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Morgan v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

United States District Court, District of Columbia

November 18, 2016

CECILY M. MORGAN, Plaintiff,
v.
WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION RE DOCUMENT NO. 8

          RUDOLPH CONTRERAS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Granting in part and Denying in part Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Ms. Cecily M. Morgan was hired by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to manage a grant. After several tumultuous months, she was terminated. Ms. Morgan brought this suit alleging discrimination claims of a hostile work environment (Count 1) and discriminatory termination (Count 2) under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Currently before the Court is WMATA's motion for summary judgment.

         For the reasons discussed in this opinion, the Court grants summary judgment to WMATA on Ms. Morgan's hostile work environment claim, and denies WMATA summary judgment on Ms. Morgan's discriminatory termination claim.

         II. BACKGROUND

         At summary judgment, “[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his [or her] favor.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). For purposes of this motion, the Court believes Ms. Morgan's evidence and draws inferences in her favor when the parties disagree.[1]

         Plaintiff Cecily Morgan, an African-American woman, Compl. ¶ 4, ECF No. 1, began working at WMATA on June 10, 2013 with the job title “Transit Works Project Manager, ” Def.'s Statement of Mat. Facts Not in Dispute (Def.'s Mat. Facts) ¶ 1, ECF No. 8-2. Ms. Morgan had received a B.S. from the University of Maryland at College Park and an M.B.A. from the University of Maryland University College, and had previously worked with “a variety of federal contractors and grantees.” Compl. ¶ 6. Ms. Morgan was hired after an interview with Linda Stoffregen and Rhoda Beachum. Def.'s Mat. Facts ¶ 3; Morgan Dep. at 22:5-6, ECF No. 8-4.

         Ms. Stoffregen, a Caucasian woman, directed WMATA's Operations Management Services division and served as Ms. Morgan's direct supervisor throughout her time at WMATA. Compl. ¶ 7; see Def.'s Mat. Facts ¶¶ 2, 4. Ms. Stoffregen supervised five people: Ms. Morgan; Kristen Janes, a Caucasian woman; Rhoda Beachum, an African-American woman; Linda Everest, a Caucasian woman; and Gill Lot, a Caucasian man. Def.'s Mat. Facts ¶ 5. Ms. Beachum retired a few months after Ms. Morgan began working. See Beachum Dep. at 5:19-6:10, ECF No. 8-7 (stating that Ms. Beachum's last day at work was July 31, 2013 and her official retirement date was September 1, 2013). Mr. Lott, who is of particular interest in this litigation, was the Training Manager responsible for WMATA's instructors and was a “peer” of Ms. Morgan's. Stoffregen Dep. 104-05, ECF No. 8-5; OPMS Organizational Chart, ECF No. 8-3, Ex. 2.

         WMATA provides transit service to the Washington metropolitan area. Compl. ¶ 5. Ms. Morgan's job was to manage a newly received federal grant, the Transit Works Grant. Def.'s Mat. Facts ¶ 1. The granted provided funding for WMATA to train high school students and veterans for careers in transit. Def''s Mat. Facts ¶ 7. Ms. Morgan began work with a one-year probationary period. Def.'s Mat. Facts ¶ 6.

         Ms. Morgan describes an unpleasant workplace due to rude treatment by Ms. Stoffregen. According to Ms. Morgan, “most of her discussions with me were very sharp in tone, she would never let me finish a statement, she talked over me, she would point at me, she would talk very loudly to me, she would point at the table as she spoke with me, and that was far different than when other senior managers spoke with her.” Morgan Dep. at 38:12-18, ECF No. 11-1. See also Morgan Dep. 43:20-21 (describing Ms. Stoffregen as “extremely belligerent and nasty with me”); Morgan Decl. ¶ 29 (describing an incident in which Ms. Stoffregen “continued to scream at me and call me a liar”). Ms. Morgan also claims that Ms. Stoffregen at times publicly ridiculed her for perceived work failures, and once scheduled a meeting but then did not attend. Morgan Decl. ¶¶ 16, 23. Ms. Morgan asserts that this behavior was a form of discrimination based on race. Compl. ¶ 13. Ms. Morgan does not assert that she experienced any “racially insensitive comments, language, jokes, or slurs.” Def.'s Mat. Facts ¶ 41.

