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Hawkins v. Holder

February 8, 2009

BRIGITTE R. HAWKINS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ERIC H. HOLDER, JR., ATTORNEY GENERAL, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Colleen Kollar-kotelly, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff, Brigitte R. Hawkins ("Hawkins" or "Plaintiff"), an African-American female who was previously employed in the Human Resources Division*fn1 of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ("ATF"), an agency within the Department of Justice, filed the instant suit against Defendant Eric H. Holder, Jr., in his official capacity as Attorney General (collectively with ATF, "Defendant"), alleging various claims of employment discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Hawkins' claims stem from a desk audit conducted in 2005, as a result of which her position in the Human Resources Division of ATF was reclassified from a GS-343-11 management analyst to a GS-301-11 management support specialist.

Currently pending before the Court are Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Plaintiff's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment. Briefing on both Defendant's and Plaintiff's motions is complete, and the case is now ripe. After a searching review of the parties' briefing, the exhibits attached thereto, the relevant case law, and the entire record herein, the Court shall DENY Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and DENY Plaintiff's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment, for the reasons that follow.

I. BACKGROUND

As a preliminary matter, the Court notes that it strictly adheres to the text of Local Civil Rule 7(h)(1) when resolving motions for summary judgment. See Burke v. Gould, 286 F.3d 513, 519 (D.C. Cir. 2002) (district courts need to invoke Local Civil Rule 7(h)(1), formerly 56.1, before applying it to the case). The Court has repeatedly advised the parties that it strictly adheres to Rule 7(h)(1) and has stated that it "assumes that facts identified by the moving party in its statement of material facts are admitted, unless such a fact is controverted in the statement of genuine issues filed in opposition to the motion." See, e.g., Scheduling and Procedures Order, Docket No. [15]; 03/07/08 Order, Docket No. [36]. Although both parties filed statements of material facts and responses, the Court notes that the quality of such statements and responses is, to say the least, wanting. Upon the Court's own review of the supporting material, it is apparent that the parties' briefing, particularly Plaintiff's, variously includes inaccurate citations to the record as well as mischaracterizations of the supporting evidence. In addition, Plaintiff's Response Statement is riddled with legal citations and argument, neither of which are appropriate. The Court was therefore largely left to its own devices in determining the material facts relevant to the issues at hand. Accordingly, in setting forth the factual background below, the Court has, for the most part, cited directly to the record. However, where appropriate, the Court has also cited to Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts as included in her Cross-Motion ("Pl.'s Stmt.") or Defendant's Statement of Material Facts ("Def.'s Stmt."), unless a statement is contradicted by the opposing party. Where a party objects to relevant aspects of an opposing party's proffered material fact, the Court shall cite to Plaintiff's Response to Def.'s Stmt. as included in her Opposition ("Pl.'s Resp.") or Defendant's Response to Pl.'s Stmt. ("Def.'s Resp."), as necessary.

A. November 2002 - January 2004

In November of 2002, Hawkins, an African-American female, was hired by the Human Resources Division of ATF into the position of a GS-343-11 management analyst. Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 1. Hawkins was initially assigned to work with the Human Resource Division's budget under the direct supervision of Yvette Ross, GS-201-14 Supervisory Human Resources Specialist and Chief of the Policy Planning and Special Projects Branch of the Human Resources Division in ATF. Pl.'s Cross-Mot., Ex. A (Hawkins Aff.) ¶ 5; see also id., Ex. D (Ross Aff.) ¶¶ 2, 8-9. She remained under Ross' supervision until Ross retired from ATF in January of 2004. Pl.'s Cross-Mot., Ex. D (Ross Aff.) ¶¶ 2, 8. During the relevant time period (i.e., November 2002 to January 2004), Ross had primary responsibility for the Human Resource Division's budget. Pl.'s Cross-Mot., Ex. D (Ross Aff.) ¶¶ 5-6; see also id., Ex. A (Hawkins Aff.) ¶ 4.

The exact extent of Hawkins' budgetary duties during this time period is, to some degree, unclear. According to Hawkins, while under Ross' supervision, she assumed performance of both Ross' budgetary duties as well as her own, with Ross' approval. Pl.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 1-2; see also Pl.'s Cross-Mot., Ex. A (Hawkins Aff.) ¶ 5. Consequently, Hawkins asserts that, during this time, she performed all analyses, including studies, related to the budget. Id. ¶ 5. Ross's testimony confirms that Hawkins performed some budgetary analyses and studies while under her supervision, but suggests that Ross herself retained some budgetary responsibilities as well: "Up to the date of my departure from the agency, Hawkins served as my assistant with respect to the Division's budget, and her duties [sic]provided technical and analytical advice to assist me with the day to day management of the budget." Pl.'s Cross-Mot., Ex. D (Ross Aff.) ¶ 8. Ross further confirmed that Hawkins "entered information into [ATF's] automated financial management and control system, known as FRED, and served as the Division's expert on FRED;" "was also responsible for the preparation of some financial projections, reports and analyses of financial data with respect to the division's budget;" and "[was] the person with responsibility for the day-to-day oversight of the Division's budget." Id. ¶¶ 9-11.

