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Ajisefinni v. KPMG LLP

United States District Court, District of Columbia

February 12, 2014

PAULA B. AJISEFINNI, Plaintiff,
v.
KPMG LLP, Defendant. Re Document No. 38

MEMORANDUM OPINION

RUDOLPH CONTRERA United States District Judge

Granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff, a black Nigerian female, was employed as a “senior auditor” by Defendant, KPMG, from September 2001 to June 2008. She was terminated by KPMG effective June, 30, 2008. Plaintiff has filed suit against KPMG on three counts: 1) Discrimination, retaliation, hostile work environment, and wrongful termination on the basis of her race and national origin, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended 42 U.S.C. §2000e, et seq., 2) violation of the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, D.C. Code §1-2501, et seq., and 3) breach of contract and violation of KPMG’s Equal Employment Opportunity Policy. The Defendant has moved for summary judgment on the grounds that Plaintiff has failed to present sufficient facts to permit a reasonable jury to conclude that Plaintiff was the victim of race or national origin discrimination. As explained more fully below, the Court concludes that the Defendant’s motion for summary judgment should be granted.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

A. Structure and Operations of KPMG

Defendant, KPMG is a global network of professional firms providing a variety of accounting services to its clients through its Tax, Audit, and Advisory services practices. Aff. of Sudammi K. Ranasinghe, ¶ 3, Def.’s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. B., May 17, 2013, ECF No. 38. Within these practices are a number of different groups, including the Management Assurance Services group or Audit group (hereinafter "MAS"), the Business Measurement Process group (hereinafter “BMP”), and the Internal Audit Regulatory and Compliance Services group ("IARCS"). Id. at ¶ 4. Services are provided to KPMG clients through projects known as “engagements,” and employees who are scheduled on these engagements are often required to travel to the client site location. Id. at ¶3.

As part of its performance evaluation process, KPMG requires all employees to complete a self-assessment and to then forward the forms on to the employee's manager. KPMG requires evaluations for specific engagements, an interim year, and for an entire performance year. Id. at ¶5. The purpose of the performance evaluation process is to “provide constructive feedback to the individual employee with suggestions for improvement while also providing them with a performance rating for evaluation purposes on an annual basis.” Id. For each engagement, the engagement manager completes the engagement evaluation for the staff, and the performance manager reviews and amalgamates each of the engagement evaluations into interim and year-end performance reviews. Dep. Paula B. Ajisefinni, 36-37, Pl.’s Opp’n to Def.’s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. K, July 17, 2013, ECF No. 42.

KPMG utilizes a “9-Box” performance rating system for assessing the performance of KPMG staff. Dep. Ajisefinni, 41, 78-9. The rating system is divided into three general categories: a rating of 7-9 indicates that the employee “Needs Improvement,” a middle rating of 4-6 indicates that the employee is a “Strong Performer,” and finally a rating of 1-3 indicates that the employee is an “Exceptional Performer.” Id. KPMG evaluates its employees based on their business results, skills, behaviors, and values. Id. at 41.

B. Plaintiff’s Employment at KPMG

1. Plaintiff’s Hire

Plaintiff began working at KPMG LLP in the Washington, DC office MAS practice on September 24, 2001. Dep. Ajisefinni, 24. On Sept 14, 2001, Plaintiff received a copy of the firm’s Equal Employment Opportunity Policy on sexual and other unlawful harassment, and signed an acknowledgment that she received and understood the policy. EEO Policy, Def.’s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. O.

It is undisputed that at the time of Plaintiff’s hire, she had passed two parts of the Certified Public Accountant (“CPA”) exam. Dep. Ajisefinni, 14. During her time at KPMG, Plaintiff was unable to pass the remaining two portions of the CPA exam and in fact allowed the two portions she had already passed to lapse. Id. at 17.

Given her prior work experience, including her time as a senior auditor at Deloitte & Touche, LLP, Resume of Paula Ajisefinni, Pl.’s Opp’n, Ex. G, KPMG's MAS practice hired Plaintiff as a senior associate at a starting annual salary of $60,000. Dep. Ajisefinni, 24-25. Defendant alleges that by the time Plaintiff was terminated in 2008, her yearly compensation was $78,000. Def.’s Mot. Summ. J., at 4. As of 2003, Plaintiff had received no increase in pay. Washington Assurance Salary Review, Pl.’s Surreply in Support of Opp’n, Ex. 1, Oct. 21, 2013, ECF No. 53. Plaintiff concedes, however, that by 2008, her pay had increased. Dep. Ajisefinni, 33.

2. Plaintiff’s Performance Evaluations in the MAS Practice

Plaintiff was required to complete a self-assessment on her year-end review in 2001 in the MAS practice. In this assessment, Plaintiff wrote that she maintained a good working relationship with client management and properly utilized KPMG technology tools. 2001-2002 Year-End Review, 39, Def.’s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. F. In that self-assessment, Plaintiff also listed that one of her main goals was to pass the remaining portions of the CPA exam by May 2003. Id. In her seven years at KPMG, Plaintiff was unable to fully pass the CPA exam. Dep. Ajisefinni, 14. By the time she left KPMG in 2008, the two portions of the exam that Plaintiff had previously passed had also lapsed. Id.

By contrast, Plaintiff’s performance manager in the MAS practice in 2001, Eric Holt, wrote that Plaintiff “is currently unable to fulfill the role we have asked her to play.” 2001-2002 Year-End Review, 45. Specifically, Plaintiff did not have “an internal audit background. As a result, she does not have the…knowledge and experience required to be successful as a senior associate.” Id. The end-of-year review rated Plaintiff as “Needs Improvement” and made two suggestions for Plaintiff moving forward: 1) move Plaintiff to another group within KPMG where her skills were better suited to the job requirements or 2) demote Plaintiff to an associate position with a corresponding reduction in pay. Id.

