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Beckham v. National Railroad Passenger Corp.

September 9, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rosemary M. Collyer United States District Judge


Pamela Montgomery Beckham sues the National Railroad Passenger Corporation ("Amtrak") for alleged race discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Ms. Beckham complains that she was discriminated against when Amtrak denied her tuition reimbursement for a master's degree program, web design software training, and her requests to work from home. Furthermore, Ms. Beckham complains that such actions were taken in reprisal for her participation in a Title VII class action against Amtrak. Having reviewed the parties' briefs, exhibits, and the entire record, the Court finds that none of these decisions rises to the level of a legally cognizable adverse action to support the allegations of disparate treatment discrimination. The allegation that Amtrak retaliated against Ms. Beckham also fails for lack of evidentiary support. Summary judgment will be granted to Amtrak.


Ms. Beckham is an African-American woman who has been employed by Amtrak since 1989. She was initially hired as a Train Attendant and has been promoted to a number of different positions over the years.*fn1 In 1995, Ms. Beckham became a Service Manager, where David Nogar was in her supervisory chain, although not as her direct supervisor. In September 1999, Mr. Nogar transferred to a new position with Amtrak in California. When this suit was filed in 2008, Ms. Beckham was working as a Senior Analyst in Amtrak's Transportation Department in Washington, D.C.*fn2

In 1998, Ms. Beckham joined a class-action lawsuit against Amtrak that charged the railroad with race discrimination; at the time, her name was Pamela Montgomery. See McLaurin v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., 311 F. Supp. 2d 61 (D.D.C. 2004). The suit was resolved in November of 1999, through a consent decree which continued in force until 2004. Ms. Beckham received monetary relief from the decree to compensate for a salary disparity that existed between African American and Caucasian employees. The decree named Thom Chawluk as a manager who allegedly discriminated against the protected class members. Mr. Nogar was Thom Chawluk's immediate supervisor at some point during the McLaurin class action.

In December 2002, Mr. Nogar returned to the East Coast as the Senior Director for Amtrak's Department of Service Delivery Standards ("Service Delivery") in Wilmington. As a Senior Analyst in Service Delivery, Ms. Beckham worked directly for Mr. Nogar, starting in approximately 2002 and continuing until January 2005, when Monika Sloane joined Service Delivery as Director of Service Standards and Operations. Ms. Sloane supervised Ms. Beckham until late 2006, after which Ms. Beckham's position was moved to the District of Columbia. Ms. Beckham did not discuss the McLaurin class action with either Mr. Nogar or Ms. Sloane.

Ms. Beckham contends that Mr. Nogar knew of her involvement in the McLaurin class action as he had been Tom Chawluk's immediate supervisor. Pl.'s Mem. in Opp'n. ("Opp'n."), Ex. 1 ("Beckham Decl.") ¶ 3. Mr. Nogar's name does not appear in the McLaurin complaint. Mr. Nogar supervised a contract commuter operation for Amtrak in California from September 1999 through December 2002 and testified in deposition that he "didn't know anything about that class action suit until after I came back and assumed my job as senior director of service delivery in Wilmington." Def.'s Mem. in Support of Mot. for Summ. J. ("Def.'s Mem."), Ex. 3 ("Nogar Dep.") at 64--65. Mr. Nogar learned at some point that Ms. Beckham had been a plaintiff in McLaurin. Id. at 64. Mr. Nogar "didn't think [the suit] impacted me one iota because - certainly with respect to Ms. Beckham, because the class action suit would have occurred when she was employed as a service manager for Northeast Direct product line. I actually recruited Ms. Beckham. I gave her her first management job. And I also provided her with a lot of training in those days, and so I had no reason to believe that if she was part of that suit that it would have anything to do with me." Id. at 65--66.

