United States District Court, District of Columbia
SHARON K. STEWART, Plaintiff,
FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION, Defendant.
COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Sharon Stewart is a Women's Outreach Specialist in the
Office of Communication Business Opportunities
(“OCBO”) at the Federal Communications Commission
(“FCC”). Plaintiff contends that she was
subjected to a hostile work environment because a male
colleague in an adjacent cubicle viewed pornographic images
on his work computer. She also alleges that her supervisors
retaliated against her for filing Equal Employment
Opportunity (“EEO”) complaints by removing one of
her most substantive duties and by denying her bonuses.
Plaintiff brings this lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil
Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.
Defendant has moved for summary judgment.
consideration of the pleadings,  the relevant legal
authorities, and the record as a whole, the Court shall
GRANT-IN-PART and DENY-IN-PART Defendant's  Motion
for Summary Judgment. First, the Court grants Defendant's
motion and enters summary judgment in its favor with respect
to Plaintiff's hostile work environment claim. This claim
fails because Plaintiff has not adduced evidence that the
incidents of pornography viewing she complains of were
directed at her, occurred because of her protected status, or
were intended to discriminate against women more generally.
Second, the Court grants Defendant's motion for summary
judgment on Plaintiff's retaliation claims regarding her
failure to receive bonuses in 2012 and 2015. Plaintiff has
not satisfied her burden of establishing that the
non-retaliatory reasons Defendant has proffered for denying
Plaintiff bonuses in those years were pretext for
retaliation. Finally, the Court will deny Defendant's
motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff's retaliation
claims with respect to the alleged removal of Plaintiff's
duties on so-called “Section 610 Reports.”
Genuine disputes of material fact exist regarding whether the
removal of these duties constituted an adverse action and
whether Defendant's proffered rationale for their removal
was pretext for retaliation.
Plaintiff's Colleague Views Pornography on a Work
in 2009, Plaintiff observed her male co-worker, John Finnie,
viewing pornographic images on his office computer. Depo. of
Sharon Stewart, ECF No. 41-2 (“Stewart Depo.”) at
69:5-7. Plaintiff and Mr. Finnie worked in adjoining
cubicles. Id. at 283:11-15. According to Plaintiff,
she on several occasions walked by and “caught”
Mr. Finnie viewing the pornographic images. E.g.,
id. at 82:20-83:1. On some occasions, Mr. Finnie
would click out of the images when Plaintiff walked by; on
others, he would be in a “deadlock stare, ” and
would not click out because he was unaware of Plaintiff's
presence. Id. at 70:5-11. Mr. Finnie never asked
Plaintiff to look at the images, or otherwise shared or
distributed them to her. Id. at 83:20-84:13.
Plaintiff and Mr. Finnie had altercations in which Plaintiff
accused him of watching pornography, and Mr. Finnie denied
doing so. Id. at 66:14-19; 97:2-6.
2012, up to four other men joined Mr. Finnie in his office to
view pornographic images. Id. at 87:12-23, 95:7-14.
This happened approximately three times. Id.
Plaintiff claims that she observed the group viewing when she
walked past Mr. Finnie's cubicle, and also that she heard
“moans and groans” emanating from his cubicle.
Id. at 89:6-18. According to Plaintiff, one of the
male viewers would “stand guard” and look for
her. Id. at 103:6-14. Plaintiff does not know why he
would do so. Id. at 103:15-19. Plaintiff allegedly
reported this conduct to her supervisor Mr. Reed for the
first time in September 2009. Id. at 104:14-18. Asked
why she thought Mr. Reed took no ameliorative actions,
Plaintiff testified that it was “because he was having
sex in the office himself.” Id. at 111:5-7. It
is undisputed that Mr. Reed did have sex in his FCC office.
Pl.'s Stmt. of Disputed Facts, ECF No. 42-1
(“Pl.'s Stmt.”), ¶ 28.
August 2015, the Office of Inspector General
(“OIG”) issued a report finding evidence that Mr.
Finnie “used an FCC computer to view and store
pornographic material . . . .” Pl.'s Ex. 3, ECF No.
42-5 (OIG Report). Despite Mr. Finnie's conduct,
Plaintiff does not have any personal animosity toward Mr.
Finnie or the other men who joined him in his office. Stewart
Depo. at 93:2-4.
Plaintiff Does Not Receive a Bonus in 2012
early 2012, hostilities arose between Plaintiff and some of
her colleagues. Def.'s Stmt. of Undisputed Material
Facts, ECF No. 41 (“Def.'s Stmt.”)
¶¶ 6-7; Stewart Depo. at 33:14-38:20. These
disputes reached a tipping point for Plaintiff when she
accused her colleagues of slashing her tires when her car was
parked outside of her home. Stewart Depo. at 50:18-22.
Plaintiff became extremely frustrated with Mr. Reed when he
failed to take action against her colleagues. Def.'s
Stmt. ¶¶ 7-9; Stewart Depo. at 50:18-55:22,
February and early March of 2012, Plaintiff scheduled
meetings with individuals at the OIG, the FCC's Office of
Labor Relations and the FCC's Office of Workplace
Diversity. Pl.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 40-42. Plaintiff
claims that at these meetings she reported Mr. Finnie's
viewing of pornography at his cubicle, claimed that she was
being subjected to a hostile work environment, and generally
faulted Mr. Reed for her workplace problems. Id.
