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Johnson v. Mao

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 31, 2016

SHIRLEY JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
DAVID S. MAO, Acting Librarian of Congress, Defendant. Re Document No. 8

MEMORANDUM OPINION

RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, United States District Judge

Granting in Part and Denying in Part Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss, or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Shirley Johnson is a female employee and supervisor at the Library of Congress. After she and her own supervisors disagreed about procedures for managing Ms. Johnson’s supervisees on detail in another Library unit, she brought discrimination allegations against her employer, first at the administrative level and then in federal court.[1] Ms. Johnson’s complaint in this Court states three “claims for relief”: violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and injunctive relief.

In a pre-answer motion, the Library moves to dismiss Ms. Johnson’s complaint, or, in the alternative, for summary judgment in its favor on Ms. Johnson’s claims. Because, on the record presented, a reasonable jury could return a verdict for Ms. Johnson on her Title VII claims based on sex discrimination or retaliation with respect to the removal of certain supervisory duties, the Court declines to grant the Library’s motion for summary judgment on those claims. But because Ms. Johnson has not shown significant, tangible harm arising from her performance appraisal, the Court will dismiss Ms. Johnson’s Title VII claims based on sex discrimination or retaliation with respect to her performance appraisal. And because Ms. Johnson’s intentional infliction of emotional distress claim alleges harm for which Title VII provides a remedy, Title VII preempts that claim and the Court will dismiss it. Lastly, because a claim for injunctive relief is not a freestanding cause of action, the Court will also dismiss Ms. Johnson’s third claim.

II. BACKGROUND[2]

A. Ms. Johnson’s Supervisory Structure

According to the Complaint, Plaintiff Shirley Johnson is a female employee of the Library of Congress, where she has worked for forty years. Compl. ¶¶ 8, 11, ECF No. 1. At the time of the events at issue in this case, she was the Supervisor for the Library’s On-site Constituent Support Unit. Id. ¶ 11. Ms. Johnson’s role as Supervisor was supposed to include significant supervisory and managerial responsibilities: she was tasked with supervising a group of employees and with staffing two reading rooms at the Library. See Pl.’s Ex. 10, ECF No. 9-13 (reproducing excerpts of Ms. Johnson’s performance plan for the appraisal period from March 1, 2014 through August 29, 2014). Ms. Johnson’s immediate supervisor was Supervisor Librarian David Waters. See Compl. ¶ 11; Pl.’s Ex. 7, at 1, ECF No. 9-10; Pl.’s Ex. 1, ¶ 10, ECF No. 9-4. Her next-level supervisor was Steven Herman, the Chief of the Library’s Collections Access, Loan and Management (CALM) Division. See Compl. ¶ 19; Pl.’s Ex. 8, ECF No. 9-11; Pl.’s Ex. 9, at 1, ECF No. 9-12. Still higher on Ms. Johnson’s supervisory ladder was Mark Sweeney, the Library’s Director for Preservation. See Pl.’s Ex. 9, at 1.[3]

B. 2014 Performance Appraisal

Ms. Johnson submits that, in her role at the Library, she works “extraordinar[il]y hard and consistently demonstrates a pattern of relentless and steady execution of not only her essential duties, but also assignments, projects and tasks that fall beyond the scope of her duties.” Compl. ¶ 11. Her 2014 performance appraisal covers the rating period from March 1, 2013 through February 28, 2014, was signed by Mr. Waters and Ms. Johnson on May 16, 2014, and agrees with Ms. Johnson’s assessment of her work: she received an overall rating of “Commendable, ” meaning that her “performance and initiative [were] worthy of special notice.” Def.’s Ex. 4, at 1-2, ECF No. 8-4. Ms. Johnson also received a “Commendable” rating for each of her major areas of responsibility. See Id. at 2-3. In particular, her performance appraisal noted that she possessed “extensive supervisory experience” and “perform[ed] very well as Supervisor of the On-site Constituent Support Unit while [she] and [her] staff adjust[ed] to changing job duties and work with various units in CALM.” Id. at 2.

C. Detail Assignments for Ms. Johnson’s Supervisees

A number of Ms. Johnson’s supervisees were detailed in 2014 to work on developmental assignments. See Pl.’s Ex. 1, ¶ 14, ECF No. 9-4; Pl.’s Ex. 8, ECF No. 9-11; Pl.’s Ex. 9, at 1-2, ECF No. 9-12. In groups of two at a time, they performed temporary rotations supporting the Library’s collections-related activities, managed by the CALM Collections Officer, Beatriz Haspo. See Pl.’s Ex. 8; Pl.’s Ex. 9, at 1-2. Because Ms. Haspo was not a supervisor at the Library, she was not responsible for the supervisees’ sign-in and sign-out processes. See Pl.’s Ex. 1, ¶ 14; Pl.’s Ex. 8; Pl.’s Ex. 9, at 1-2. Instead, Ms. Johnson’s supervisors told Ms. Johnson that she would continue functioning as supervisor and timekeeper for her supervisees on detail with Ms. Haspo. Pl.’s Ex. 9, at 1.

