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Goode v. Billington

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 25, 2013

JEFFREY H. GOODE, PhD., Plaintiff,

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For JEFFREY H. GOODE, Ph.D., Plaintiff: Daniel K. Gebhardt, Joseph D. Gebhardt, LEAD ATTORNEYS, GEBHARDT & ASSOCIATES, LLP, Washington, DC.

For JAMES HADLEY BILLINGTON, Librarian of Congress, Defendant: Mitchell P. Zeff, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Washington, DC.

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Plaintiff Jeffrey Goode filed suit against Defendant James Billington in his official capacity as the Librarian of Congress, alleging religious discrimination (Jewish), retaliation, and a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. Presently before the Court are the Defendant's [32] Motion for Summary Judgment and the Plaintiff's [34] Cross-Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. Upon consideration of the pleadings,[1] the relevant legal authorities, and the summary judgment record, the Court finds the Defendant is entitled to summary judgment on the Plaintiff's hostile work environment, discrete discrimination, and retaliation claims. Accordingly, the Defendant's motion is GRANTED and the Plaintiff's cross-motion is DENIED.


The Plaintiff, a Jewish male, has a doctorate degree in economics. Def.'s Ex. 3 (Pl.'s Dep. Tr.) at 14:3, 17:3. The Plaintiff worked for various executive agencies between 1981 and 2008. Id. at 22:8-41:2. In July 2008, the Plaintiff was hired as a Section Research Manager in the International Trade and Finance Section of the Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division (" FDT" ) of the Congressional Research Service. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 6.[2] The

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Congressional Research Service (" CRS" ) is a unit within the Library of Congress that provides research and analysis in response to requests from Congressional committees and individual members of Congress. Id. at ¶ 1. The CRS is comprised of five research divisions, with " Section Research Managers" responsible for supervising research analysts within each division. Id. at ¶ ¶ 2-3. Prior to the institution of the Section Research Manager position in 2008, individual analysts within each section served, sometimes on a rotating basis, as " section heads." Pl.'s Resp. Stmt. ¶ 4.

The Plaintiff, like all new employees of the Library, was required to serve a one-year probationary period. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ ¶ 7-11. Between July 2008 and September 5, 2008, Charlotte Preece served as the Plaintiff's immediate supervisor. Pl.'s Resp. Stmt. ¶ 13. From September 6, 2008, until December 22, 2008, Ed Bruner served as the Plaintiff's immediate supervisor. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 24. Morris Davis served as the Plaintiff's immediate supervisor from December 23, 2008, until the Plaintiff's termination. Id. at ¶ 36.

A. Incidents Involving the Plaintiff's Office

Ray Ahearn served as the section head of FDT prior to the Plaintiff being hired as the Section Research Manager. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 14. Ray Ahearn remained as an analyst in the FDT division under the Plaintiff's supervision. Def.'s Ex. 12 (OIC Invest. Aff. of R. Ahearn) at 2. On three occasions in August 2008--twice on August 19 and once on August 21--Mr. Ahearn's nameplate was removed from the door of his office and placed on the door to Plaintiff's office. Pl.'s Resp. Stmt. ¶ 14. The Plaintiff understood the moving of the nameplate to be sending a message that the Plaintiff " [was] not wanted. Get lost. You don't belong here. I want Ray." Def.'s Ex. 3 at 83:22-25; see also id. at 85:7-20; Def.'s Ex. 7 (Pl.'s OIC Invest. Aff.) at 4 (" Someone clearly was determined to send a message that I should be removed, and that the former boss should be reinstated." ).

The Plaintiff informed Ms. Preece of the incidents, and Ms. Preece responded by keeping Mr. Ahearn's nameplate in her office until Mr. Ahearn returned to the office. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 17. The Plaintiff further notified Mr. Ahearn, who indicated that he also had a problem with his nameplate disappearing for over a week at some earlier point in time. Def.'s Ex. 9 (8/25/2008 Email Pl. to R. Ahearn). Mr. Ahearn also mentioned to the Plaintiff that someone had set a picture of a naked woman as the screensaver on Mr. Ahearn's computer when he stepped away from his office. Def.'s Ex. 3 at 83:14-21. The Plaintiff testified that he had suspicions as to who was responsible for moving the nameplate, but never mentioned those suspicions to his supervisors. Id. at 84:17-23. After Ms. Preece took possession of Mr. Ahearn's nameplate, it was never again placed on the door to Plaintiff's office. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 18.

