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Easaw v. Newport

United States District Court, District of Columbia

October 15, 2018

AUDREY EASAW, Plaintiff,
v.
DEBBIE NEWPORT, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Beryl A. Howell Chief Judge

         After the plaintiff, Audrey Easaw, was terminated from her position at the American Association of Retired Persons (“AARP”), she sued her former employer's consultants, the defendants Debbie Newport and Calade Partners (collectively, the “defendants”), claiming, inter alia, tortious interference with employment. Compl. ¶¶ 4, 33-36, ECF No. 1-1.[1] The plaintiff alleges that when AARP retained Ms. Newport's company, Calade Partners, in 2015 to provide consulting services, Ms. Newport began interfering with the plaintiff's employment by making negative comments about the plaintiff to her supervisors, excluding the plaintiff from AARP meetings, rewriting the plaintiff's job description, and advocating for changes in the plaintiff's position, which interference caused the plaintiff's termination. Pl.'s Am. Mem. Opp'n Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. (“Pl.'s Opp'n”) at 15-16, ECF No. 39. The defendants have now filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 32, on the remaining tortious interference claim, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a). For the reasons explained below, the defendants' motion is granted.[2]

         I. BACKGROUND

         The factual background for the plaintiff's allegations has been previously summarized based on the Complaint, see Easaw, 253 F.Supp.3d at 24-25, but is supplemented here following almost nine months of discovery. The plaintiff began working for AARP in 2011 as a Corporate Engagement Management Director. Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. A, Decl. of Audrey Easaw (“Pl.'s Decl.”) ¶¶ 3-4, ECF No. 36-2.[3] The plaintiff's troubles appear to have started in the fall of 2015, as AARP began shifting the plaintiff's responsibilities from her initial Corporate Engagement Management Director position to a different role in a new department called AARP Experience (“AARPx”). The facts associated with the plaintiff's transitioning role and AARP's eventual decision to terminate the plaintiff's employment are detailed below.

         A. The Plaintiff's Initial Role as Corporate Engagement Management Director

          In the fall of 2015, AARP began reducing the plaintiff's responsibilities as Corporate Engagement Management Director. Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. B, Pl.'s Resps. Defs.' First Set Interrogs. and Req. Produc. Docs. (“Pl.'s Resps. Interrogs.”) at 10, ECF No. 36-3. Ultimately, AARP decided to eliminate the Corporate Engagement Management Director position. Pl.'s Resps. Interrogs. at 10; Defs.' Statement Material Facts (“Defs.' SMF”) ¶ 5 (undisputed), ECF No. 32-2; Defs.' Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. (“Defs.' Mem.”), Ex. 1, Ed O'Day Dep. (“O'Day Dep.”) at 24, ECF No. 32-3. The defendants were not involved in the decision to eliminate the Corporate Engagement Management Director role. Pl.'s Resps. Interrogs. at 10; Defs.' SMF ¶ 5 (undisputed); O'Day Dep. at 24.

         B. The Plaintiff's Work in the AARPx Department

         In August 2015, around the same time that AARP began reducing the plaintiff's role as Corporate Engagement Management Director, AARP began creating a new department called AARPx. Pl.'s Resps. Interrogs. at 8-10. AARP retained Ms. Newport and her company, Calade Partners, to provide consulting services for the creation of AARPx. Defs.' SMF ¶ 6; Defs.' Mem. at 1, ECF No. 32-1. The plaintiff also started to work on AARPx, and she spent most of her time as the acting “AARP Experience Management Director” due to AARP's “organizational need.” Pl.'s Resps. Interrogs. at 9-10.

         The plaintiff worked with Ms. Newport to help “stand up” AARPx, and shortly after that, in the plaintiff's view, Ms. Newport developed a habit of speaking to the plaintiff in an abrasive and disrespectful tone. Pl.'s Decl. ¶¶ 6-7. In October 2015, the plaintiff spoke to Ms. Newport about her tone, explained her approach to leading and managing assignments, and said that Ms. Newport should speak to her in a respectful manner. Id. ¶ 7. Ms. Newport responded, “I get it.” Id. The plaintiff also raised her concerns about Ms. Newport's approach to Ed O'Day, the then-interim SVP for AARPx. Id.

