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Akonji v. Unity Healthcare

April 24, 2007

HELENE AKONJI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITY HEALTHCARE, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John D. Bates United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Helene Akonji ("Akonji" or "plaintiff") brings this employment-discrimination suit against defendant Unity Healthcare, Inc. ("Unity" or "defendant") under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, D.C. Code § 2-1401.01 (2001). Akonji alleges that her male supervisor sexually harassed her on various occasions, that she was fired in retaliation for complaining of the harassment, and that she was subjected to a hostile work environment. Currently pending before the Court is defendant Unity's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the Court concludes that some of plaintiff's claims are untimely, that plaintiff has failed to rebut defendant's legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for firing her, and that the isolated incidents of alleged harassment do not amount to a hostile work environment. Unity's motion for summary judgment will therefore be granted.

BACKGROUND

Defendant Unity is a tax-exempt, non-profit health care provider that operates a network of medical and social services in the District of Columbia. Def.'s Stmt. of Undisputed Material Facts ("Def.'s Stmt.") at 1.*fn1 Akonji, a licensed pharmacist, was hired by Unity as a staff pharmacist on February 6, 2002. Def.'s Mem. in Support of Mot. for Summ. J. ("Def.'s Mem."), Exh. 3 (5/5/02 letter). Roderick Nwokorie ("Nwokorie"), the Director of Pharmacy Services for Unity, was named Akonji's immediate supervisor. Id. Akonji was initially placed at Unity's Anacostia pharmacy, while Nwokorie worked at the D.C. General pharmacy. This assignment did not, however, purport to be permanent, since Akonji's job description indicated that she would be reassigned "temporarily or permanently depending on overall need." Def.'s Exh. 4 (Job Description). Under Unity's policy, Akonji's continued employment depended on her successful completion of a 90-day probationary period. Def.'s Exh. 3.

For the first five or six weeks of her employment, Akonji allegedly did not receive a paycheck. Pl.'s Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. ("Pl.'s Opp'n."), Exh. 1 (Akonji Dep.) at 44. Akonji alleges that she called Nwokorie on three occasions after she did not receive her pay check on a scheduled pay day. Id. at 22, 42-44. Each time she called, Nwokorie would visit Akonji on her lunch break at the Anacostia clinic and offer her cash to help her pay her bills until her first paycheck arrived. Id. at 51. Akonji alleges that during those visits, Nwokorie hugged her, grabbed her buttocks, and attempted to kiss her. Id. On each occasion, there were no witnesses to the interaction between Akonji and Nwokorie. Id. Akonji claims to have resisted Nwokorie's alleged advances, but she did accept $500 from him on his third visit. Id. at 79.

On April 8, 2002, Akonji was reassigned to the D.C. General clinic to fulfill a staffing need. In early May 2002, while Akonji was working at the D.C. General pharmacy, Nwokorie again allegedly attempted to hug and kiss Akonji as she was exiting her car in the clinic's parking lot. Pl.'s Exh. 1 at 62. Akonji points to two other incidents that occurred during the same month. On one occasion, Nwokorie asked her if she would like to travel to a meeting with him. Id. at 65. Akonji refused. Id. Nwokorie would also allegedly stare at Akonji and often ask her, "Why don't we eat together?" when she was preparing to take her lunch break. Id. at 78-79.

On May 20, 2002, Akonji had her first performance evaluation, which was conducted by Nwokorie. Pl.'s Exh. 4 (5/20/02 Performance Appraisal). Nwokorie's evaluation stated that Akonji "had good clinical skills," but that she had to show "responsibility, dependability and interest in her job." Id. That same day, Akonji received a memorandum from Nwokorie detailing eleven occasions on which she had been either tardy or absent and informing her that such continued behavior could result in her dismissal before the end of the probationary period. Pl.'s Exh. 5 (5/20/02 Memo.). As a result of Akonji's poor attendance record, Nwokorie recommended an additional 90-day probationary period for her. Pl.'s Exh. 6 (5/24/02 Memo.).

