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Gaujacq v. Electricite De France International North America

August 21, 2008

CATHERINE GAUJACQ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ELECTRICITE DE FRANCE INTERNATIONAL NORTH AMERICA, INC., ELECTRICITE DE FRANCE, S.A., AND CHRISTIAN NADAL, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Henry H. Kennedy, Jr. United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Catherine Gaujacq ("Gaujacq") brings this action against her former employers, Electricite de France, S.A. ("EDF") and Electricite de France International North America, Inc. ("EDFINA"), and a former co-worker, Christian Nadal ("Nadal") (collectively, "defendants"), asserting that during her employment with EDF and EDFINA she was subjected to sex discrimination, retaliation, and not provided equal pay. Gaujacq grounds these claims on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"), the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d) ("EPA"), and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, D.C. Code §§ 2-1401 et seq. ("DCHRA"). Gaujacq also asserts several common law causes of action, specifically, tortious interference with contractual relations, breach of contract, and defamation.

Before the court are defendants'*fn1 motions for summary judgment [## 101, 107]. Upon consideration of the motions, the opposition thereto, the argument of counsel at a hearing, and the summary-judgment record, the court concludes that defendants' motions should be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

Gaujacq, a French national, started working at EDF, a French energy company, as a nuclear engineer in 1980. She worked her way up through a number of positions in the company, and became the first woman in France to be the head of a nuclear power plant. In 2000, Gaujacq came to work in Washington, D.C. as the President of EDFINA, EDF's wholly-owned subsidiary and the site of EDF's main American office. Her rank and salary during that time were that of an R-3 executive.*fn2

In January 2004, the head of EDF's Americas Branch informed Gaujacq that Nadal would be replacing her as President of EDFINA in the summer of that year. Nadal at that time was an executive Vice President for EDF in Paris, and his rank and salary were that of an R-1 executive. Gaujacq hoped to remain in Washington and to continue working for EDF after she was no longer President of EDFINA. She shared her desire in this regard with her superiors.

In March and April 2004, Nadal and Gaujacq met once and corresponded by email regarding the upcoming transition. During that time, EDF executives, including Nadal, commented to each other in email messages that Gaujacq was difficult to work with on certain matters such as procuring a visa for Nadal and arranging his start at EDFINA. About the same time, Gaujacq corresponded with EDF's Chief Operating Officer, Gerard Creuzet ("Creuzet"), regarding her interest in working in the United States after Nadal took over as President. Creuzet was amenable to this arrangement and requested that Gaujacq prepare a work proposal, but neither he nor any of the other EDF executives signed a contract for her to continue working in the United States.

On June 1, 2004, Nadal became President of EDFINA and Gaujacq stepped down, becoming a Vice President. Later that month, Nadal wrote to Gaujacq and EDFINA's other Vice President, Bernard Dreux ("Dreux"), explaining their duties and responsibilities as Vice Presidents. Nadal then wrote to Dreux separately and gave him more authority than he had given Gaujacq, and indicated that Dreux would act as President in his absence. On July 9, 2004, after discovering that she had been given less authority than Dreux, Gaujacq, by email, informed the head of EDF's Americas Branch, that "these facts are discriminatory." Defs.' Stmt. of Undisputed Facts ("Defs.' Facts") ¶ 108. On July 22, she wrote another letter to Nadal and EDF's Americas Branch head stating that the limited authority given to her was "discriminatory" and complaining that Nadal did not treat her well at the office. Defs.' Facts ¶ 110. Also on July 22, Gaujacq informed the Chairman of EDF and Creuzet that she intended to file a complaint with U.S. authorities as a result of Nadal's actions. According to Gaujacq, the next day Creuzet said to her "your career is dead if you file a claim." Defs.' Facts ¶ 116.

On July 27, 2004, Creuzet wrote to Gaujacq terminating her assignment in Washington as of August 2, 2004. The letter stated that she would be given three months to arrange her move back to France from the United States and that on November 1, 2004, EDF would expect her to start at a position in France in the Energy Department that was "appropriate to your level of responsibility and the experience that you have acquired." Defs.' Ex. 74.

On July 30, 2004, Gaujacq filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). On September 24, Gaujacq received a letter from EDF explaining in detail the position she was being offered in France to manage the development of a new series of nuclear reactors. Gaujacq felt that the position offered to her was one of lower responsibility and, on October 28, she declined to accept it. After a meeting with Gaujacq to discuss the situation, EDF terminated her employment on January 6, 2005. This complaint followed.

II. DISCUSSION

Gaujacq's complaint sets forth her causes of action in twelve counts. Counts I through III, V, VII, and IX through XI are brought against EDF. Counts IV, VI, and VIII are brought against Nadal. Count XII is brought against both EDF and Nadal. Specifically, Gaujacq's claims are as follows:

C Counts I and IV: Gaujacq alleges that EDF violated Title VII and the DCHRA, and Nadal the DCHRA, by discriminating against her based on her sex;

C Count III: Gaujacq alleges that EDF and Nadal created a hostile work environment for her by threatening and harassing her;

C Counts II, V, and VI: Gaujacq alleges that EDF violated Title VII and the

DCHRA, and Nadal the DCHRA, by retaliating against her after she complained of harassment, discrimination, and unfair treatment at work;

C Counts VII and VIII: Gaujacq alleges that both EDF and Nadal tortiously interfered with contractual relations with her future employer and with EDF itself; C Count IX: Gaujacq alleges that EDF breached portions of her expatriation contract by substantially modifying it;

C Count X: Gaujacq alleges that EDF breached its duty of good faith and fair dealing by willfully rendering imperfect performance of her contracts with the company;

C Count XI: Gaujacq alleges that EDF violated the EPA by paying her a lower salary than was paid to Nadal for doing a job with the same responsibilities;

C Count XII: Gaujacq alleges that EDF and Nadal defamed her by making statements at the workplace which stated or implied that Gaujacq did not accomplish her job satisfactorily.

Defendants move for summary judgment*fn3 on all counts, arguing that Gaujacq was not discriminated against based on her gender and that all employment actions taken towards her were done for legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons. With respect to Gaujacq's defamation and contract claims, defendants argue that the undisputed facts show that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Gaujacq, unsurprisingly, disagrees.

Defendants' arguments in support of their motions and Gaujacq's response to these arguments will be addressed in turn.

A. Applicability of Title VII

Tittle VII, in pertinent part, states that it does not apply to "the foreign operations of an employer that is a foreign person not controlled by an American company." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-1(c)(2). EDF argues that it is not subject to VII because it is a foreign company and the relevant employment decisions that are the subject of this suit were made abroad. This argument is without merit.

Title VII applies to foreign companies operating in the United States, Ward v. W & H Voortman Ltd., 685 F. Supp. 231, 232 (M.D. Ala. 1988), and is intended to protect aliens working in the United States as well as citizens. Espinoza v. Farah Mfg. Co., Inc., 414 U.S. 86, 95 (1973). Title VII "does not expressly exempt from its provisions foreign corporations doing business here. If Congress had intended to exempt such foreign corporations it would have done so expressly," as it ...


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