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Morales v. Gotbaum

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

May 19, 2014

PAUL E. MORALES, Plaintiff,
v.
JOSHUA GOTBAUM, Director, Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, Defendant

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For Paul E. Morales, Plaintiff: Paul V. Bennett, LEAD ATTORNEY, LAW OFFICE OF PAUL V. BENNETT, P.A., Annapolis, MD.

For Joshua Gotbaum, Director, Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, in his official capacity, Defendant: Peter C. Pfaffenroth, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Civil Division, Washington, DC; Shuchi Batra, LEAD ATTORNEY, PENSION BENEFIT GUARANTY CORPORATION, Office Of The Chief Counsel, Washington, DC.

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MEMORANDUM OPINION

AMY BERMAN JACKSON, United States District Judge.

This case is before the Court on defendant's motion for summary judgment on the two remaining counts in this case: Count I, racial discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (" Title VII" ), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2 (2012), and Count III, retaliation in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3. Def.'s Mem. in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. (" Def.'s Mem." ) [Dkt. # 58-1]. Plaintiff opposes the motion, arguing that there are still factual issues in dispute. Pl.'s Opp. to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. (" Pl.'s Opp." ) [Dkt. # 60-1]. But the Court finds that the facts in dispute are not material to the disposition of the case, and it concludes that plaintiff has failed to show that many of the asserted discriminatory and retaliatory actions are adverse actions within the meaning Title VII, and that he has failed to rebut defendant's legitimate, nondiscriminatory or nonretaliatory reasons for the others. Accordingly, the Court will grant defendant's motion for summary judgment as to both counts.

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BACKGROUND[1]

Plaintiff Paul Morales is a Hispanic male of Mexican national origin. Def.'s Statement of Material Facts as to which there is No Genuine Dispute (" Def.'s SOF" ) ¶ 2 [Dkt. # 58-2]; see also Am. Compl. ¶ 2 [Dkt. # 23]. Defendant Joshua Gotbaum is the Director of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (" PBGC" ) and is being sued in his official capacity. From 2001 to March 2010, plaintiff worked for PBGC as an Accountant in the Financial Operations Department of the Collection and Compliance Division (" CCD" ) in Washington, D.C., most recently at the GS-13 level. Def.'s SOF ¶ ¶ 2-3; Am. Compl. ¶ ¶ 2-3.

The facts relevant to this case took place between the years of 2007 and 2010. During that time, there were various supervisors in CCD. Robert Callahan -- a Caucasian male whose official title was Financial Program Manager -- served as plaintiff's first-line supervisor. Def.'s SOF ¶ 5. Matthew Vitello -- a Caucasian male in the position of a GS-14 Lead Accountant -- served as plaintiff's Team Lead until October 2009 when Callahan hired William O'Neill -- a Caucasian male -- as a GS-14 Lead Accountant. Id. ¶ 9; Attach. 3 to Decl. of Robert Callahan at 22 [Dkt. # 58-3]. O'Neill became plaintiff's Team Lead at that time. Attach. 3 to Decl. of Robert Callahan at 22. Finally, Sherry Mathes -- a Caucasian female -- also held the position of GS-14 Lead Accountant during the period of 2007 to 2008, but she did not serve as plaintiff's Team Lead during that period, except for three days in May 2008. Def.'s SOF ¶ 8.

From 2007 to 2009, while employed at the agency, plaintiff engaged in several Title VII protected activities.[2] He claims that, starting in 2008, his supervisors began retaliating against plaintiff for his involvement

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in those activities, and that his supervisors also discriminated against him on the basis of his race.[3]

Specifically, plaintiff claims that his supervisors took the following actions in order to discriminate and retaliate against him:

o In mid-2007, Callahan was responsible for selecting individuals to participate in the Premium and Practitioners System User Acceptance Test Plan (" UAT program" ). Def's SOF ¶ 44. Plaintiff was not selected to participate in that program. Id. ¶ 46; see also Pl.'s Statement of Material Facts that are in Dispute (" Pl.'s SOF" ) ¶ 15 [Dkt. # 60-2].
o On May 16, 2008, during the week that Mathes supervised plaintiff, she assigned to plaintiff a project on " aged trial balances" (" ATB project" ) and gave plaintiff two weeks to complete it. Def's SOF ¶ ¶ 29, 31-32; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 6. When plaintiff responded that he would be unable to meet the two-week deadline due to the demands of his workload, Mathes requested that plaintiff provide her with daily reports on his progress. Def's SOF ¶ 33; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 7.
o Sometime between December 2008 and February 2009, PBGC's Department of Human Resources allegedly interfered with plaintiffs ability to obtain worker's compensation for a work-related injury. Pl.'s Opp. at 6.
o On January 15 and 22, 2009, Callahan denied a request made by Richard Anderson -- plaintiffs colleague and EEO representative -- for official time to assist plaintiff with his EEO complaint. Pl.'s Opp. at 5.
o In February 2009, Callahan denied plaintiffs request for one day of advanced sick leave. See Pl.'s Opp. at 6.
o Also in February 2009, Callahan denied plaintiffs request to attend the United States Department of Agriculture's Leadership Development program (" USDA Leadership program" ). Def's SOF ¶ ¶ 50-53; see also Pl.'s SOF ¶ 16.
o In July 2009, a GS-14 Lead Account position (" the 2009 Team Lead position" ) became available. Def's SOF ¶ 62; Pl.'s Opp. at 7. Plaintiff submitted a timely application and was found to be minimally qualified for the position, but Callahan -- who served as the selecting official -- did not interview him. Def's SOF ¶ ¶ 63-67; Pl.'s Opp. at 7. Callahan hired O'Neill instead. Def's SOF ¶ 68; Pl.'s Opp. at 7.
o On October 6, 2009, O'Neill -- plaintiffs new Team Lead -- assigned him the High Dollar Credit Review project and set a target deadline of October 31, 2009. Def's SOF ¶ 39; Oct. 6, 2009 Email from Bill O'Neill to Paul Morales (" O'Neill Email" ), Ex. S to Pl.'s Mem at 24 [Dkt. #60-21]. O'Neill also asked plaintiff to provide him with weekly updates on his progress. Def's SOF ¶ 39; O'Neill Email at 24. Plaintiff responded that he could not complete the project in three weeks. Oct. 8, 2009 Email from Paul Morales to Bill O'Neill, Ex. S to Pl.'s Mem. at 19 [Dkt. # 60-21]; see also Pl.'s SOF ¶ 12.

