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McGrath v. Clinton

December 11, 2009

MATTHEW JOSEPH MCGRATH, PLAINTIFF,
v.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, SECRETARY UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF STATE DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Matthew McGrath brings this action against Hillary Rodham Clinton, in her official capacity as the Secretary of State,*fn1 under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2000e-17 (2006), for "reprisal for engaging in protected activity," Complaint ("Compl.") ¶ 1. Currently before the Court is the defendant's motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. After carefully considering the party's pleadings, the defendant's motion, and all memoranda of law and exhibits submitted with these filings,*fn2 and for the reasons set forth below, the Court concludes that it must grant the defendant's motion.

I. BACKGROUND

Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the facts underlying this lawsuit are the following.

The plaintiff, a white male, "began his service as a Foreign Service Officer [("FS Officer")] on June 10, 1984" and "was terminated by [the] defendant effective on November 30, 2004," after "serv[ing] in a variety of responsible posts in numerous countries throughout the world . . . ." Id. ¶ 11. The plaintiff "achieved Grade 1 -- the highest level for a regular [FS Officer] -- in a time period much faster than the usual FS Officer [and] . . . [h]is performance ratings from 1984 through 1999 were outstanding." Id. ¶ 12. The plaintiff assumed his position as the Chief of the Division of Cultural Programs for the Department of State (the "Chief") on September 10, 2001, which was under the supervision of S. Van Wunder. Id. ¶ 13. According to the plaintiff, "[w]ithin the first weeks of [his] employment in his new position . . . [Mr.] Wunder[] began to attempt to undermine [the plaintiff's] authority as Chief," id., "by going directly to [his subordinates] about assignments, instead of going through [him]," id. ¶ 14. "In late September, 2001, Mr. Wunder began to question [the plaintiff] concerning gossip Mr. Wunder [had] heard that [the plaintiff] had a 'big grievance,' which, at the time, [according to the plaintiff,] was inaccurate[, and an inquiry the plaintiff considered] inappropriate since Mr. Wunder had no business interfering with the grievance process as [the plaintiff's] supervisor."

Id. ¶ 18.

When the plaintiff first commenced his duties as Chief, he "attempted to have regular staff meetings and then, when he and other employees concluded that each [meeting] was a disruptive and frustrating event, he began having one-on-one meetings with staff instead." Pl.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 24. The plaintiff "did not attempt to resume the . . . group meetings" despite Mr. Wunder's direction to do so at a meeting between the two of them on March 8, 2002, concluding that they would still be "ineffective" and that he "had been holding frequent individual meetings with his staff." Id. ¶ 72.

The plaintiff asserts that "Mr. Wunder treated African American women differently than he did white women in the office -- in that he gave white women promotions and better work assignments than African American women." Compl. ¶ 14. The plaintiff claims that "[o]n at least three occasions, Mr. Wunder . . . wanted [the plaintiff] to intervene [in disputes] on the side of the white women." Id. ¶ 21. The plaintiff also claims that "Mr. Wunder . . . cited his own success in terminating an employee to whom Mr. Wunder referred as that 'Cuban' -- Mo Garcia," id. ¶ 31, although Mr. Wunder flatly denies this allegation, Pl.'s Opp'n, Exhibit ("Ex.") 35 (Defendant's Response to Plaintiff's Request for Admissions No. 4). As another example of Mr. Wunder's alleged insensitivity towards minorities, the plaintiff points to his "repeated[] and strong[] disagree[ment] with Mr. Wunder about the allocation of the Division's limited cultural funds."*fn3 Compl. ¶ 20. The defendant acknowledges that the "[p]laintiff routinely objected to the manner in which the Festival Fund was operated," but states that "when Mr. Wunder gave [the p]laintiff the opportunity to prepare a package for the fund's partners suggesting certain modifications, [the p]laintiff refused." Def.'s Mem. at 14. In response to this allegation, the plaintiff states both that "[c]ontrary to [the d]efendant's assertion, [the plaintiff] never refused to complete a plan for reformation of the fund," Pl.'s Opp'n at 6 n.4, and that he had not prepared a plan for reformation because he "was unwilling to participate in an exercise in futility," Pl.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 78.

