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Harrison v. Office of Architect of Capitol

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 22, 2013

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

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For SHARON M. HARRISON, Plaintiff: Jeffrey Howard Leib, LEAD ATTORNEY, Washington, DC.

For OFFICE OF THE ARCHITECT OF THE CAPITOL, Defendant: Judith A. Kidwell, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Washington, DC.

OPINION

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COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

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 and retaliated against the Plaintiff for engaging in protected activity,

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in violation of the Congressional Accountability Act, 2 U.S.C. § 1301 et seq. Presently before the Court is the Defendant's Motion for Leave to File Motion for Sanctions and the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. Upon consideration of the pleadings, [1] the relevant legal authorities, and the record as a whole, the Court finds the Defendant is entitled to an adverse inference based on the Plaintiff's intentional destruction of evidence highly relevant to one of the Plaintiff's retaliation claims and her hostile work environment claim. Furthermore, the Court finds no reasonable jury could conclude that the Defendant retaliated against the Plaintiff because of the Plaintiff's protected activity, or that the Defendant subjected the Plaintiff to a hostile work environment. Accordingly, the Defendant's [48] Motion for Leave to File Motion for Sanctions is GRANTED, the Defendant's [48-3] Motion for Sanctions is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART, the Defendant's [44] Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED, and the Plaintiff's [42] Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Chain of Command

This action is the second of three lawsuits filed in this Court by the Plaintiff challenging various aspects of her employment with the Defendant. The Plaintiff has been employed in the Training and Employee Development Branch of the Human Capital Management Division of the Architect of the Capitol since 2001. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 1. [2] The Plaintiff is currently employed as a human resources specialist at the GS-12 level. Id. The Plaintiff's responsibilities include managing training courses and arranging training courses in other jurisdictions, which may involve soliciting proposals from vendors and sending selection notices to participants. Def.'s Ex. 1 (Harrison Dep.) at 9:2-6. Between 2004 and September 2009, the Plaintiff reported to Stephen Hayleck, the Chief of the Training Branch. Harrison v. Office of the Architect of the Capitol (" Harrison I " ), 964 F.Supp.2d 711, 2013 WL 4676110, at *1 (D.D.C. Sept. 1, 2013). Rebecca Tiscione, the Director of Human Resources, served as the Plaintiff's second-line supervisor, and David Ferguson was the Plaintiff's third-line supervisor. Id.

Following Mr. Hayleck's departure from the Defendant in September 2009, Laurie Drake and Amy Heslep rotated in the position of Acting Chief of the Training Branch. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 2. The Chief of the Training Branch is the Plaintiff's first-line supervisor. See Harrison I, 2013 WL 4676110, at *1.

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Ms. Drake, at the time a GS-13 Human Resources Specialist, worked for the Capitol Visitor Center, a division of the Architect of the Capitol. Def.'s Ex. 3 (Drake Dep.) at 11:10-13:4. Ms. Heslep, also a GS-13 Human Resources Specialist, worked in the Training Branch with the Plaintiff. Def.'s Ex. 5 (Heslep Decl.) ¶ 1. Ms. Heslep served as acting Chief for approximately six weeks in October and early November 2009. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 4. During this time, Ms. Heslep conferred with Ms. Drake regarding management of the Training Division. Drake Dep. 17:20-18:1. Ms. Drake became acting Chief in November 2009, and retained the position until March 2010. Id. 16:22-17:5. Ms. Drake conferred with Ms. Heslep regarding management of the Training division during Ms. Drake's tenure as acting Chief. Id. 18:2-4. Ms. Heslep then served as acting Chief for six additional weeks, from March 19 until May 2010. Heslep Decl. ¶ 2. Thus, between October 2009 and May 2010, Ms. Heslep or Ms. Drake served as the Plaintiff's first-line supervisor. Linda Poole took over as acting Chief in May 2010, and Peggy Hernandez became the Chief of the Training Branch in September 2010. Harrison Dep. 11:23-12:4.

