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Hutchinson v. Holder

November 12, 2009

SELENA P. HUTCHINSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ERIC HOLDER, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ellen Segal Huvelle United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Selena Hutchinson has sued defendant, the United States Department of Justice ("DOJ"), for discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2000e-17, and the Civil Rights Act of 1991 ("CRA"), 42 U.S.C. § 1981a. The defendant now moves for partial dismissal of Ms. Hutchinson's claims or, in the alternative, partial summary judgment. For the reasons stated herein, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND

I. FACTUAL HISTORY

Until August 1, 2009, plaintiff Selena Hutchinson was a GS-15 Computer Scientist in the Office of the Chief Technology Officer ("OCTO") Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force ("FTTTF"), Information Technology Support Unit ("ITSU") of the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI").*fn1 (Compl. ¶ 5.) She had been employed by the FBI since March 25, 1990, when she began working as a GS-13 Computer Equipment Analyst. (Id. ¶ 14.) She was promoted to GS-14 in 1991 and to GS-15 in 1995. (Id. ¶ 15.) Ms. Hutchinson alleges that she achieved the rank of GS-15 Unit Chief with supervisory responsibilities.*fn2 (Id.; Pl.'s Opp'n at 2.) Until his retirement in December 2005, Ms. Hutchinson's first line supervisor was Section Chief Mark Tanner, Director of the FTTTF. (Compl. ¶ 18.) At that time, Jerome Israel, Chief Technology Officer ("CTO"), OCTO, Office of the Chief Information Officer ("OCIO"), became Ms. Hutchinson's first line supervisor. (Id.)

On September 5, 2005, Mr. Israel hired Timothy Goodwin as a GS-15 Supervisory IT Specialist at the FBI. (Id. ¶ 19.) Mr. Goodwin was then promoted to Acting Section Chief, a position that plaintiff alleges was not offered to her or posted for competition, despite her previous experiences as Acting Section Chief under Mr. Tanner. (Id.) Mr. Goodwin became Ms. Hutchinson's first line supervisor. (Id. ¶ 21.) Ms. Hutchinson claims that around this time, Mr. Israel began to question Ms. Hutchinson's status as Unit Chief, and on January 9, 2006, Mr. Israel informed plaintiff that she was not, in fact, a Unit Chief. (Id. ¶ 20.) On January 11, 2006, Mr. Goodwin gave Ms. Hutchinson a new Performance Plan, indicating that she no longer had supervisory responsibilities and informed two of Ms. Hutchinson's subordinate managers that Ms. Hutchinson was no longer their supervisor and that they were to report to Mr. Goodwin. (Id. ¶¶ 22-23.) That same day, Ms. Hutchinson initiated informal contact with the FBI's Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") office. (Id. ¶ 25.)

Ms. Hutchinson claims that starting in late 2005, the FBI, primarily through the actions of Mr. Israel, Mr. Goodwin, and Richard Chandler, who was hired to replace Mr. Goodwin when he left the FBI in July 2007, discriminated against her based on her race and sex, subjected her to a hostile working environment, and retaliated against her for contacting the EEO office. (Id. ¶¶ 88, 91, 94-97, 100.) Specifically, Ms. Hutchinson alleges that the defendant repeatedly selected white and/or male individuals who had not engaged in protected activity for promotional positions without competition (id. ¶¶ 19, 36, 46-47, 61-62, 70, 73, 75); effectively demoted plaintiff, replaced her with white males, removed her responsibilities, and prevented her from working on projects to which she had previously contributed (id. ¶¶ 22-23, 40-43, 67-68, 71, 80); undermined plaintiff's authority and assigned her menial duties (id. ¶¶ 23, 42-43, 80); failed to select her for a Section Chief position for which she was one of the best qualified candidates (id. ¶ 36); and gave her undeservedly low performance ratings. (Id. ¶¶ 28, 44, 81, 83, 85). Ms. Hutchinson also contends that the FBI discriminated and retaliated against her by denying her awards and recognition she had earned (id. ¶¶ 34); forcing her to switch offices (id. ¶¶ 24, 76, 78-79); firing contractors assigned to her projects (id. ¶ 37); excluding her from various meetings (id. ¶ 42, 82); and harassing and humiliating her via email and, on one occasion, in person. (Id. ¶¶ 30, 33, 45, 55, 66-67).

In 2007, Ms. Hutchinson was investigated by the Office of Professional Responsibility ("OPR") after she was accused of authoring three letters of recommendation on FBI letterhead using the title "Unit Chief" or "Acting Section Chief" when she was not entitled to use either designation. (Id. 48-54, 63-64.) Ms. Hutchinson maintains that the initiation of the OPR investigation, purported false accusations about plaintiff during the investigation, and the unauthorized search of her computer to obtain copies of the letters at issue also constitute discrimination and retaliation. (Id. ¶¶ 88, 91, 101.) Plaintiff alleges that the discrimination and retaliation continued between July 2007, when Mr. Chandler became her first line supervisor, and her departure from the FBI in August 2009. (Id. ¶¶ 72-82.) In particular, Ms. Hutchinson states that despite her seniority, Mr. Chandler refused to assign her responsibility, failed to invite her to staff meetings, did not provide her with a Blackberry, infrequently engaged her directly and instead communicated with her through his other subordinates, and did not ask Ms. Hutchinson to act in his absence. (Id. ¶ 82.) She also alleges that Mr. Chandler provided her with unjustifiably poor performance ratings and failed to acknowledge her successes, including her 30 Year Government Service Certificate. (Id. ¶¶ 84-86.) In sum, the complaint lists dozens of acts that plaintiff claims constituted a hostile work environment,*fn3 as well as alleged discrete acts of discrimination*fn4 and retaliation.*fn5

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Ms. Hutchinson's initial contact with the EEO office occurred on January 11, 2006. (Compl. ¶¶ 7, 25.) She received a Notice of Right to File a Discrimination Complaint on February 27, 2007, and she filed a formal complaint of discrimination against defendant on March 3, 2007. (Id. ¶¶ 8-9.) After allowing plaintiff to amend her EEO complaint several times, the EEO office accepted the following issues for investigation:

Whether complainant was subjected to harassment (hostile work environment) based on race (Black), sex (female) and reprisal for her prior participation in EEO protected activity, including, but not limited to the following:

(1) in January 2006, she was denied the opportunity to compete for the Acting Section Chief position while management appointed a white male without competition;

(2) on January 9, 2006, she was stripped of her duties as a Unit Chief and replaced by a less-qualified white male;

(3) on January 11, 2006, she was presented a Performance Plan without supervisory responsibilities and removed from her office;

(4) in September 2006, she received a demeaning e-mail accusing her of mismanaging a project;

(5) in February 2007, her development contractors were "let go;" she believes to ensure her failure;

(6) on March 29, 2007, she was advised that she was being removed as the Project Manager on two projects, and on April 2, 2007, she was assigned duties with less responsibility and skill;

(7) on April 2, 2007, she received a performance rating of Successful, and advised that she needed improvement in 2-4 areas; she believes that her supervisor made false accusations about her performance, including accusing her of having communication problems and sharing detailed project information with executives;

(8) on April 4, 2007, she received an e-mail from her supervisor complaining that she had not communicated her need for sick leave directly to him;

(9) on April 23, 2007, she became aware that she was the subject of an Office of Professional ...


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