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Dorns v. Geithner

March 12, 2010

SHERRI DORNS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
TIMOTHY GEITHNER, SECRETARY, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Sherri Dorns brings this action against Timothy Geithner, in his official capacity as Secretary of the Treasury,*fn1 under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2000e-17 (2006), asserting claims of discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment.*fn2 Currently before the Court is the defendant's motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. After carefully considering all of the party's pleadings, the defendant's motion, the plaintiff's opposition, and all memoranda of law and exhibits submitted with these filings,*fn3 and for the reasons set forth below, the Court concludes that it must grant the defendant's motion.

I. BACKGROUND

Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, as the Court must, the facts of the case are as follows.

The plaintiff is a black female who "has been employed as a Program Analyst[] [at] the Bureau of Engraving and Printing . . . , first in the Office of Procurement, and then in the Product Development Center." Compl. ¶ 9. "[I]n 1997, the [p]laintiff filed . . . [her] first . . . formal complaint[]" with the defendant's Office of Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity, which was subsequently settled. Id. ¶ 8. She initiated contact with an Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") Counselor about the current claims on August 28, 2002, Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 23; Pl.'s Stmt. of Facts, Response to Defendant's Statement of Facts ("Resp. to Def.'s Stmt. of Facts")*fn4 ¶ 23, and filed her second formal administrative complaint on October 9, 2002, Compl. ¶ 8, amending this second complaint several times to include new allegations, Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 23; Pl.'s Stmt. of Facts, Resp. to Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 23. "[A] final agency decision was issued [on the plaintiff's second complaint] on July 17, 2006." Compl. ¶ 8. Although the defendant initially "admit[ted] that [the p]laintiff ha[d] exhausted her administrative remedies," Answer ¶ 8, this Court subsequently issued an Order on February 19, 2010, granting the defendant's Motion to Amend Answer, thereby allowing the defendant to deny the plaintiff's statement that she had exhausted her administrative remedies, February 19, 2010 Order at 4.

The events leading up to the filing of the second administrative complaint commenced "[o]n February 15, 2001, [when the p]laintiff, who was expecting with her second child[,] . . . submitted to her supervisors a five-month request to telecommute[,]" during which she proposed working twenty hour per week. Compl. ¶ 11. Four days later, "[o]n February 19, . . . [the p]laintiff's supervisor, Ted Strahan[,] asked [the p]laintiff to submit a list of proposed projects" appropriate for "a telecommuting arrangement," which the plaintiff provided. Id. ¶ 12. The plaintiff "selected projects based upon [the] recommendation[s] of the project managers . . . to ensure that the project(s) selected would provide identifiable benefits to the Bureau." Id. "[The Bureau of Engraving and Printing] had in place a telecommuting policy," Pl.'s Stmt. of Facts, Pl.'s Add'l Facts ¶ 3, which instructed that the immediate supervisor, followed by the Office Chief, Associate Director, and Associate Director for Management all "review, consider, and if appropriate concur with the requests initiated by the subordinate supervisor," Pl.'s Stmt. of Facts, Pl.'s Add'l Facts ¶¶ 7-9, but the "request is not sent forward to the next step if it is denied," id. ¶ 16. The procedure followed concerning the plaintiff's request to telecommute did not conform completely to the procedure outlined in the telecommuting policy manual. Id. ¶¶ 3-21. Mr. Strahan first communicated the denial of the telecommuting request on March 19, stating that he "felt that the proposed projects would not justify the number of hours [the p]laintiff was requesting to work from home." Compl. ¶ 13. The plaintiff asked for a review of this decision, id., and apparently submitted "a second request to telecommute [that] detailed which projects she would complete while working from home," Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 7, and "[o]n April 13, 2001 . . . received [an e-mail at home during her maternity leave in which] upper management again denied [the p]laintiff's request on the grounds that the Office of Administrative Services should perform the work" the plaintiff suggested for telecommuting.*fn5 Compl. ¶ 14. The defendant asserts that Carla Bangs (formerly Carla Kidwell), the Associate Director, denied this request, Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 8, but the plaintiff counters that Ms. Bangs nevertheless passed the request on to Joel Taub, the Associate Director for Management, at the next level up, who ultimately denied it, Pl.'s Stmt. of Facts, Resp. to Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 8. Regardless of the exact procedure the Bureau of Engraving and Printing used, the end result was that the plaintiff's request to telecommute was denied, Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 6; Pl.'s Stmt. of Facts, Resp. to Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 6, even though the defendant did not follow internal procedure precisely, see Def.'s Resp. to Pl.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 20 (admitting that when a first line supervisor did not approve of a telecommuting request, the request should not have moved on to the next supervisor).

The plaintiff alleges that "[t]he reasons given by management for denying [her] request were mere pretext because [the Bureau of Engraving and Printing] has allowed similarly-situated employees, not in employees race, to [tele]commute." Compl. ¶ 14; see also id. ¶ 16. However, the "[d]efendant denies that the [Bureau of Engraving and Printing] approved the telecommuting requests of white females within [the plaintiff's] directorate and with her supervisor." Answer ¶ 16. As further evidence of the Bureau's inconsistency, the plaintiff notes that one of the projects that the plaintiff had requested as a basis for telecommuting was ultimately assigned to someone in the plaintiff's office in July, 2002. Compl. ¶ 15.

