United States District Court, District of Columbia
S. CHUTKAN, United States District Judge
civil action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
("Title VII"), Plaintiff Barbara Wright brings
claims against the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco,
Firearms and Explosives ("ATF") for race- and
sex-based hostile work environment. Defendant has moved for
judgment on the pleadings and summary judgment (the
consideration of the Motion, the parties' briefs and
supplemental filings in support thereof and in opposition
thereto, and the parties' arguments at the November 23,
2015 motion hearing, and for the reasons set forth below, the
Motion is hereby GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.
Barbara Wright, an African-American woman, has worked as an
IT manager for over 20 years. (Opp'n at 1). Over the
course of her career, she has successfully managed the
updating of and transition to new technologies for IT systems
in both the federal government and the private sector.
(Id.). Plaintiff began working at ATF in August
2001, when she was hired as a Computer Specialist in the
Office of Science and Technology. (Mot. Ex. G at 000637-639).
In 2008, she became Chief of the Financial Systems Branch
(the "Branch") of ATF's Office of Management,
replacing Mark Danter, a white male. (Opp'n at 6-7).
During the time period relevant to this case, Plaintiffs
first-line supervisor was David Horn, and her second-level
supervisor was Vivian Michalic, both of whom are white. (Mot.
Ex. E at 000046).
had left his position as Branch Chief to oversee the ATF
"Implementation Team" responsible for moving
ATF's internal financial operations system, which was
called Financial Resources Desktop ("FReD"), over
to DOJ's new Unified Financial Management System (the
"System"), which was to be used across about twenty
different DOJ sub-agencies. (Opp'n at 6-8). Plaintiff was
not a member of the Implementation Team. (Id.).
the System went "live" in November 2010, it was a
"disaster" - "[t]he financial systems that
[Plaintiff] operated would not work, " employees and
vendors did not get paid, ATF Special Agents could not use
their credit cards, and there were hundreds of errors,
failures and glitches that needed to be fixed. (Id.
at 2). At around the same time, and despite the fact that the
System was still riddled with problems, the Implementation
Team headed by Danter was disbanded. (Id. at 7).
Danter began working elsewhere in the organization, including
on certain "special projects, " though he also
continued to work on the System for "[a]bout a year, . .
. tying up loose ends [and] mak[ing] sure it was
operational." (Opp'n Ex. 6 at 14:1-16).
who was already fully occupied with her responsibilities as
Branch Chief, was assigned to fix all of the many errors with
the System in addition to her normal responsibilities, and
with less than half of the staff that Danter had on the
Implementation Team. (Opp'n at 7-8). As Branch Chief,
Plaintiff was also responsible for the Branch's Helpdesk,
the workload of which increased eight-fold after the System
went live, from about 200 requests per month to about 1, 600.
(Id. at 8). Fixing problems with the System was also
much more difficult than fixing problems with the
ATF-specific FReD system, since doing so required Plaintiff
to consult with the 19 other DOJ sub-agencies that used the
System. (Id. at 8-9).
describes the responsibilities that were "heaped on
her" as "completely unrealistic, " and states
that "there were so many major system issues . . . that
[she] needed to work extraordinarily long hours, weekends,
vacations and holidays" for about a year and a half,
sometimes up to 18 hours a day. (Id. at 9, 18). The
record includes a number of emails supporting Plaintiffs
averments as to the extraordinarily long hours she worked on
the System. (See, e.g., Opp'n Exs. 7-22).
Plaintiff claims that she asked management for help and
suggested solutions to problems, but that Horn, "the
loudest and most vocal" member of management, rejected
every suggestion she made. (Opp'n at 9).
main thrust of Plaintiff s Title VII claims concern the
blame, yelling, humiliation, abuse and ridicule that she
received after she took over the reins of the System from
Danter in November 2010, when the System went live and the
Implementation Team was disbanded. Plaintiff asserts that
"the totality of the actions and hostile treatment taken
by Defendant" from then onward "amounted to a
hostile work environment." (Id. at 19 n.6).
claims that she was subjected to constant yelling,
humiliation and abuse by her two supervisors, Horn and
Michalic, who singled her out in numerous meetings, loudly
ridiculed and humiliated her, and blamed her for everything
that went wrong with the System and the failure to correct
its many problems. (See, e.g., Id. at 12-14). For
example, in one January 2011 meeting, Plaintiff states that
Michalic yelled at her, "blam[ed] her for the problems
that Mr. Danter had left behind" and "abruptly
peppered [her] with demeaning questions, interrupting] her as
she attempted to respond, " causing her to leave
"the meeting in tears, with a headache, stressed and
wondering what she could have done to cause [Michalic] to be
so mean." (Id. at 12-13).