In addition, reference to the position description ("PD") for the GS-343-11 management analyst position, as it existed when Hawkins was first hired into the position, provides further support for Hawkins' assertion that she was assigned to perform at least some analyses, including studies, related to the budget. See Def.'s Notice of Filing, Docket No. [44], (hereinafter "Def.'s Notice of Filing"), Att. 6 (1/17/08 Filler Dep.) at 36 (describing Ex. 4 to the deposition as "a copy of [Filler]'s initial position description"); id., Ex. 4 (position description for GS-343-11 management analyst). For example, the PD provides that the GS-343-11 management analyst "[p]erforms analyses of the financial status of the various programs managed by the Division;" "[a]nalyzes requests for reallocation of funds, taking into consideration the needs and program requirements/changes of the various Branches;" "[a]nalyzes and evaluates the Division's procedures and controls;" "[p]lans and conducts studies to evaluate and recommend ways to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of work operations;" "[p]repares reports of findings that include identification of problems and proposed recommendations for problem resolution and/or improvement;" "[c]oordinates and analyzes operations and long range plans;" "researches, compiles and summarizes fiscal resource data;" "projects budget requirements;" "prepares justifications as needed;" and "[p]repares reports, position papers and other documents as necessary on a periodic or as-needed basis." See id., Ex. 4 (position description for GS-343-11 management analyst).

Defendant, for his part, offers no evidence to contradict or otherwise rebut Hawkins' assertion that she was responsible for at least some budgetary analysis while under Ross' supervision, which is corroborated by Ross and the PD. See Def.'s Resp. ¶¶ 1-2 (stating only that "Defendant lacks sufficient knowledge or information of the budget duties assumed by Ms. Hawkins between 2002 and 2004").

B. January 2004 - May 2004

As stated above, Ross retired from ATF in January of 2004. Pl.'s Cross-Mot., Ex. D (Ross Aff.) ¶ 2. According to Hawkins, after Ross left ATF in January of 2004, Hawkins continued to perform all of the budget-related duties that she had assumed while under the direct supervision of Ross, as well as other tasks which had previously been assigned to Ross, but she now reported directly to the Chief of the Human Resources Division. Pl.'s Cross-Mot., Ex. A (Hawkins Aff.) ¶¶ 7, 11. Again, Defendant, for his part, offers no evidence to contradict or otherwise rebut Hawkins' assertion that she was responsible for at least some budgetary analysis and reports in the immediate months after Ross' retirement. See Def.'s Resp. ¶¶ 1-2.

C. May 2004 - April 2006

1. Desk Audit

In May of 2004, Diane Filler, a Caucasian female, was hired by ATF to fill the position of Chief of the Human Resources Division. Def.'s Notice of Filing, Att. 4 (11/27/06 Filler Dep.) at 4, 11. At that point, Filler became Hawkins' direct supervisor. Pl.'s Cross-Mot., Ex. H (Filler Aff.) at 1. Shortly after Filler was hired, Hawkins approached Filler and expressed concerns about the grade level of her position, stating her belief that she was entitled to a promotion to the GS-12 grade level. Id. at 21, 31. Filler responded that she "was new, [] was trying to learn the job, the organization, who does what, that [she] needed some time to get in and settle in before [she] really looked into anything more particular." Id. at 21. Accordingly, Filler told Hawkins that it would be premature to consider Hawkins' request at that time, as Filler did not have the information necessary to make that decision. Id. at 31. At some point thereafter, Hawkins again asked Filler for a promotion to the GS-12 grade level, and also requested a desk audit in the alternative. See Def.'s Notice of Filing, Att. 6 (1/17/09 Filler Dep.) at 60-61. Filler told Hawkins that she would consider Hawkins' request for a desk audit and approached Vivian White, Assistant Human Recourse Officer of the Human Resources Division, to discuss Hawkins' request. See Def.'s Notice of Filing, Att. 4 (11/ 27/06 Filler Dep.) at 32; Pl.'s Cross-Mot., Ex. G (White Aff.) ¶ 1. Although Filler did not recall the substance of her conversation with White, see Def.'s Notice of Filing, Att. 4 (11/27/06 Filler Dep.) at 32, White testified that Filler agreed to conduct the desk audit because no one knew all the duties that Hawkins had been performing, including Filler who was relatively new to ATF at that point. Id. ¶¶ 2, 3. Ultimately, Filler agreed to Hawkins' request to have a desk audit conducted with respect to the GS-343-11 management analyst position.*fn2 Id.

