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DeJesus v. WP Co., LLC

United States District Court, D. Columbia

September 29, 2015


          For DAVID DEJESUS, Plaintiff: Mayer Morganroth, LEAD ATTORNEY, MORGANROTH & MORGANROTH PLLC, Birmingham, MI.

         For WP COMPANY LLC, doing business as WASHINGTON POST, Defendant: Eric S. Dreiband, Jacqueline M. Holmes, Jennifer C. Everett, Meghan E. Greenfield, LEAD ATTORNEYS, JONES DAY, Washington, DC.

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         JOHN D. BATES, United States District Judge.

         David DeJesus was a successful ad seller at the Washington Post. But according to his supervisor, he was also insubordinate. And when he delivered a study to the wrong client, she set his termination in motion. Believing that his supervisor had discriminated against him on the basis of his race and age, DeJesus sued. But because he has failed to demonstrate a triable issue on the reasons for his termination, the Court will grant the Post's motion for summary judgment.


         DeJesus, a sixty-three-year-old African-American man, has worked in advertising sales at the Post since 1993. Def.'s Ex. 10

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[ECF No. 36-11] at 9, 11.[1] During his tenure at the Post, DeJesus was responsible for accounts worth millions, and won more than forty awards. See Pl.'s Ex. 6 [ECF No. 39-2] at 189, 191. Despite his success, however, at least one manager has suggested that he had communication issues. See Def.'s Ex. 20 [ECF No. 36-20] at 3.

         Then, in 2008, he began reporting to Noelle Wainwright. See Def.'s Ex. 4 [ECF No. 36-5] at 3. Their professional relationship was particularly difficult: Wainwright complained of DeJesus's " overall lack of sales professionalism, lack of focus, lack of proper sales call preparation, and lapse in communication skills, both internally and with clients." Def.'s Ex. 7 [ECF No. 36-8] at 2. Wainwright criticized DeJesus for a number of incidents over the years, and certain aspects of his performance reviews suffered. See, e.g., Def.'s Ex. 3 [ECF No. 36-4] at 6 (rating DeJesus in his 2008 performance appraisal as " below standards" in time management and taking the initiative); Def.'s Ex. 23 [ECF No. 36-23] at 12 (noting in DeJesus's 2010 performance appraisal that " [t]here are cycles where Dave is 'off', falling behind in his follow up with clients and on [o]pportunities," and that " during these cycles, he also tends to make junior mistakes" ).

         The relationship between DeJesus and Wainwright reached its breaking point in 2011. Allstate Insurance Company's advertising agency, Starcom, requested an advertising impact report (known as a " RAM study" ) regarding a recent ad it had placed in the Post. Because Wainwright was out of the office, DeJesus did not consult with her before ordering the RAM study. See Def.'s Ex. 10 at 26-27. When she learned that he had done so, Wainwright told DeJesus that she " should have been aware of this before [they] decided to move forward," and asked him to " please communicate with [her] on th[o]se types of requests." Def.'s Ex. 6 [ECF No. 36-7] at 3. Wainwright later testified that she had an unwritten policy requiring that all RAM studies be approved by a manager. See Def.'s Ex. 4 at 13. But her explanation is murky. Compare id. at 14 (" It [the policy] was stated. Everybody knew it." ), with id. (" I don't know that I ever said it. I don't know that I ever had to." ). And, in any event, she ended the e-mail chain by saying " No worries." Def.'s Ex. 6 at 2.

         But the saga of the RAM study did not end there. The two had a meeting in which Wainwright explained that " the information [from the study] should be given to the client and not to the agency." Def.'s Ex. 10 at 30. According to Wainwright, she specifically mentioned Karen Hornberger, Allstate's marketing manager. See Def.'s Ex. 4 at 23-24. But DeJesus says that Hornberger's name never came up. See Def.'s Ex. 10 at 31. Later, Wainwright reiterated to DeJesus by e-mail her " expect[ation] that [he] only deliver the results [of the RAM study] in person." Def.'s Ex. 14 [ECF No. 36-15] at 3. She then asked him to confirm that he had set a meeting with " the client" for the next week. Id. DeJesus agreed, id., understanding " the client" to mean Allstate, see Def.'s Ex. 10 at 30. According to Wainwright, however, " client" meant something more specific, see Def.'s Ex. 4 at 26-it meant Hornberger, whom DeJesus had met only once before, see Def.'s Ex. 10 at 58-59. Later in the e-mail chain, Wainwright pointed out again that this meeting should be a priority. Def.'s Ex. 14 at 3. And DeJesus responded by stating that he was merely waiting for confirmation of a time. Id. at 2.

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          A few days later, Wainwright followed up, again reminding DeJesus to deliver the RAM study results in person. See Def.'s Ex. 15 [ECF No. 36-16] at 3. And DeJesus again expressed his understanding of that directive. Id. at 2. He noted that the " client meeting" was confirmed for June 8. Id. But that meeting was with Starcom, not Allstate. See Def.'s Ex. 30 [ECF No. 36-30] at 2. And DeJesus neglected to mention a meeting with Allstate's Vice President for Federal Legislative and Regulatory Affairs, Stacy Sharpe, scheduled to precede it. He gave the RAM study to Sharpe at that earlier meeting, and met with a positive reaction from her. See Def.'s Ex. 10 at 34.

         But when Wainwright found out that DeJesus had presented the RAM study to Sharpe, rather than Hornberger, her reaction was " explosive." Def.'s Ex. 10 at 36. Wainwright was particularly " angry" that DeJesus had delivered the results to Sharpe because Sharpe lacked budget approval authority, id., even if she " influence[d]" the budget, id. at 35. In an attempt to " defuse the . . . yelling," DeJesus falsely told Wainwright that he had presented the information to Hornberger as well. Id. at 36. DeJesus retracted that statement later the same day. Id.

         An angry Wainwright brought her concerns to her supervisor, Ethan Selzer, and in late June, Wainwright gave DeJesus a proposed separation agreement. A month later, the Post formally terminated DeJesus's employment. The termination memorandum stated the cause as " willful neglect of duty and insubordination," referencing the aftermath of the RAM study. Pl.'s Ex. 51A [ECF No. 39-4] at 140. The memo explained that DeJesus " fail[ed] to follow [Wainwright's] specific instructions regarding the delivery of this already unauthorized RAM study," as he " did not meet with the client," but " only ...

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