         A. Ms. Morgan's Responsibilities

         Although both parties agree that Ms. Morgan was hired to manage the Transit Works Grant, they differ significantly on the precise contours of that position. In particular, WMATA characterizes Ms. Morgan's role as one with a great deal of responsibility and autonomy, while Ms. Morgan emphasizes that Ms. Stoffregen held ultimate authority, and, in fact, reversed several of her decisions.

         The Transit Works Grant provided $795, 000[2] for WMATA to use in training high school students and veterans for careers in transit. Def.'s Mat. Facts ¶ 7. Two high schools and one veterans organization, the VETS Group, [3] participated. Def.'s Mat. Facts ¶ 8. One of Ms. Morgan's key tasks was completing the Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with each partner organization. Def.'s Mat. Facts ¶ 9. The MOUs describe the relationship between WMATA and its partners, including the budget, schedule, and various responsibilities of the organizations. VETS Group MOU, ECF No. 11-10. WMATA spent money directly under the grant, including hiring instructors and at least a portion of Ms. Morgan's salary. See, e.g., Transit Works Program Budget, ECF No. 8-3, Ex. 5 (showing that WMATA would seek reimbursement under the grant for a total of $214, 400 in technical instructors' salary and $100, 000 of the project manager's salary); Transit Work Grant Budget, ECF No. 8-3, Ex. 6 (same); Compl. ¶ 7 (stating that Ms. Morgan's salary as a project manager was $125, 000). Each of the partner groups also made expenditures under the grant, such as providing transit stipends and time-in-class stipends to participants. See, e.g., Transit Works Program Budget, ECF No. 8-3, Ex. 5; Transit Work Grant Budget, ECF No. 8-3, Ex. 6. The partner groups paid these expenses out-of-pocket, and then submitted invoices to WMATA for reimbursement. See Email from Joe Wynn to Linda Stoffregen (Dec. 12, 2013), ECF No. 8-3, Ex. 11. WMATA was to reimburse the partner organizations after it had validated the invoices, and then WMATA itself would submit for reimbursement from the Federal Transit Administration. See Stoffregen Dep. at 18:4-19:9. Thus, both the partner organizations and WMATA risked losing their own money if reimbursement was denied. Helping the partner organizations track their expenditures and get their invoices approved, as well as ensuring that WMATA's records would enable its ultimate reimbursement, was another of Ms. Morgan's key tasks. Def.'s Mat. Facts ¶ 9.

         According to WMATA, Ms. Morgan was “a ‘team of one' responsible for management of all aspects” of the grant, including the MOUs, invoices, and associated documentation. Def.'s Mat. Facts ¶ 9; see also Stoffregen Dep. at 17-19, ECF No. 8-5. Ms. Morgan agrees that “it was [her] job to prepare and get approval of Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) between WMATA and its grant partners and then to see that training called for under the grant was provided and that WMATA's partners were compensated.” Pl.'s Mem. Opp'n Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. at 1, ECF No. 11. Ms. Morgan disputes the characterization of her role as a “team of one, ” since she asserts that Ms. Stoffregen “insisted on being the final authority on all decisions” and “indiscriminately interfered when [Ms. Morgan] attempted to resolve any matter.” Morgan Decl. ¶ 10, ECF No. 11-1. Ms. Morgan's examples of this interference include Ms. Stoffregen's inconsistent decisions about whether students who left within the first weeks could be replaced, Morgan Decl. ¶ 26, and Ms. Stoffregen's several, contradictory decisions about whether parking passes or travel reimbursements would be provided to veterans who drove to the training site, Morgan Decl. ¶ 25.[4]

