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Hunter v. Clinton

September 15, 2009

DONALD HUNTER, SR., PLAINTIFF,
v.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, SECRETARY, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF STATE, DEFENDANT.*FN1



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Friedman United States District Judge

OPINION

This case is before the Court on defendant's motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Pro se plaintiff Donald Hunter brought suit against his employer, the Department of State, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., alleging disparate treatment on the basis of race and sex, retaliation, and a hostile work environment. After careful consideration of the parties' papers, the record in the case, and the relevant case law, the Court will grant defendant's motion.*fn2

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is a long-time employee of the Department of State who began his career as a GS-4 Supply Clerk. SeeMot., Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support ("Def. Mem.") at 1. During the times relevant to this case, plaintiff worked as a GS-12 Grants Specialist. See Mot., Statement of Material Facts as to Which There is no Genuine Issue ("Def. Facts") ¶ 1. Plaintiff relies on a series of events that he alleges took place between 2003 and 2005 in support of his employment discrimination and retaliation claims.

First, in 2003 plaintiff was responsible for preparing a final audit determination letter to close out an audit of the Mississippi Consortium for International Development ("MCID Determination Letter"). SeeDef. Facts ¶ 7; Opp., Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Statement of Material Facts as to Which There is No Genuine Issue ("Pl. Facts") ¶ 7. It took defendant more than six months to review and clear the letter. See Def. Facts ¶ 8; Pl. Facts ¶ 8. Second, on or about January 2, 2004, a GS-13 employee retired, leaving unfinished grant assignments. See Def. Facts ¶ 4; Pl. Facts ¶ 4. With the approval of Fannie Lue Allen, the Division Chief of the Grants Division, plaintiff's direct supervisors reassigned these matters to the rest of the grant team. SeeOpp, Ex. C, Deposition of Donald Hunter ("Hunter Dep.") at 47. Plaintiff requested, but did not receive, the "high-dollar" level reassignments; these were considered GS-13 level work. See id. at 54--55. Third, in a 2003 performance evaluation, Ms. Allen gave Mr. Hunter an "Excellent" rating. See Def. Facts ¶ 12. This rating is one level below the highest rating of "Outstanding," and it indicates "a level of unusually good performance. The quantity and quality of work under this element are consistently above average." Mot., Ex. K at 2.*fn3 Fourth, Mr. Hunter's direct supervisors began to selectively review his work in 2003. See Am. Compl. at 2; Mot. Ex. H, Declaration of Fannie Lue Allen ¶ 15. At the suggestion of Ms. Allen, Mr. Hunter attended various training programs to improve his communication and analytical skills and the quality of his work. See id. ¶ 24. Mr. Hunter also alleges that the defendant tolerated a hostile work environment. SeeAm. Compl. at 2.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment may be granted if "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits [or declarations] show 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); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986); Holcomb v. Powell, 433 F.3d 889, 895 (D.C. Cir. 2006). "A fact is 'material' if a dispute over it might affect the outcome of a suit under the governing law; factual disputes that are 'irrelevant or unnecessary' do not affect the summary judgment determination." Holcomb v. Powell, 433 F.3d at 895 (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 248).

An issue is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 248; Holcomb v. Powell, 433 F.3d at 895. When a motion for summary judgment is under consideration, "the evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 255; see also Mastro v. Potomac Electric Power Co., 447 F.3d 843, 849-50 (D.C. Cir. 2006); Aka v. Washington Hospital Center, 156 F.3d 1284, 1288 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (en banc); Washington Post Co. v. U.S. Dep't of Health and Human Services, 865 F.2d 320, 325 (D.C. Cir. 1989). On a motion for summary judgment, the Court must "eschew making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence." Czekalski v. Peters, 475 F.3d 360, 363 (D.C. Cir. 2007).

The nonmoving party's opposition, however, must consist of more than mere unsupported allegations or denials and must be supported by affidavits, declarations or other competent evidence, setting forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). He is required to provide evidence that would permit a reasonable jury to find in his favor. Laningham v. United States Navy, 813 F.2d 1236, 1242 (D.C. Cir. 1987). If the non-movant's evidence is "merely colorable" or "not significantly probative," summary judgment may be granted. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 249-50; see Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. at 380 ("[W]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is 'no genuine issue for trial.'") (quoting Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)). To defeat a motion for summary judgment, a plaintiff must have more than "a scintilla of evidence to support his claims." Freedman v. MCI Telecommunications Corp., 255 F.3d 840, 845 (D.C. Cir. 2001).

Because plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the Court reviews his filings under "less stringent standards than formal pleadings [or legal briefs] drafted by lawyers," Chandler v. W.E. Welch & Associates, Inc., 533 F. Supp. 2d 94, 98 (D.D.C. 2008) (quoting Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520, (1972)), and, when necessary, "examine[s] other pleadings to understand the nature and basis of [plaintiff's] pro se claims." Gray v. Poole, 275 F.3d 1113, 1115 (D.C. Cir. 2002).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Plaintiff's Claims of Discrimination on the Basis of Race and Sex

Title VII provides, in pertinent part, that "[a]ll personnel actions affecting employees or applicants for employment... in executive agencies... shall be made free from any discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16. It is unlawful for an employer "to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Title VII also makes it unlawful for an employer to retaliate against an employee for engaging in protected activity such as filing a charge of discrimination. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a); see also Holcomb v. Powell, 433 F.3d at 901.

Absent direct evidence that an employment-related decision was discriminatory or retaliatory, the claims must be analyzed under the burden-shifting framework of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). See Jones v. Bernanke, 557 F.3d 670, 678 (D.C. Cir. 2009); Moncada v. Peters, 579 F. Supp. 2d 46, 53 (D.D.C. 2008) (citing Barnette v. Chertoff, 453 F.3d 513, 515 (D.C. Cir. 2006)). Traditionally, within that framework, a plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case of discrimination or retaliation. SeeMoncada v. Peters, 579 F. Supp. 2d at 53 (citing Teneyck v. Omni Shoreham Hotel, 365 F.3d 1139, 1149 (D.C. Cir. 2004)). "Doing so creates a rebuttable presumption of discrimination and 'triggers the employer's burden to produce admissible evidence that, if believed, ...


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