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Norman v. Vilsack

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

December 30, 2014

VERETTA NORMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
THOMAS VILSACK, Secretary of United States Department of Agriculture, Defendant

For VERETTA NORMAN, Plaintiff: Ellen K. Renaud, Richard L. Swick, LEAD ATTORNEYS, SWICK & SHAPIRO, P.C., Washington, DC.

For THOMAS J. VILSACK, Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture, Defendant: Carl Ezekiel Ross, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Washington, DC.

Page 248

MEMORANDUM OPINION

CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER, United States District Judge.

Veretta Norman, a 46-year-old African-American woman, resigned after working less than eight months at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She claims she was constructively discharged because of her age and race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Department has moved for summary judgment. It offers a number of non-discriminatory reasons for ending Norman's probationary employment. Norman, however, has raised genuine questions of fact regarding the grounds the Department provided for terminating her and has provided evidence of a possible discriminatory attitude on the part of her supervisor. As a result, the Court concludes that a reasonable jury could infer that the reasons to dismiss her were pretexts for discrimination. The Court therefore will deny the Department's motion for summary judgment.

I. Background

A. Factual Background

Veretta Norman joined the Strategic Initiatives and Partnerships branch of the

Page 249

U.S. Department of Agriculture in January 2009 as a GS-12 Program Analyst. Compl. ¶ ¶ 5, 7. Her duties included building relationships with minority and religious organizations in order to increase participation in the Department's subsidized nutrition programs. Id. ¶ 8. Norman's supervisor was the branch chief, Jeff Greenfield, who is white. Id. ¶ 9; Greenfield Aff. at A5. Norman's immediate colleagues were three younger white and Hispanic women. Compl. ¶ 9.

Approximately eight months into Norman's tenure, on July 23rd, 2009, she left the office around 2:30 p.m. in the afternoon. Depo. of Jeff Greenfield, Dec. 18, 2013, at 94 (" Greenfield Depo." ). According to Greenfield, Norman's absence caused her to miss the deadline for submitting her timesheets for the two most recent pay periods. Id. at 99. When Greenfield confronted Norman the next day, he contends she lied about her whereabouts. Id. at 104. Norman maintains she truthfully told Greenfield that she was at agency headquarters on work-related business. Depo. of Veretta Norman, Feb. 7, 2014, at 92-93 (" Norman Depo." ). Seven days later, Norman received a letter from Greenfield indicating that her probationary employment would be terminated. Compl. ¶ 19. The letter cited four reasons for the termination. Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 15. First, Greenfield claimed Norman was absent without leave on the afternoon on July 23rd and later misrepresented why she had left the office early. Id. Second, Greenfield wrote that " your performance has not improved to a level which must be expected of a Program Analyst at the GS 12 grade level," citing Norman's execution of a webinar as an example. Id. Third, Greenfield asserted that Norman " failed to follow Branch requirements" regarding submission of time sheets. Id. And fourth, Greenfield wrote that Norman did not sign in and out of the Department's attendance logs on a daily basis, and that some of her log entries misrepresented the hours she actually worked. Id. In its summary judgment motion, the Department identified Norman's purported excessive use of leave as another reason for her termination. Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. at 21. Any one of these reasons, the Department contends, would be sufficient to terminate a probationary employee. Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. at 20.[1]

Norman contends that the rationales offered by Greenfield for her termination are pretexts for racial discrimination. She insists that she substantially complied with the office's attendance and leave policies and that she was never counselled about her performance. Pl.'s Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. at 22-24. She further alleges that Greenfield favored his white subordinates in various respects and treated her--and at least one other African-American employee whom he formerly supervised--with disrespect and condescension. Id. at 4-9. The Department denies any discriminatory animus on Greenfield's part and has moved for summary judgment. The Court held a hearing on the motion on December 16, 2014.

B. Legal Standards

To make an actionable claim of discrimination under Title VII, Norman must allege that she has suffered an adverse employment action because of her race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.; Brady v. Office of Sergeant at Arms,520 F.3d 490, 493, 380 ...


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