3. Plaintiff’s Transfer to the BMP Practice and Subsequent Performance Evaluations

Plaintiff requested and was granted a transfer to the BMP Practice group on October 1, 2002. Dep. Ajisefinni, 48. This group engaged in external audit work for clients and was led in the Mid-Atlantic region by Diane Dudley. Id. at 50. In early 2003, Ms. Dudley sat down with Plaintiff to allegedly convey a concern that Plaintiff’s work product was not at the level of a senior associate. Def.’s Mot. Summ. J., at 5. It is undisputed that during the meeting, Ms. Dudley notified Plaintiff that a pay reduction and move to a lower associate level might be in order. Dep. Ajisefinni, 136. Plaintiff declined the demotion and pay decrease. Id. Plaintiff further alleges that Ms. Dudley told Plaintiff that “it’s not going to work out [at KPMG]” and that the Plaintiff “should go and look for a job in a minority company because [Plaintiff] did not agree” to let Ms. Dudley reduce her pay. Id. at 127.

Following this meeting with Ms. Dudley, Plaintiff filed an internal complaint of race discrimination with the KPMG Human Resources Department. Dep. Ajisefinni, 147. During KPMG’s investigation into the matter, Plaintiff also alleged that a colleague, Carol Booth,[1] asked Plaintiff at a group dinner whether Nigeria has a university that teaches all Nigerians how to be armed robbers and thieves. Dep. Ajisefinni, 150-151. KPMG’s investigation concluded that there was insufficient corroboration of the event. Id.

Plaintiff continued to work in the MAS group with the same title and at the same pay level. She continued to work in this group until her termination in 2008. During this time, Plaintiff performance reviews were a mix of “Needs Improvement” and “strong performance.” Plaintiff never received an “exceptional performance” from her supervisors. 2002-03 Year End Review, Def.’s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. H; 2003-04 Year End Review, Def.’s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. I; 2004-05 Year End Review, Def.’s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. J. Plaintiff consistently rated herself EP in the self-evaluation portions of these performance reviews. Id.

Plaintiff’s supervisors consistently found four areas in which Plaintiff’s performance was deficient: 1) meeting deadlines, 2) time management, 3) communication with clients and supervisors, and 4) lack of knowledge of the audit industry and of KPMG’s audit practices. Plaintiff’s 2002-03 Year-End review written and compiled by Ms. Ranasinghe, which rated Plaintiff as “Needs Improvement,” commented that her self-review contained basic grammatical and spelling mistakes and that Plaintiff needed to complete the CPA exam as soon as possible.

The review further noted:

[Paula] has not replied timely to e-mail requests from her supervisors...all of her other interim evaluations also indicate that Paula was not acting in a senior level capacity. The interim reviews indicate that Paula had trouble meeting the assigned budget, maintaining a professional attitude with the client, and was not prompt with following up on review comments...although she is a BMP senior, she continues to struggle with basic BMP methodology audit activities that are familiar to her peers.”

Def.’s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. H, 3.

Plaintiff’s 2003-04 Year-End Review, again written and compiled by Ms. Ranasinghe, rated Plaintiff a strong performer “although, compared to the rest of the class she is at the lower end of the strong performer range.” The review commended Plaintiff on her improvement in setting goals and turning in review sheets but still found problems with time management and communication with her seniors. Def.’s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. I, 20.

At her deposition, Plaintiff asserted a much different picture of her performance during the 2003-2004 year, and disagreed with “98 percent of what [Ms. Ranasinghe] wrote [in 2003-04].” Dep. Ajisefinni, 84. Plaintiff was unable to offer specific examples of why her 2003-2004 Year-End Review was not accurate, however, merely stating that “[w]hatever she [Ranasinghe] wrote, I disagree with it…” Id. In April of 2005, Plaintiff requested that she be assigned a new performance manager, and KPMG agreed to assign Dan Kovlak, the performance manager that she requested. Id. 81-85.

Plaintiff’s 2004-05 Year-End and Interim Reviews again noted deficiencies in the recurring areas noted above. See generally, Def.’s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. B-E. Engagement manager Howard Simanoff noted, for example:

Ms. Ajisefinni failed to properly apply the KPMG methodology to the engagement, which in the end delayed the timing of audit programs and affected planned work. Moreover, Ms. Ajisefinni needed improvement in planning, organizing, and using her time effectively, especially when it came to overall engagement management. Specifically, senior associates, such as Ms. Ajisefinni at the time, are required to update the Audit Checklist and Specific Topics APG periodically throughout the engagement. The Audit Checklist was left uncompleted at the end of Ms. Ajisefinni’s tenure on the engagement, as was the CPE documentation. Moreover, Ms. Ajisefinni was unable to provide timely work papers for my review and was untimely in providing feedback to one of the associates on the engagement, and I had expected Ms. Ajisefinni, as a senior associate, to better organize her time to reach the objectives of the audit.

Def.’s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. D, ¶ 9. Engagement manager Sherif Ettefa noted the following issues with Plaintiff’s performance:

Plaintiff failed to complete the audit plan document that summarized KPMG’s audit approach from prior audit years so that areas of improvement could be properly identified and new issues arising in the current fiscal year audit could be addressed; Plaintiff’s failure to complete the audit plan document created inefficiencies, and forced the engagement manager to complete the assessment himself to ensure that the audit procedures were sufficient in order to reach a proper conclusion on the financial statements; Plaintiff failed to properly account for the client’s process changes in her testwork due to her unfamiliarity with the applicable FASB statements…toward the end of the audit, Plaintiff provided the manager with new expected completion dates that were after the ...

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