Other irregular events transpired while Akonji was working at the D.C. General pharmacy. The authorities had to be notified when 257 tablets of Percocet, a controlled drug, went missing. Def.'s Exh. 10 (6/14/02 Memo.). Later, on June 10, 2002, Edward Ayanbiola, one of Akonji's fellow pharmacists, sent a letter to Michelle Madison, a Project Director at Unity, complaining about the verbal and physical abuse that he had suffered at the hands of Akonji. Def.'s Exh. 6 (6/10/02 Complaint Letter). Akonji was transferred to the Congress Heights pharmacy shortly thereafter. Def.'s Exh. 14 (12/10/02 and 3/19/03 Complaint Letters). Then on December 2, 2002, Akonji received a follow-up memorandum detailing 29 additional instances of tardiness or absences since September 2002. Def.'s Exh. 8 (12/2/02 Memo.).

On December 10, 2002, Akonji filed a complaint about her repeated transfers among pharmacies and about the pharmacy manager at Congress Heights, with whom she did not have a good relationship. Def.'s Exh. 14. Akonji was transferred to the Upper Cardozo pharmacy less than a week later. Id. While at that location, Akonji received a written reprimand for insubordination. Def.'s Exh. 12 (3/13/03 Written Reprimand). The reprimand cited two causes, the first being Akonji's continued disregard for instructions from her supervisors regarding how to handle the keys to the pharmacy, and the second her disregard of Unity's policy of keeping an inventory of certain controlled drugs. Id. These infractions resulted in Akonji being placed on probation through June 13, 2003. Id. Akonji was again transferred on March 17, 2003, this time to the Walker Jones pharmacy. Def.'s Exh. 14.

On March 19, 2003, Akonji filed a complaint with Unity's Chief Executive Officer, Vince Kean, alleging that Nwokorie had discriminated against her and sexually harassed her. Id. Akonji received confirmation in a letter from the Interim Director for Human Resources that her complaint had been received and that an investigation had been conducted. Def.'s Exh. 15 (4/8/03 Letter). However, Nwokorie claims that he was never contacted with regard to the investigation of Akonji's complaints. Pl.'s Exh. 3 (Nwokorie Dep.) at 33-34.

Nwokorie conducted Akonji's second annual performance evaluation on July 9, 2003. Pl.'s Exh. 10 (7/9/03 Performance Evaluation). The evaluation stated that while Akonji had made "some marked improvements," she still needed to improve regarding "attendance and punctuality" and her "use of sound judgment in operational issues." Id. Akonji alleges that during the evaluation Nwokorie placed his hand on her thigh for several seconds. Pl.'s Exh. 1 at 70-75.

Five months later, while working at the Walker Jones pharmacy, Akonji gave the wrong medication to a patient and was subsequently reprimanded by Unity. Def.'s Exh. 9 (12/9/03 E-mail). Then, on December 23 and 24, 2003, Nwokorie ordered the removal of certain drugs from the Walker Jones pharmacy that were determined to be overstocked. Def.'s Exh. 13 (1/7/04 Complaint Letter). This prompted Akonji to file another complaint against Nwokorie on January 7, 2004, which Unity's Director of Personnel received on February 1, 2004. Id. The complaint alleged that Nwokorie had behaved inappropriately in removing the drugs from Akonji's pharmacy, which resulted in shortages of medication, and also in dealing with Akonji's requests for emergency time-off. Id. Finally, on February 6, 2004, Akonji was terminated by Unity. Def.'s Exh. 16 (2/6/04 Termination Letter). Akonji proceeded to file a formal charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on April 9, 2004 (4/9/04 EEOC Charge of Discrimination). Pl.'s Exh. 12.

Akonji received her right to sue letter on November 23, 2004. Acting pro se, she filed her original one-count complaint in District of Columbia Superior Court on February 18, 2005. Dkt. #1 (Notice of Removal) ΒΆ 9. She later filed an amended complaint in Superior Court on September 30, 2005. Although Akonji's amended complaint did not articulate specific theories of liability, it did allege that Unity had violated Title VII and the D.C. Human Rights Act (DCHRA). The parties' subsequent filings clarify that the complaint asserts three theories of liability: quid pro quo sexual harassment, retaliation for complaining of that harassment, and discrimination based on a hostile work environment. Unity removed the case to this Court and proceeded to file its motion for summary judgment on October 13, 2006. In its supporting memorandum, Unity makes three primary arguments: 1) Akonji's claims of gender discrimination based on specific incidents of sexual harassment are time-barred; 2) Akonji has failed to produce any direct ...


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