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Camille Grosdidier v. Chairman

May 16, 2011

CAMILLE GROSDIDIER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CHAIRMAN, BROADCASTING BOARD OF GOVERNORS, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Colleen Kollar-kotelly United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Camille Grosdidier ("Grosdidier") filed this action against her employer, the Broadcasting Board of Governors ("BBG"), alleging that she was unlawfully discriminated against based on her race, age, sex, and national origin and unlawfully retaliated for complaining about discrimination in the workplace. On March 28, 2011, the Court granted-in-part and denied-in-part Defendant's motion for summary judgment, entering judgment for Defendant as to all of Grosdidier's claims except for her claim that Defendant retaliated against her by reducing her editing responsibilities after October 5, 2007. Grosdidier has since filed a [31] Motion to Reconsider or in the Alternative to Amend Judgment to Permit Appeal, in response to which Defendant has filed an opposition, and Grosdidier has filed a reply.

Grosdidier asks the Court to reconsider its grant of summary judgment to Defendant on her claim that she was not selected for a promotion in 2006 in retaliation for her opposition to conduct that violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. The Court held that Grosdidier's complaints about conduct occurring in her workplace did not constitute protected activity for purposes of Title VII's antiretaliation provision because her belief that she was being subjected to a hostile work environment was objectively unreasonable. Grosdidier contends that the Court erred by failing to give her notice that it would rule on this claim, applying the wrong legal standard, and overlooking one of Grosdidier's complaints as evidence of protected activity. Grosdidier therefore asks the Court to reconsider its ruling or, in the alternative, to amend its order so as to permit Grosdidier to take an interlocutory appeal. For the reasons explained below, the Court concludes that Grosdidier was properly on notice of the need to present evidence in support of her retaliation claim, that the Court did not err in determining that Grosdidier's complaints were objectively unreasonable, and that Grosdidier's other alleged complaint does not constitute activity protected by Title VII. Therefore, the Court declines to reconsider its prior ruling or certify it for interlocutory appeal.

I. BACKGROUND

The following facts, which are limited to the issues relevant to the pending motion, are drawn from the Court's prior Memorandum Opinion and from the record produced by the parties at summary judgment. Camille Grosdidier has worked as an International Broadcaster with the French to Africa Service of the Voice of America ("VOA") since 1987. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 2. Grosdidier is a white female of French national origin who is a naturalized citizen of the United States. Id. ¶ 1. The BBG encompasses all U.S. civilian international broadcasting, including the VOA, Radio Free Europe, and other networks. Id. ¶ 14. BBG broadcasters distribute programming in sixty languages to an estimated weekly audience of 175 million people via radio, television, the internet, and other news media. Id. The VOA's French to Africa Service primarily competes with French, British, and local African radio and media services. Id. ¶ 15.

Throughout most of the time relevant to this litigation, the Chief of the French to Africa Service was Idrissa Seydou Dia ("Dia"). See Pl.'s Ex. 6 (Dia Dep.) at 5. Dia had been acting in that capacity since sometime in 2003. Id. Between 1992 and 2002, Grosdidier filed a series of equal employment opportunity ("EEO") complaints about discrimination and harassment in the workplace. See Def.'s Ex. Y (Aff. of Camille Grosdidier) at 1-2. In September 2002, Grosdidier filed a complaint about her nonselection for a GS-13 International Broadcaster position in the French to Africa Service, alleging discrimination based on her sex, color, and reprisal for engaging in EEO activity. Id. at 2. That complaint was dismissed by an administrative judge. See Pl.'s Ex. 2 (Grosdidier Dep.) at 37. Grosdidier also complained about an incident in 2000 when her supervisor, then-Chief Claude Porsella, removed her from editing duties. See id. at 32-33. She was eventually reinstated to editing duties. Id. at 33-34. Grosdidier contends that her EEO activity was generally known within the French to Africa Service. See Def.'s Ex. Y (Aff. of Camille Grosdidier) at 2.