         The parties agree that Ms. Morgan “was not responsible for the [grant's] curriculum or hiring of instructors.” Def.'s Mat. Facts ¶ 11 (emphasis added). WMATA asserts that Mr. Lott, another of Ms. Stoffregen's direct reports, “hired and managed the instructors” but had no other management role in the grant. Def.'s Mat. Facts ¶ 12. Ms. Morgan disagrees with the last point, citing meetings that Mr. Lott attended which covered issues including travel reimbursements, parking passes, invoices, and the substitution of students. Pl.'s Statement Genuine Issues (Pl.'s Mat. Facts) at 3, ECF No. 11-20; see also Morgan Decl. ¶¶ 25-26.

         Ms. Morgan further asserts that she was not informed of all of her supposed responsibilities because she never “received a position description” or “participate[d] in a written goal setting.” Compl. ¶ 9. WMATA does not disagree, but points to a written position description “available in WMATA's Human Resources' Department and on WMATA's internal intranet server [that] could be accessed by any WMATA employee.” Def.'s Mat. Facts ¶ 10; see also Job Description, ECF No. 8-3, Ex. 3 (describing the responsibilities of a Project Manager, TA-25). Ms. Morgan disputes that this job description applied to her job, calling it “transparently false” due to a variety of inaccuracies. Pl.'s Statement of Genuine Issues (Pl.'s Mat. Facts) at 2-3. For example, the manager of the description “carr[ies] out the Authority's construction program” (no construction was involved in managing the grant) and, unlike Ms. Morgan, is a Professional Engineer with “a minimum of seven (7) years demonstrated successful experience in overall technical management with a large engineering and construction project.” See Pl.'s Mat. Facts ¶ 2-3; Job Description; Def.'s Mat. Facts ¶ 9. Nor does the job description describe the responsibilities on which WMATA and Ms. Morgan agree-such as executing the MOUs or supervising the invoicing process. Job Description. Ms. Morgan explains that she requested a position description and regular meetings with Ms. Stoffregen, but Ms. Stoffregen said the initial interview had conveyed the responsibilities and refused to meet. Morgan Dep. 25:13-22, ECF No. 8-4.

         B. WMATA's Reasons for Terminating Ms. Morgan

         Ms. Morgan was terminated December 17, 2013, still within her probationary year.[5]Def.'s Mat. Facts ¶ 17. Ms. Morgan asserts that she was fired as a form of discrimination based on race. Compl. ¶ 15.[6] WMATA avers that the termination was performance based. WMATA's Termination Memorandum, signed by Ms. Stoffregen and shown to Ms. Morgan when she was discharged, states that “issues have continued to occur during the last few months that demonstrate your inability to perform the primary duties of [the] position” and that “overall productivity has been unsatisfactory.” Termination Mem., ECF No. 8-3, Ex. 1. The memorandum lists one textual example and five bullet points, for a total of six areas of poor performance. The six areas are:

[1] [A]llow[ing] the VETs Group to start training at WMATA's [] [f]acility on September 3, 2013 without a signed MOU. . . .
[2] Failure to convey [a school's] decision on their previous [i]nstructor.
[3] Failure to effectively manage the grant and achieve results.
[4] Failure to provide guidance to the grant partners on submission of invoices and required documentation.
[5] Failure to review and verify submitted invoices.
[6] Failure to demonstrate budgetary understanding and proficiency.

Termination Mem.

         The Court reviews each of these areas in turn, combining (4) and (5) because WMATA does not differentiate among its invoice-related claims.