D. Treatment of Ms. Johnson’s Male Supervisee on Detail (Robert Bunch)

Early in 2014, two of Ms. Johnson’s male supervisees, Robert Bunch and Rodney Marshall, were working on detail with Ms. Haspo. See Pl.’s Ex. 9, at 1, ECF No. 9-12. After a concern arose about the accuracy of Mr. Bunch’s sign-in times, Ms. Johnson approached Mr. Waters and Ms. Haspo about the issue. See Id. at 2; see also Compl. ¶ 12. Because Mr. Bunch was scheduled to report for work earlier than Ms. Johnson, Ms. Johnson asked to have Mr. Bunch sign in at the CALM Division Office, where the office secretary would be able to monitor Mr. Bunch’s sign-in times. See Compl. ¶ 12; Pl.’s Ex. 9, at 2. Mr. Waters granted Ms. Johnson’s request. Compl. ¶ 12; Pl.’s Ex. 9, at 2.

After that, both Mr. Bunch and Mr. Marshall began signing in at the Division Office. Pl.’s Ex. 9, at 2. But even though they were signing in at the Division Office, Ms. Johnson still wanted to continue functioning as their supervisor, and she still wanted to review and enter their sign-in and sign-out times. See Id. (“I wanted to continue to do . . . their WebTA sheets, as I had done for the four previous staff members [on detail, because] my office is next door to the division office.”). Mr. Waters, however, “no longer allowed [her] to be their timekeeper but instead had the office secretary . . . check and validate Mr. Marshall’s and Mr. Bunch’s” sign-in and sign-out times. Id.

E. Treatment of Ms. Johnson’s Female Supervisee on Detail (Helen Drakeford)

After Mr. Bunch and Mr. Marshall’s time on detail ended, two of Ms. Johnson’s female supervisees went on detail with Ms. Haspo. Pl.’s Ex. 9, at 2, ECF No. 9-12. One was Simone Rankin, who began her detail on April 7, 2014. Id. The other was Helen Drakeford, who had already worked a detail with Ms. Haspo, and who began her second detail on June 9, 2014. Id. Earlier that year, Ms. Johnson has issued supervisory memoranda instructing Ms. Drakeford about Ms. Drakeford’s inappropriate use of leave, failure to remain in her work area, and failure to follow supervisory instructions. Compl. ¶ 14 (“Ms. Drakeford received a Counseling Memo on January 29, 2014 and an Admonishment Memo on April 4, 2014 . . . .”); accord Pl.’s Ex. 1, ¶ 14, ECF No. 9-4; Pl.’s Ex. 4, at 2, ECF No. 9-7.[4]

Between Tuesday, June 17, 2014 and Friday, June 20, 2014, however, problems between Ms. Drakeford, Ms. Johnson, and Ms. Johnson’s supervisors intensified.

On Tuesday, June 17, 2014, Ms. Johnson was on leave for the day. Pl.’s Ex. 9, at 2. She nonetheless learned, through an email from Mr. Waters, that Ms. Drakeford had called the Library and had stated that, because Ms. Drakeford’s mother was in the hospital, Ms. Drakeford would not be at work for one or two days. Id. Mr. Waters’s email also stated that Ms. Drakeford would contact Ms. Johnson if Ms. Drakeford needed further time off from work. Id.

On Wednesday, June 18, 2014, Ms. Drakeford reported to work. Compl. ¶ 13; Pl.’s Ex. 9, at 2. But when Ms. Johnson received a telephone message for Ms. Drakeford, Ms. Johnson could not locate Ms. Drakeford in her work area. Compl. ¶ 13; Pl.’s Ex. 9, at 2. Ms. Johnson then left Ms. Drakeford a handwritten message at her work station, asking Ms. Drakeford to contact Ms. Johnson. Pl.’s Ex. 9, at 2. Ms. Drakeford did not contact Ms. Johnson that day. Id.

On Thursday, June 19, 2014, Ms. Drakeford still did not contact Ms. Johnson and did not report to work. Compl. ¶ 13; Pl.’s Ex. 9, at 2. Instead, Ms. Johnson learned from Ms. Haspo that Ms. Drakeford had left Ms. Haspo a text message, which stated that Ms. Drakeford would not be reporting to work that day. Pl.’s Ex. 9, at 2. By this point, Ms. Johnson’s other supervisees had begun telling Ms. Johnson that Ms. Drakeford was not properly requesting or using leave time. Id. Concerned about Ms. Drakeford leaving work early and failing to sign out, Ms. Johnson met with Mr. Waters to discuss the issue. Id. After Ms. Johnson asked Mr. Waters whether Ms. Drakeford had requested or received leave for that day from him, Mr. Waters answered that Ms. Drakeford had not. Id. To improve the situation, Ms. Johnson asked Mr. Waters whether Ms. Johnson’s supervisees on detail with Ms. Haspo could resume signing in and out with Ms. Johnson, instead of at the Division Office. Id. Mr. Waters granted Ms. Johnson’s request and stated that Ms. Johnson had discretion over her supervisees. See Compl. ¶ 15; Pl.’s Ex. 4, at 2; Pl.’s Ex. 9, at 2.