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o Also in October 2009, CCD implemented new performance standards for all of its employees. Def's SOF ¶ 55; Pl.'s Opp. at 6.
o Plaintiffs overall performance standard for 2009 was " meets expectations," which was a step below his " excellent" rating the year before. Def's SOF ¶ 58.
o On November 18, 2009, Callahan assigned plaintiff the Credit Balance Review project and asked him to complete it by the end of the day. Def's SOF ¶ 42. Plaintiff stated that he could not complete the project in that time, and Callahan then asked him to finish it by noon that same day. Pl.'s SOF ¶ 14.

Ultimately, plaintiff alleges that the " actions of PBGC management caused [him] so much stress that he was forced to apply for disability retirement." Am. Compl. ¶ 228; see also Pl.'s Opp. at 8. He went on leave without pay in April 2010, and his disability retirement was granted and became effective on May 1, 2010. Am. Compl. ¶ 231.

Plaintiff filed the original complaint giving rise to this case on February 12, 2010 [Dkt. # 1], and he filed an amended complaint on March 2, 2011 [Dkt. # 23]. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint, or in the alternative, for summary judgment under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and 56(a) [Dkt. # 26]. Plaintiff opposed the motion to dismiss and took the position that discovery was needed before any motion for summary judgment could be considered [Dkt. # 31].

The Court partially granted defendant's motion to dismiss and dismissed Counts II, IV, V, VI, VII, and VIII for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Morales v. Gotbaum, No. 10-cv-221 (D.D.C. Apr. 17, 2012). Counts I (racial discrimination) and III (Title VII retaliation) were left standing. Id. As to those counts, the Court granted plaintiffs request for discovery under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d) and denied defendant's motion for summary judgment. Id.

Upon the completion of discovery, defendant moved once more for summary judgment, arguing that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Counts I and III and providing the Court with a statement of material facts that are not in dispute. Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. [Dkt. # 58]. Plaintiff maintains that there are genuine issues of material fact that preclude judgment as a matter of law. Pl.'s Opp.; Pl.'s SOF.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate where the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions on file and affidavits show that " there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and [that] the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). To defeat summary judgment, the non-moving party must " designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. at 324 (internal quotation marks omitted). The existence of a factual dispute is insufficient to preclude summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). A dispute is " genuine" only if a reasonable fact-finder could find for the non-moving party; a fact is " material" only if it is capable of affecting the outcome of the litigation. Id. at 248; Laningham v. U.S. Navy, 813 F.2d 1236, 1241, 259 U.S. App.D.C. 115 (D.C. Cir. 1987). In assessing a party's motion, the court must " view the facts and

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draw reasonable inferences 'in the light most favorable to the party opposing the summary judgment motion.'" Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007) (alterations omitted), quoting United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 82 S.Ct. 993, 8 L.Ed.2d 176 (1962) (per curiam).

ANALYSIS

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is one of the statutory schemes that Congress enacted to implement " the federal policy of prohibiting wrongful discrimination in the Nation's workplaces." Univ. of Tex. Sw. Med. Ctr. v. Nassar, 133 S.Ct. 2517, 2522, 186 L.Ed.2d 503 (2013). The antidiscrimination provision " makes it unlawful for an employer 'to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race'" or other protected characteristics. Steele v. Schafer, 535 F.3d 689, 695, 383 U.S. App.D.C. 74 (D.C. Cir. 2008), quoting 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a); see also Baloch v. Kempthorne, 550 F.3d 1191, 1196, 384 U.S. App.D.C. 85 (D.C. Cir. 2008), citing 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000e-16(a) (noting that, to state a claim for disparate treatment under Title VII's antidiscrimination provision, the plaintiff must establish two essential elements: " that (i) the plaintiff suffered an adverse employment action (ii) because of the plaintiff's race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or disability" ). And the antiretaliation prong makes it unlawful for " an employer [to] 'discriminate against' an employee . . . because that individual 'opposed any practice' made unlawful by ...


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