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Gross v. Logistics Support, Inc.

United States District Court, District Circuit

July 8, 2013

ELLEN F. GROSS, Plaintiff,


JAMES E. BOASBERG, United States District Judge.

From January 2010 until she was terminated in June 2011, Plaintiff Ellen Gross was employed as a human-resources manager by Logistics Support, Inc., a contractor that specializes in providing logistics support services to the military. She alleges that shortly after announcing she was pregnant, LSI abruptly decided to terminate her, rather than moving forward with a previously planned decision to fire another, non-pregnant HR professional. This, she claims, violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. LSI now moves for summary judgment, asserting that Gross has failed to present any credible evidence to rebut its legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for terminating her – specifically, that she and two other employees were laid off to reduce costs and increase profitability. Because the Court finds that there is sufficient evidence upon which a jury could find that LSI’s reason for terminating Gross was pretextual, it will deny Defendant’s Motion.

I. Background

Unless otherwise noted, the facts set forth herein are undisputed and are drawn from the parties’ Statements of Undisputed Material Facts submitted pursuant to Local Civil Rule 7(h).

In January 2010, Plaintiff was hired by LSI as an HR Manager. See Mot., Attach. 2 (Deposition of David Compton) at 40:6-12. In this part-time position, she worked three days a week administering LSI’s employee-benefits programs, acting as the company’s liaison and contact point with respect to coordinating employment benefits, maintaining employee records, and recruiting personnel to staff its contracts. See Def.’s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, ¶ 13 (citing Compton Dep. at 45:16-22); Compton Dep. at 46:14-22; Mot., Attach. 3 (Deposition of Steven MacDonald) at 44:11-15; Attach. 1 (Deposition of Ellen Gross) at 44:12– 45:3, 82:9-11. In March 2011, LSI hired an additional full-time HR professional, Kathy Meyer, to assist the company in its recruiting efforts. See Gross Dep. at 65:2-5; Compton Dep. at 71:11-16, 150:9-13, 201:1. In addition to working on recruiting tasks, Meyer also assisted Gross with general HR duties. See Mot., Attach. 4 (Deposition of Kathy Meyer), at 40:6-11, 109:5–111:5.

In April 2011, LSI’s management convened strategy sessions to discuss the company’s financial situation, including plans for growing its business and cutting costs. See Mot., Exh. 8 (LSI Strategic Plan); Compton Dep. at 29:12–30:4, 86:4-8, 106:5-8. While both parties devote a substantial portion of their briefing to a discussion of the specifics of LSI’s financial health, see Mot. at 12-17, 28-30; Opp. at 12-13, 20-21; Reply at 3-10, 13-19, because this issue does not ultimately influence the Court’s decision, it will not be further detailed here.

Pursuant to LSI’s efforts to reduce costs, its management identified eight overhead or General and Administrative employees whom it was considering for termination. See Compton Dep. 86:4-17; MacDonald Dep. at 71:6–72:20, 83:3-20, 192:4-17. Both Gross and Meyer were identified on the list, with a notation indicating “can’t afford 2 HRs.” See Compton Dep., Exh. 4 (2011-2015 Strategic Hires/BD Approach). The following month, David Compton, LSI’s founder and CEO, had a meeting with Gross wherein he advised her that due to financial concerns at the company, he was considering “letting Kathy Meyer go or at least cutting her hours back.” See Pl.’s SMF, ¶ 42 (citing Compton Dep. at 63:8–64:1, 67:6-14). This meeting was memorialized in an internal memo. See Opp., Exh. L (May 20, 2011, Memorandum) (“I mentioned one particular area that I would be reviewing would be cutting back on our G&A/OH personnel. I stated that we would have to look at perhaps letting Kathy Meyer go or at least cutting her hours back.”). Compton did not have a similar conversation with Meyer to discuss the possibility of terminating Gross. See Pl.’s SMF, ¶ 42 (citing Compton Dep. at 68:4-7).

On June 6, two and a half weeks after her meeting with him, Gross announced her pregnancy to Compton and LSI’s COO, Steve MacDonald. See Pl.’s SMF, ¶ 45 (citing Gross Dep. at 17:13-22, 23:2–24:4). Both managers congratulated Gross on the news, see Def.’s SMF, ¶ 18 (citing Gross Dep. at 165:2-22), and there was no further discussion of her pregnancy with LSI’s management. See id. (citing Gross Dep. at 167:16-21, 168:5–169:18).

On June 22, only sixteen days after Gross’s announcement, she was terminated along with two other G&A employees as part of a reduction in force. See Def.’s SMF, ¶ 9 (citing Gross Dep. at 173:4-8; MacDonald Dep. at 85:16-20). LSI maintains that these terminations were part of its efforts to reduce its operating costs and had nothing to do with Gross’s performance. See id., ¶ 10 (citing MacDonald Dep. at 111:7-22, 184:22–185:17); Compton Dep. at 180:20-22. LSI further contends that Gross’s pregnancy was not a factor in its decision to terminate her. See MacDonald Dep. at 209:5-8. Meyer, who was not pregnant at the time of Gross’s termination, assumed Gross’s HR responsibilities following her departure. See Pl.’s SMF, ¶ 49 (citing Compton Dep. at 214:2-7; MacDonald Dep. at 198:19-22); Compton Dep., Exh. 17 (March 16, 2012, Corporate Overview) at 4. In its briefing, but without record citations, LSI offers a variety of explanations for why Meyer was retained over Gross. See Mot. At 30 (Meyer’s ability to work full time, her better recruiting skills, her ability to travel, and her graduate degree in Human Resource Management).

Subsequent to Gross’s termination, she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging that LSI had unlawfully discriminated against her because of her pregnancy. She was then issued a right-to-sue notice and filed this suit 18 months later. See Compl., ¶¶ 14-15. Having completed discovery, LSI has filed this Motion for Summary Judgment, which the Court now considers.

II. Legal Standard

Summary judgment may be granted if “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986); Holcomb v. Powell, 433 F.3d 889, 895 (D.C. Cir. 2006). A fact is “material” if it is capable of affecting the substantive outcome of the litigation. Holcomb, 433 F.3d at 895; Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 248. A dispute is “genuine” if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007); Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 248; Holcomb, 433 F.3d at 895. “A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by citing to particular parts of materials in the record.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A).

The party seeking summary judgment “bears the heavy burden of establishing that the merits of his case are so clear that expedited action is justified.” Taxpayers Watchdog, Inc., v. Stanley, 819 F.2d 294, 297 (D.C. Cir. 1987). When a motion for summary judgment is under consideration, “the evidence of the non-movant[s] is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [his] favor.” Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 255; see also Mastro v. PEPCO, 447 F.3d 843, 850 (D.C. Cir. 2006); Aka v. Washington Hospital Center, 156 F.3d 1284, 1288 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (en banc). On a motion for summary judgment, the Court must “eschew making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence.” Czekalski v. Peters, 475 F.3d 360, 363 (D.C. Cir. 2007).

The nonmoving party’s opposition, however, must consist of more than mere unsupported allegations or denials and must be supported by affidavits, declarations, or other competent evidence, setting forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). The nonmovant is required to provide evidence that would permit a reasonable jury to find in its favor. Laningham v. United States Navy, 813 F.2d 1236, 1242 (D.C. Cir. 1987). If the nonmovant’s evidence is ...

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