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Vick v. Brennan

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 28, 2016

ELLA D. VICK, Plaintiff,
v.
MEGAN J. BRENNAN, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

TANYA S. CHUTKAN United States District Judge

In this action, Plaintiff Ella D. Vick alleges sex discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”), age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 633a (the “ADEA”) and violation of the Family Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. (the “FMLA”). Defendant, the United States Postal Service (the “USPS”), [1] now moves to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim or, in the alternative, for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 (the “Motion”).

Upon consideration of the Motion, Plaintiff’s opposition thereto, and Defendant’s reply in support thereof, and for the reasons set forth below, the Motion is hereby DENIED.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND[2]

Plaintiff, who was born in 1956, worked for the USPS from 1986 through her retirement, which took place sometime after February 2013. After working her way up from a mail processing position, Plaintiff was promoted in 2008 to the position of Manager of Distribution Operations (“MDO”) at the Joseph Curseen, Jr. and Thomas Morris, Jr. Processing and Distribution Center (“JCTM”) in Washington, D.C. She held this position for most of the time period relevant to this case.

Plaintiff was the MDO for the “Tour One” shift at JCTM. She alleges that, for most of the time period relevant to this case, (i) Lonzine Wright was the junior MDO on Tour One, where she and Plaintiff “occupied the same position, shared the same duties and managed the same personnel, ” even though Wright’s official title was “Customer Services Manager” (Compl. ¶¶ 7, 11); (ii) Sherrod Stanard was the Tour Two MDO; and (iii) Rosetta Watkins was the Tour Three MDO. Watkins is approximately thirteen years older than Plaintiff, Stanard is approximately ten years younger than Plaintiff, and Wright is either ten or twenty years younger than Plaintiff.[3]

This case involves allegations that Plaintiff’s supervisor, JCTM Plant Manager Wendy McLlwain, subjected Plaintiff to a hostile work environment for discriminatory and retaliatory reasons, repeatedly attempting over several years to orchestrate her termination from the USPS, and “attacking, harassing, and threatening her” on a regular basis. (Id. ¶ 9).

A. The Origin Of McLlwain’s Alleged “Personal Vendetta” Against Plaintiff

Plaintiff alleges that McLlwain’s “personal vendetta” against her began some time in 2008. (Id. ¶ 8). Prior to being promoted to JCTM Plant Manager, McLlwain worked there as the Tour Three MDO. Plaintiff alleges that McLlwain supervised her “live-in male companion” in that role, and was angry at Plaintiff because Plaintiff was promoted to the Tour One MDO position instead of McLlwain’s paramour. (Id.).

B. McLlwain Allegedly Attempts To Orchestrate Plaintiff’s Termination In 2009

Plaintiff alleges that in May 2009, she received a General Reduction-in Force (“RIF”) Notice stating that “there may be a reduction of the number of authorized positions within her competitive area at JCTM.” (Id. ¶ 9). In June 2009, Plaintiff received a Specific RIF Notice stating that “she would be released from her MDO position and separated from the USPS effective August 28, 2009, and [that] she would have to apply for an MDO position.” (Id.). Plaintiff attributes these RIFs to McLlwain. (See Id. ¶ 11 (noting that “McLlwain was unsuccessful in her attempts in 2009 to RIF” Plaintiff)). Plaintiff subsequently applied for an MDO position, but McLlwain denied her application and selected Wright instead.

Around this time, Plaintiff took FMLA leave due to the stress brought on by McLlwain “attacking, harassing, and threatening her on a daily basis, and issuing her disciplinary actions trying to remove her from her MDO position.” (Id. ¶ 9).[4] Plaintiff also filed an EEO complaint regarding the selection of the more junior Wright for the MDO position. Plaintiff prevailed in her EEO proceeding and retained her position as the Tour One MDO, where she continued to work under McLlwain’s supervision. The USPS took no action against McLlwain, who proceeded to retaliate against Plaintiff by beginning “a barrage of personal attacks against [her] in an effort to . . . cause her termination from employment.” (Id. ¶ 10).

Plaintiff eventually requested to be reassigned to the vacant MDO position on Tour Two, which she characterizes as “the least difficult tour, ” but McLlwain denied her request and told her there was no need for a Tour Two MDO. (Id. ¶ 8). Months later, however, McLlwain reassigned Stanard to be the Tour Two MDO, even though he was junior to Plaintiff. Plaintiff alleges that McLlwain and Stanard are “involved in an intimate personal relationship, ” but does not allege whether the relationship began before or after Stanard’s assignment to the Tour Two MDO position. (Id.).

C. McLlwain Allegedly Attempts To Orchestrate Plaintiff’s Termination Again In 2010

Plaintiff alleges that McLlwain tried once again to orchestrate her termination in 2010, when she announced that she needed only three MDOs at JCTM, meaning that either Plaintiff, Wright, Stanard or Watkins would lose their job. (Id. ¶ 11). McLlwain interviewed all four MDOs, ostensibly to identify the three best qualified candidates. Plaintiff learned at some point that McLlwain had distributed a list of interview questions and answers to Wright and Stanard (the two younger MDOs) to ensure they would be selected, but not to Plaintiff and Watkins (the two older MDOs). After the interviews, McLlwain selected Wright and Stanard to keep their jobs. Plaintiff alleges that, even without receiving the questions and answers in advance, she and Watkins were still able to answer all of McLlwain’s questions during their interviews, but that only Watkins was selected to keep her job because McLlwain “was still trying to retaliate [against] and terminate” Plaintiff. (Id.). Plaintiff then sought assistance from an HR Manager, who forced McLlwain to reinstate Plaintiff to her MDO position.

