United States District Court, District of Columbia
REBA B. RANSOM, Plaintiff,
ROBERT A. MCDONALD, Secretary, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION [Dkt. #44]
RICHARD J. LEON, United States District Judge
Reba B. Ransom ("Ransom" or "plaintiff) brings
this action against Robert A. McDonald in his official
capacity as Secretary of the United States Department of
Veterans Affairs ("the VA" or
"defendant"). Plaintiff was employed with the VA
from 1995 until July 2011, when she was terminated. Plaintiff
alleges in her Complaint filed in June 2013 that her
termination was retaliation for her prior Equal Employment
Opportunity ("EEO") activity, in violation of Title
VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"),
42 U.S.C. §§ 621 et seq. See Compl. ¶
11 [Dkt. #1]. In April 2014, plaintiff moved to expand the
scope of her lawsuit to include claims for other adverse
employment actions, see Mot. for Leave to File Am.
Compl. [Dkt. #23], but for the reasons explained in the
VA's opposition to that motion [Dkt. #26], the Court
denied plaintiffs request to amend her Complaint.
See Min. Order of May 27, 2014. Currently before the
Court is defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.
See Def.'s MTD [Dkt. #44]. Despite plaintiffs
continued discussion of other adverse employment actions in
her memorandum opposing defendant's Motion for Summary
Judgment, Pl's Opp'n [Dkt #46], the Court must limit
its disposition here to the only claim before it-the claim
that Ransom's July 2011 termination was the product of
illegal retaliation. Upon consideration of the parties'
pleadings, the entire record in this case, and relevant law,
the Court GRANTS summary judgment in favor of defendant.
to the events giving rise to this case, Ransom was an
employee at the Kansas City, Missouri branch of the VA, in
the Office of Healthcare Inspections ("OHI").
See Def.'s Statement of Undisp. Material Facts
¶ 1 ("Def.'s SOF") [Dkt. #44]; Pl's
Response to Def.'s Statement of Material Facts & Pl's
Statement of Genuine Issues ¶ 30 ("Pl's SOF,
Part I" and "Pl's SOF, Part II") [Dkt.
#46-49]. Ransom applied for a promotion to a GS-14 position
in early 2010. Compl. ¶ 8. In May 2010, after she was
informed she had not received the position, she filed a
formal EEO complaint alleging that the non-selection was a
product of race discrimination. Def.'s SOF ¶¶
32-34; Pl's SOF, Part I ¶¶ 33-35. She named Dr.
John [David] Daigh ("Dr. Daigh") as one of the
discriminating officials. Id. Dr. Daigh was the
Director of OHI and the selecting official for the position.
Id.; Compl. ¶ 8. Several months later, in
October 2010, she received a promotion to the GS-14 level.
Def.'s SOF ¶ 1; Pl's SOF, Part I ¶ 1. Dr.
Daigh, once again the selecting official, approved that
selection. Def.'s SOF ¶ 2; Pl's SOF, Part I
¶ 2. In her new position, Dorothy Duncan
("Duncan") was the immediate supervisor of Ransom.
Pl's SOF, Part II ¶ 12. Ransom was also a supervisor
herself-she supervised her former co-workers James Seitz
("Seitz") and Jennifer Kubiak. Def.'s SOF
¶ 3; Pl's SOF, Part I ¶3.
months after Ransom's promotion, on March 8, 2011, Seitz
complained to Ransom's supervisor, Duncan, that Ransom
had struck him on the forehead a week earlier. Def.'s SOF
¶ 4; Pl's SOF, Part I ¶ 4. Ransom's
explanation of the events is that the physical contact was a
friendly "tap" or "pop" that was routine
in her interactions with Seitz. Pl's SOF, Part I ¶
4; Ransom Decl. ¶ 19 [Dkt. #46-28]. Duncan referred the
matter to her supervisors, including Dr. Daigh, who referred
the matter to the Office of the Inspector General
("OIG") to do a formal investigation of the
incident. Pl's SOF, Part II ¶¶ 64, 67. OIG
conducted an independent investigation of the incident,
including an interview of Ransom in which she explained that
Seitz was a "touchy, feely, lovey kind of person"
and that she had no way of knowing that her physical contact
was unwelcome. Pl's SOF, Part I ¶¶ 8"10-
Ransom also told the OIG investigators that she believed the
dispute could be explained by the fact that Seitz was angry
that she had been promoted instead of him. Pl's SOF, Part
I ¶¶ 12-16. She claimed that Seitz's behavior
toward her had changed ever since her promotion in October
2010. Id. She claimed he was mentally unstable,
causing her to fear for her safety. Id.
issued a report of its findings a couple of weeks after its
interviews, in April 2011. Def.'s SOF ¶ 19; Pl's
SOF, Part I ¶ 19. Citing interview testimony, it found
that Ransom had struck Seitz on the head with an
inappropriate amount of force, concluding it rose to the
level of "assault." Pl's SOF, Part I
¶¶ 2°-21- It also concluded that her attempts
to pass the conduct off as "routine" were
incredible, that she had falsified Seitz's mental
instability, and that there was no basis for her to fear for
her safety. Id. ¶¶ 22-24.
