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Kassim v. Inter-Continental Hotels Corp.

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

November 25, 2013


For FIKERTE KASSIM, Plaintiff: Michael J. Hoare, LEAD ATTORNEY, Dennis Chong, MICHAEL J. HOARE, P.C., Washington, DC.



Page 57


ELLEN SEGAL HUVELLE, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Fikerte Kassim has sued Inter-Continental Hotels Corporation (" Hotel" ) alleging that she was fired because of her sex in violation of the D.C. Human Rights Act (" DCHRA" ).[1] D.C Code § 2-1401, et seq. Presently before the Court is defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Sept. 13, 2013 [ECF No. 17] (" Def.'s Mot." ).) For the reasons stated below, this motion will be granted.


On March 7, 2012, defendant fired plaintiff from her position as a bartender at the Willard Inter-Continental Hotel where she had worked for the prior eighteen years.

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( See Pltf's Dep. Tr. (" Pl. Dep." ) at 23-29; Def.'s Appendix (" App." ) Tab 9--Decl. of Kim Allen-Mills (" Mills Decl." ) at ¶ 7.) Plaintiff's termination came several days after members of a " high-profile" group complained to Hotel management that plaintiff rudely took their orders, glared at them while they were at the bar on two different occasions, generated an inaccurate bill, and was argumentative when asked to correct her mistake. ( See Mills Decl. at ¶ ¶ 16-23.)

Following these incidents, defendant suspended plaintiff pending investigation. ( See id. ) Suspension is one of several disciplinary actions that the Hotel is permitted to take under its Disciplinary Action Policy contained in its Code of Conduct. (Def.'s App. Tab 10--Disciplinary Action Policy (" Policy" ).) Potential disciplinary actions include warnings (written and verbal), suspension, and termination. ( See id. ; Def.'s App. Tab 11--Dep. of Kim Allen Mills (" Mills Dep." ) at 16-19.)[2] In general, the Hotel uses what it refers to as a " progressive discipline system" whereby employees move " from one level of discipline to the next." (Def.'s App. Tab 2--Professional Code of Conduct (" Code" ) at 35.) In this system, employees are first issued a series of warnings (verbal warning, first written warning, second written warning, final written warning), and, if necessary, they can then be suspended or their employment can be terminated. (Mills Dep. at 16-19.) For purposes of this " progressive discipline system," a disciplinary incident remains " active" for one year (though records of all incidents remain in an employee's personnel files indefinitely).[3] ( See Policy at 2.)

The Hotel is, however, not required to move sequentially through the steps outlined in the " progressive disciplinary system." (Code at 35; Mills Dep. at 19.) To the contrary, " depending on the severity of the problem, the type of behavior or misconduct, the number of occurrences, etc. the Hotel may apply any level or type of discipline it deems appropriate." (Code at 35.) In fact, the record in this case reflects that it is not uncommon for employees to receive more severe disciplinary penalties (including suspension) even for a first offense.[4] ( See, e.g., Def.'s App. Tab 19--" Hewes Disciplinary Record" (" Hewes Record" ) at 6 (an example of a final written warning and suspension based on a single active offense).)

During plaintiff's suspension, her direct supervisor (Mr. Patrick Berwald) and the Hotel's Director of Human Resources (Ms. Kim Allen-Mills) reviewed the complaints made by the high-profile group as well as the three other " active" incidents in plaintiff's disciplinary record.[5] ( See Mills Decl.

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at ¶ 20.) In August 2011, the Hotel issued plaintiff a " Second Written Warning" based on an unsatisfactory " mystery shopper" evaluation.[6] (Def.'s App. Tab 5--Personnel Communication Form, 08/2011; Mills Decl. at ¶ 11.) That same month, plaintiff also received a " Verbal Warning" for incorrectly processing a large gratuity on a customer's bill. Because of the severity of this offense, Ms. Mills recommended that plaintiff receive a " Final Written Warning." (Mills Dep. at 94.) However, after meeting with the Hotel Manager and Mr. Berwald, the plaintiff was given only a " Verbal Warning" because she had been " under a lot of stress due to a personal family matter. . . ." (Def.'s App. Tab 13--Dep. of James Ryan (" Ryan Dep." ) at 17.) In November 2011, plaintiff was issued a " Final Written Warning" after Hotel management received two unsolicited customer complaints regarding unsatisfactory and unprofessional service by the plaintiff over a four-day period.[7] (Def.'s App. Tab 6--Personnel Communication Form, 11/2011; Mills Decl. at ¶ 13.) In each of these instances, the record reflects that plaintiff was provided an opportunity to explain her actions to management. ( See, e.g., Pl. Dep. at 85 (discussing the cash handling incident).) Ultimately, based on a review of plaintiff's active disciplinary record, as well as the complaints lodged by the high-profile client, Mr. Berwald and Ms. Mills decided to terminate plaintiff's employment on March 7, 2012. (Mills Decl. at ¶ 23.)



A. Summary Judgment

A motion for summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings, the discovery, the disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that " there is no genuine issue 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, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). A genuine dispute as to a material fact exists if a " reasonable jury could return a verdict for the ...

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