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Harrison v. Office of Architect of Capitol

United States District Court, District Circuit

September 1, 2013

SHARON M. HARRISON, Plaintiff,
v.
OFFICE OF THE ARCHITECT OF THE CAPITOL, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY, District Judge.

Plaintiff Sharon Harrison, an employee of Defendant the Office of the Architect of the Capitol, filed suit alleging the Defendant subjected the Plaintiff to a hostile work environment in violation of the Congressional Accountability Act, 2 U.S.C. § 1301 et seq. Presently before the Court is the Defendant's [32] Motion for Summary Judgment. Upon consideration of the pleadings, the relevant legal authorities, and the record as a whole, the Court finds the Plaintiff failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact necessary to defeat summary judgment as to any of her hostile work environment claims. Accordingly, the Defendant's motion is GRANTED.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff has been employed in the Training and Employee Development Branch of the Human Resources Management Division of the Architect of the Capitol since 2001. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 1.[1] The Plaintiff is currently employed as a human resources specialist at the GS-12 level. Id. Between 2004 and September 2009, the Plaintiff reported to Stephen Hayleck, the Chief of the Training Branch. Id. ¶ 3; Harrison Dep. 12:12-20. Rebecca Tiscione, the Director of Human Resources, served as the Plaintiff's second-line supervisor. Id. ¶ 4. David Ferguson, Ms. Tiscione's supervisor, was the Plaintiff's third-line supervisor. See Def.'s Ex. A. Mr. Hayleck rated the Plaintiff as "outstanding" on every performance review, and approved cash awards and within-grade increases for the Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 5; Pl.'s Ex. 2. In September 2009, Mr. Hayleck resigned from the Office of the Architect of the Capitol to take a position with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 6; Hayleck Dep. 7:7.

On August 6, 2008, the Plaintiff alleges that Mr. Hayleck approached the Plaintiff's desk and screamed at the Plaintiff while waiving a piece of paper in close proximity to the Plaintiff's face. Harrison Decl. ¶ 2. Mr. Hayleck was upset that the Plaintiff had sent an email to David Ferguson, the Plaintiff's third-line supervisor, regarding a "controversial training request." Def.'s Ex. A (8/7/08 Email S. Hayleck to Pl.). According to Mr. Hayleck, Ms. Tiscione had instructed Mr. Hayleck to contact her before any further contact with Mr. Ferguson about this training request, meaning that the Plaintiff's email "place(d) [Hayleck] and [Tiscione] at risk of being seen as insubordinate regarding this issue." Id. Mr. Hayleck informed the Plaintiff that she should consider the incident "verbal counseling" pursuant to Chapter 752 of the Architect of the Capitol's Personnel Manual. Id. ¶ 6. Mr. Hayleck did not use profanity or physically touch the Plaintiff, but the Plaintiff contends that "her path to exit was blocked by the physical presence of Chief Hayleck." Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 8; Harrison Decl. ¶ 5. During his deposition, Mr. Hayleck described himself as 5'7" tall and approximately 175 pounds.[2] Hayleck Dep. 24: 18-20. This "verbal counseling" was memorialized in an August 7, 2008, email from Mr. Hayleck to the Plaintiff. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 7; Def.'s Ex. A. In the follow-up email to Plaintiff, Mr. Hayleck also took issue with the fact that during the incident the prior day, the Plaintiff indicated that she would not follow Mr. Hayleck's instruction to process the training request with only Mr. Ferguson's signature, but would wait for Ms. Tiscione to return to the office before processing the request. Def.'s Ex. A. The Plaintiff was not otherwise disciplined for sending what Mr. Hayleck considered to be an inappropriate email. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 11.

