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Arnold v. Jewell

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

December 23, 2013

ROMELLA ARNOLD, Plaintiff,
v.
SALLY JEWELL, Defendant

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For ROMELLA J. ARNOLD, Plaintiff: David A. Branch, LAW OFFICE OF DAVID BRANCH, Washington, DC.

For GALE A. NORTON, Secretary, U.S. Department of the Interior, Defendant: Rhonda C. Fields, LEAD ATTORNEY, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Civil Division, Washington, DC.

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MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

RICHARD W. ROBERTS, Chief United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Romella Arnold, an employee of the United States Department of the Interior

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(" DOI" ), brings this action against the Secretary of the DOI [1] alleging race, sex, and age discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (" Title VII" ), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (" ADEA" ), 29 U.S.C. § 633a. At the close of discovery, the Secretary moved for summary judgment. Because there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Arnold was discriminated against on the basis of race, sex, and age when she was laterally transferred to a Title VI position, the Secretary's motion will be denied as to this claim. Arnold failed to exhaust timely her administrative remedies for her claims that she was discriminated against on the basis of race, sex, age and retaliation when she was twice accused in September 2002 of money laundering and that she was discriminated against on the basis of race, sex and retaliation when her former supervisor deleted a records tracking system and attempted to transfer Arnold's job to another office. She also failed to show that the latter two actions, the 2003 accusations against her of money laundering, the denial of a travel request, a short work deadline imposed, a counseling letter issued to her, her office relocation and re-defined performance standards, and a program termination were adverse employment actions. Thus, the Secretary's motion will be granted as to these disparate treatment claims. Because Arnold failed to establish a prima facie case of retaliation and hostile work environment, judgment will be entered for the Secretary on these claims.

BACKGROUND

Arnold is an African-American woman who was born in 1952. Compl. ¶ 3. In 1975, Arnold was employed by the DOI as an Equal Employment Opportunity (" EEO" ) Specialist and, for approximately two years, worked on both Title VI and Title VII programs. Def.'s Stmt. of Material Facts (" Def.'s Stmt." ) ¶ ¶ 1, 2. In 1997, Arnold was reassigned to the DOI's Bureau of Land Management (" BLM" ) where she worked as an EEO Specialist. Id. ¶ 4. The next year, Arnold took on the duties and responsibilities of the National Student Education Employment Program (" NSEEP" ) Program Manager, which included running the Student Temporary Employment Program and the Student in Career Employment Program (" SCEP" ). Id. In 1999, Arnold was promoted to a GS-13 SCEP Program Manager position, although she continued to fulfill the duties of the NSEEP Program Manager. Id. ¶ 5; Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Stmt. (" Pl.'s Resp." ) ¶ 5.

" In 2002, Marilyn Johnson was hired as the Assistant Director for Human Resources for the BLM. In this capacity, Johnson served as Arnold's second-level supervisor." Arnold v. Salazar, Civil Action No. 09-964 (RWR), 970 F.Supp.2d 1, 2013 WL 5273369, at *1 (D.D.C. Sept. 19, 2013). Johnson's duties included overseeing a funding agreement between BLM and Langston University (" Langston" ). Def.'s Stmt. ¶ ¶ 15-17. Arnold was involved in the Langston agreement and alleges that twice in September 2002 and thrice between July and October 2003, Johnson accused her of laundering money to Langston. Compl. ¶ ¶ 16-22; Def.'s Stmt. ¶ ¶ 18-19, 25. Under Johnson's leadership, BLM's partnership with Langston ultimately was terminated in March 2004. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 26.

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Arnold alleges that on May 8, 2003, Johnson caused her assistant, Connie Stewart, to send an e-mail to the BLM Field Committee proposing that the committee adopt the " Lead State Concept." Compl. ¶ 25; Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 27. Under the Lead State Concept, a state would become responsible for the BLM's student recruiting programs, including the SCEP. Id. ¶ 29. Arnold alleges that if effectuated, the proposal " would have resulted in a directed reassignment of Plaintiff" to a state office. Compl. ¶ 26. The program functions were never transferred to a state office. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 30.

Arnold alleges that she used the Student Employment/Historically Black College and University (" HBCU" ) Tracking System (" SERTS" ), an automated system that was developed to monitor the recruitment and hiring of students in the HBCU program, to complete some of her duties. Compl. ¶ 28; Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 48. In January 2003, Johnson decided to terminate SERTS, and instructed a subordinate to delete the system. Compl. ¶ 29; Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 38. After she terminated the system, Johnson asked Arnold to prepare a program report on July 18, 2003. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 52. Johnson gave Arnold only 30 minutes to complete the report although Arnold alleges that she had to manually collect the data from other employees because SERTS had been terminated, which made it more difficult to prepare a program report. Id.; see also Compl. ¶ 31.

