waddell, from February 1999 until May 2000. Id. at 4. He then transferred at his own request to the Superfund Contracts Service Center ("SCSC"), where Celia Vaughn was his supervisor. Id. Mr. Chaple remained in SCSC until January 12, 2003, when, as part of a reorganization of SRRPOD, the EPA transferred him involuntarily to the Procurement Management and Regional Coordination Service Center ("PMRCSC"). Id. In this last position, Mr. Chaple again worked for Mr. Waddell. Def.'s Statement of Material Facts as to Which There is No Genuine Dispute (Def.'s Facts") at 1. Harvey ("Pat") Patterson was the director of SRRPOD from 1999 to July 2002, when Mr. Patterson was reassigned; in September 2002, Yvette Garner became its director. Def.'s Facts ¶ 30.

To Mr. Chaple's observation, SRRPOD had an unfair habit of non-competitive promotions through accretion of duties or non-competitive details which gave a favored candidate an unfair advantage. Am. Compl. ¶ 7. He first raised this point as early as June 1999,*fn2 id., but filed no EEO complaint until Robert Edgeton, based in Ohio, arrived on detail in January 2001 to be Acting Manager of the Regional/Remedial Service Center ("RRSC") (later renamed PMRCSC). Pl.'s Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. ("Pl.'s Opp'n") at 5. Mr. Chaple sought EEO counseling on January 31, 2001, and filed a formal EEO complaint concerning Mr. Edgeton's detail on March 20, 2001. Id. In May 2001, Mr. Patterson advised SRRPOD employees that they could apply for a detail as Acting Manager of RRSC, but Mr. Chaple did not apply. Id. at 5-6. When, however, the permanent GS-15 position of RRSC Manager was posted on June 14, 2001, Mr. Chaple submitted an application. Id. at 6. Mr. Edgeton was selected for the position on August 14, 2001. Id. at 7.

In January 2001, Mr. Patterson had appointed Mr. Chaple to represent OAM as Co-Chair of an intra-agency workgroup named the "Phase II Design Construction Workgroup." Def.'s Facts ¶ 24. In July 2001, however, Mr. Edgeton attended a conference with other EPA managers and heard complaints about OAM's participation on the workgroup.*fn3 Pl.'s Opp'n at 6. Thereafter, Mr. Patterson removed Mr. Chaple from his position as Co-Chair and replaced him with Ms. Vaughn, although Mr. Chaple continued to be involved with the workgroup and provided support to Ms. Vaughn. Id.

Mr. Patterson was reassigned as manager of OAM in July 2002 and was replaced by Ms. Garner in September 2002. Def.'s Facts ¶ 30. Ms. Garner decided to reorganize SRRPOD; this entailed renaming some of the Service Centers, realigning the associated duties, reassigning each of the Service Center supervisors to a different Center, and reassigning three of nine Team Leaders, including Mr. Chaple. Id. ¶¶ 31-32; Pl.'s Opp'n at 8-9. Ms. Garner's plan included transferring Mr. Edgeton to supervise SCSC, where Mr. Chaple worked at the time,*fn4 Pl.'s Facts at 10-11 & Def.'s Facts ¶ 35, and transferring Ms. Vaughn, then supervisor of SCSC, to supervise Headquarters Contract Service Center. Def.'s Facts ¶ 35; Pl.'s Opp'n at 9. Mr. Chaple sent an email to Ms. Garner complaining of the possibility of working for Mr. Edgeton, who was involved in Mr. Chaple's EEO matters. Pl.'s Opp'n at 8. He offered to stay where he was, under a different supervisor, or to transfer with Ms. Vaughn. Id. at 9. Instead, Ms. Garner transferred Mr. Chaple away from both Mr. Edgeton and Ms. Vaughn and assigned him to be a Team Leader in the newly named PMRCSC, under Mr. Waddell. Id. at 8.

To say the least, Mr. Chaple was unhappy with this turn of events. He met with Mr. Waddell on December 23, 2002, and told him that he was suffering from anxiety and depression and may need an extended medical leave. Id. at 10. They met again on January 8, 2003, and Mr. Chaple told Mr. Waddell that he would be discussing an extended leave with his doctor, to begin on January 13, 2003, when Mr. Chaple's transfer was to become effective. Id. Mr. Chaple asserts that Mr. Waddell suggested he "quit" his EEO complaints against Mr. Patterson. Id. at 11. On January 9, 2003, Mr. Waddell provided a memo to Mr. Chaple, informing him of the medical documentation that would be needed to support a request for extended medical leave. Id. Mr. Chaple complains that this request was extensive, excessive, unreasonable, and part of the hostile environment and retaliation that he has suffered. Mr. Chaple never requested or took medical leave. Id. at 10.

Effective January 12, 2003, Mr. Chaple became a Team Leader in PMRCSC. Def.'s Facts ¶ 41. He alleges that his new position had significantly reduced responsibilities and scope and was damaging to his career prospects. Pl.'s Opp'n at 10.

Subsequently, Mr. Chaple applied for two GS-15 details in Headquarters Procurement Operations Division ("HPOD"), posted on August 12, 2003. Id. at 12. The selecting official, Timothy Farris, interviewed Mr. Chaple on September 8, 2003, and on September 9, Mr. Farris told Mr. Chaple that he did not get either job. Id. Mr. Farris reputedly said that he needed to "groom" people because lots of people would soon be eligible to retire. Id. Mr. Chaple asserts that he was older (49) and more qualified than either of the two selectees, who were 32 and 40. Id.

Discouraged with his lack of success, Mr. Chaple signed papers on September 23, 2003, to retire early from the EPA with a cash payment. Id. at 13. His effective date of separation was January 2, 2004. Def.'s Facts ¶ 50. He filed this lawsuit on April 4, 2004.

II. LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Jurisdiction

Federal district courts have original jurisdiction over civil actions arising under federal statutes. 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Here, Plaintiff brought suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e--2000h-6. As this case presents a question of federal law, this Court has original jurisdiction.

B. Summary Judgment

Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment must be granted when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that 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, 247 (1986); see also Diamond v. Atwood, 43 F.3d 1538, 1540 (D.C. Cir. 1995). Moreover, summary judgment is properly granted against a party who "after adequate time for discovery and upon motion . . . fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the ...


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