According to the plaintiff, in the fall of 2001 Mr. Wunder "began pressing [him] to prepare documentation that would lead to the termination of the employment [of] an elderly disabled African American female employee, E.J. Montgomery," Compl. ¶ 31, which the plaintiff refused to do, id. ¶ 32, telling Mr. Wunder that his "instructions . . . [were] unethical and illegal discrimination based upon Ms. Montgomery's age, race, and disability," id. ¶ 33. "Mr. Wunder specifically denies that he directed [the p]laintiff to document Ms. Montgomery's performance to terminate her," Def.'s Mem. at 23-24, and the defendant notes that "Ms. Montgomery continue[d] to be an employee of the State Department" as of the date the defendant filed her summary judgment motion,*fn4 id. at 26. While the plaintiff was on leave in January and February, 2002, he contends that Mr. Wunder began assigning "large amount[s] of work . . . to Ms. Montgomery," Compl. ¶ 34, which the plaintiff believes was motivated by Mr. Wunder's desire to create "a set-up for her anticipated failure," id. ¶ 35. However, Ms. Montgomery indicated that she doesn't recall any additional duties assigned to her by Mr. Wunder during February, 2002. Def.'s Mem., Ex. 42 (Mar. 16, 2005 Deposition of Evangeline Montgomery ("Montgomery Dep.")) at 354. Around this same time, Mr. Wunder rescinded Ms. Montgomery's travel authorization, which had previously been approved by the plaintiff.

Compl. ¶ 35. The defendant explains this action, stating that "Mr. Wunder concedes that he rescinded [the p]laintiff's approval of Ms. Montgomery's travel because [the p]laintiff had improperly authorized travel that was not directly tied to matters that Ms. Montgomery was working on." Def.'s Mem. at 25. The plaintiff highlights Mr. Wunder's inconsistency on this matter, noting that he also "claimed that his decision to deny travel for Ms. Montgomery was connected to a review of all travel in the office" during his Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") testimony. Pl.'s Opp'n at 16.

On January 17, 2002, shortly before the plaintiff was scheduled to be on extended leave commencing the following day,*fn5 Compl. ¶¶ 22, 24, "Mr. Wunder asked [the plaintiff] if there were any pending projects" he had not completed, id. ¶ 22. Since the plaintiff "did not consider the signing of a Certificate of Appreciation by the Secretary of State [for presentation to a jazz musician at a reception that the plaintiff did not believe would occur] to be a[n] urgent pending matter at the time he spoke with Mr. Wunder," the plaintiff replied that there were none. Id. ¶ 23. Shortly after speaking to Mr. Wunder, however, the plaintiff "became concerned that the matter concerning the presentation of [the] award to the musician might still occur prior to [the plaintiff's] return from home leave," id. ¶ 24, but the plaintiff could not locate Mr. Wunder to tell him about the matter, id. ¶ 25. Included in the plaintiff's responsibilities for the award ceremony was drafting talking points for the Secretary and organizing the printing of the Certificate of Appreciation for the awardee. Def.'s Mem., Ex. 16 (Mar. 16, 2005 Deposition of Van Samuel Wunder ("Wunder Dep.")) at 456-57. Although the plaintiff could not find Mr. Wunder before departing for his extended home leave, he "wrote a cover memorandum explaining the situation and left the memorandum and file [for] Mr. Wunder." Compl. ¶ 25. "[T]he ceremony occurred [on January 20, 2002] with [former Secretary of State Colin Powell's*fn6 wife] handing a blank certificate to [the awardee's] daughter." Def.'s Mem. at 10; Def.'s Mem., Ex. 16 (Wunder Dep.) at 457-59. Although "[s]ubsequently, Secretary Powell signed and shipped a finalized certificate to [the awardee]," Def.'s Mem. at 10; Def.'s Mem., Ex. 16 (Wunder Dep.) at 457-59, Mr. Wunder, displeased with what had occurred, wrote the plaintiff an e-mail immediately after the ceremony was completed expressing his "displeasure with [the p]laintiff's performance . . . ." Def.'s Mem. at 10.