On Friday, June 20, 2014, Ms. Johnson implemented the agreed-upon plan: She verbally counseled Ms. Drakeford about proper procedures for leave requests, for which Ms. Drakeford should request leave from Ms. Johnson first, and then go up the supervisory ladder if Ms. Johnson was not available. Compl. ¶ 16; Pl.’s Ex. 9, at 2. And Ms. Johnson informed both Ms. Drakeford and Ms. Rankin that they should sign in and out with Ms. Johnson instead of at the Division Office. Pl.’s Ex. 9, at 2.

Later that day, Mr. Waters told Ms. Johnson that he had changed his mind. Compl. ¶ 16; Pl.’s Ex. 9, at 2. Instead of signing in and out with Ms. Johnson, Mr. Waters had decided that Ms. Drakeford and Ms. Rankin should continue to sign in and out at the Division Office. Compl. ¶ 16; Pl.’s Ex. 9, at 2. When Ms. Johnson asked him why he had changed his mind, he merely responded “[b]ecause I said so.” Compl. ¶ 16.

Ms. Johnson also spoke with her second-line supervisor, Mr. Herman, on June 20, 2014. Pl.’s Ex. 4, at 2. She and Mr. Herman discussed what kind of leave they would charge Ms. Drakeford, and they agreed on charging her annual leave. Id. Ms. Johnson also mentioned her concerns about Mr. Waters allowing Ms. Drakeford to continuing signing in and out at the Division Office. Id. Mr. Herman told Ms. Johnson that he would speak with Mr. Waters about the issue. Id.

In July and August 2014, while her mother was in the hospital and after her mother died, Ms. Drakeford continued to take leave from work without getting Ms. Johnson’s approval. Compl. ¶ 17; Pl.’s Ex. 4, at 2. On July 9, 2014, some of Ms. Johnson’s other supervisees told Ms. Johnson that Ms. Drakeford would no longer ask Ms. Johnson for leave, because Mr. Waters had told Ms. Drakeford that asking Ms. Johnson was unnecessary. Pl.’s Ex. 4, at 2.

F. Treatment of Ms. Johnson’s Male and Female Supervisees in General

According to Ms. Johnson, Mr. Water’s decisions about Ms. Drakeford were consistent with other decisions made in the time around the June 2014 events. See Compl. ¶ 20. In 2014 and 2015, Ms. Johnson attempted to issue supervisory counseling memoranda to Ms. Drakeford and other female supervisees, but Mr. Waters and Mr. Herman processed these memoranda slowly or not at all. Id. In contrast, Mr. Waters and Mr. Herman reviewed Ms. Johnson’s counseling memoranda to similarly situated male employees, edited them, and sent them to the Library’s Human Resources department for final approval in less than a week. Id. Additionally, when some of Ms. Johnson’s other supervisees-including Mr. Bunch-had a parent or spouse who died, Ms. Johnson reports that those supervisees were not given “any especial treatment . . . or favors.” Pl.’s Ex. 4, at 2, ECF No. 9-7.

G. Discussions with Ms. Johnson’s Supervisors

On August 6, 2014, Ms. Johnson met with both Mr. Waters and Mr. Herman to discuss Ms. Drakeford’s continued unapproved leave. Compl. ¶ 19; Pl.’s Ex. 1, ¶ 14, ECF No. 9-4. But instead of agreeing with Ms. Johnson’s position, Mr. Waters informed Ms. Johnson that he would approve Ms. Drakeford’s leave. Compl. ¶ 19. He justified his position with statements about how Ms. Johnson had not taken similar actions with some of her other supervisees. Pl.’s Ex. 4, at 2, ECF No. 9-7. He also told Ms. Johnson that she was no longer Ms. Drakeford’s supervisor. Compl. ¶ 19; Pl.’s Ex. 1, ¶ 14; Pl.’s Ex. 4, at 2, ECF No. 9-7. At the meeting, Mr. Herman “simply sat there, ” without doing anything “other than telling Mr. Waters that he had to be fair.” Def.’s Ex. 1, at 5, ECF No. 8-1; see also Compl. ¶ 19.

On August 13, 2014, Ms. Johnson put her narrative in writing and sent an email to Mr. Sweeney about what had happened between herself, her supervisors, and her supervisees on detail with Ms. Haspo. Compl. ¶ 22; see Pl.’s Ex. 9, at 1-2, ECF No. 9-12. In response, Mr.

Sweeney took three sets of actions:

(1) he noted the possible discrimination allegations in Ms. Johnson’s email, and forwarded the email to the Library’s Office of Opportunity, Inclusiveness and Compliance (OIC), which is tasked with processing allegations of employment discrimination made by Library employees;
(2) he directed Mr. Herman to write a memo clarifying Ms. Johnson’s supervisory responsibilities for staff ...

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