D. McLlwain Allegedly Attempts To Orchestrate Plaintiff’s Termination Again In 2011

After being assigned to a different facility for a time, McLlwain returned to JCTM in February 2011. Plaintiff alleges that McLlwain eventually resumed “her barrage of attacks, ” seeking yet again to orchestrate Plaintiff’s termination. (Id. ¶ 12). Plaintiff alleges that the attacks became so severe, and the resultant stress so great, that she took FMLA leave again from March through May 2011. She also requested a transfer to another facility, but the Plant Manager of that facility denied her request.

E. McLlwain Allegedly Denies Plaintiff FMLA Leave And Suspends Plaintiff In 2012

In March 2012, Plaintiff’s mother was diagnosed with lung cancer, and Plaintiff was granted FMLA leave to be with her - her third time taking such leave since 2009, though the first two times were because of work-related stress. As her mother’s cancer progressed, Plaintiff requested additional leave. McLlwain denied her request and instructed her to return to duty. Plaintiff’s mother died approximately one week later. While it is not clear exactly how long Plaintiff was on FMLA leave before McLlwain ordered her to return to work, the court construes Plaintiff’s allegations as meaning that she was still eligible for more FMLA leave at the time that McLlwain ordered her to return to work. (See Id. ¶ 48 (alleging that Plaintiff was denied “her right to take up to twelve weeks of leave under the FMLA”)).

Upon Plaintiff’s return to work, McLlwain issued her “a notice of a seven-day suspension for not performing work while she was on FMLA” leave. (Id. ¶ 15). Plaintiff challenged the suspension, which was subsequently reversed and rescinded because Plaintiff “was on leave when the infraction occurred.” (Id.).

F. McLlwain Allegedly Issues Plaintiff A Sham FY 2011 Performance Evaluation, Leading To Her Dismissal From Her MDO Position

Plaintiff alleges that JCTM’s standard protocol for year-end evaluations is as follows: (i) a supervisor invites a subordinate to complete an electronic self-evaluation; (ii) the supervisor then enters his or her own remarks into the evaluation; and (iii) the supervisor and the subordinate then have a one-on-one discussion, during which the subordinate is provided with a copy of the full evaluation, which includes the supervisor’s remarks. In October 2011, just after the close of the USPS’s 2011 fiscal year (“FY 2011”), Plaintiff completed her FY 2011 self-evaluation. As Plaintiff’s supervisor, McLlwain was supposed to evaluate Plaintiff’s FY 2011 performance, but McLlwain did not enter any remarks into Plaintiff’s evaluation or meet with Plaintiff to discuss her evaluation.

More than one year later, in November 2012, Plaintiff received another General RIF Notice advising her that she could potentially be impacted by a re-organization. Human resources manager Phyllis Lingenfelser told Plaintiff that she need not be concerned because she had seniority. In December 2012, Plaintiff checked her personnel file in the Agency’s Personnel Evaluating System and confirmed that she had no performance evaluation on file for FY 2011.

In January 2013, contrary to Lingenfelser’s prior representations, Plaintiff received a Specific RIF Notice informing her that she would be released from her MDO position and separated from the USPS effective March 2013. The RIF Notice also informed her that she could not be placed in another position at her current level (Level 22) because she had been issued a “Non-Contributor” performance rating for FY 2011. Plaintiff immediately protested to Lingenfelser on the grounds that she had not been issued any performance evaluation for FY 2011. At that point, Plaintiff was presented for the first time with an FY 2011 evaluation that included remarks from McLlwain and gave her a “Non-Contributor” rating.[5] The thrust of Plaintiff’s allegations is that McLlwain belatedly produced a sham FY 2011 evaluation outside JCTM’s standard protocol for year-end evaluations in an attempt to cause Plaintiff to lose her MDO position. McLlwain indicated on the evaluation that Tour One “was not successful during this evaluation period.” (Id. ¶ 18). Despite this alleged lack of success, Wright (the other Tour One MDO) was nevertheless issued a “Contributor” rating for that same period.

Plaintiff made several requests to stay in her MDO position, or to be placed in any available MDO position, all to no avail. Lingenfelser informed Plaintiff that, although McLlwain had the power to place her in an MDO position, and had previously made placements for other employees who had been impacted by reductions in force, McLlwain had “stated that under no circumstances would Ms. Vick be returned to an MDO position.” (Id. ¶ 21). Lingenfelser then informed Plaintiff that she had two choices: She could either be terminated in March 2013, or she could accept a lower-level supervisor position. In February 2013, Plaintiff was told that she had to make a decision, and that the only positions available to her were two Level 17 supervisor positions at a facility in Maryland. Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff requested to be placed in one of the Level 17 positions.

G. McLlwain Allegedly Begins Harassing Plaintiff At Her New Lower-Level Supervisor Position, Eventually Precipitating Plaintiff’s Retirement

Plaintiff subsequently began working at the Maryland facility, where McLlwain also served as Plant Manager. Plaintiff again attempted to obtain her old MDO position, which remained vacant, but McLlwain allegedly stated that she would not ...


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