United States District Court, D. Columbia.
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
CHINYERE UZOUKWU, Plaintiff, Pro se, Adelphi, MD.
METROPOLITAN WASHINGTON COUNCIL OF GOVERNMENTS, CALVIN L.
SMITH, SR., PAUL DESJARDIN, DENNIS BAILEY, IMELDA ROBERTS,
JANET ERNST, EULALIE GOWERS LUCAS, ABDOUL MOHAMMAD,
Defendants: Joleen Okun, LEAD ATTORNEY, OGLETREE, DEAKINS,
NASH, SMOAK & STEWART, P.C., Washington, DC.
MOLLY KELLER, Defendant: Daniel A. Brown, LEAD ATTORNEY,
Jesse D. Stein, BROWN & GOULD, LLP, Bethesda, MD.
R. COOPER, United States District Judge.
Uzoukwu's two-year tenure of employment with the
Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments ("
COG" ) was marked by a series of conflicts and bizarre
interactions with her supervisors and coworkers. After she
was terminated--purportedly due to an overall reduction in
force--Uzoukwu sued, alleging that she had been discriminated
against because of her Nigerian ethnicity. After rulings on
multiple motions to dismiss and
motions for reconsideration, the parties proceeded to
discovery on Uzoukwu's remaining claims of
discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation
under 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Discovery having concluded, the
Defendants--COG, its head of human resources, and
Uzoukwu's supervisors--now move for summary judgment,
contending that Uzoukwu's claims are barred by the
applicable statute of limitations and that she has failed to
make out claims under Section 1981. As explained more fully
below, the Court finds that Uzoukwu's claims are timely
and that she has put forth sufficient evidence to entitle her
to present her claims of discrimination and retaliation to a
jury. The Court will therefore deny the Defendants'
motion for summary judgment as to those claims. The Court
will grant the Defendants' motion as to Uzoukwu's
hostile work environment claim, however, because most of her
complaints stem from incidents that cannot form the basis of
a nonprofit regional association of government officials from
Washington, D.C. and its surrounding Maryland and Northern
Virginia suburbs. COG hired Chinyere Uzoukwu, who is an
American citizen of Nigerian descent, to fill the newly
created position of Policy Analyst within its Department of
Human Services Planning and Public Safety (" HSPPS"
). Def. Statement of Material Facts (" DSOF" )
¶ 3. Calvin Smith, who was HSPPS's Director and is
himself African-American, recommended creating the position
and approached Uzoukwu after having interviewed her for a
different role. Id. ¶ ¶ 2-4. Smith and
Paul DesJardin, who was chief of housing and planning at
HSPPS and is white, interviewed Uzoukwu and offered her the
position at slightly above the advertised salary.
Id. ¶ 7. Uzoukwu began work in March 2006,
reporting directly to DesJardin. Id. ¶ ¶
8-9. Unfortunately, Uzoukwu's experience working in HSPPS
proceeded much less smoothly than her hiring. The following
incidents illustrate the difficulties that both she and COG
experienced during her tenure.
Gary Givens Argument
to Uzoukwu, in May 2006 she overheard loud voices coming from
the office of Greg Goodwin, who was HSPPS's Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission (" EEOC" )
representative and is white. Pl.'s Ex. 4, Dep. of
Chinyere Uzoukwu (" Uzoukwu Dep." ) 58-60. She
claims that she found DesJardin and Goodwin "
red-faced" and standing over Gary Givens, an
African-American coworker. Id. Uzoukwu testified in
her deposition that she believed the managers were "
abusing and treating Gary Givens in a very hostile[,]
degrading, demeaning manner," and she asked Givens if he
would like to come to her office. Id. Uzoukwu later
raised the incident with Smith, who said he would look into
the matter. Id. at 64-65. Uzoukwu maintains that
after she complained to Smith, she asked to participate in
other groups within HSPPS, but was denied the opportunity and
worked exclusively under DesJardin in the housing and
planning division. Id. at 68-70.
new employee, Uzoukwu was subject to a six-month probationary
period, and DesJardin evaluated her at the end of that period
in August 2006. DSOF ¶ 10-11. According to COG, Uzoukwu
received a favorable score of 90 out of 100 on the
evaluation, which entitled her to a 4.5 percent pay increase.