In addition to the Award Ceremony incident, the defendant highlights a number of other minor incidents during the plaintiff's tenure as Chief of the Division of Cultural Programs, including the plaintiff's inattentiveness to budget constraints and his lack of communication with his subordinates and supervisors. Def.'s Mem. at 11. Specifically, the defendant claims that the plaintiff significantly overran budgetary constraints on one project, id., and that several subordinates "each confirmed that [the p]laintiff was noticeably absent or 'non-existent' in his supervisory role and that they were frustrated working for him because he gave them no guidance or information," id.; see id. at 11-12 ("[A] number of [the p]laintiff's subordinates, who were principally responsible for certain . . . programs, were often left in the dark as to budgeting details of their own projects, as [the p]laintiff did not meet with them to review budgets and plans."). The plaintiff, however, states that he "inherited [the budgetary overrun] from his predecessor," and that he "informed the . . . staff of both their individual budgets and overall budget." Pl.'s Opp'n at 18. Mr. Wunder also states that when the plaintiff "returned from home leave at the end of February, 2002, [he] did not let Mr. Wunder know that he had returned to the office," and that shortly "[t]hereafter, in early-March, [the p]laintiff missed two meetings that Mr. Wunder had instructed the plaintiff to attend." Def.'s Mem. at 12. The plaintiff counters that "he did give Mr. Wunder notice that [one of] the meeting[s] conflicted with a previously scheduled medical appointment" and that he "did not recall whether he attended the [second] meeting and, in addition, . . . that as there were so many meetings to cover he was often unavailable to attend meetings but would send a subordinate in his place." Pl.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 63.

On March 8, 2002, Mr. Wunder met with the plaintiff to address his concerns about the plaintiff's inadequate performance. Id. ¶ 71. During this meeting, which became "heated," the plaintiff alleges that "Mr. Wunder told [him] that if he did not begin the process of terminating Ms. Montgomery, Mr. Wunder would give [him] a negative performance rating." Compl. ¶ 38. Since the plaintiff "realized that Mr. Wunder was serious about trying to terminate [the plaintiff's] employment[,] . . . [he] promptly sought EEO counseling in March, 2002." Id. Then, on April 11, 2002, the plaintiff received the first of two negative employee evaluation reports.

Pl.'s Opp'n at 21. The first did not include a review by the plaintiff's second-line supervisor, Mr. Sexton, because he had left his position in early February, and Mr. Wunder claims that he did not think that Mr. Sexton's review was necessary. Id. Prior to 2002, the plaintiff's evaluations had been generally positive, with the exception of one in 1999, which chastised him for "unauthorized use of [official] vehicles for home-to-office transportation and other personnel use," Def.'s Mem., Ex. 37 (June 2, 1999 McGrath Officer Evaluation Report ("1999 Evaluation Report") at 4, and one in 2000, which criticized his management style because he "sparked low morale among a majority of his existing staff" and "[p]robably half [of his staff] comment[ed] that they ha[d] been intimidated in recent months by his behavior which include[d] shouts," Def.'s Mem., Ex. 38 (May 1, 2000 McGrath Officer Evaluation Report ("2000 Evaluation Report") at 3. The plaintiff explains the negative review of his management style in his 2000 evaluation report, noting that "this [report] was issued during a time of great upheaval in the office," Pl.'s Opp'n at 4, when "numerous employees in the office left for personal reasons or because they were terminated for misconduct or security reasons," Pl.'s Opp'n at 4 n.2. On April 16, 2002, the plaintiff made a formal complaint with the EEOC, Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 2 (Initial Contact Sheet/EEO Counselor's Report ("Initial Contact Sheet")) at 2, and shortly thereafter he informed Stephen Hart, his second-line supervisor at the time, that he had filed the EEOC complaint, Compl. ¶ 29. On April 24, 2002, the plaintiff received "a second [evaluation report], this time with a reviewing statement written by Mr. Sexton," id., which the plaintiff believes "was written in retaliation for his filing a discrimination complaint," id. ¶ 30. "[T]he only substantive change [to the second report] was the addition of Mr. Sexton's review." Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 99. Although the defendant initially claimed that the "[p]laintiff did not submit a statement concerning his performance rating or indicating any inaccuracies in Mr. Wunder's narrative,"*fn7 id. ¶ 91, the plaintiff contends that he actually did "prepare[] and submit[] a statement for inclusion in his [evaluation report], [but] . . . [the d]efendant would not allow [the p]laintiff's statement to be included because he referred to his pending EEO complaint," Pl.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 91. The plaintiff generally "disputes the veracity of Mr. Wunder and Mr. Sexton's statements" contained in his negative evaluation reports and asserts that ...


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