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Jillian L. Brown v. Children's National Medical Center

March 30, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Friedman United States District Judge


This matter is before the Court on defendants' motions to dismiss. For the reasons discussed below, the motions will be granted in part and denied in part.


Plaintiff Jillian Brown, an African-American female, began her employment at Children's Hospital National Medical Center ("CNMC"), Emergency Medical Services for Children ("EMSC"), National Resource Center ("NRC"), as a temporary employee in October 2002; she became a permanent employee, an Office Coordinator, in April 2003. Compl. at 8-9. Among NRC's employees were plaintiff's direct supervisor, Edward Liao, id. at 9, Theresa Morrison-Quintana, Partnership Outreach Team Leader, see id. at 2, Susan Eads Role, Director of Partnerships and Public Policy, id. at 3, Jocelyn Hulbert, State Partnership Outreach Coordinator, id. at 2, 10, and Kenneth Allen, id. at 5, Director of Program Planning and Training, id. at 22, to whom Morrison-Quintana and Hulbert reported, id. at 12.*fn1 After Liao resigned in July 2006, plaintiff assumed certain of his duties, including supervision of two Administrative Assistants, Patricia Thompson and Nanette Pierre, both African American. Id. at 7-8. Plaintiff then reported directly to the NRC's Executive Director, Dr. Jane Ball. Id. at 9, 21.

In the fall of 2006, Dr. Ball announced her retirement effective at the end of that year. Compl. at 10. According to plaintiff, Role and Allen "began pressuring [plaintiff] to join, and later lead, a committee to align itself against Dr. Ball." Id. Specifically, Role and Allen intended to coerce Dr. Ball either to appoint one of them as the new Executive Director, or to appoint both as Co-Directors, by threatening to accuse Dr. Ball of misappropriating federal funds. Id. In furtherance of the plot, Role and Allen allegedly sought to obtain plaintiff's signature on a statement attesting to false allegations against Dr. Ball. Id. Plaintiff refused, and instead reported these events to Kathryn Koepenick, the NRC's Senior Human Resources Consultant, in October 2006. Id. Apparently there was an investigation into Dr. Ball's activities, and in November 2006 she was "found . . . innocent." Id. During the last week of December 2006, Dr. Ball allegedly warned plaintiff that she and Hulbert should "keep a low profile" because Allen had them "on his radar." Id. Dr. Ball allegedly shared her concerns with Tasmeen Singh, who became NRC's Executive Director as of January 1, 2007. Id.

On January 3, 2007, Singh requested a meeting with plaintiff to discuss "accusations made against [her] by 'many/several staff.'" Compl. at 12. Plaintiff was accused of having said that Hulbert earned more than Morrison-Quintana, having forced Morrison-Quintana to adjust her telecommuting schedule, and having behaved rudely to others because she was dissatisfied with her job. Id. According to plaintiff, the events giving rise to these complaints occurred several years earlier, see id. at 8; yet none had been raised with prior management because plaintiff "was supposedly viewed as 'intimidating and physically intimidating' and a 'favorite' of [Dr.] Ball." Id. During this meeting, Singh "made comments that made it obvious that she was aware [plaintiff] had filed a charge of discrimination against a former employer alleging racial discrimination." Id. at 37. When plaintiff asked who had made complaints against her, Singh responded that the complainant was Thompson, one of the administrative assistants whom plaintiff supervised; other staff members allegedly confirmed Thompson's assertions. Id. at 12. Plaintiff later learned that Morrison-Quintana was her principal accuser. See id. at 3, 14,19.

Believing that "Dr. Ball's fears were coming to fruition far sooner than [she] expected," on January 4, 2007, plaintiff called Hulbert to ask whether anyone had asked her questions about plaintiff. Compl. at 13. Hulbert responded that, prior to January 3, 2007, Singh "solicited feedback from her [about plaintiff]," and Hulbert had repeated "what she had heard" from others. Id. Plaintiff allegedly warned Hulbert "to be careful because Dr. Ball . . . had the same fears regarding . . . Hulbert." Id.