contractor who worked on the System testified that he
"attended numerous meetings where [Plaintiff] was loudly
ridiculed and humiliated by either Ms. Michalic, Mr. Horn or
both because of some failure in the . . . [S]ystem, "
and that he was "personally embarrassed to be present
when [Plaintiff] was being treated in such a loud and abusive
manner." (Opp'n Ex. 2 ¶6). The contractor also
avers that Plaintiff "was personally demoralized by this
treatment, " that "she was often tearful and
discouraged, " and that "[h]er job was made a lot
more difficult by the abusive treatment she received from Mr.
Horn and Ms. Michalic." (Id. ¶ 7).
points to another example, when, after a series of meetings
in one particular conference room, a facilities employee told
Plaintiff and her managers that they could no longer use the
conference room because the yelling and screaming - all of
which had been directed at Plaintiff- was disruptive to other
employees sitting nearby. (Opp'n Ex. 1 ¶ 18).
Plaintiff claims that she was "abused almost every
day" in this manner. (Id. ¶ 34).
noted above, Danter continued to work on the System for about
a year after it went live and the Implementation Team was
disbanded. (Opp'n Ex. 6 at 14:1-16). But despite the fact
that he was present at many of the meetings at which
Plaintiff was berated, ridiculed and humiliated, and the fact
that he had been in charge of the Implementation Team, Danter
was not subjected to such harsh treatment. For example,
Plaintiff testified at her deposition that, while Danter was
present in the meeting where she was yelled at so loudly that
there were complaints about the level of noise in the
conference room, Horn and Michalic's ire was directed
only at her, not Danter. (Supp. Notice Ex. 2 at 289:17-24).
Plaintiff also testified that while Horn was not "warm
and fuzzy" with her, he was "warm and fuzzy"
with other managers, including Danter. (Id. at
provides more specifics in a supplemental declaration, in
which she alleges that Danter attended approximately ten
meetings during which Horn and Michalic "berated"
her about problems with the System. (Supp. Notice Ex. 3
¶ 3). For example, less than an hour after she was first
informed that she would be taking over the reins of the
System from Danter "effective immediately, "
Plaintiff attended a meeting where the personnel change was
announced. (Id. ¶ 2). "Almost instantly,
Mr. Horn and other managers started yelling at [her]
regarding the ongoing issues" with the System, yet
"[n]o one raised their voice" at Danter, who was
also present at the meeting, "despite the fact that he
had been responsible for the transition up to that very
day." (Id.). Indeed, Plaintiff states that Horn
yelled at her "constantly" in all manner of
meetings where Danter was present "during the first six
or seven months following the transition, " sometimes
swearing at her, and that Danter "was never talked to
like this." (Id. ¶ 7). Plaintiff also
recalls one specific meeting at DOJ where Michalic
"berated" her in front of Danter and others,
getting in her face, yelling at her and insulting her
intelligence. (Id. ¶ 6). Plaintiff states that
Danter was not treated the same way at that meeting, or at
any other meetings. (Id.).
also alleges that she started sending Michalic to Danter for
answers after she had been yelled at three or four times
"for things that Danter had done." (Id.
¶ 4). When Danter did not have an answer, however,
"no one got angry with him." (Id.).
Plaintiff recalls one specific meeting where Michalic yelled
at her about something that Danter had done during the
implementation phase, after which time she directed Michalic
to take the issue up with Danter. (Id. ¶ 5).
Michalic then turned to Danter, who "gave some vague
answer that didn't really address the problem, " and
yet Michalic "was fine with [the] answer, " despite
the fact that, whenever Plaintiff responded to her questions,
Michalic "was never satisfied and reacted by yelling
[at] and berating" her. (Id.).
is also at least some evidence in the record indicating that,
in addition to regularly yelling at and humiliating
• Horn and two other managers "constantly walked
past [Plaintiffs] office, followed her and questioned her
whereabouts, " with Horn "typically stopping] by
her office multiple times each day" (Opp'n at 15);
• Horn improperly rej ected one of her timecards without
confirming that she was actually absent, causing her pay to
be delayed for three days, which caused her stress