In June 2003, Arnold submitted a travel request to Johnson to travel on June 12, 2003 to a training that was to begin on June 16, 2003. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 54. Johnson denied Arnold's request to travel on June 12, but approved Arnold's travel for June 15. Id. ¶ 55. Arnold alleges that, as a result of having to travel later, she " had to work through the night to ensure [that] all training materials were in order" before the training began. Compl. ¶ 35.

During a meeting in late July 2003, Johnson announced that Dr. Mike Brown, a man who was younger than Arnold, would be laterally reassigned to the GS-14 position of NSEEP/HBCU Program Manager. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ ¶ 56, 59; Compl. ¶ 44. In response to the announcement, Arnold said " I'll be dammed [sic]." Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 57. On August 1, 2003, Johnson issued Arnold a letter of counseling for " Inappropriate Language and Abusive Behavior," id. ¶ 58, warning that such behavior " will no longer be tolerated," Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 56.

In addition, on August 1, 2003, Johnson reassigned Arnold to a GS-13 Title VI EEO Specialist position. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 72. Following her reassignment, Arnold was given a different office and different telephone number. Id. ¶ 74. Arnold alleges that her new office was " considerably smaller than her previous office." Compl. ¶ 58. On October 1, 2003, Arnold was given new performance standards for her Title VI EEO Specialist position, Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 75, and a position description, both of which Arnold alleged were " fallacious." Compl. ¶ 53.

Arnold alleges that throughout her tenure with the DOI, she engaged in protected EEO activity. For instance, Arnold alleges that in March 2002, the EEOC's Federal Sector Programs Director, R. Edison Elkins, wrote that she was serving on a committee that worked with the EEOC to identify problems with BLM's EEO practices. See Def. Errata [ECF No. 18], Ex. 9 (Pl.'s Answers to Objns. to Def.'s 1st Set of Interrogs. & Reqs. for Prod. of Docs. (" Pl.'s Answers to Interrogs." ) at 18-19).

On August 4, 2003, Arnold contacted an EEO counselor, complaining of disparate treatment, retaliation, and a hostile work environment. Comp. ¶ 7. Arnold filed a formal administrative complaint on October

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15, 2003, id. ¶ 8, and brought suit against the Secretary in July 2005.

The Secretary now moves for summary judgment arguing that Arnold failed to exhaust her administrative remedies for several of her disparate treatment and retaliation claims. The Secretary also argues that Arnold failed to state a disparate treatment, retaliation, and hostile work environment claim, and that even if she had, Arnold did not rebut the legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the DOI's employment decisions about Arnold. Arnold opposes.

DISCUSSION

Summary judgment is properly 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). A genuine issue " is present in a case where the 'evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party,' a situation separate and distinct from a case where the evidence is 'so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.'" Dozier-Nix v. District of Columbia, 851 F.Supp.2d 163, 166 (D.D.C. 2012) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)). " 'A fact is " material" if a dispute over it might affect the outcome of a suit under governing law.'" United States v. Sci. Applications Int'l Corp., Civil Action No. 04-1543 (RWR), 958 F.Supp.2d 53, 2013 WL 3791423, at *4 (D.D.C. July 22, 2013) (quoting Holcomb v. Powell, 433 F.3d 889, 895, 369 U.S.App. D.C. 122 (D.C. Cir. 2006)). " In considering a motion for summary judgment, a court is to draw all justifiable inferences from the evidence in favor of the nonmovant." Hairston v. Boardman, 915 F.Supp.2d 155, 159 (D.D.C. 2013) (alterations and internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Fields v. Geithner, 840 F.Supp.2d 128, 133 (D.D.C. 2012)).

I. EXHAUSTION OF ADMINISTRATIVE REMEDIES

A federal employee raising Title VII and ADEA claims must timely exhaust her administrative remedies before bringing a civil action. See Rann v. Chao, 346 F.3d 192, 195, 358 U.S.App. D.C. 122 (D.C. Cir. 2003); Bowden v. United States, 106 F.3d 433, 437, 323 U.S.App. D.C. 164 (D.C. Cir. 1997). Before bringing a Title VII or ADEA claim, a federal employee must initiate informal contact with an EEO counselor within 45 days of the alleged discriminatory conduct. 42 U.S.C. ...


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