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Prince v. Rice

August 14, 2008

LANNIE PRINCE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CONDOLEEZA RICE, SECRETARY, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Lannie Prince filed her Amended Complaint in this action on June 2, 2005. In it, she brought various claims against her employer, the U.S. Department of State, for discriminating against her on the basis of her age, gender, and race. On September 18, 2006, this Court dismissed: (1) all of Prince's claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981; (2) all of her claims stemming from the Department's facially-neutral employment practices that allegedly had a discriminatory disparate impact upon her on the basis of race, gender, or age; (3) her intentional infliction of emotional distress claim; and (4) portions of her retaliation claim pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. See Prince v. Rice, 453 F. Supp. 2d 14 (D.D.C. 2006) ("Prince I"). Prince's claims that survived the motion to dismiss relate to race discrimination concerning her non-promotion to the grade of GS-13 (Count II) and her allegation that the Department retaliated against her for filing an Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") complaint by removing a number of her job-related duties (Count III). Following discovery, the Department has now moved for summary judgment on those remaining claims and that motion is fully briefed and ripe for resolution. Upon careful consideration, and for the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant the Department's motion.

BACKGROUND

The underlying facts relating to this dispute were set out in detail in Prince I, 453 F. Supp. 2d at 19-20, and need not be fully repeated here. For present purposes, the record*fn1 reflects the following. Lannie Prince, an African-American female, is presently employed as an EEO Specialist at the U.S. Department of State, Office of Civil Rights. See Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 1. She has been employed at the Department since 1975 and has held her current position at the GS-12 grade since approximately 1994. Id. ¶ 2. According to Prince, when Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Barbara Pope first joined the Department in 2001, Ms. Pope made it clear that improving the Department's standing with respect to processing EEO complaints was one of the chief initiatives that she aimed to pursue while at the Department. See Prince Decl. ¶¶ 9-11. To that end, Ms. Pope supposedly informed the current EEO staff that she could secure for them promotions to the GS-13 level in the event that they were able to achieve her stated goals of: (1) reducing the outstanding EEO case load; and (2) processing incoming complaints within 180 days of receipt. Id.

As part of the new focus, Ms. Pope allegedly charged the EEO Specialists -- including Prince -- with managing "all aspects of processing cases" and informally changed their titles to "EEO Managers." Id. ¶ 12. After several inquiries, Ms. Pope evidently assigned Fredrick Whittington, an employee in the Office of Civil Rights, with the task of drafting the new GS-13 position description for EEO Managers. Id. ¶¶ 14-15. According to Prince, the draft position description "did not include the duties they were told to perform as [EEO] Managers" and there was "no follow up" by Ms. Pope concerning any proposed changes to the draft description. Id. ¶¶ 15-16. To date, Prince has not had her position upgraded to the GS-13 level through non-competitive promotion.

Meanwhile, at some time prior to October 2002, the Department issued Vacancy Announcement No. 02-0705 for the position of EEO Manager as a "generic GS-13 position." See Def.'s Opp'n Pope Decl. ¶ 6. Before the Department released that announcement, Ms. Pope "approached Ms. Prince, Ms. Marjorie Gross, and Ms. Jacqueline Canton individually to make sure they were aware of the upcoming vacancy announcement and encouraged all three to apply." Id. At some point in October 2002, the Department also issued Vacancy Announcement No. 03-0047. See Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 10. According to Ms. Pope, that announcement was effectively a re-issue of No. 02-0705. See Pope Decl. ¶ 7. Ms. Pope had initiated the second issuance because Ms. Gross, who had evidently "expressed interest in the position," had failed to apply during the first window of opportunity. Id. Thus, Ms. Pope "arranged for the vacancy announcement to be reissued so [Ms. Gross] could apply. This is why the Agency reissued the announcement as Vacancy Announcement 03-0047." Id.

Neither party has provided the Court with a copy of either vacancy announcement. The Department, however, has filed a copy of the Position Description that accompanied Announcement No. 03-0047. That document lists the available position as "Equal Employment Manager" at a level of GS-13. See Def.'s Opp'n Brown Decl. Attach. 2 (hereinafter "Position Description"). There are, however, some ambiguities found in the Position Description. Although the face of the document lists the position title as "Equal Employment Manager," the first page of the duty descriptions lists the title as "Affirmative Action Outreach Coordinator" and outlines responsibilities relating to affirmative action projects at the Department. On the other hand, beginning on page three of the Position Description, there is a list of responsibilities that deal with traditional EEO management rather than affirmative action initiatives. In any event, the Position Description also plainly states on the first page that the position is "limited to TWO (2) incumbents." Id.

Prince did not apply for the position listed in Vacancy Announcements No. 02-0705 and No. 03-0047. Thereafter, following an extensive interview process, in March 2003 Ms. Pope extended EEO Manager offers to five*fn2 candidates who applied pursuant to the vacancy announcements. See Pope Decl. ¶ 10. Of the five candidates who received employment offers, one individual was Asian-American, another was of "Hispanic origin," and three were "African-American." Id. When the five offers were announced, Prince was surprised to learn that more than one position was filled pursuant to the announcements -- it was her understanding that only one spot was available. For her part, Ms. Pope indicated that she "advised Ms. Prince as well as all qualified candidates" that she intended to make multiple offers to applicants who responded to the vacancy announcements. Id. ¶ 8.

In her complaint and attached declaration, Prince stated that she did not apply for the advertised position because she believed that: (1) there was only one vacancy and she did not view herself as the most qualified candidate for that position, see Am. Compl. ¶ 16; and (2) the sole vacancy entailed affirmative action duties that did not interest her, see Prince Decl. ¶¶ 19-21. She maintains that she would have applied for the position, however, if she had been informed that more than one vacancy was available. Exasperated with the delays in having her current position upgraded to GS-13 through the non-competitive promotion process, and believing that she had been denied a full opportunity to participate in the competitive process advertised through the vacancy announcements, Prince filed an EEO complaint with the agency on August 6, 2003. See Am. Compl. ¶ 6. Her complaint sought promotion to the position of EEO Manager at the GS-13 level retroactive to March 2003. See Def.'s Opp'n Ex. 1.

In the aftermath of that EEO filing, Prince claims that she was the victim of unlawful retaliation. Hence, on June 7, 2005, she filed another EEO complaint, this time alleging unlawful retaliation. See Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss Attach. 1. The complaint lists the acts of reprisal against her, which include: (1) the Department's designation of Prince as absent without leave ("AWOL") for a period of three hours on November 2, 2004 while she left the office to vote; and (2) "reassignment of [her] duties relating to acceptance and dismissal of complaints and requiring [her] to serve as an EEO Counselor receiving assignments from a lower graded employee." Id.*fn3 This Court dismissed the AWOL claim in Prince I, which leaves only the reassignment of Prince's duties to form the gravamen of her retaliation claim here.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

I. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings and the evidence demonstrate that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial responsibility of demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The moving party may successfully support its motion by identifying those portions of "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits" that it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323.

In determining whether there exists a genuine issue of material fact sufficient to preclude summary judgment, the court must regard the non-movant's statements as true and accept all evidence and make all inferences in the non-movant's favor. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). A non-moving party, however, must establish more than the "mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" in support of its position. Id. at 252. By pointing to the absence of evidence proffered by the non-moving party, a moving party may succeed on summary judgment. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. "If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, 477 ...


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