The functions of Service Delivery are to create, publish, and update the Service Standards Manual for onboard and train service employees; publish service standards for station employees; administer the uniform contract nationwide; perform quality assurance work; and assist in the implementation of special service initiatives by doing train riding, as needed. As a Senior Analyst in Service Delivery, Ms. Beckham's chief duty was technical writing*fn3 for Service Delivery's primary objective: the Service Standards Manual. Her responsibilities included technical writing for the service standards, the operations standards updates, and the operations service advisories. Additionally, Ms. Beckham was responsible for information relating to the Service Standards Manual that would be uploaded to Amtrak's intranet, an internal website for employees. Amtrak's Information Technology department would upload new or additional material to the intranet at Ms. Beckham's direction. Ms. Beckham vaguely contends, however, that at an unspecified time period her responsibilities included Internet responsibilities. See Opp'n., Ex. 1 (Plaintiff's Statement of Genuine Issues) ("Pl.'s Disputed Facts") ¶ 1 ("Ms. Beckham's responsibilities did include responsibilities for the internet.").*fn4

Ms. Sloane has a graphics design background and was hired in part to develop a web-based site for Service Delivery employees, thus keeping work in-house and eliminating the costs of contracting with outside firms for design and management of an Internet site. Russell Fox joined Service Delivery in 2004 after a lateral move from a separate Amtrak department. He was Ms. Beckham's counterpart as a Senior Analyst and shared responsibility for technical writing and updating the Service Standards Manual. Mr. Fox came to Service Delivery with a background in web design. Mr. Nogar had a goal of developing an external website for Service Delivery employees, accessible from outside the Amtrak intranet. According to Mr. Nogar, Mr. Fox and Ms. Sloane were also tasked with designing and maintaining the external Amtrak website based on their previous work experience. Thus, Mr. Fox was responsible for the development and maintenance of the external website and Ms. Beckham was responsible for maintaining the intranet, or internal, site for Service Delivery employees. Their core responsibility, however, remained the Service Standards Manual. Both Ms. Beckham and Mr. Fox reported to Ms. Sloane.

A. Tuition Reimbursement

Amtrak has an Educational Assistance Program whereby it approves tuition reimbursement to Amtrak employees for courses that are likely to assist the Amtrak employee in improving her skills relevant to the performance of her job duties. When Mr. Nogar became Ms. Beckham's direct supervisor in 2002, Ms. Beckham was pursuing a bachelor of arts degree from Cabrini College pursuant to the Educational Assistance Program. She took courses at Cabrini and received tuition reimbursement through 2004, when she earned her bachelor of arts degree.

In 2004, Amtrak reimbursed Ms. Beckham for the last part of her undergraduate degree, and Mr. Nogar separately authorized her attendance at an Effective Business Writing Course, Editing and Proofreading/Grammar Course and Technical Writing Course at The Business Development & Training Center in Malvern, Pennsylvania. Both parties agree that her courses at Cabrini and BDTC helped Ms. Beckham with her technical writing responsibilities. Ms. Beckham later applied for reimbursement for an Adobe Photoshop course she took at Villa Julie College, after she had completed the course. Mr. Nogar approved the tuition reimbursement but advised Ms. Beckham that she needed to submit such requests for approval in advance of a course so that Amtrak could assess whether the course would benefit her and Amtrak.

In July 2004, shortly after earning her bachelor's degree, Ms. Beckham asked Amtrak to approve tuition reimbursement for master's degree courses in Business and Technology Management at Villa Julie College. Ms. Beckham submitted her request to Barbara Hancock in Amtrak's Office of Career Development. Ms. Hancock sought Mr. Nogar's assessment of Ms. Beckham's application, i.e., whether the courses were relevant to Ms. Beckham's job, as is required under the Program for graduate-level courses.*fn5 After discussing the course materials and Ms. Beckham's stated reasons for seeking the specified master's degree, Mr. Nogar responded that he did not believe the proposed courses were sufficiently related to Ms. Beckham's job functions. Ms. Hancock then decided to deny Ms. Beckham's tuition reimbursement request. Ms. Hancock informed Ms. Beckham that Mr. Nogar did not believe the master's degree courses from Villa Julie College were necessary for her job.

Ms. Beckham's request for tuition reimbursement for a master's degree was the first and only time Mr. Nogar had been involved in making a tuition reimbursement decision. Mr. Nogar never had another employee request reimbursement. Thus, he had never approved or denied tuition reimbursement for another Amtrak employee during his time with the railroad. It was also the first time that Amtrak denied one of Ms. Beckham's requests for tuition reimbursement. Amtrak typically receives tuition reimbursement requests from Amtrak employees nationwide for bachelor's degree courses, and Amtrak approves some requests and denies others. Amtrak does not receive tuition reimbursement requests as often for master's degree courses. In fact, for at least the last ten years, Amtrak has not approved a request for a master's degree reimbursement for a Service Delivery employee. Def.'s Mem., Ex. 7 (Stagger Aff.) ¶ 16.

