United States District Court, District of Columbia
CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER, United States District Judge.
Copeland claims that her former employer, Arklay LLC,
discriminated against her because of her race in violation of
42 U.S.C. § 1981. Specifically, she alleges that Arklay
terminated her because she is African American, that it
maintained a racially hostile work environment, and that it
engaged in unlawful retaliation.
reasonable factfinder could side with Copeland on any of
these claims. There is no evidence suggesting that
Copeland's termination was racially motivated. Assuming
that her coworkers' alleged harassment was sufficiently
severe to be actionable, there is no indication that
Copeland's supervisor responded to it unreasonably. And
because the undisputed facts show that Copeland did not
engage in protected conduct, she has no viable retaliation
claim. The Court will therefore grant summary judgment in
favor of Arklay.
provides network-security support for defense agencies and
specializes in assisting those agencies in classified
operations. The firm is managed solely by its CEO and owner,
Marc Pecot. Pecot hired Copeland in February 2013 to work as
a full-time network administrator, paid hourly. Def.'s
Mot. Summ. J. Ex. B (“Pl.'s Dep.”), at
22:15-17, 32:9-33:4. During her tenure, Copeland was the
company's sole African American employee. Id.
Copeland's tenure, Arklay was working on a subcontract
with BAE Systems, which in turn was a contractor for the
Defense Intelligence Agency (“DIA”). The contract
required Arklay's employees to work at the “Threat
Mitigation Center, ” a DIA facility within Bolling Air
Force Base in Washington, D.C. Copeland worked in a cubicle
in a shared workspace with the four other Arklay employees
who were assigned to the BAE subcontract. Her primary
responsibility was administering a DIA network called ITACT.
alleges several instances of workplace harassment while
working on the BAE contract. Most of the purported incidents
involved two Arklay data engineers, David Chesher and Dean
Gull. Copeland's recounts that Chesher “frowned at
[her] the whole time” during her job interview,
Pl.'s Dep. 215:1, and that Chesher, Gull, and the other
employees were generally unwelcoming and excluded her from
conversations, id. at 215:2-4, 8-20. She claims to
have reported their behavior to Pecot during her first week
in a closed-door meeting. Id. at 215:4-11.
further alleges that, a few months after she was hired,
Chesher-who sat in a nearby cubicle-temporarily locked her
out of the ITACT network. Copeland reported this incident to
Pecot in an email dated June 6, 2013. Pl.'s Dep. Ex. 19.
In that message, Copeland implicated Gull in the lockout
scheme. Id. at 1. She also mentioned that the pair
would often look at her computer screen-apparently Gull was
“constantly peering over the cubicle or standing and
staring over at [her] screen.” Id. At the end
of the message, Copeland proffered a motive for her
Dean [Gull] and Dave [Chesher] have made it known in the
office that I don't know what I am doing. Which is quite
insulting. Whenever they talk about me, they do it openly in
front of [other employees.] So, I take it they want me out of
there, especially Dean. And what he wants, he gets.
That's how I've seen it.
Id. Ex. 21. As Copeland explained in her deposition,
she did not indicate to Pecot that Gull or Chesher were
motivated by her race. Pl.'s Dep. 155:9-21.
responded to Copeland's message a few hours later,
explaining that he suspected the lockout was merely a system
error, but indicating that he would investigate further if
the same problem happened again. Id. Ex. 21. Pecot
later explained in his deposition that users, including him,
were regularly locked out of the system. Def.'s Mot.
Summ. J. Ex. F, at 98:7-21. As to Copeland's accusation
that Gull and Chesher sought to undermine her, Pecot
explained that he had found the team “reasonable and
considerate” and that no one had approached him with
“issues regarding [her] performance.” Pl.'s
Dep. Ex. 21. Pecot was willing to approach the team about an
“uncomfortable working environment, ” but, noting
that Arklay had only six days left working on the BAE
contract, he expressed hesitation to use those final days
“focusing our efforts to resolve a team dynamic that
will shortly become irrelevant.” Id.
contract ended in June 2013, and Arklay furloughed its
employees for about three weeks while Pecot sought more work
for the company. Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. A (“Pecot
Decl.”), at ¶ 17; Pl.'s Resp. to Stmt.
Material Facts ¶ 51. In early July, Arklay obtained a
subcontract with another DIA contractor. Pecot assigned
Copeland to be the network administrator for this contract.
For the first few weeks of the contract, Copeland, Chesher,
Gull, and two other employees worked at Bolling, in the same
location as they had for the BAE contract. The DIA then
decided to relocate the operation to a new facility in
Landover Maryland. On August 28, Copeland told Pecot by email
that she “will not be moving with you all to the [new
facility]” because the Maryland facility was
“much too far, [and] even if I took trains it would
take me too long to get to my daughter in an
emergency.” Pl.'s Dep. Ex. 5. She formalized her
resignation the next day. Id. Ex. 4. In response,
Pecot said that he understood her decision and offered that,
if she did not have another job lined up, she could work
part-time work until her replacement began. Id. Ex.
9. Copeland accepted, and Pecot told her that, while
part-time employees typically were ineligible for health
insurance, he would maintain hers so that she did not
“have to worry.” Id. Ex. 10.
worked for Arklay part-time beginning August 29, 2013.
Pl.'s Dep. 57:17- 58:13. During some of this period,
Pecot allowed Copeland to work remotely at a facility in
Reston, Virginia, which was nearer to her home. Pecot Decl.
¶ 25. Pecot also gave her a substantial raise-from
$62.50 to $70.30 per hour-because her part-time status
reduced Arklay's overhead costs. Pl.'s Dep. Ex. 14.
alleges further incidents of harassment during this period of
part-time work. Her primary accusation is that Gull and
Chesher regularly peered at her monitor and continued to
interfere with her access to the computer systems. Pl.'s
Dep. 38:18-39:20. She did not report these incidents to
Pecot. Id. 101:15-102:20. Rather, she claims that in
October she informed Pamela Prewitt, a government employee
who worked at the DIA facility, and enlisted Prewitt's
help to try to catch the pair hacking into her system on
subsequent occasions. Id.; see also Pl.'s Opp.
Ex. 1, at 6 (EEOC letter). Copeland believes that Pecot was