On January 5, 2007, Singh and Koepenick informed plaintiff that she would be suspended "for 'bullying and intimidating'" Hulbert. Compl. at 13. Singh stated that "several employees made allegations against [plaintiff]," and because "too many [were] saying the exact same thing . . . an investigation would be conducted." Id. Plaintiff believed that "she was being subjected to a hostile work environment because one, or 'many/several' employees were making false allegations against her, the fabricated allegations were only supported by gossip and hearsay," and that no one had any "intention of interviewing, question[ing] or speaking with [her] to hear her side of the story." Id. Rather, plaintiff "was already considered to be guilty of the allegations," id., and indeed was found "guilty of the allegations, additional transgressions, and . . . was rude, had communication issues, was a bully, intimidating, physically intimidating, confrontational, participates in unprofessional gossip discussions, and was retaliatory." Id. at 14.

On January 11, 2007, plaintiff reported to the NRC "to learn of . . . the investigative findings." Compl. at 14. On that date, Singh issued a Final Written Notice to plaintiff, id., which in relevant part stated:

[T]he notice is being issued because of concerns having to do with 1. intimidating conduct at the work place and 2. inappropriate communications of confidential information and 3. inappropriate conversations regarding other employees. As your manager, I have learned about this behavior through my investigation and through unsolicited complaints.

In response to these concerns and complaints, I spoke to you on January 3, 2007 to allow you the opportunity to respond and present your perspective. At the conclusion of this conversation I directed you not to have any conversations regarding our meeting with any staff member. However, the next morning it was brought to my attention that you called a staff member directly to ask if that individual had spoken to me regarding your performance and made comments to that individual about her own job security. As a result of this retaliatory and intimidating behavior, the decision was made to immediately remove you from the workplace by initiating a suspension pending the completion of the investigation. As part of that process, we gave you an opportunity to respond to the complaints made against you.

At this time, I have formally recommended that we lift the suspension so you can return to work. This notice is to provide you with clear expectations of the sorts of behaviors that are and are not permitted [, and plaintiff was instructed to] refrain from:

1. Conversations with employees about any NRC employee's salary (including your own) or budget information or any other sensitive employment or contract information.

2. Unprofessional "gossip" such as discussions about who might get fired or warning employees that they are "next to go" or acting in other ways that lend themselves to a hostile work environment for those around you.

3. Making inappropriate remarks to co-workers regarding the reasonableness of compensation for NRC staff, the qualifications of employees for their pay grade and job duties, or the productivity of co-workers.

4. Being confrontational and/or intimidating in your demeanor including the use of an unusually loud tone or the use of physical gestures that may reasonably be construed as intimidating to any employee.

5. Retaliatory conduct against other employees who may have brought concerns about your conduct to the manager. This includes harassing dialogue with employees such as asking them directly whether they complained, engaging in conversations with any employee about what was said or the terms of the suspension or this final notice, or any other conversations related to the complaints brought against you.

It is expected that you demonstrate cooperative, courteous and professional behavior at all times. Any incidents of not responding to requests in a reasonable timeframe, or any other inappropriate actions/inaction or problematic communication is also not acceptable behavior under the terms of this notice.

While it is my sincere intention to work with you in good faith to overcome these performance issues, I need to be absolutely clear that failure to follow the instructions above, engagement in any form of retaliation or any continued performance problem will result in your immediate termination.

Pl.'s Mem. in Opp'n to Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss [Dkt. #9] ("Pl.'s First Opp'n"), Ex. F (Final Written Notice) at 1-2 (emphasis added).*fn2

On January 16, 2007, plaintiff "filed a complaint with the EEOC and copied . . . Singh, . . . Koepenick and the Human Resources Department on the complaint." Compl. at 25; see id. at 16, 33. The complaint took the form of correspondence to the Washington Field Office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). Pl.'s First Opp'n, Ex. J (Letters from plaintiff to EEOC dated January 15, 2007). After describing at length her suspension and the Final Written Notice, plaintiff requested that the EEOC "review [her] submission and . . . investigate this tangible employment action, discrimination/disparate treatment, retaliation, harassment, and hostile work environment." Id., Ex. J at J2 (page number designated by plaintiff). Plaintiff submitted an ...

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