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Whiting v. Labat-Anderson, Inc.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

February 28, 2013

Paula V. WHITING, Plaintiff,

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Gary T. Brown, Gary T. Brown & Associates, Washington, DC, Lisa Jackson Brown, Brown Law Offices, Woodbridge, VA, for Plaintiff.

Jason Matthew Branciforte, Lindsey H. McGinnis, Littler Mendelson, P.C., Washington, DC, for Defendant.


BERYL A. HOWELL, District Judge.

The plaintiff, Paula V. Whiting, a former short-term, temporary employee of the defendant, Labat-Anderson, Inc., brought this lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. She alleges, in a two-count Complaint, sexual harassment (Count I) and retaliation (Count II) based on two incidents that allegedly took place on a single-day while the plaintiff was working as a contract employee for Labat-Anderson, Inc. at the Department of Justice (" DOJ" ). Specifically, the plaintiff alleges that she was " kissed and touched in a sexual and inappropriate manner" by a DOJ employee, and that her employer both failed to take corrective action against the DOJ employee and retaliated against the plaintiff for complaining about the incidents by not giving her another assignment after her short-term employment ended. Complaint (" Compl." ), ECF No. 1, ¶ 8; id. at 5. Pending before the Court is the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (" Def.'s Mot." ), ECF No. 28. For the reasons explained below, the Court will grant the motion.[1]

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A. The Plaintiff's Short-Term Employment with the Defendant

In May 2008, the defendant, a consulting firm, hired twenty people, including the plaintiff, to provide temporary on-site general office services and litigation support services for the DOJ's Office of Immigration Litigation (" OIL" ), for a ninety-day period ending September 30, 2008. See Affidavit of Kathy Davis-Hall (" Davis-Hall Aff." ), ECF No. 28-3, ¶¶ 2, 4, 6, 8.

One of the defendant's employees, Kathy Davis-Hall, a Project Supervisor, twice interviewed the plaintiff before hiring her, making clear in each of the interviews that the defendant was hiring for a temporary, provisional position that would end in ninety days, on September 30, 2008, when the DOJ's funding for the project would end. See id. ¶ 9; Transcript of Deposition of Plaintiff Paula V. Whiting (" Pl.'s Dep." ), ECF No. 28-4, at 50:15-17; Def. Labat-Anderson Incorporated's Statement of Undisputed Facts in Supp. of its Mot. for Summ. J. (" Def.'s Facts" ), ECF No. 28-2, ¶ 14. The plaintiff acknowledged that she understood that the position she accepted with the defendant was a short-term position. See Pl.'s Dep. at 50:15-17 (Q: " But she did tell you that that position was temporarily funded?" A: " Right." ). [3]

During the plaintiff's short-term employment with the defendant, she completed work for several individuals at the DOJ, and was supervised by Ms. Davis-Hall, who was based on-site at the DOJ. See Davis-Hall Aff. ¶ 10; Pl.'s Dep. at 54:5-9.

The plaintiff's supervisor reports that, during the plaintiff's first few weeks on the job, the group of DOJ employees with whom the plaintiff was initially assigned— the " Second Circuit team" — was dissatisfied with the plaintiff's performance and asked Ms. Davis-Hall not to assign the plaintiff to work with them on future projects. See Davis-Hall Aff. ¶ 14. Based on this request and Ms. Davis-Hall's " assessment of Ms. Whiting's limited skill set," Ms. Davis-Hall subsequently reassigned the plaintiff to work in the records department, where the plaintiff helped route records to the appropriate DOJ paralegals and helped maintain the records database. See id. ¶ 15.[4]

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One of the plaintiff's duties in the records department was to assist Shirley Phelps, a DOJ paralegal, with various office tasks. Ms. Phelps had previously worked for the defendant, but was subsequently hired by the DOJ. See Pl.'s Dep. at 14:13-19, 187:7-8; Davis-Hall Aff. ¶ 16. By virtue of her work for Ms. Phelps, the plaintiff regularly interacted with her. Davis-Hall Aff. ¶ 16.

B. The August 11, 2008 Incidents at Issue in this Lawsuit

This lawsuit is premised on two brief incidents that the plaintiff alleges occurred on August 11, 2008 during her interactions with Ms. Phelps, allegations that Ms. Phelps has denied. See Davis-Hall Aff. ¶ 19; Compl. ¶¶ 8, 10.

The plaintiff alleges that the first incident took place at approximately 8:00 a.m. on August 11, 2008. Pl.'s Dep. Ex. 8; Pl.'s Dep. at 112:4-11. At that time, the plaintiff alleges that while she was typing at her desk, Ms. Phelps began talking with her and asked if the plaintiff was " still mad at her." Pl.'s Dep. at 108:19-21. The plaintiff responded " [y]es, you know, or whatever like that." Id. at 108:20-21. Ms. Phelps then said, " Let me give you a hug," and the plaintiff refused. Id. at 108:21-22. The plaintiff then states that Ms. Phelps " ran over to [her], and the whole time she's laughing." Id. at 109:2-3.

[A]nd so then she put her hands down like to hug me, but she went past ... my shoulders and ... grabbed the bottom of my stomach. And I said ‘ Get off me. Leave me alone. This is sexual harassment.’ So then she started laughing, and I heard Cecily [a co-worker] laughing because she heard Shirley Phelps laugh. So then she started sliding her hand up and then she grabbed my chest, and I was ... in shock, and so then she started kissing on my cheek and on the top of my head. And then she kept grabbing my chest and then she started jiggling my chest and she kept squeezing it. And the more I said, get off of me, leave me alone, get off me, she kept on laughing. The more I screamed, the harder she squeezed my chest.... I said: " Get off of me,' and she just kept on laughing. So I went to push away from the desk like that, and then she pinned me under the desk like that. I said: ‘ I don't believe this. Get off of me. Leave me alone. This is sexual harassment.’ And she kept squeezing my chest and laughing, and so I went back like that, and then she ran back in the corner of the cubicle. And I turned to her with my fist, and she said: ‘ I bought you a present.’ And then she took off running. Then I took off running.

Id. at 109:4-110:13. The plaintiff states that this whole incident lasted " [a] couple seconds." Id. at 113:17.

The plaintiff alleges that the second incident took place later that day. See id. at 130:9-12. That afternoon, the plaintiff asserts that Ms. Phelps again approached her and hugged her. See id. at 125:10-126:6, 130:13-133:3. The plaintiff again objected, and says she was " screaming at the top of [her] lungs." Id. at 130:22. Ms. Phelps again ignored the plaintiff's objections,

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approached the plaintiff from behind, grabbed the plaintiff's stomach and again touched the plaintiff's chest, laughing the entire time. See id. at 130:13-131:15. The second incident, like the first, lasted only " a couple of seconds." Id. at 131:16-18.

Although the incidents upset her, see id. at 127:13-21, the plaintiff testified that she was nonetheless able to carry out her job responsibilities. See id. at 127:22-128:2.[5]

C. The Plaintiff Reports the Two Incidents, and the Defendant Changes Her Assignment To Avoid Any Further Contact Between the ...

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