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Bonita M. Brown v. Georgetown Univ. Hosp. Medstar Health

March 29, 2011

BONITA M. BROWN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GEORGETOWN UNIV. HOSP. MEDSTAR HEALTH, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard W. Roberts United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Bonita Brown brings this action alleging retaliation and discrimination on the basis of race or national origin in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., and Article 49B of the Maryland Annotated Code, wrongful termination, breach of contract, and intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED"). The defendant, Georgetown University Hospital Medstar Health ("Hospital"), has moved for summary judgment. Because Brown has failed to exhaust her administrative remedies as to her retaliation claim, the Hospital took no adverse employment action against her, and the employment dispute took place in the District of Columbia, the Hospital's motion for summary judgment will be granted with respect to Brown's Title VII and Maryland law claims. In addition, summary judgment for the Hospital will be granted on Brown's wrongful termination claim because Brown resigned, on Brown's breach of contract claim because Brown did not follow her collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") grievance procedures, and on the IIED claim because Brown has failed to demonstrate that the Hospital's conduct was extreme and outrageous.

BACKGROUND

For approximately two and one-half years, Brown was an at-will employee for the Hospital and a member of the District 1199E-DC, Health Care Workers Union SEIU ("SEIU"). (Pl.'s Second Am. Compl. ("Compl.") ¶ 5; Def.'s Stmt. of Material Facts ("Def.'s Stmt.") ¶¶ 2, 4.)*fn1 During the course of Brown's employment, the Hospital changed Brown's work schedule by one and one-half hours due to patient needs. (Compl. ¶¶ 10-11, 13;

Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 10.) Brown also was suspended with pay for several days for refusing to respond to a patient's needs and was escorted off hospital premises for refusing to meet with her supervisor, Michelle Humphrey. (Def.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 13-18, 21-22, 24-25; Compl. ¶¶ 21, 24.)

In mid-August 2005, Brown took sick leave from work and then was granted leave under the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") from August 22 through October 31, 2005. (Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 27;Def. Georgetown Univ. Hospital's Mot. for Summ. J. ("Def.'s Mot."), Ex. 29.) During Brown's absence, the Hospital removed Brown from the schedule pending Brown's completion of her annual performance evaluation. (Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 25; Compl. ¶ 28.) However, Brown never returned to work because, after extending her FMLA leave through mid-November, Brown resigned on November 14, 2005. (Compl. ¶ 31; Def.'s Mot., Ex. 31.)

After filing an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") complaint alleging discrimination on the basis of national origin, Brown brings this suit alleging retaliation and discrimination under Title VII and Maryland law on the basis of race or national origin, wrongful termination, breach of contract, and IIED. (Compl. ¶ 3; Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 34-35; Def.'s Mot., Ex. 15.) The defendant has moved for summary judgment arguing, in part, that Brown has failed to exhaust her administrative remedies for her discrimination claims, and that, even if Brown has exhausted her administrative remedies, Brown has failed to allege that she suffered from any adverse employment action. The Hospital further argues that Maryland law does not apply, that the wrongful termination claim fails because Brown resigned, that the breach of contract claim fails because Brown did not follow her CBA grievance procedures, and that there was no outrageous conduct to substantiate Brown's IIED claim.

DISCUSSION

To succeed on a motion for summary judgment, the movant must show that, when the facts are viewed in the light most favorable to the non-movant, there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must draw all justifiable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor and accept the nonmoving party's evidence as true. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). Moreover, to prevail on a summary judgment motion, the moving party must demonstrate that the non-moving party failed to show "the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. A party can "defeat summary judgment through factual representations made in a sworn affidavit if [she] supports [her] allegations . . . with facts in the record, . . . or provides direct testimonial evidence." Baloch v. Norton, 517 F. Supp. 2d 345, 353 (D.D.C. 2007) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Ultimately, "all that is required [from a nonmoving party] is that sufficient evidence supporting the claimed factual dispute be shown to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial." Moore v. Hartman, 571 F.3d 62, 66 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (alteration in original).

I. TITLE VII

A. Administrative remedies "[A] timely administrative charge is a prerequisite to initiation of a Title VII action in the District Court." Hutchinson v. Holder, 668 F. Supp. 2d 201, 212 (D.D.C. 2009) (alteration in original). This is a mandatory requirement "because the administrative charge gives the charged party notice of the claim and it 'narrow[s] the issues for prompt adjudication and decision.'" Caldwell v. ServiceMaster Corp., 966 F. Supp. 33, 48 (D.D.C. 1997) (alteration in original) (quoting Park v. Howard Univ. 71 F.3d 904, 907 (D.C. Cir. 1995)). Although a "vaguely worded [administrative] charge is not fatal to a Title VII plaintiff['s] case" because charges "are often drafted by persons unschooled in technical pleading[,] . . . the requirement of some specificity in a charge is not a mere technicality, . . . and a liberal interpretation of an administrative charge cannot be used to permit a litigant to bypass the Title VII administrative process." Id. at 49 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Moreover, "the Supreme Court's decision in Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101 (2002), established that 'each discrete adverse employment action individually triggers Title VII's procedural requirements,' such that a plaintiff alleging more than one discrete discriminatory action 'must exhaust the administrative process [with respect to each allegedly discriminatory action] regardless of any relationship that may exist between those discrete claims and any others.'" Porter v. Jackson, 668 F. Supp. 222, 229 (D.D.C. 2009) (alterations in original) (quoting Coleman-Adebayo v. Leavitt, 326 F. Supp. 2d 132, 137-38 (D.D.C. 2004)).

Brown has asserted discrimination and retaliation claims under Title VII.*fn2 It is undisputed that national origin was a basis of Brown's EEOC charge. (See Pl.'s Opp'n at 11; Def.'s Mot., Ex. 15, EEOC Form.) The Hospital, however, argues that summary judgment should be granted with respect to Brown's added claims of racial discrimination and retaliation because the EEOC complaint makes no reference to race or retaliation. (Def.'s Mot. at 17.) Contrary to the defendant's assertions, however, the plaintiff's EEOC complaint raises as an issue racial discrimination. For example, Brown wrote "African American" next to "National Origin" in the space where the complainant is to provide the basis for her charge. (Def.'s Mot., Ex. 15, EEOC Charge of Discrimination.) Brown also wrote that she felt insulted "as an African-American" when Humphrey stated "[i]t's a cultural thing" during a meeting organized to raise employee awareness of cultural differences. (Id.; Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 11.) Even though one court observed that "allegations of national origin discrimination are not so closely related to allegations of racial discrimination such that a conclusion about one could reasonably be expected to grow out of an investigation of the other[,]" Sisay v. Greyhound Lines, Inc., 34 F. Supp. 2d 59, 64 (D.D.C. 1998), Brown's EEOC complaint includes sufficient facts to reasonably trigger an administrative investigation into racial discrimination.

On the other hand, Brown's EEOC complaint makes no reference to retaliation. While the EEOC complaint alleges that Humphrey harassed Brown throughout her years of employment, "especially during the last six months" and that Brown "wrote a lengthy letter to the human resource office detailing the problems [she had] encountered" (Pl.'s Mem. at 11; Def.'s Mot., Ex. 15), nowhere on the complaint does the word retaliation appear. Nor is there any reference to specific events occurring after Brown's letter to human resources that would put the defendant on notice of any retaliation claim. Given that the exhaustion requirement intends to give the agency an opportunity to handle claims "internally and ensures that only claims plaintiff has diligently ...


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