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Cole v. The Boeing Co.

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

November 7, 2014

DEBORAH R. COLE, Plaintiff,

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For Deborah R. Cole, Plaintiff: Arinderjit Dhali, LEAD ATTORNEY, DHALI PLLC., Washington, DC USA.

For Boeing Inc., Defendant: Denise Elizabeth Giraudo, Michael J. Murphy, LEAD ATTORNEYS, OGLETREE, DEAKINS, NASH, SMOAK & STEWART, P.C., Washington, DC USA.


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ROSEMARY M. COLLYER, United States District Judge.

Deborah Cole sues The Boeing Company for alleged retaliation in violation of the District of Columbia Human Rights Act (DCHRA), D.C. Code § 2-1401.01 et seq., and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Boeing denies that it retaliated against Ms. Cole in any way and contests Ms. Cole's allegations on all bases. The Court finds that Ms. Cole complained of actions by a civilian employee of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency that were entirely unrelated to discrimination made unlawful by Title VII or the DCHRA. For these reasons, summary judgment will be granted to Boeing.


A. Ms. Cole's Work at the Washington Navy Yard

Deborah Cole, a Caucasian woman, worked as a contractor at the Washington, D.C., Navy Yard for BAE Systems PLC, or its predecessors, until early 2010. 2nd Am. Compl. [Dkt. 38] ¶ 34 n.9. Ms. Cole worked in the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency's (NGA)[1] Science & Methodologies (PLLS) division as a contractor on a contract between L1, Inc. and the NGA.[2] Ms. Cole became an employee of The Boeing Company on February 12, 2010, and began working as a photogrammetrist on a Boeing/NGA contract at the Washington Navy Yard on February 23, 2010.[3] Ms. Cole was assigned to work at NGA's Persistent Surveillance & Improvised Explosives Devices (PSID) Division. She received direction from Boeing employees Rodd Chin, who was her site lead; Dean Hand, who was her Program Manager and immediate supervisor; and Don Vance, who was her Division Manager. Mr. Chin provided day-to-day support, as Mr. Hand was physically located in St. Louis, MO. The NGA Branch Chief with oversight of the PSID group was Dean Compton.

Because Boeing disputes that Ms. Cole complained of discrimination barred by Title VII or the DCHRA, the Court quotes liberally from the record; none of the relevant facts is disputed, only their legal significance. According to Ms. Cole, she had difficulty being accepted by NGA managers in PSID because she is a photogrammetrist and not a geospatial analyst.[4] Id.

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¶ 26 (PSID branch chiefs " did not want her on their team[s], because she was not a geospatial analyst." ). Ms. Cole insists that the titles are interchangeable. Id. ¶ 26. Despite the real or perceived distinction, in March Ms. Cole was asked by NGA employee Shawna McGee to work on her team. Both Mr. Compton and Mr. Hand agreed.

On April 1, 2010, Mr. Compton called Ms. Cole into his office and " then proceeded to yell at her, falsely accusing her of destroying the PLSS database," in the program where Ms. Cole had formerly worked. Id. ¶ 34. Mr. Compton said that " he ha[d] worked a long time to develop a good working relationship with PLSS and now [Ms. Cole] had ruined it." Id. ¶ 35. On April 2, 2010, Ms. Cole met again with Mr. Compton and he " told her that he did not want her on the contract and that he was pulling her out of Shawna McGhee's group." Id. ¶ 35. Mr. Compton stressed that he had no need for a photogrammetrist in his group, but needed a geospatial analyst. Id. ¶ 36. Ms. Cole was then transferred out of Ms. McGee's team. Distressed at Mr. Compton's accusation concerning the PLSS database, Ms. Cole immediately reported it to Mr. Hand.

Soon thereafter, employees working for NGA at the Washington Navy Yard were notified that representatives from the NGA Office of Inspector General (OIG) would be visiting on site and employees could make appointments to speak with them. Ms. Cole made an appointment and met with two OIG representatives on April 12, 2010. Ms. Cole reported to the OIG that Dean Compton was " slandering me from a previous group where I was working . . . [t]he PLSS on the second floor" that worked with L1. Mem. in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. [Dkt. 47-1] (MSJ), Ex. A (Cole Dep.) at 174.

Robert Ballard, NGA's Contracting Officer Representative (COR), complained about Ms. Cole in a June 29, 2010 email to Mr. Hand, titled " Personnel Issue" :

It has been brought to my attention that Deborah Cole is creating tension in her current position. She has informally interacted with image scientists in PL on a database issue and caused her removal from the HME team. She was told to not interact with the people in PL due to this issue. Apparently, she continued discussions with the PL analysts which resulted in NGA OIG requesting information from Dean Compton concerning Ms. Cole and PL and " messing up" a database and they wanted a full accounting of Ms. Cole's activities in PSID.
The bottom line is that the working relationship with PSID and PL are strained with Ms. Cole's continued presence.

MSJ, Ex. D (Ballard 7/29/10 Email) at 3-4. Mr. Ballard sent a second email to Mr. Hand on July 13, 2010, forwarding a message from Mr. Compton concerning Ms. Cole's work in PSID. In that message, Mr. Compton noted that Ms. Cole was hired as a carto/photogrammetrist but that the contract now needed a geospatial analyst; that Ms. Cole's first assignment in PSID had been changed " to make sure she did not interact with our PL[SS] counterparts" [who had accused her of " messing up" the database]; that Ms. Cole " was only able to do tasks with extensive support

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and was not able to perform independently . . . [with a] very limited ability to perform at the expected level for an experienced [Geospatial Analyst (GA)]; " that Ms. Cole had " even contact[ed] the NGA training coordinator" for more training; and that " using her to fill a GA position will not meet the requirement as she has not performed at an acceptable level as a GA." MSJ, Ex. E (Emails Re: Compton Comments) at 5. Mr. Ballard added that " [t]he important aspect is that she wants additional GA training, which would indicate she is not confident in her abilities to perform GA work, and needs extensive support to work issues." Id.

Mr. Hand forwarded Mr. Ballard's July 13 email to Ms. Cole within the hour of its receipt. His message: " Debbie, Just to confirm, did you contact NGA training for GA classes? I need details!!!" MSJ, Ex. F (Hand/Cole Email Chain) at 3-4. In her response, Ms. Cole stated that, " All I did was innocently call Gregg Clark last week who is with NGA training to ask him to find out what specifics there were to qualify for a GA position from a photogrammetry position because Rodd [Chin] said it would be a good idea to find out that info. Rodd kept pushing me to ask Dean for training, but I didn't." Id. at 3. She also complained about continuing " lies" about her that would " becom[e] more and more elaborate as time progresses." Id. at 2.

Ms. Cole asked Mr. Hand to " [p]lease let me know when I can sue Compton for for [sic] civil damages. What he has been saying about my previous job, even though my boss said he'd give me a great recommendation, cannot be legal. . . . Where I work now is the complete opposite of that place and I fell blessed I work with such wonderful people. I don't want to lose all of that because of pipsqueaks like Compton who abuse their authority . . . ." Id. at 3.

Early the next morning, Mr. Hand answered Ms. Cole's late-night email, stating in full:

Dean Compton isn't being honest and I think that everyone there knows it. I'm working the issue. In fact, I just got off the phone with your IG [Point of Contact]. He'll be calling me back this afternoon.
Yes, while you're on this contract, you WILL have this sort of conflict the entire time as long as Dean Compton is your [NGA Point of Contact].
DO NOT SUE while you are on this contract. I am fairly certain that Big Boeing and others above me would not look favorably upon that. Especially with EPASS hanging in the balance. ...

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