March 15, 2012, Mr. Reed called Plaintiff into his office for
a meeting. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 10. Exactly what was said
at that meeting is disputed, but there is no genuine dispute
that Plaintiff was upset, used profanity, and told Mr. Reed
that she no longer wanted to perform certain work for him.
Id. ¶ 11. Plaintiff herself testified that she
“expressed frustration, ” used the word
“shit” and told Mr. Reed during this meeting that
she did not want to work on his travel authorizations
anymore. Stewart Depo. at 57:9-58:16; 154:15-155:23.
April 4, 2012, Mr. Reed issued Plaintiff an oral admonishment
confirmed in writing for her conduct in the March 15 meeting.
Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 13; Def.'s Ex. G, ECF No. 41-8
(April 4, 2012 Memorandum from Thomas Reed to Sharon Stewart
re Oral Admonishment Confirmed in Writing). The admonishment
stated that Plaintiff became “very angry, hostile, and
belligerent towards” Mr. Reed in the meeting,
“used inappropriate language, ” was
“insulting and critical of [Mr. Reed] and questioned
[his] character and [his] ability as an FCC manager, ”
and stated “you are not my boss; I will not work for
administratively appealed the admonishment, but it was
upheld. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 14. The appellate authority
found that, among other things, Plaintiff had admitted that
during the March 15 meeting she said “I'm sick of
this going thru this shit” and that Mr. Reed had, in
response, “advised her to watch her language.”
Def.'s Ex. H, ECF No. 41-9 (April 3, 2012 Memorandum from
Suzanne M. Tetreault to Sharon Stewart re Decision on Appeal
from Grievance Denial at First Step).
did not receive an OCBO “performance award” in
2012. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 15. All other OCBO employees
received a bonus that year, and Plaintiff received bonuses in
all prior years. Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 52. Under FCC rules,
employees have no entitlement to such awards, which are made
at the discretion of the employer. Def.'s Ex. T, ECF No.
Plaintiff's Duties with Respect to Section 610
Plaintiff's duties at the OCBO beginning in 2004 was to
assist an attorney with “Section 610 Reports.”
Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 17. Section 610 Reports are lists of
certain agency rules that are ten years old and significantly
affect small entities. Id. ¶ 18. They are
issued annually. Id.; Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 54-57.
The parties dispute the importance of these reports.
Defendant characterizes the reports as a mere “list of
rules” with “boilerplate language, ” and
describes Plaintiff's contribution as simply soliciting
and compiling submissions from other offices, formatting the
list and inputting basic edits. Def.'s Stmt. ¶¶
on the other hand, argues that her work on these reports was
a “major part” of her duties and that she
“led the coordination” of, or “took over
the responsibility” for, the reports. Pl.'s Stmt.
¶¶ 58, 59, 62. Plaintiff notes that before she took
over her responsibilities with respect to the Section 610
Reports, these duties were handled by a more senior FCC
employee. Id. ¶ 62. She also claims that she
had conversations with her supervisors about getting a
promotion on the basis of her work on the reports. Pl.'s
Stmt. ¶¶ 69-76.
October 15, 2012, Plaintiff filed an EEO complaint alleging
various acts of discrimination and retaliation. On October
18, 2012, one of Plaintiff's supervisors, Ms. Carolyn
Fleming-Williams, held a meeting with Plaintiff. Pl.'s
Stmt. ¶ 63. Plaintiff claims that at that meeting Ms.
Fleming-Williams asked Plaintiff why she had filed her
complaints and sought to dissuade her from pursuing them.
Id. She then told Plaintiff that there were
“problems” with Plaintiff's work on the 2011
Section 610 Report. Id. ¶ 64. After this
meeting, although Plaintiff corrected the problems Ms.
Fleming-Williams raised, the 2011 report nonetheless remained
unpublished until mid-2016, depriving Plaintiff of any work
on Section 610 Reports for a number of years. Id.
Plaintiff Does Not Receive a Bonus in 2015
early 2015, Mr. Reed proposed a seven day suspension without
pay for Plaintiff for “failure to complete a work
assignment” and “lack of candor” on the
grounds that she failed to provide him with a “master
contact list” she maintained when requested. Def.'s
Stmt. ¶¶ 38-40; Def.'s Ex. L, ECF No. 41-13
(January 16, 2015 Letter from Thomas Reed to Sharon Stewart
re Notice of Proposed 7-Day Suspension). Mr. Reed sent
Plaintiff an email requesting that document on August 6,
2014. Def.'s Ex. V, ECF No. 41-23 (August 6-7, 2014 email
chain between Thomas Reed and Sharon Stewart). Plaintiff
responded that she did not have the document. Id. M
r. Reed followed up multiple times asking for the document,
suggesting that Plaintiff did have the document, that he
recalled her having it, and that others confirmed that she
had it. Id. Plaintiff repeatedly refused to provide
the document. Id. The list was later found on
Plaintiff's computer by the Office of Information
Technology (“OIT”). Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 39.