10, 2011, Duncan issued a notice of proposed removal, naming
the three grounds contained in the OIG report: (1) assault on
an employee, (2) intentional falsification, misstatement, or
concealment of a material fact (i.e.,
misrepresenting a "touchy" relationship with Seitz
that would have made her physical contact
"routine"), and (3) making false or unfounded
statement which are slanderous or defamatory about VA
personnel or officials (i.e., alleging Seitz was
mentally unstable and dangerous). Id. ¶ 26.
Seven days after Duncan issued the notice, on May 17, 2011,
Ransom filed an EEO complaint against Duncan. Regan Decl.,
Ex. 18 [Dkt. #44-2]. She also filed a reply to the notice,
contending that Duncan had initiated the removal action as
retaliation for her protected EEO activity and alleging that
Duncan was skeptical of Ransom's promotion and "made
negative references about Ransom for having filed her
original EEO complaint." Pl's SOF, Part II ¶
124; Reply to Proposed Removal 1-2 [Dkt. #46-21].
notice and reply were referred to Patricia Christ, the Deputy
Assistant Inspector General for OHI ("Deputy Assistant
Christ"), who served under Dr. Daigh. Def.'s SOF
¶ 28; Hr'g Tr. 86-105 (Christ Testimony) [Dkt.
#46-44]; Christ Decl. [Dkt. #44.3]. After an independent
review of the OIG report, and a determination that the
Seitz-Ransom incident was sufficiently serious, especially
because it involved a supervisor's treatment of a direct
report, Deputy Assistant Christ decided to terminate Ransom
in July 2011. Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 29-31; Hr'g Tr.
86-105 (Christ Testimony) [Dkt. #46-44]; Christ Decl. [Dkt.
appealed the termination decision under the Civil Service
Reform Act. In February 2012, an administrative law judge
("ALJ") of the Merit Systems Protection Board held
a hearing as to the removal decision wherein she questioned
Deputy Assistant Christ about the reasons for her decision.
See Pl's Opp'n 22; Ransom v. Dep 't
of Veterans Affairs, 2012 M.S.P.B. LEXIS 1235 (M.S.P.B.
Feb. 28, 2012). Deputy Assistant Christ opined that the
"assault" finding was perhaps the most important to
her decision. Pl's Opp'n 22. The ALJ ultimately
vacated the removal action and remanded the matter back to
the VA with specific findings, including that the physical
contact at issue did not rise to the level of
"assault." See Id. Upon remand, Deputy
Assistant Christ once again terminated Ransom, this time on
the sole ground that she made false or unfounded statements.
See Id. at 23. That decision was upheld by the Merit
Systems Protection Board on appeal. See id.;
Ransom v. Dep't of Veterans Affairs, 2013
M.S.P.B. LEXIS 2780, at * 10-13 (M.S.P.B. May 24, 2013).
judgment is proper when there is no genuine dispute as to any
material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp.
v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Although the
burden is on the movant to show that there is no dispute of
fact or that the evidence is so one-sided that it must
prevail as a matter of law, when the movant files a properly
supported summary judgment motion, the burden switches to the
non-moving party to produce evidence that would support a
jury verdict. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477
U.S. 242, 251-52, 256 (1986). The non-moving party "may
not rest upon mere allegation or denials of his pleading, but
must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine
issue for trial." Id. at 256.
court must accept as true the evidence of, and draw "all
justifiable inferences" in favor of, the party opposing
summary judgment. Id. at 255. To the extent that the
non-moving party will bear the burden of proving facts at
trial, however, those facts must be supported by competent
evidence, and the absence of such evidence can form the basis
for summary judgment. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at
322-24. A genuine issue exists only where "the evidence
is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the
nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.
VII makes it unlawful for an employer "to discriminate
against any individual with respect to his compensation,
terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of
the individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national
origin." 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e)-2(a)(1). Title VII
similarly prohibits employers from retaliating against an
employee because that employee "has opposed any practice
made an unlawful practice by [Title VII], or because he has
made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any
manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under
[Title VII]." 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e)-3(a). Our Circuit
has instructed that, at the summary judgment stage, it is
"an unnecessary and improper 'sideshow'" to
decide whether a plaintiff in a retaliation suit has made out
aprima facie case. Jones v. Bernanke, 557
F.3d 670, 678 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (quoting Brady v. Office
of the Sergeant at Arms, U.S. House of Representatives,520 F.3d 490, 493 (D.C. Cir. 2008)). Where, as here, the
employer asserts a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for the
removal action challenged, the only relevant inquiry is
whether the employee has put forth sufficient evidence for a
reasonable jury to conclude that the employer's proffered
explanation is a mere pretext and the employer intentionally
retaliated against the employee. Id. Summary
judgment must be granted for the defendant if the plaintiff
fails to "produce sufficient evidence that would
discredit [the employer's proffered explanation] and show
that the actions were retaliatory." Baloch v.