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Harrison v. Office of Architect of Capitol

United States District Court, District of Columbia

October 9, 2013

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

Page 14

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

Page 15

MEMORANDUM OPINION

COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY, UNITED STATES 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 and retaliated against the Plaintiff for engaging in protected activity, in violation of the Congressional Accountability Act, 2 U.S.C. § 1301 et seq. Presently before the Court is the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, or in the alternative, for Summary Judgment. Upon consideration of the pleadings, [1] the relevant legal authorities, and the record as a whole, 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 motion is GRANTED.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Chain of Command

This action is the third of three lawsuits filed in this Court by the Plaintiff challenging

Page 16

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. [2] Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 1. [3] 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. Harrison v. Office of the Architect of the Capitol (" Harrison I " ), 964 F.Supp.2d 71, 2013 WL 4676110, at *1 (D.D.C. Sept. 1, 2013).

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. Ms. Drake, at the time a Human Resources Specialist, worked for the Capitol Visitor Center, a division of the Architect of the Capitol. Drake Decl. ¶ 1. Ms. Heslep, also a Human Resources Specialist, worked in the Training Branch with the Plaintiff. Heslep Decl. ¶ 1. Ms. Heslep served as acting Chief for approximately six weeks in October and early November 2009. Id. ¶ 2. During this time, Ms. Heslep conferred with Ms. Drake regarding management of the Training Division. Harrison v. Office of the Architect of the Capitol (" Harrison II " ), 964 F.Supp.2d 81, 2013 WL 5302666 at, *1 (D.D.C. Sept. 22, 2013). Ms. Drake became acting Chief in November 2009, and retained the position until March 2010. Drake Decl. ¶ 2. Ms. Drake conferred with Ms. Heslep regarding management of the Training division during Ms. Drake's tenure as acting Chief. Harrison II, 2013 WL 5302666, at *1. Ms. Heslep then served as acting Chief for six additional weeks, from March 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.

B. Factual Background

The Court detailed the events preceding the Plaintiff's initial lawsuit in the Harrison I and II decisions. 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, the Plaintiff was informed that her temporary detail would end in June 2009. Id. At that time, the Plaintiff was reassigned to the Training Branch, but did not return to the physical office for the Training Branch. Id. Rather, the Plaintiff worked for the Training Branch from a private office in another part of the building. Id. Following Mr. Hayleck's departure in September 2009, the Plaintiff returned to the main Training Branch Office. Id.

Preceding the Plaintiff's lawsuit in Harrison II, the Plaintiff submitted seven requests for counseling between February 6,

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2009, and April 28, 2010, in order to commence proceedings pursuant to the Congressional Accountability Act against the Defendant for various alleged hostile work environment and retaliation claims. Harrison II, 2013 WL 5302666, at *2-4. During that period, on October 29, 2009, Ms. Heslep and another employee within the Training Branch searched the Plaintiff's coat pocket in the Plaintiff's absence and removed a digital recorder. [WL] at *4-5. Since the Plaintiff destroyed the digital recorder during the proceedings in Harrison II, the Court found the Defendant was entitled to an adverse inference that the Plaintiff was surreptitiously recording her co-workers. [WL] at *11. Also during that period, on March 8, 2010, Ms. Drake issued a proposed reprimand to the Plaintiff regarding several instances in which the Plaintiff was delinquent in completing her work; however, the proposed reprimand was ultimately withdrawn. [WL] at *6. In addition, on March 29, 2010, Ms. Heslep issued a " Performance Improvement Plan" or " PIP" for the Plaintiff due to deficiencies in her performance over the review period. Id. The Plaintiff took extended sick leave the day after the PIP was issued and, therefore, the PIP was withdrawn. Id. The PIP was never reinstated once the Plaintiff returned to work. Id. Finally, in early March 2010, Ms. Heslep and Ms. Drake approached the Information Security Division of the Architect of the Capitol in order to determine the protocol for obtaining authorized access to an employee's email " just in case there was ...


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