The Plaintiff subsequently sent an email to her second-line supervisor Rebecca Tiscione requesting a meeting "to discuss some office issues." Def.'s Ex. B (8/08/08 Email Pl. to R. Tiscione); Def.s' Stmt. ¶¶ 13-14. During the meeting on August 13, 2008, the Plaintiff discussed the incident with Mr. Hayleck on August 6, and Ms. Tiscione indicated she would investigate the Plaintiff's allegations. Def.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 14-15. After interviewing the other individuals present at the time of the incident, Ms. Tiscione concluded that "Mr. Hayleck had raised his voice, that he had a piece of paper in his hand at the time, but it did not, in [her] opinion, rise to the level of violence in the workplace." Tiscione Dep. 18:11-22, 37:4-22. Ms. Tiscione informally counseled Mr. Hayleck that "he needed to not yell at his employees." Id. at 37:15-22.

The Plaintiff alleges that between August 23 and September 30, 2008: (1) Mr. Hayleck and one of the Plaintiff's co-workers in the Training Division "did not speak to [Plaintiff], " and Mr. Hayleck would only communicate with the Plaintiff via email; (2) Plaintiff was not informed of and did not attend any staff meetings; and (3) Plaintiff was "excluded from all normal communication and information in[] the Training Division." Harrison Decl. ¶ 44. However, the Plaintiff is not aware if any staff meetings were actually held during this time period. Harrison Dep. 79:8-12. At some point Mr. Hayleck "required [Plaintiff] to provide notice of [her] whereabouts at all times" by emailing him when she left and returned to the office and keeping a log, but he subsequently asked the Plaintiff to stop notifying him via email. Harrison Decl. ¶ 44(f)-(g). The Plaintiff was also "required" to notify Mr. Hayleck via email when rush forms were placed in his "box, " but Mr. Hayleck asked the Plaintiff to stop sending the emails "as he would check the box' as he always did." Id. ¶ 44(l)-(m). The Plaintiff indicated that when her co-worker in the Training Branch was out of the office, "the workplace door to Chief Hayleck's office was shut." Id. ¶ 44(k).

On September 30, 2008, the Plaintiff alleges that on three occasions Mr. Hayleck "blocked [Plaintiff's] my path where [she] couldn't go straight to the door [to exit the office], " forcing the Plaintiff to go "sideways around him and pull[] the door open." Harrison Dep. 67:2-11. Mr. Hayleck did not say anything to the Plaintiff and the Plaintiff was able to leave each time. Id. 67:15-23. After visiting the nurse at some point that day, reportedly distressed by the interaction, the Plaintiff left the office and was out on leave until February 19, 2009. Harrison Decl. ¶¶ 52, 117. During this time period, Plaintiff made multiple requests for leave pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave act, for advanced sick leave, and for annual leave. Id. ¶¶ 56-108. All of the Plaintiff's requests for leave were granted. Harrison Dep. 86:23-87:1.[3] The Plaintiff was never considered absent without official leave or otherwise disciplined during her absence. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 26.

Before returning to the office in February 2009, the Plaintiff contacted Ms. Tiscione to request a six-month temporary assignment outside the Training Division. Harrison Decl. ¶ 110. Upon her return, the Plaintiff was assigned to the Human Resources Management Division and reported directly to Ms. Tiscione. Id. ¶ 117; Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 27. On February 19, the Plaintiff was tasked with organizing files in a file room in the basement of the Ford House Office Building "in close proximity to the office of Chief Hayleck." Harrison Decl. ¶ 117. That same day, the Plaintiff received four anonymous emails regarding job opportunities outside the Office of the Architect of the Capitol. Id. ¶ 119. The Plaintiff was subsequently temporarily assigned to a different branch of the Human Resources Management Division. Id. ¶ 118.

On or about March 9, 2009, the Plaintiff saw Mr. Hayleck in Ms. Tiscione's office, and "suffered an anxiety attack." Harrison Decl. ¶ 128. Less than two weeks later, the Plaintiff received two additional emails regarding job opportunities at different agencies. Id. ¶ 132. The Plaintiff's temporary assignment ended in June 2009, at which point she was reassigned to Mr. Hayleck's chain of command, but was furnished with a private office in another part of the building. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 28. Mr. Hayleck resigned from the Defendant's employ in September 2009, at which point the Plaintiff returned to the main Training Branch office. Id. ¶ 29. The Plaintiff initiated this civil action on July 23, 2009.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

"The court shall grant summary judgment 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).

A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by:
(A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), ...

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