Id. ¶ 11; Def.'s Ex. F, Deposition of
Imelda Roberts, COG's Director of Human Resources ("
Roberts Dep." ) at 25:10-18. Uzoukwu disputes that her
initial evaluation was positive. According to her, DesJardin
first gave her
a negative review with a score of 83. That review explained
[a]s the position of Policy Analyst is to be proactive and
forward thinking, during this introductory period, I have
found Chinyere to be reactive and passive . . . . During the
review period, Chinyere has not adequately engaged the
Managers or the Director with thoughts, ideas or creativity
that this position demands. Instead she has created an email
relationship and avoids contact with her colleagues in the
department. This is not acceptable. . . . Because the "
Policy Analyst" position was a new role at COG and that
Chinyere has not stepped up to her abilities for the task
that is satisfactory to overall development of policy
decisions, I recommend that Chinyere's probationary
status be extended an additional 3 months[.]
Pl.'s Ex. 5. Uzoukwu contends that DesJardin told her she
would likely be terminated as a result of the poor review,
which prompted her to complain in an email to COG's
Director of Human Resources, Imelda Roberts, that her
supervisors had " manufactured reasons to not only give
me a negative appraisal but seriously attempt to
extend my probation." Def.'s Ex. B, Uzoukwu Dep. Ex.
3 (emphasis in original). She added that because " this
experience/process has been so horrendously prejudiced . . .
[she was] contemplating a formal complaint" but was
having difficulty reaching her EEOC representative.
Id. Only then, Uzoukwu alleges, did she receive the
final, positive evaluation noted by COG. Uzoukwu Dep. 81-82,
85-87. COG disputes that her evaluation was changed after she
emailed Roberts, and it appears that at least one of her
emails complaining about her evaluation discusses the later,
higher rating she received. See Pl.'s Ex. 6.
testified in his deposition that he was surprised by
Uzoukwu's email given the positive review. Def.'s Ex.
E, Deposition of Paul DesJardin (" DesJardin Dep."
) at 42:11-12, 48:18-21. In an email, DesJardin and Smith
told Uzoukwu that they were confused and disturbed by her
allegations of racism and prejudice. Pl.'s Exs. 11-13.
They advised her that she could file a complaint with
COG's EEO Committee and recommended that she seek
counseling through its Employee Assistance Program ("
EAP" ). Id. Uzoukwu did not file a formal
complaint with the internal EEO Committee. DSOF ¶ ¶
Conversation with Smith
2006 or early 2007, internal COG documents were inadvertently
placed in a media packet that was distributed at a
conference. David Robertson, COG's Executive Director,
later interviewed Uzoukwu and two other individuals working
on the event about what had happened. Uzoukwu Dep. 95-97.
Uzoukwu testified she was concerned that she might be fired
and spoke with DesJardin about the incident. Id. at
97-98. Several weeks later, Uzoukwu raised the matter with
Smith over lunch, complaining that she had been treated worse
than her two coworkers, who were white. Id. at
98-99. According to Uzoukwu, Smith responded that she should
understand that she does not " have white
complains about two other incidents involving coworkers. In
August 2007, she emailed a COG human resources
representative, claiming that a coworker, Abdul Mohammed, had
" intimidat[ed]" her by " act[ing] like he[
was] going to literally run [her] over" when they would
pass each other in the office hallway by asking her "
where [she] was from[.]" Pl.'s Ex. 24. Uzoukwu
testified that Roberts scheduled a meeting with the two,
during which Roberts stood by while Mohammed yelled at her.
Uzoukwu Dep. 182-83. The next
month, according to Uzoukwu, she overheard a joke between her
coworkers that she " ha[d] the right name but the wrong
color." Id. at 136-38. She says she alerted
DesJardin and Smith about the joke but received no response.
Id. at 138-40.
October and November 2007, two company-wide emails were sent
from Uzoukwu's email account. The first was sent in
response to an internal meeting announcement:
Just an FYI and update--Being that I am a homeless and
undocumented immigrant . . . it may be difficult for me to be
here by 9:30 am, as I have to leave from one shelter (where I
sleep) to go to another (to eat--my oatmeal nonetheless) so
to prepare to get to my third shelter COG (where I get to
spend the day). You know how monitoring and surveillance
Dep. Ex. 7. Uzoukwu disputes that she sent the email. Uzoukwu
Dep. 151. She acknowledges, however, that she sent the
following email two weeks later:
Over the past several months, someone has intentionally and
maliciously attempted to turn my rather quiet, reserved life
into hell. As you can guess, this is rather upsetting, as
perhaps it would be to you. In as much as the events could be
regressed, all indications point to someone here at
COG--an extremely " fearless" but ...