Around 2004 and 2005, Grosdidier complained to her supervisors about what she perceived to be a sexually charged atmosphere in the French to Africa Service. Dia had a particularly friendly relationship with one female producer in the office, who called Dia "Sexy Papa" and whom Dia called "Sexy Mama." See Pl.'s Ex. 24 (Dep. of Ferdinand Ferella) at 109. Ferdinand Ferella, who worked as a managing editor for the French to Africa Service, described this as "something of a joke." Id. Dia testified that it did not have any sexual connotation, but instead resulted from Dia's mistranslation of the Jimi Hendrix song "Foxy Lady." See Pl.'s Ex. 6 (Dia Dep.) at 40-41. Grosdidier objected to the banter between Dia and this employee. Grosdidier also complained about another female employee who called Ferella "maetre,"or "master," which she thought was inappropriate. Pl.'s Ex. 24 (Dep. of Ferdinand Ferella) at 110-11; Pl.'s Ex. 2 (Grosdidier Dep.) at 190. This conduct stopped after Grosdidier complained.

Pl.'s Ex. 24 (Dep. of Ferdinand Ferella) at 115.

Grosdidier complained about hugging and kissing in the workplace that she perceived to be unprofessional and outside the bounds of what was acceptable in French culture. Pl.'s Ex. 2 (Dep. of Camille Grosdidier) at 185-86. On May 3, 2005, Grosdidier sent an email to Dia complaining about one particular female co-worker who gave a "big, long, fat hug" to a Senegalese man visiting the office; Grosdidier objected to what she perceived as the employee's "pressing need to press herself against every man in sight on the slightest pretext - especially strangers - and the way this has 'sexualized' our French Branch office." Pl.'s Ex. 30 (5/3/2005 Email from Grosdidier to Dia) at 17.

Grosdidier also complained about an email sent around the office in April 2004 depicting a man straddling a cannon, which she perceived to be sexually suggestive. See Pl.'s Ex. 24 (Dep. of Ferdinand Ferella) at 117; Pl.'s Ex. 29 at 12 (4/13/2004 Email from Grosdidier to Eric Agnero) ("Thanks for this edifying picture of a man with a giant object between his legs."). Dia told Grosdidier that the employee who sent the email did not see anything sexual about the photograph, which depicted a famous musician from his home country. See Pl.'s Ex. 29 at 13;

Pl.'s Ex. 6 (Dia Dep.) at 36. In November 2003, the same employee had sent an email around the office containing a picture of an outdoor marketplace in which brassieres were prominently displayed. See Pl.'s Ex. 29 at 14. Grosdidier also complained about one male employee who wore short shorts to the office; Ferella agreed in his deposition testimony that his attire was unprofessional. See Pl.'s Ex. 24 (Dep. of Ferdinand Ferella) at 118-19.

Dia took informal action in response to Grosdidier's complaints, warning people during a morning office meeting not to go overboard with physical contact and to keep things professional because "someone" might complain. See Pl.'s Ex. 6 (Dep. of Idrissa Dia) at 37-38. Dia denies identifying Grosdidier as the potential complainant. See id. at 132. Dia told Ferella that he was frustrated by Grosdidier's complaints because he did not believe the conduct was sexual in nature. See Pl.'s Ex. 24 (Dep. of Ferdinand Ferella) at 115-16. Dia testified in his deposition that he was upset at Grosdidier for tarnishing his warm relationship with the employee who called him "Sexy Papa." See Pl.'s Ex. 6 (Dep. of Idrissa Dia) at 41.

In March 2006, Grosdidier interviewed for a vacant position in the French to Africa Service as a GS-13 International Broadcaster. However, she was not selected for the position, and on July 5, 2006, she timely filed a formal complaint alleging that she was not selected because of her sex, race, national origin, and her prior equal employment opportunity ("EEO") activity. See Def.'s Ex. GG (Formal Complaint of Discrimination). In that formal complaint, Grosdidier listed "Dec. 10, 2002" as the date of her prior EEO activity. Grosdidier litigated this complaint before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission but was denied relief.

On December 27, 2007, Grosdidier filed a second formal complaint of discrimination with the BBG. See Def.'s Ex. W (Formal Complaint of Discrimination). In her formal complaint, Grosdidier claimed that she had been discriminated against on the basis of her sex, national origin, and engaging in prior EEO activity in 2000, 2001, and 2006. See id. She claimed that the dates of the alleged discriminatory acts were November 20, 2007 and from January 2007 to the present (i.e., December 27, 2007). Id. Grosdidier complained about the fact that her position description had not been updated, that her professional responsibilities had been reduced, and that ...


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