The Chief of the Training Division reports to the Chief Human Capital Officer, who at all times relevant to this case was Teresa Bailey. Def.'s Ex. 6 (Ferguson Dep.) at 16:20-17:4. Ms. Bailey, the Plaintiff's second-line supervisor, reported to the Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Dan Cassil. Id. 16:18-22. Mr. Cassil, the Plaintiff's third-line supervisor, reported to David Ferguson, the Chief Administrative Officer for the Architect of the Capitol. Id. 15:20-22.

B. Factual Background

The Court detailed the events preceding the Plaintiff's initial lawsuit in the Harrison I decision. In short, following two " incidents" involving Mr. Hayleck in August and September 2008, the Plaintiff took extended leave from her position on September 30, 2008. Harrison I, 2013 WL 4676110, at *1-2. The Plaintiff returned to work on February 19, 2009, but was temporarily detailed to a different division within the Human Capital Management Division. [WL] at *3. In May, Ms. Tiscione informed the Plaintiff that her temporary detail would end on June 17, 2009. Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 1. The Plaintiff was reassigned to the Training Branch on June 22, 2009, but at that time did not return to the physical office for the Training Branch, which is located in the basement of the Ford House Office Building. Second Harrison Decl., ECF No. [59], ¶ 3. Rather, between June 22 and October 5, 2009, the Plaintiff worked for the Training Branch from the second floor of the Ford House Office Building. Id. ¶ 4. Following Mr. Hayleck's departure, the Plaintiff returned to the Training Branch Office. Id. ¶ 5.

1. Plaintiff's Requests for Counseling

The Congressional Accountability Act provides that in order to commence a proceeding under the Act, an employee alleging a violation must file a request for counseling. 2 U.S.C. § 1402(a). No more than 15 days after the employee receives notice of the end of the counseling period, the employee must file a request for mediation. Id. § 1403(a). Once the employee has completed both counseling and mediation, the employee may either file a complaint with the Office of Compliance or file a civil action in Federal court. Id.; id. § 1404. The Act further provides that in cases involving employees of the Office of the Architect, upon a receipt of a request for counseling, the Office of Compliance can recommend that the employee use the grievance procedures for the Architect of

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the Capitol. Id. § 1401. The Equal Employment Opportunity and Conciliation Programs Division of the Architect of the Capitol (" EEO/CP" ) handles claims referred from the Office of Compliance. Pl.'s Ex. 3 (Conciliation Program) at 4-6. Rule 2.03(m) of the Procedural Rules for the Office of Compliance for the Architect of the Capitol provides that once referred to the internal grievance procedures, the employee may return to the counseling and mediation process " within 60 days after expiration of the period recommended by the [Office], if the matter has not resulted in a final decision," or " within 20 days after service of a final decision resulting from the grievance procedures." Pl.'s Ex. 1 (Procedural Rule 2.03). Throughout 2009 and 2010, the Plaintiff submitted seven requests for counseling to the Office of Compliance, which are outlined below.

a. Case No. 09-AC-47

Initially, on February 6, 2009, the Plaintiff submitted a request for counseling, which was assigned case number 09-AC-47. Def.'s Ex. 15-A (Gantt Decl. Ex. A) at 2. The Plaintiff alleged that among other things, she was subjected to a hostile work environment based on her sex and in retaliation for invoking her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Id. at 3. The Plaintiff completed counseling and mediation regarding this request. Id. at 2. This request for counseling formed the basis for the Harrison I lawsuit. Harrison v. Office of the Architect of the Capitol, No. 09-1364, Compl. (D.D.C. filed July 23, 2009).