         1. Allowing Training to Begin Prior to Completion of the MOUs

         WMATA's first stated reason for terminating Ms. Morgan is that she “allowed the VETs Group to start training at WMATA's [] [f]acility on September 3, 2013 without a signed MOU.” Termination Mem., ECF No. 8-3, Ex. 1. Both parties agree that the VETS Group did in fact begin training on September 3, 2013. Def.'s Mat. Facts ¶ 12; Pl.'s Mat. Facts ¶ 5. The MOU was executed on September 19, 2013.[7] VETS Group MOU at 13, ECF No. 11-10. The parties' accounts differ as to the surrounding circumstances. According to WMATA, Ms. Stoffregen “discovered” the issue on September 3. Termination Mem. This language of “discovery” suggests that Ms. Stoffregen was previously unaware that training started without an MOU. Ms. Morgan disputes this assertion, claiming that she warned Ms. Stoffregen in mid-August that the MOU was delayed and might not be completed before the date set for starting training. Morgan Decl. ¶ 16. According to Ms. Morgan, Ms. Stoffregen was actually involved in trying to fix the delays in the legal department by emailing them to “HELP.” Morgan Decl. ¶ 16. Furthermore, Ms. Morgan argues that it was Ms. Stoffregen who “allowed” the VETS Group to start without the MOU, because Ms. Stoffregen replied to the warning about the MOU that “the start date was not to be altered under any circumstances.”[8] Morgan Decl. ¶ 16. Finally, Ms. Morgan argues that she had no set deadline to complete the MOUs. See Morgan Dep. at 51:7-9 (“Q. Did Linda give you any timetable or timeline as to when those MOUs should have been completed? A. No.”); but see Stoffregen Dep. at 42:20-43:4, ECF No. 11-2 (claiming that she had articulated that “it was critical they were signed before training started” on “[t]he first or second day of [Ms. Morgan's] employ”).

         2. Not Personally Notifying Ms. Stoffregen of Problems with an Instructor

         WMATA's second stated reason for terminating Ms. Morgan is that she “[f]ail[ed] to convey [a school's] decision on their previous [i]nstructor.” Termination Mem., ECF No. 8-3, Ex. 1. Although this reference is somewhat opaque, the parties appear to agree on the relevant event. On September 26, 2013, Ms. Morgan and Mr. Lott learned that one of the instructors hired by the grant program would not be accepted by one of the high schools because the instructor had left his previous job at the school under unharmonious circumstances. Def.'s Mat. Facts ¶ 22. That instructor had been hired by Mr. Lott.[9] Stoffregen Dep. 99:20; Lott Dep. at 14-15, ECF No. 11-3. After this discovery, Mr. Lott repeatedly assured Ms. Morgan that he would discuss the issue with Ms. Stoffregen. See Lott Dep. 66:13 (“I told Cecily [Morgan] that I would tell Linda [Stoffregen].”); see also Morgan Decl. ¶ 28. Ms. Morgan claims that she immediately attempted to contact Ms. Stoffregen by phone, but “she didn't return my call, nor did she answer the phone.” Morgan Dep. 74:12-14. Ms. Morgan also stated that she asked the school principal to “submit a memo to Linda Stoffregen in writing” explaining the issue, but he did not. Morgan Decl. ¶ 30(2). After these attempts, Ms. Morgan stated that she left the next day for a scheduled work conference in Chicago. Morgan Decl. ¶ 28. When she returned the next week, it was to an irate Ms. Stoffregen, who called her screaming to blame her for not personally communicating the news and said she was a “liar.” Morgan Decl. ¶ 29.

         Ms. Stoffregen does not dispute that Mr. Lott promised to inform her. See Stoffregen Dep. at 97:16-18 (agreeing that “Gill Lott had told Ms. Morgan to not-that he would be the one to tell me”). However, she stated that “[she] blame[d] Ms. Morgan” because “Ms. Morgan was responsible for the Transit Work Grant” while “Mr. Lott was managing the instructors. He had nothing to do with the Transit Work Grant management.” Stoffregen Dep. at 105:4-19. Ms. Morgan objects to this reasoning, arguing that it would be unreasonable for Ms. Stoffregen to blame her for a problem related to instructor hiring, when Mr. Lott, and not Ms. Morgan, was explicitly ...


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