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Knight v. Mabus

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 30, 2015

RAY MABUS, Secretary of the Navy, Defendant.



John Henry Knight resigned his job at the Office of Naval Intelligence after it was recommended that he be fired for verbally threatening three of his co-workers. He has now sued the Navy for workplace harassment and discriminatory termination. Finding that Knight has failed to present sufficient evidence to support either claim, the Court will grant summary judgment in favor of the Defendant.

I. Background

Plaintiff John Henry Knight, proceeding pro se, once held the position of Property Disposal Specialist at the Office of Naval Intelligence ("ONI"), Mission Support Directorate ("MSD"), Installation Operations Department. The position required that he "be eligible for assignment to sensitive duties, " Def.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss Alt. Summ. J. ("Def.'s Mem."), Ex. 1, at 2, and have a top secret clearance. Knight reported to Lori Gorczyca, who was his team lead; Douglas Richard Lacey, who was his first-level supervisor; Mark Lawson, who was his second-level supervisor; and Timothy Gavaghan, who was his third-level supervisor.

At some point, Knight's supervisors developed concerns about his work attendance. On several occasions, he arrived late, took long lunches, or left early, and at other times his whereabouts during the workday were unknown. At Mr. Lacey's request, the ONI Inspector General ("ONI/IG") investigated suspicions of time and attendance abuse by Knight from January 6, 2008 through August 21, 2009, covering 42.5 pay periods, or 3, 400 hours. Among other sources, the investigator reviewed employee entry - and exit-card data as well as time sheets. When asked to address these absences, Knight claimed that he was participating in an exercise program, had trouble finding parking, was on administrative leave, and was visiting a branch of the Federal Credit Union. Although Knight accounted for and received credit for certain time periods, there remained "discrepancies totaling 275 hours, 15 minutes during the period in question, " substantiating his supervisors' suspicions that Knight had failed to properly account for his absences in violation of Department of Defense rules. Def.'s Mem., Ex. 8 ¶ 3.

Based on the results of the ONI/IG investigation, Mr. Gavaghan proposed Knight's termination. Knight appealed the proposal, but the MSD's Deputy Director issued a decision to remove Knight from federal service in May 2010. Before the removal took effect, however, the parties voluntarily entered into a Last Chance Agreement ("LCA") in June 2010, which suspended Knight's removal for a probationary period of two years. Among other conditions, Knight agreed to a 25-day suspension without pay, "[t]o maintain satisfactory punctuality, attendance, and good work habits acceptable to management, " and to avoid misconduct. Id . Ex. 13 ¶ 3. And if, at the end of the two-year period, Knight had fulfilled the agreement's requirements and kept his security clearance, the removal would be canceled.

Knight squandered his "last chance" after only a few months. In January 2011, Mr. Gavaghan again proposed Knight's removal, citing him for making threats and exhibiting other disrespectful behavior toward co-workers and supervisors. Id . Ex. 14, at 1. In a Notice of Proposed Removal addressed to Knight, Mr. Gavaghan described three incidents to support the proposal:

I held a meeting with [Mr. Lawton, Mr. Lacey, Ms. Gorczyca] and you on 22 September 2010. The purpose of this meeting was to address personnel, time and attendance, and communications issues that were having a negative effect of the operations of the Property Management Team. When I solicited solutions to resolve the strained work environment and the perception of a hostile environment, you made the following statement: "[F]ire her and shoot him[, "] indicating Ms. Gorczyca and Mr. Lacey. Your comment would have been perceived as a threat and disrespectful to the reasonable person and was perceived as disrespectful and a threat by your supervisors. Your comment has created pervasive mistrust, unease, and fear in the workplace, which negatively impacts the Property Management Team and its members professionally and personally and reduces the team's ability to effectively and efficiently fulfill the mission of the Agency.
.... On 19 August 2010, Mr. Joseph Collins, Property Management Team Member, was talking with Mr. Shearer in Mr. Shearer's office. You stopped Mr. Collins upon leaving Mr. Shearer's office and inquired about his discussion with Mr. Shearer. When Mr. Collins refrained from engaging with you regarding your discussion, you stated the following: "You know snitches live in ditches[.]" Your comment would have been perceived by the reasonable person as a threat and disrespectful and was perceived by Mr. Collins as a threat and disrespectful.
.... On 30 June 2010, Mr. Lacey spoke with you concerning your absence from a mandatory Directorate all-hands meeting and your absence from a standing bi-weekly property management meeting. Subsequently, on 20 July 2010, Mr. Lacey issued you a Memorandum for the Record (MFR) that addressed this concern and steps needed to manage your calendar to ensure that you did not miss any future scheduled meetings. You indicated to Mr. Lacey that you were not like him and that you don't do that. When Mr. Lacey advised you of your need to be more responsible, you refused to sign the MFR and stated the following, "Looks like you're starting this stuff again." Your comments to Mr. Lacey would have been perceived by the reasonable person as disrespectful and [were] perceived by Mr. Lacey as disrespectful.

Id. Ex. 14 at 1-2; see also id. Ex. 15. Based on these events, Mr. Gavaghan concluded that Knight had "caused a disruption in the workplace and foster[ed] relationships that are adversarial and hostile[.]" Id . Ex. 14 at 2. In addition, he found that Knight's behavior "caused ONI management... to spend many hours of work effort to address [Knight's] actions, when such time could have been used more productively." Id . Mr. Gavaghan thus recommended Knight's removal.

A responsible official within the Navy reviewed a written response to the removal proposal submitted by Knight, but decided to "effect [his] removal from Federal Service" in February 2011, based on the incidents described in the removal proposal, which she concluded amounted to a breach of the LCA's provision against misconduct. Id . Ex. 18. Before the decision took effect, Knight submitted his resignation.

Knight then contacted ONI's Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity Office in March 2011. The parties engaged in an alternative dispute resolution proceeding the next month, but were unable to resolve the matter. In May 2011, Knight submitted a formal complaint to the Agency, alleging discrimination based on race through "unfair hiring, firing, promotion, awards, performance appraisal and disciplinary procedures." Id . Ex. 21. He cited four incidents in support of his claim:

(1) Ms. Lori Gorczyca continued to monitor his time and attendance (when he went on break, went to lunch, left the office ...

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