The Plaintiff, a fan of the New York Yankees, stored a Yankee's baseball cap in his office. Def.'s Ex. 3 at 85:24-86:11. The Plaintiff asserts that at some point in the middle August 2008, someone removed the cap from the Plaintiff's office. Pl.'s Resp. Stmt. ¶ 19. The Plaintiff mentioned

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to Ms. Preece that the cap was missing, but " did not make a big deal about it at the time." Def.'s Ex. 7 at 5. Nor did the Plaintiff indicate that he believed the cap was stolen because of the Plaintiff's religion. Def.'s Ex. 3 at 167:15-23.

The Plaintiff also displayed a picture of the Old City of Jerusalem in his office. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 20. The photograph depicted an alley and building, with the caption stating either the name of the street or that the picture was taken in Jerusalem. Def.'s Ex. 3 at 88:14-90:4. At some point in late August or early September 2008, the picture was removed from the Plaintiff's office. Id. The Plaintiff reported to his supervisor at some point that the picture was taken, but could not recall when. Id. at 168:4-13. The Plaintiff indicated that he " didn't want to tell them right away" because he " didn't want to make a big deal about it." Id. at 168:18-20; see also id. at 168:21-22 (indicating the picture was " not worth a lot of money" ). There is evidence in the record to suggest the Defendant did not notice the picture was missing until a co-worker mentioned it several months later. Pl.'s Ex. 8 (OIC Invest. Report) at 16. The Plaintiff did not report the theft of the picture or his Yankee's cap to the Library of Congress Police. Def.'s Ex. 3 at 168:25-169:1; see Def.'s Ex. 14 (Library of Cong. Reg. 111.2) (" The loss or theft of personal property in Library buildings or on the grounds should be reported as soon as practicable to the Library of Congress Police, who will take a report." ).

B. Plaintiff's Work Performance

Beginning in October 2008, Mr. Bruner held a number of meetings with the Plaintiff which involved discussions of the Plaintiff's work. Pl.'s Resp. Stmt. ¶ 25.[3] During the October 8, 2008 meeting, Mr. Bruner relayed to the Plaintiff several complaints he had received from analysts under the Plaintiff's supervision, including that the Plaintiff (1) inappropriately or arbitrarily assigned research requests from Congress with little regard for the specialties of particular analysts; (2) had an " autocratic" rather than collegial leadership style; (3) persistently advocated for projects in which he had a personal interest despite more pressing congressional needs; and (4) expressed dissatisfaction with his section to a junior analyst in another section. Def.'s Ex. 4 (12/17/2008 Mem. E. Bruner to Pl.) at 1-2. On November 4, 2008, Mr. Bruner submitted an assessment of four Section Research Managers, including the Plaintiff, to Angela Evans, the Deputy Director of the CRS. Def.'s Ex. 17. With respect to the Plaintiff, in addition to several positive comments, Mr. Bruner indicated that the Plaintiff " wasted some of his and analysts' time advocating a personal idea for the research agenda without first determining a Congressional need for the research," took a long time to review work product from analysts, and " alienated many members of the [the section] due to a sometimes gruff manner (to include shouting), some apparently arbitrary decisions, an authoritarian outlook, and lack of consultation." Id. at 5. Two days later, Mr. Bruner also sought guidance regarding how to document performance or fitness issues of probationary employees. Def.'s Ex. 18 (11/6/2008 Email D. Duffy to E. Bruner).

Mr. Bruner met with the Plaintiff again on November 20, 2008. Pl.'s Resp. Stmt. ¶ 29. Mr. Bruner indicated that since the October meeting, the analysts in the Plaintiff's

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section indicated that " not much has changed," and " Section morale continues to decline." Def.'s Ex. 4 (12/17/2008 Performance Counseling Meeting Mem.) at 2. Furthermore, Mr. Bruner " received reports and complaints from several sources that sounds of yelling have emerged from your office," and that several analysts complained that the Plaintiff delegated too many tasks, and added an additional level of review that led to deadlines being missed. Id. at 3. Mr. Bruner also questioned the Plaintiff's decision to deny a senior analyst's request to attend a conference regarding a subject for which the analyst was responsible. Id.