B. Dreamweaver

Amtrak utilized Dreamweaver, a web-site design program, to develop the external employee Internet site. Amtrak does not utilize Dreamweaver to maintain the intranet site. Mr. Nogar approved a training course on Dreamweaver I for himself, Ms. Beckham, Mr. Fox, and Ms. Sloane. In March 2005, however, he authorized Mr. Fox and Ms. Sloane to take the Dreamweaver II course but did not attend himself or authorize Ms. Beckham to attend. Ms. Beckham contends that this training was appropriate and necessary for her job and that she was denied training because of her race and/or in retaliation for her prior class action involvement. Mr. Nogar testified that he did not authorize Dreamweaver II training for Ms. Beckham because graphic arts were not part of her job, she had no background or experience in graphic arts, and because the intranet site - where her information was stored - was not based on Dreamweaver.

C. Telecommuting

At least at the relevant time, Amtrak had no official telecommuting policy to allow employees to work from home or outside the office. A supporter of telecommuting, Mr. Nogar asked his superior if telecommuting would be permissible. His suggestion was rejected because Mr. Nogar's superior believed that Amtrak's upper management would not approve a telecommuting recommendation. Thus, as a matter of company policy, telecommuting was not authorized. However, in practice, Service Delivery did permit employees to work from home on a limited basis. As Senior Director, Mr. Nogar himself did not handle telecommuting requests, but expected one of his two subordinate directors to do so. Ms. Sloane understood that there was no official policy to allow for telecommuting and that employees were not supposed to telecommute merely "at their convenience." Def.'s Mem., Ex. 4 (Dep. of Monika Sloane) ("Sloane Dep.") at 60--62. Thus, telecommuting was available only on a limited basis within the discretion of an employee's supervisor.

Ms. Sloane asked Mr. Fox to work from home on occasion when there was an ongoing intensive project so he could avoid the distractions of the office and work more efficiently. Mr. Fox did not ask to work from home; Ms. Sloane initiated his taking work home and had it approved by one of her superiors. Ms. Beckham contends that Mr. Fox admitted to her that he was allowed to work from home because of personal reasons, e.g., to meet a contractor, but Mr. Fox and Ms. Sloane both testified that he used vacation leave when he remained at home for personal reasons. See Beckham Dep. at 62--64; Sloane Dep. at 66--67; Def.'s Mem., Ex. 5 (Deposition of Russell Fox) at 36--37. This dispute is not material to resolution of the motion for summary judgment.

Ms. Beckham argues she was denied her requests to work from home which she attributes to race discrimination or retaliation. Ms. Beckham testified that she was denied the ability to work from home "each and every time" she requested it, which she recalls had been "about three times." Beckham Dep. at 59. However, she could only specifically recall one of the times, which occurred in "either 2005 or 2006," when she was denied the request to work from home on a day that an electrical company was scheduled to come to her house to evaluate fire damage. Id. at 59--61. Ms. Sloane denied the request. Id. at 61. Ms. Sloane, on the other hand, testified that on several occasions, Ms. Beckham called Ms. Sloane to inform her that she would be working at home and Ms. Sloane gave Ms. Beckham credit for those days and did not deduct the days working from home from her accrued vacation or sick leave. Sloane Dep. at 74--76. Ms. Beckham does not dispute these facts.

Ms. Beckham also requested and was allowed to change her work location on occasion.*fn6 However, at some point in 2005, Ms. Beckham asked to adjust her work schedule, prompting an October 3, 2005 memo from Mr. Nogar concerning, in part, Ms. Beckham's request to leave the office early on a regular basis. See Def.'s Mem., Ex. 11 (Oct. 3, 2005 Memo). Mr. Nogar had previously written a similar memo to Ms. Beckham, concerning Ms. Beckham's unilateral changes to her work ...

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