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Na'Im v. Clinton

June 19, 2009

INTISAR R. NA'IM PLAINTIFF,
v.
HILLARY R. CLINTON,*FN1 IN HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SECRETARY OF THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina, United States District Judge

Re Document No.: 28

MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the court on the defendant's motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff claims that during her tenure of employment with the defendant, her supervisors discriminated against her on the basis of her race by fostering a hostile work environment and by retaliating against her for exercising her rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq.*fn2 Prior to discovery, the court granted partial summary judgment in the defendant's favor. The defendant asserts that now, even with the benefit of ample discovery, the plaintiff has failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact with respect to her remaining claims.

The court concludes that although the plaintiff has offered some evidence suggesting that she may have been treated unfairly by her supervisors, she can point to no facts indicating that this treatment was linked in any way to her membership in a protected class. Furthermore, the plaintiff has failed to raise a genuine issue of fact regarding whether the retaliation to which she was allegedly subjected was materially adverse and causally connected to her involvement in a protected activity. Accordingly, the court grants the defendant summary judgment.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

The plaintiff, an African American woman, began working for the U.S. State Department ("DOS") in 1990. Pl.'s Opp'n at 1-2. By 1999, the plaintiff had risen to the position of Information Analyst in the DOS Office of Information Resources and Management Programs and Services, Requester Liaison Division ("IPS") and had achieved the GS 12 step 5 grade level. Id. at 2. As an analyst, her principal duties included reviewing and processing information requests brought under the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act. Id. The plaintiff alleges that from 2001 until she left the DOS in 2006,*fn3 her supervisors took numerous hostile actions against her that were unjustified, discriminatory and designed to punish her for exercising her rights under Title VII. See generally id.

The plaintiff alleges that in 2001, IPS Department Chief Margaret Grafeld made highly derogatory comments about her during the renewal of the plaintiff's government security clearance. Id. at 2. Specifically, the plaintiff alleges that Grafeld told government investigators that the plaintiff's co-workers feared for their safety because they believed she was a "violent individual" who could bring a gun to work and "go[] postal" and that she "rambled on and on in an interview for a job."*fn4 Id., Ex. 1 at 10. The plaintiff alleges that as a result of the comments made by Grafeld, she was directed to undergo psychological testing in June 2001. Id. at 2.

In September 2001, the plaintiff filed an informal Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") complaint against Grafeld. Id. The plaintiff alleged that Grafeld had created a hostile work environment by making "racially derogatory comments" about the plaintiff's personal appearance,*fn5 failing to provide timely performance evaluations, giving the plaintiff unwarranted low performance ratings and portraying the plaintiff in a demeaning and negative light professionally.*fn6 Id. The plaintiff contends that during the subsequent mediation proceedings, Grafeld repeated the accusations she had made to government investigators regarding the plaintiff's mental instability. Id., Ex. 1 at 10-11.

In April 2001, Tasha Thain replaced Grafeld as the plaintiff's primary supervisor. Id. at 3 & Ex. 2 at 31. Thain was aware when she took over the position that the plaintiff's prior supervisor had felt threatened by her and that the plaintiff had a pending EEO complaint. Id. The plaintiff alleges that like her predecessor, Thain "adopted the office conventional wisdom that [the plaintiff] was a homicidal psychopath" and began making highly demeaning comments about the plaintiff to others in the office. Id. Thain allegedly stated to others that the plaintiff was "anti-social," that she "barricaded" herself in her office and that other co-workers were "intimidated" by her "pathologically loud voice" and were concerned about her "psychological stability." Id.

In her 2001 performance review, Thain gave the plaintiff a "Fully Successful" rating. Id. at 3-4. Thain, however, testified during her deposition that while she considered the plaintiff's performance during 2001 to be "Unacceptable," she nonetheless assigned the plaintiff a "Fully Successful" rating in part because she was advised that a lower rating could result in a retaliation claim in light of the plaintiff's pending EEO action. Id., Ex. 2 at 31-33. On or around May 10, 2002, the plaintiff filed an informal EEO complaint against Thain, alleging that Thain improperly downgraded her performance ratings in 2001. Id. at 4. The record does not indicate whether the plaintiff took any further action regarding this complaint. See generally Pl.'s Opp'n; Pl.'s Statement.

In May 2002, the plaintiff applied for a vacant GS 13 position. Pl.'s Opp'n at 4. The plaintiff alleges that although she was certified as a qualified candidate, Thain did not recommend her for the promotion. Id. at 4 & Ex. 2 at 102-03. As a result of her non-selection, the plaintiff filed another informal EEO complaint in January 2003. Id. at 4.

In August 2003, Thain recommended that the plaintiff be placed on a Performance Improvement Plan ("PIP") because she allegedly had been failing to meet her weekly case processing quota. Id. at 5. Thain also gave the plaintiff an "Unacceptable" performance rating for 2003. Id. at 5 & Ex. 2 at 53-54. The plaintiff objected to the PIP and the performance rating, contending that she had not been given enough cases to meet her weekly quota and that at any rate, she had successfully processed 308 cases against an annual goal of 300. Id. at 5. The plaintiff alleges that ultimately, Thain's supervisor, Audrey Holton, rescinded the PIP and determined that the plaintiff's performance rating was unwarranted and should be changed from "Unacceptable" to "Fully Successful." Id. at 5; Def.'s Reply at 12.

Nonetheless, Thain withheld the plaintiff's regular within grade salary increase for that year because of her unacceptable performance.*fn7 Pl.'s Opp'n at 6. Moreover, from December 2004 until March 2005, Thain ordered the plaintiff to attend twice-weekly "coaching sessions" ostensibly designed to improve her work performance. Id. at 6. The plaintiff alleges that although her performance was comparable to that of her co-workers, no one else on the staff was required to attend coaching sessions of this kind. Id. In 2005, Thain again placed the plaintiff on a PIP. Id. at 6-7.

The plaintiff alleges that in 2004, she was verbally assaulted by a co-worker while entering the DOS building. Id. at 6. Despite the fact that this assault was completely unsolicited, Thain initially prepared a written reprimand for the plaintiff.*fn8 Id. at 6. Thain also refused to support the worker's compensation claim filed by the plaintiff after she fell outside the DOS building. Id. at 7.

Sometime in late 2005, Charlene Thomas took over as the plaintiff's supervisor. Id. In January 2006, the plaintiff was again placed on a PIP. Id. The plaintiff filed her final informal EEO complaint on March 16, 2006. Id. Ten days later, the plaintiff left IPS for a position at the United States Passport Office, where she took a $10,000 per year pay reduction. Id.

B. Procedural History

The plaintiff filed a complaint in this court on December 28, 2006, alleging disparate treatment, hostile work environment and retaliation. See generally Pl.'s Compl. On September 21, 2007, the defendant filed a pre-discovery motion for summary judgment. See generally Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. (Sept. 21, 2007). The plaintiff opposed summary judgment and filed a motion for discovery pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(f). See generally Pl.'s Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. (Oct. 26, 2007). The court granted summary judgment to the defendant on the plaintiff's disparate treatment claims, holding that the defendant's conduct was not materially adverse. Mem. Op. (Sept. 22, 2008) at 2. The court, however, observed that a reasonable jury potentially could infer a hostile work environment and retaliation from the incidents alleged. Id. Accordingly, the court denied summary judgment as to these claims and granted the plaintiff's motion for discovery. Id. The defendant now moves for summary judgment on the plaintiff's remaining claims of hostile work environment and retaliation. See generally Def.'s Mot.; Def.'s Reply.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard for a Motion for ...


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