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Brantley v. Kempthorne

May 13, 2008

MARGARET R. BRANTLEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DIRK KEMPTHORNE, SECRETARY U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ellen Segal Huvelle United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Margaret R. Brantley is a 57-year-old African-American female employed at the U.S. Department of the Interior ("DOI"). She alleges that the defendant discriminated and retaliated against her and subjected her to a hostile work environment because of her race, color, sex, and age in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"), and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. ("ADEA").*fn1 Before the Court is defendant's Motion to Dismiss, or alternatively, Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons set forth below, defendant's motion will be granted.

BACKGROUND

I. FACTUAL HISTORY

Plaintiff is currently an administrative officer (GS-11, Step 10) at the DOI, where she has worked since 1977. (Def.'s Statement of Facts As To Which There Is No Genuine Issue, Feb. 15, 2008, ¶ 2 (hereinafter "Def.'s Facts ¶ __").)*fn2 Plaintiff filed her first formal complaint against the DOI in 1980, alleging discrimination with respect to a non-promotion. (Id.) She then filed a second non-promotion claim while the first one was still pending. (Id.) The parties settled both claims in 1987, and as a consequence, plaintiff was transferred to another office and received several grade increases until she reached her current level of GS-11 in 1988. (Id.)

However, this did not end plaintiff's grievances regarding promotions. From 1989 through 2005, plaintiff claims to have been denied promotions by seven different managers (Pl.'s Interrog. No. 9), although she has only provided specifics about one incident in February 2005. Victor Christiansen, Director of the Office of Budget Management, had encouraged plaintiff to apply for a GS-12 position that he intended to fill, although he never promised her the job. (Def.'s Facts ¶ 51.) By January 2005, Mary Jane Miller had become the new director, and she decided to delay filling the position until she learned more about the office. (Id. ¶ 52.) Rather than filling the GS-12 position, Ms. Miller cancelled the vacancy announcement and had another employee, an African-American female, perform the relevant duties. (Id.)

Plaintiff does not dispute the above explanation for the job vacancy cancellation. (Pl.'s Opp'n 9.) Nevertheless, she has asserted an alternative theory for why she did not get the position. Plaintiff believes that Debbie Clark, her supervisor at the time, cancelled the vacancy in retaliation for plaintiff's complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") in 2003 and 2004. (Pl.'s Opp'n 37.)

Plaintiff's claims are not limited to non-promotions. She has cited several incidents that she claims constitute evidence of the DOI's discriminatory and retaliatory animus and a hostile work environment. First, beginning in March 2002, plaintiff was denied access to the internet, as well as other computer systems. (Pl.'s Opp'n 4.) Plaintiff acknowledges that this occurred during a period when others, including white males under the age of 40, were also denied access because of an ongoing class-action lawsuit against the DOI. (Def.'s Facts ¶ 49.) See also Cobell v. Kempthorne, No. 96-CV-1285 (JR) (D.D.C. filed June 10, 1996).

Second, as part of a reorganization in 2001, plaintiff was moved from her office in the main DOI building to another location on G Street. (Def.'s Facts ¶ 44.) Plaintiff found the work facilities at the G Street building to be "inadequate" and she had to walk three blocks to the main building in order to perform her duties. (Compl. ¶¶ 32, 36.) Plaintiff complained to James McDivitt, her supervisor at the time, but no changes were made until the end of the lease on the G Street building. (Id. ¶ 35.)

Third, in January 2005 plaintiff was at home on leave because of a back injury. (Compl. ¶ 46.) Debbie Clark had a subordinate ask plaintiff to come into the office to pack up her belongings because her office was being converted into a conference room. (Id. ¶¶ 47, 49; Def.'s Facts ¶ 54.) Plaintiff said that her back injury prevented her from going into the office that day, but she indicated that she would try to come in on the following Monday. (Compl. ¶ 48.) Plaintiff re-injured her back when she tried to pack up her office. (Id.)

Fourth, because plaintiff's office had been turned into a conference room, she was deprived of a private office and was not allowed to have a key to the room. (Compl. ¶ 50.) All of the other administrative officers had private offices. (Id. ¶ 51.) Also, part of the room was used as a kitchen sometime starting in March 2005, and plaintiff was disturbed by the smells emanating from the kitchen. (Id. ¶ 55; Pl.'s Opp'n 15-16.) Plaintiff requested that a partition be installed so that the kitchen area would be separated from her work area, but this request was denied. (Compl. ¶¶ 56-58.)

Finally, plaintiff alleges that she did not receive any "meaningful or complex work assignments" between 1989 and 2005. (Compl. ¶ 59.)

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff contacted an EEOC counselor on March 26, 2003, and then filed an administrative complaint on July 2, 2003. (Def.'s Facts ¶ 27.) This initial complaint mentions three of the discrete acts of alleged discrimination and retaliation raised in the instant suit:1) non-promotions since 1989; 2) lack of access to communications services; and 3) removal from the main DOI building to another location three blocks away. (Def.'s SJ Mot., Exh. P.) Plaintiff amended her complaint in August 2003 and February 2004, but these amendments do not refer to any claims currently before the Court. (Id., Exhs. Q, R.) Plaintiff made additional amendments in February and April of 2005, alleging a hostile work environment, as well as discrete acts of discrimination and retaliation with respect to a failure to promote on February 11, 2005; a request to pack office supplies that led to a back injury; the denial of a private office and a key to that office; and the denial of a partition wall. (Pl.'s Admis. No. 24; Def.'s SJ Mot., Exh. S.)

Administrative Law Judge Richard E. Schneider reviewed plaintiff's allegations, as well as two EEOC investigative reports and pleadings from both parties. (Def.'s SJ Mot., Exh. S,1.) On February 6, 2006, the ALJ rejected all of plaintiff's claims and granted summary judgment to defendant. (Id. 13.) Plaintiff filed this action on June 22, 2006, alleging seven discrete acts of discrimination and retaliation, as well as a hostile work environment. (Pl.'s Opp'n 3-4; ...


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