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Brathwaite v. Vance Federal Security Services

May 11, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gladys Kessler United States District Judge


Plaintiff Enrique Brathwaite ("Plaintiff") brings this action against his former employer, Vance Federal Security Services, Inc. ("Defendant"), pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. ("Title VII"), and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant violated Title VII (Count I), 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Count II), and the public policy of Washington, D.C. (Count III) by discriminating against him on the basis of his race.

This matter is now before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Dkt. No. 9]. Upon consideration of the Motion, Opposition, Reply, the entire record herein, and for the reasons stated below, Defendant's Motion is granted.

I. Background*fn1

On or about September 15, 2003, Defendant employed Plaintiff, an African-American male, as a security guard and assigned him to work at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Defendant requires its employees to abide by its "Standards of Conduct" policy. These Standards state that "[a]ssault" is "inappropriate" conduct that "can result in any form of discipline, up to and including immediate termination, as decided in the discretion of Chenega/Vance Federal Security Services."

Plaintiff signed the "Standards of Conduct" form on February 26, 2004. Def.'s Mot., Ex. B-1. Plaintiff "acknowledged" that he was "required" to comply with these Standards and that if he violated them, Vance had the sole power to determine an appropriate penalty.

Between December 2003 and February 2004, Plaintiff was cited for the following three disciplinary infractions.*fn2 On December 6, 2003, he was cited for his "attitude towards the client." Def.'s Mot., Ex. B-1. On December 18, 2003, he was cited for "Post abandonment and unauthorized removal of a firearm from a Post." Id. The Counseling Official recommended a three-day suspension and wrote that "[a]ny further violations of company policies will lead to more severe punishment to include possible termination." Id. On February 19, 2004, he was cited for "improperly unloading" his weapon inside the security booth. Id.

On March 13, 2004, Plaintiff was working at the security booth at Walter Reed. An altercation occurred between Plaintiff and another security officer, Shawn Verdine ("Verdine").*fn3

Plaintiff states that Verdine started the fight, and Verdine states that Plaintiff started it. According to Plaintiff, Verdine spit on him twice during the fight. Pl.'s Opp'n at 4.

Three other security officers were present: William Collins ("Collins"), Melvin Blassingame ("Blassingame"), and Joseph Barnett ("Barnett"). Verdine is Caucasian. Collins, Blassingame, Barnett, and Plaintiff are African American.

After the fight, Plaintiff went to the Provost Marshall's office to report the incident to his supervisors, Lieutenant Charles Green ("Green") and Lieutenant Gloria Williams ("Williams"). He arrived at the office with liquid on his face and stated that Verdine had spit on him. Pl.'s Mot. at 4. In their Incident Reports, Barnett and Blassingame both stated that they did not see Verdine spit on Plaintiff. Def.'s Mot., Ex. F. Thomas Sittner ("Sittner"), Project Manager and Chief of Guards, stated that Brathwaite had liquid on his face, but that he did not believe that the liquid was Verdine's spit. See id., Ex. E.

On the same day, March 13, 2004, Green began investigating the fight and took statements from Blassingame and Barnett.*fn4 Both witnesses stated that Plaintiff started the fight.*fn5 In his Incident Report, Barnett stated that "Brathwaite pushed Verdine first and then Verdine pushed Brathwaite." Id., Ex. F. He also stated that he thought that Brathwaite "went out of his way to have a confrontation with Verdine." Id.

Blassingame provided a similar description in his Incident Report where he stated that "out of my peripheral vision, [I saw] Verdine fall forward and then he turned and pushed Brathwaite." Id. He also stated that he heard Verdine say, "Don't push me." Id.

After this investigation, Green and Williams each wrote a report. Green stated that "Brathwaite shoved Verdine from behind and Verdine had a spontaneous reaction shoving Brathwaite causing [sic] Brathwaite to stumble." Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 5. Green concluded that "each officer should be suspended for a lengthy period and Brathwaite reassigned to another post." Id. Williams stated that "Mr. Brathwaite and Mr. Verdine were both wrong. Ones [sic] punishment should be no more than the other." Id., Ex. 6. Neither Green nor Williams actually observed the fight.

On March 18, 2004, Sittner conducted his own investigation. The investigation included a review of the videotape footage of the incident*fn6 and two interviews with Plaintiff. It also included interviews of the other security guards on duty, Walter Reed police officers, and bystanders. During the course of the investigation, Barnett and Blassingame told Sittner that he saw Brathwaite push Verdine from behind, and Blassingame told Sittner that he witnessed Verdine "go forward" and then heard him say, "Don't push me."

At the conclusion of the investigation, he prepared a Memorandum on his findings and sent it to Timothy McManus ("McManus"), the Operations Manager.*fn7 In this Memorandum, Sittner wrote,

I believe that Officer Brathwaite was the aggressor in this matter. I also believe that he has lied in his statements. They are not consistent and he refused to sign the statement that I took from him. Most compelling are the statements from Barnett and Blassingame. Barnett witnessed Brathwaite push Verdine first and Blassingame heard Verdine say, "don't push me," just before he heard the noise of Brathwaite falling. This type of spontaneous utterance is a clear indication that Verdine had been pushed and was reacting instead of being the aggressor.

Def.'s Mot., Ex. D. Based on his findings, Sittner recommended that Defendant terminate Plaintiff.

McManus reviewed Sittner's Memorandum. He concurred with Sittner's recommendation and authorized the termination. At the time he made the decision to terminate Plaintiff, McManus had never met Plaintiff and did not know his race.

On March 24, 2004, Plaintiff was informed of his termination. On April 12, 2004, Defendant hired Norris Hercules, an ...

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