Angela Evans met with various sections, including FDT, in order to discuss how the new Section Research Manager position was working out in late 2008. Def.'s Ex. 19 (Aff. of W. Cooper) ¶ 3. In preparation for their meeting with Ms. Evans, the Plaintiff's section asked analyst William Cooper to serve as a " spokesperson" and even held a practice session in which Mr. Cooper practiced presenting talking points conveying the section's concerns regarding the Plaintiff. Id. at ¶ 4; see Def.'s Ex. 20 (Talking Points for " Meeting with Angela Regarding SRM" ). All thirteen analysts in the Plaintiff's section attended the meeting, during which they " addressed myriad concerns [they] had about Mr. Goode, including, but not limited to," the Plaintiff's " seeming lack of knowledge of the subject matter areas," the role of Congress, and the role of the CRS in assisting Congress. Id. at ¶ 5. The analysts also expressed concerns that the Plaintiff delegated his review responsibilities to other members of the section, missed review deadlines, and was reluctant to " reach out to congressional clients." Id.

On December 17, 2008, Mr. Bruner issued a counseling memorandum to the Plaintiff, recounting their discussions in the October 8 and November 20 meetings, and indicating that " [s]ome of your comments and actions I have observed call into question your understanding and commitment to the CRS mission." Def.'s Ex. 4 at 3. Mr. Bruner also indicated that " your performance and general fitness for retention in your position can be evaluated at any time during your term as a probationary employee. The evidence before me indicates that your personality and skills may not ensure the good fit we need between you and your Section." Id. at 4.

Morris Davis replaced Ed Bruner as the Plaintiff's immediate supervisor on December 22, 2008. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 36. On January 26, 2009, Mr. Davis and Mr. Bruner (now the Deputy Assistant Director of FDT) conducted the Plaintiff's six month performance and conduct evaluation. Def.'s Ex. 23 (Pl.'s Performance & Conduct Eval.) at 1. Prior to the meeting, the Plaintiff's supervisors consulted with the Library's legal team to draft the written six-month evaluation which was designed to " set up the termination and/or the resolution agreement." Def.'s Ex. 37 (1/16/2009 Email D. Warshof to D. Duffy, et al. ). Overall, the written summary of the Plaintiff's evaluation concluded that while the Plaintiff " paid close attention to his administrative duties," and " provided clear guidance to two underperforming analysts in his section," he had yet to demonstrate " that he has all the research management skills needed to perform effectively," in his position at the CRS. Id. Specific concerns included " a serious communication gap between [the Plaintiff] and his section members," the Plaintiff did not " ma[ke] much of an effort to establish the congressional contacts needed to properly manage the work of the section." Id. " In aggregate, the situation described has resulted in poor working relationships between [the Plaintiff] and his analysts."

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Id. The evaluation concluded by indicating that:

Based on the above, the [Mr. Bruner] will be forwarding a recommendation shortly regarding Mr. Goode's retention during the probationary period. In the attached counseling memorandum, [i]t was indicated to him that improvements must be immediate and sustained in order to demonstrate his fitness for conversion to permanent status. To date, there have not been detected sufficient, necessary changes in his overall performance, and the concerns regarding his general fitness for this position persist.

Id. at 1-2. The Plaintiff asserted in his deposition that he told Mr. Bruner and Mr. Davis during the January 2009 evaluation that the Plaintiff might file a complaint regarding his perceived hostile work environment. Pl.'s Ex. 6 (Pl.'s Dep. Tr.) at 153:3-13.[4] When asked during his deposition what the basis for any claim of religious discrimination at that time might have been, the Plaintiff replied:

The basis might have been, then, I don't know. I was just telling them that I don't like what's happening to me. I'm going to complain[] about it. This is just not right. I'm not being treated right. There was the Jerusalem thing. There was a Yankee hat. There was my sign, my nameplate raised, being put on my ...

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