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Corinne Robertson v. Gene Dodaro

March 7, 2011

CORINNE ROBERTSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GENE DODARO, COMPTROLLER GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY OFFICE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge

Re Document No.: 26

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GRANTING THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the court on the defendant's motion for summary judgment. The pro se plaintiff, an African-American woman, brings this action against her employer, the United States Government Accountability Office ("the defendant" or "the GAO"), asserting claims of disparate treatment based on race and gender and a hostile work environment, pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. Because the plaintiff has failed to raise a genuine dispute of material fact as to the defendant's legitimate non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment action at issue, the court grants the defendant's motion for summary judgment as to the plaintiff's disparate treatment claims. Further, because the plaintiff bases her hostile work environment claim on the same factual allegations on which she bases her disparate treatment claims and because those allegations do not support an inference that the defendant's actions were based on race or gender, the court also grants the defendant summary judgment on the plaintiff's hostile work environment claim.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

1. The FAM Update Project

Since 1997, the pro se plaintiff, an African-American woman, has worked as a senior analyst with the GAO's Financial Management and Assurance Team. Am. Compl. ¶ 6. In 2001, the plaintiff was assigned to update the GAO's Financial Audit Manual ("FAM"), which describes the methodology used by the federal government to conduct internal audits. Def.'s Mot. at 2; Pl.'s Dep. at 26-27. At that time, and during all times relevant to this lawsuit, the plaintiff was supervised by Roger Stoltz, the assistant director of the FAM project. See Def.'s Mot., Sebastian's Dep. at 13. Stoltz's supervisor and the director of the project was Steven Sebastian. Def.'s Mot. Stoltz Dep. at 19-21.

In 2006, the GAO began its substantive work on the FAM. See Pl.'s Dep. at 34. The plaintiff and her white female co-worker, Janet Krell, were the only full-time employees assigned to work on the FAM project. Def.'s Mot. at 3. Krell, an assistant director, outranked the plaintiff in both title and salary, as Krell was compensated at the "band III" salary level, while the plaintiff received a salary at the lower "band II-A" level.*fn1 Stoltz Dep. at 23-24. Notwithstanding these differences in pay and title, Krell, like the plaintiff, reported directly to Stoltz, see Stoltz Dep. at 61, and their job responsibilities were indistinguishable, see Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 3 (Decl. of McCoy Williams, Former Managing Director of the Financial Management and Assurance Team, ("McCoy Decl.")) ¶ 9. Generally, these duties included identifying the changes needed to update the FAM and drafting proposals of the FAM's revised sections. See Pl.'s Dep. at 44.

2. The Plaintiff's Performance Evaluations

GAO employees are mentored and evaluated by a Designated Performance Manager ("DPM"). Def.'s Mot. at 2 n.2. A DPM is expected to meet periodically with his or her assigned employee to discuss the employee's expectations, provide mid-year feedback about the employee's performance, prepare a yearly final performance evaluation and provide additional feedback concerning that evaluation. Id. For those employees compensated at the band II-A level (like the plaintiff), the final performance evaluation calls for ratings in seven competencies, for each of which an employee may be ranked in one of four ways: "below expectations," "meets expectations," "exceeds expectations" or "role model." Id. at 3. The DPM's supervisor is required to sign off on the ratings in order to ensure that the DPM applied the criteria for the competencies consistently and accurately. Sebastian Dep. at 27.

Stoltz became the plaintiff's DPM in 2001 and served in that capacity through 2006. Stoltz Dep. at 38, 77. In his 2006 performance evaluation of the plaintiff, Stoltz rated the plaintiff as "meets expectation" in all competencies. Id. at 51; Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 4. As required, Stoltz's supervisor, Sebastian, approved of the evaluation, after discussing with Stoltz his reasoning for the ratings. Sebastian Dep. at 27-28, 35-36. Shortly thereafter, the plaintiff filed an administrative grievance, contending that she deserved a higher rating because she was had been the "major contributor" to the FAM project and because her job assignments exceeded those that were normally fit for her band level. Def.'s Mot., Ex. G. at 1.

At the plaintiff's request, her 2007 performance evaluation was conducted by Gail Vallieres, another assistant director who was not the plaintiff's supervisor. Def.'s Mot., Ex. J. at 1. Based on information she had gathered from Stoltz and Sebastian, Vallieres Dep. at 17; see also Pl.'s Dep. at 93-94, Vallieres evaluated the plaintiff as "meets expectations" in four of the seven competency areas and "exceeds expectations" in the remaining three competencies. Def.'s Mot., Ex. J at 1. Vallieres relayed to the plaintiff her supervisors' comments and purportedly told the plaintiff that she needed improvement in her behavior and attitude, particularly as it affected her ability to collaborate with others.*fn2 Pl.'s Dep. at 93; Vallieres Dep. at 20-21, 29-30. More specifically, the plaintiff claims that Vallieres told her that she was viewed as dismissive, superior, condescending and unhappy. Pl.'s Dep. at 93; Vallieres Dep. at 33-34. The plaintiff told Vallieres that she felt her supervisors' comments were sexist and that her supervisors did not want her to succeed. Pl.'s Dep. at 97-98. According to the plaintiff, Vallieres then recommended that the plaintiff read a book "about a woman's role in a man's world." Pl.'s Dep. at 80.

In 2008, the plaintiff and Vallieres had a mid-year feedback session, during which Vallieres allegedly told the plaintiff that she "would not be getting the ratings necessary to be promoted." Def.'s Mot., Ex. Q ("Pl.'s EEO Complaint") at 2. Additionally, the plaintiff claims that Vallieres continued to raise the same "subjective personality issues" and noted that she was not "pleasing [the] director." Id.

3. Stoltz's Invitation to the Plaintiff to Visit Europe

During the 2006 evaluation period, in addition to serving as the director for the FAM project, Stoltz also served as the assistant director to another audit team. Stoltz Dep. at 82. In this capacity, he supervised and was the DPM for Pat Summers, a white woman who was promoted in 2006 from band II-A to band II-B after Stoltz recommended her for performance awards and gave her a positive evaluation. Id. at 85, 87-88. Stoltz also supervised Cara Bauer, another white woman who, during the 2006 evaluation period, was a band I analyst. Id. at 83; 85-86.

Stoltz, Summers and Larson were required to travel to Europe in November 2006 as part of their official GAO duties. Stoltz Dep. at 83. Prior to their departure, Stoltz invited the plaintiff to take her vacation time and join the group abroad. Id. at 84-85. As the plaintiff recounts it, while preparing for the trip, [Stoltz, Larson, and Summers] would talk about wine lists and sites that they intended to visit, and [Stoltz] looked at me and said 'You should take your vacation and come with us.' And I said 'Well, will the government be paying for me?' And he laughed. And we both sort of laughed.

Pl.'s Dep. at 59. According to Stoltz, he "had had other staff members in the past show up [in Rome or Paris, for instance] and [they] would go out to dinner, [they] would go see sights on the weekends, and basically off duty assignments." Stoltz Dep. at 84.

B. Procedural History

On July 3, 2008, the plaintiff contacted an EEO counselor and, a few weeks later, filed a formal complaint with the GAO's Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") office, alleging that Stoltz and Sebastian had discriminated against her on the basis of race and gender by providing negative ratings in connection with her 2006 and 2007 evaluations as well as her 2008 mid-year feedback session. Pl.'s EEO Complaint at 2.

In November 2008, the plaintiff commenced this action, alleging that her supervisors discriminated against her on the basis of her race and gender and subjected her to a hostile work environment by providing her with negative performance evaluations. See generally Am. Compl. The ...


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