a. Blackwood's Initial Draft of the PD

In October 2004, White asked Barbara Blackwood, a contract position classification specialist in ATF's Human Resources Division, to conduct the desk audit. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 1; see also Pl.'s Cross-Mot., Ex. C (Blackwood Aff.) at 1-2. In requesting that Blackwood conduct the desk audit, White indicated that the desk audit was requested, at least in part, because neither she nor Filler were certain what duties and responsibilities Hawkins was performing. Pl.'s Cross-Mot., Ex. C (Blackwood Aff.) at 2; id., Ex. G (White Aff.) ¶¶ 3, 6. According to Blackwood, White also told her that she would not need to contact Filler, even though Filler was Hawkins' direct supervisor, because Filler was new to the Human Resources Division and therefore did not know what duties Hawkins was performing. See Def.'s Notice of Filing, Att. 3 (1/17/08 Blackwood Dep.) at 23. White, however, did not recall specifically telling Blackwood to exclude Filler from the desk audit, but guessed that Blackwood may have simply inferred from White's statement that Filler was not familiar with Hawkins' duties as an instruction not to confer with Filler. Pl.'s Cross-Mot., Ex. G (White Aff.) ¶ 6. Regardless, it is undisputed that Blackwood did not initially contact Filler before talking with Hawkins nor did she contact Filler before drafting a revised PD. See Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 3; Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 3. It is equally undisputed that her failure to do so was a deviation from her usual procedures, in which she, as the classifier, would obtain supervisory input prior to drafting the PD. See Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 16; Def.'s Resp. ¶ 16. Blackwood, however, ultimately submitted the draft PD to Filler for her review and signature, and the parties both agree that a PD is not final or official until it is agreed to and signed off by the supervisor. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 4.

Upon being given the assignment to conduct the desk audit, Blackwood states that she requested Hawkins provide her with a description of the duties that she was performing that were not in the current GS-343-11 management analyst PD. See Def.'s Notice of Filing, Att. 3 (1/17/08 Blackwood Dep.) at 23. Hawkins did not provide Blackwood with the requested information until December 29, 2004. Pl.'s Cross-Mot., Ex. C (Blackwood Aff.) at 3. Blackwood then set up a time to meet with Hawkins on January 26, 2005, to discuss her duties and to review samples of Hawkins' work product. Pl.'s Cross-Mot., Ex. C (Blackwood Aff.) at 3. Based upon Blackwood's notes from that meeting, the then-current PD for the GS-343-11 management analyst position, and the list of duties that Hawkins had provided, Blackwood developed a draft PD. Pl.'s Cross-Mot., Ex. C (Blackwood Aff.) at 4. Blackwood submitted the draft PD to Filler for review on February 10, 2005. Id. The draft PD indicated that the position was a GS-343-12. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 4; Pl.'s Cross-Mot., Ex. C (Blackwood Aff.) at 4.

In late May of 2005, approximately four months after Blackwood had submitted the draft PD to Filler for her review, Hawkins had still not received the audit results and therefore asked Filler about the desk audit. See Pl.'s Cross-Mot., Ex. A (Hawkins Aff.) ¶¶ 17-18. In response, Filler met with Hawkins to discuss in more detail Hawkins' job duties. See Def.'s Notice of Filing, Att. 4 (11/27/06 Filler Dep.) at 49.

It is undisputed that at that meeting, Filler told Hawkins that she did not believe the position should be classified as a GS-12. Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 20; Def.'s Resp. ¶ 20. Later at deposition, however, Filler testified that in reviewing the draft PD, "[she] was paying no attention and no focus on the grade level that was proposed." See Def.'s Notice of Filing, Att. 4 (11/27/06 Filler Dep.) at 49-50. In particular, when asked "did you have questions regarding the grade that was proposed by Ms. Blackwood," Filler responded: "Oh, no. Grade had nothing to do with it." Id. at 49. In addition, it was Blackwood's opinion that "from the beginning Ms. Filler did not feel that a promotion was warranted." Pl.'s Cross-Mot., Ex. C (Blackwood Aff.) at 10.

Thereafter, on June 21, 2005, still having received no response from Filler, Blackwood emailed Filler to tell her she was going on vacation and to inquire whether Filler wanted to meet with her to discuss the desk audit.*fn3 Pl.'s Cross-Mot., Ex. C (Blackwood Aff. at 4). Filler and Blackwood met later that same day to discuss the desk audit and draft PD. Id. Noticeably, Defendant, in his briefing, does not attempt to explain the approximately five month gap of time between the date Filler received the draft PD in February 2005 and the date when she met with Blackwood in June of 2005. See generally Def.'s Mot.; Def.'s Reply/Opp'n. This absence of an explanation is particularly noteworthy given that Filler stated at deposition that "she knew right away when I saw the duties that were described on the ...


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