The second action about which the plaintiff complains concerns the alteration of her duties. "When [the p]laintiff first joined the Securities Technology Institute . . . from the Office of Procurement, she was . . . responsible for . . . developing procurement strategies, generating new procurement alternatives, formulating, presenting[,] and justifying proposals, and coordinating studies performed by other internal components or contractors relating to U.S. currency printed by" the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Id. ¶ 17. However, she was later "assigned to a project involving community outreach to the manufacturers of cash handling equipment, and she was no longer responsible for negotiating major acquisitions and investigating the feasibility of incorporating new technologies into new currency design." Id. ¶ 18. In short, the plaintiff claims that "[s]he was relegated to . . . clerical tasks." Id. She asserts that her "frequent requests to be given more meaningful jobs were denied without justification" and that as a result "it became impossible for [her] to be considered for promotional and growth opportunities." Id. ¶ 19. The shift in the plaintiff's duties appears to have taken place sometime between 1997 and 1999. Def.'s Mem. at 3. The defendant asserts that the plaintiff's duties changed because, although "[w]hen [the p]laintiff joined BEP in 1995, her duties were primarily procurement related[,] . . . . procurement needs decreased, due to contract amendments." Def.'s Mem. at 3.

The plaintiff believed that her "supervisors [were] creat[ing] a hostile work environment, [and she] sought to escape [it] by requesting that she be transferred or detailed to another position and office where the skills she learned would enhance her marketability." Compl. ¶ 22. The "[p]laintiff approached her second line supervisor, Larry Felix, [on March 13, 2002,] regarding obtaining [such] a detail." Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 9; Pl.'s Stmt. of Facts, Resp. to Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 9. However, "[o]n May 17, 2002, Mr. Felix sent the plaintiff an email informing her that she did not have enough experience for the places he had contacted on her behalf," Pl.'s Stmt. of Facts, Resp. to Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 10, even though "[t]he plaintiff had spoken with other agencies who were willing to agree to details of up to six months." Pl.'s Stmt. of Facts, Pl.'s Add'l Facts ¶ 25. Both parties generally agree that Mr. Felix "was not opposed to a 120-day detail," Def.'s Mem. at 4-5; Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 11; Pl.'s Stmt. of Facts, Pl.'s Add'l Facts ¶ 25, but "that any specifics beyond a 120 day[] [detail] would have to be discussed with [the plaintiff's] immediate supervisor," Pl.'s Stmt. of Facts, Resp. to Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 11. The plaintiff points to "[o]ther individuals . . . [who] had details of over a year," Pl.'s Stmt. of Facts, Pl.'s Add'l Facts ¶ 26, although whether their initial detail was for that length or whether they had shorter details that were incrementally extended is unclear, Def.'s Resp. to Pl.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 26. Ultimately, the plaintiff did not receive a detail during the summer of 2002, and "[t]he program through which [she] went on a one-year detail . . . in 2004 did not exist" in 2002. Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 12; Pl.'s Stmt. of Facts, Resp. to Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 12.

Additionally, the plaintiff, "who [had] always received outstanding performance reviews," Compl. ¶ 19, "was given a[] performance rating of '[A]chieved [S]tandards,'" id. ¶ 20, in November 2002. The defendant has consistently maintained that Ted "Strahan [also] rated the other three Program Analysts [as having] 'Achieved Standards' for the same time period."

Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 14. The plaintiff asserts that since the "performance goals and her current duties were unrelated" to the actual functions she performed, "and her supervisors had never communicated [her] goals and objectives to her," the lower rating she received was unjustified. Compl. ¶ 20. The plaintiff claims that "[m]anagement ignored [her] frequent and repeated demands to provide her with performance standards," id. ¶ 21, although the defendant denies this assertion, Answer ¶ 21. The plaintiff believes that the "lower rating was given . . . in retaliation for having mad[e] and filed complaints of discrimination." Compl. ¶ 20.

After "filing her complaint in October, 2002, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing has[, in the plaintiff's view,] denied [her] reasonable requests for training on the grounds that the requested training was not related to [her] work and that there was no money in the training budget." Id. ¶ 23. The specific courses that the plaintiff requested to take were for "Microsoft Project 200[0]/Advanced Features, Government Business Case Development, Economics 405, and Sociology." Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 17; Pl.'s Stmt. of Facts, Resp. to Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 17. "Mr. Strahan . . . believed that the Microsoft 200[0]/Advanced Feature was pivotal to [the] plaintiff's assignment and approved the course." Pl.'s Stmt. of Facts, Pl.'s Add'l Facts ¶ 34. However, "Mr. Felix did not believe that [the four courses] were work related or would assist the Agency in achieving its mission." Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 19; Pl.'s Stmt. of Facts, Resp. to Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 19. The plaintiff asserts that "[t]hese reasons were false because . . . [all the courses she requested] were . . . related to the [her] work, and there was money in the budget to pay for these courses." Compl. ¶ 23. The plaintiff also alleges that the Bureau of Engraving and Printing "willingly paid for courses for white employees and employees who had not filed discrimination complaints," id., but from 1996 until 2007, the plaintiff also attended forty one courses, Pl.'s Stmt. of Facts, Resp. to Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 21.

Finally, on March 3, 2003, "because of a high blood pressure issue," Pl.'s Stmt. of Facts, Pl.'s Add'l Facts ¶ 49, the plaintiff requested and "the defendant denied [her] request for [three] hours of advanced sick leave/leave without pay," id. ¶ 2. "As a result of the denial, the plaintiff was required to use [three] hours of compensatory time." Id. ¶ 38. The "[d]efendant alleges that the advanced sick leave was denied because the plaintiff did not provide evidence that she had a serious or incapacitating disability." Id. ¶ 39.

The plaintiff claims that the "continual and on-going discrimination was outrageous and was intended to cause and did cause [the p]laintiff to suffer physical harm and severe emotional distress." Compl. ΒΆ 33. This conduct allegedly required "doctor's care and [the ...


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