b. Case No. 09-AC-80

Second, in response to the Defendant's decision to terminate the Plaintiff's temporary detail, on May 29, 2009, the Plaintiff submitted a formal request for counseling with the Office of Compliance for the Architect of the Capitol and designated Bill Strawderman as her representative. Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 6; Def.'s Ex. 15-B (Gantt Decl. Ex. B) at 3. This request was assigned case number 09-AC-80. Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 6. The Office of Compliance recommended that the Plaintiff utilize the grievance procedures of the Architect of the Capitol for a period of time not to exceed 90 days. Gantt Decl. Ex. B at 3. Between June 18 and August 10, 2009, Bill Strawderman exchanged a number of emails with Edwin Lopez, an Equal Employment Opportunity Specialist with the " EEO/CP", regarding the Plaintiff's proposed remedies for her grievance, and met in person with Mr. Lopez and Ms. Tiscione to discuss the Plaintiff's claims. Strawderman Decl. ¶ ¶ 9-11. Ms. Tiscione disagreed with the proposal offered by the Plaintiff through Mr. Strawderman. Pl.'s Ex. 15 (08/12/09 Email R. Tiscione to E. Lopez). Mr. Strawderman then sought to arrange a meeting with the Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers, but Mr. Lopez indicated that he was not sure as to whether EEO/CP " should be involved in the effort to engage Mr. Ayers at this juncture" because Mr. Ayers " is AOC management and will ultimately be the deciding official in this matter." Pl.'s Ex. 17 (9/3/09 Email E. Lopez to B. Strawderman); Strawderman Decl. ¶ ¶ 13-15. On October 27, 2009, Mr. Lopez, in his capacity as the acting Director of the EEO/CP, sent a letter to Mr. Strawderman indicating that because the positions of the parties have not changed, Mr. Lopez did not " envision a final resolution of this matter utilizing the AOC internal grievance procedures." Pl.'s Ex. 24 (10/27/09 Ltr. E. Lopez to B. Strawderman). Mr. Lopez indicated that EEO/CP would not take any further action regarding the allegations in the request for counseling, and referred Mr. Strawderman to the June 3 letter from the Office of Compliance for further guidance. Id. The June 3 letter set forth the time limits outlined in

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Rule 2.03(m) for returning to counseling with the Office of Compliance after engaging in grievance procedures with EEO/CP. Gantt Decl. Ex. B at 3.

In response to Mr. Lopez's October 27 letter, Mr. Strawderman emailed Mr. Lopez, inquiring as to whether the October 27 letter represented a " final decision" for purposes of Rule 2.03(m). Pl.'s Ex. 25 (11/10/09 Email B. Strawderman to E. Lopez). Mr. Lopez indicated that the October 27 letter was a final decision. Pl.'s Ex. 27 (11/16/09 Email E. Lopez to B. Strawderman). The Office of Compliance indicates that the Plaintiff's request for counseling was " returned from the internal procedures" on November 3, 2009. Id. at 2. The Office notified the Plaintiff that the counseling period ended on December 2, 2009, but the Plaintiff did not file a request for mediation. Id.

c. Case No. 10-AC-23

The Plaintiff filed a third request for counseling on November 12, 2009, which was assigned case number 10-AC-23. Gantt Decl. Ex. C at 2. The request alleged the Plaintiff was subject to " harassment, discipline, and unfair terms and conditions of employment because of reprisal." Id. at 3. The Plaintiff completed the counseling and mediation process on June 3, 2010. Id. at 2.

d. Case No. 10-AC-28

The Plaintiff's fourth request for counseling, submitted December 3, 2009, was assigned case number 10-AC-28. Gantt Decl. Ex. D at 2. The claim " alleg[ed] hostile work environment and denial of terms and conditions of employment because of reprisal." Id. at 3 (1/21/10 Notice of Invocation of Mediation). The Plaintiff completed counseling and mediation with respect to this request on June 3, 2010.

e. Case No. 10-AC-55

The Plaintiff submitted a fifth request for counseling on March 15, 2010, alleging " unfair terms and conditions, discipline, and a hostile work environment because of reprisal." Gantt Decl. Ex. E at 3 (3/31/10 Notice of Invocation of Mediation). The request was assigned case number 10-AC-55. Id. at 2. The Plaintiff completed counseling and mediation on June 3, 2010. Id.

f. Case No. 10-AC-56

The Plaintiff's sixth request for counseling was submitted on March 17, 2010, and assigned case number 10-AC-56. Gantt Decl. Ex. F at 2. The request for counseling alleged the Plaintiff was subjected to " unfair terms and conditions and a hostile work environment because of reprisal." Id. at 3 (3/31/10 Notice of Invocation of Mediation). The Plaintiff ...


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