         After the plaintiff's conversation with Ms. Newport about her tone, the plaintiff felt that Ms. Newport expressed an abrupt “coolness” toward her. Id. Ms. Newport provided feedback about the plaintiff's work to the plaintiff's supervisors, including negative comments. For instance, Ms. Newport told Michelle Musgrove, who supervised some of the plaintiff's work on AARPx, that “apparently deliverable date commitments aren't something [plaintiff] thinks are a priority.” Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. D, Email from Def. to Michelle Musgrove, Nov. 3, 2015, at 2, ECF No. 36-5; Defs.' Mem., Ex. 3, Jim Pendergast Dep. (“Pendergast Dep.”) at 7, ECF No. 32-5. Ms. Newport also privately emailed another AARP employee, David Wickenden, whose position is unclear, criticizing “brand promise” language circulated by the plaintiff. Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. F, Email from Def. to David Wickenden, Jan. 12, 2016, at 19-20, ECF No. 36-7. At the same time, Ms. Newport provided positive comments about the plaintiff's work, including, for example, telling Ms. Musgrove about a slide created by the plaintiff: “I like the start of this slide . . . thoughts?” Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. F, Email from Def. to Michelle Musgrove, Nov. 16, 2015 (“Nov. 16, 2015 Email”), at 23, ECF No. 36-7.

         C. The Plaintiff's Attempt to Obtain a Permanent Position in AARPx

         From January through March 2016, the plaintiff noticed delayed or no responses to her emails or requests to Ms. Newport and Ms. Musgrove, as well as her exclusion from AARPx meetings. Pl.'s Decl. ¶ 10. In mid-March 2016, Mr. O'Day told the plaintiff that AARP was rewriting the job description for AARPx Management Director. Id. ¶ 11. The plaintiff then learned that she could obtain a permanent position in AARPx in two ways: (1) she could either be “slotted” in, or retain, her then-current position; or (2) she could apply for a position if AARP did not “slot” her. Pl.'s Decl. ¶ 11; O'Day Dep. at 15, 17-18; Pendergast Dep. at 22. Eligibility for the first option allowing the plaintiff to retain her position was contingent on AARP determining that she was already completing 70% of the work in the finalized AARPx Management Director job description. Pl.'s Decl. ¶ 11; Pl.'s Resps. Interrogs. at 3-4; O'Day Dep. at 15, 17-18.

         AARP Human Resources determined, after the job description was finalized by AARP, that the plaintiff was not performing 70% of the duties. O'Day Dep. at 17-18. Therefore, AARP did not retain the plaintiff in the AARPx Management Director role. Id.

         At the suggestion of Mr. O'Day, the plaintiff spoke to Jim Pendergast, the incoming SVP of AARPx. Pl.'s Decl. ¶¶ 9, 12-13. Mr. Pendergast informed the plaintiff that she could apply for jobs in AARPx once posted, and that she would be considered through that process. Pendergast Dep. at 8-9, 22. The plaintiff never applied for any posted AARPx position, however. Defs.' Mem., Ex. 2, Pl.'s Dep. (“Pl. Dep.”) at 13, ECF No. 32-4.

         Ms. Newport worked with Mr. Pendergast on staffing for AARPx, see Pl.'s Resps. Interrogs. at 3-6; Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. D, Email from Jim Pendergast, May 6, 2016 (“May 6, 2016 Email”), at 5-6, ECF No. 36-5; Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. F, Email from Def. to James Pendergast, May 25, 2016 (“May 25, 2016 Email”), at 2, ECF No. 36-7, but Ms. Newport testified under oath that she neither discussed with anyone at AARP the elimination of the plaintiff's job, nor recommended termination of the plaintiff, Defs.' Mem., Ex. 4, Debbie Newport Dep. (“Newport Dep.”) at 3-4, ECF No. 32-6. Ms. Newport's testimony on these latter points is corroborated by Mr. Pendergast, who was involved in staffing AARPx, Pendergast Dep. at 10-12, and the plaintiff testified at her deposition that no one from AARP told her that Ms. Newport advised that she should be fired, Pl. Dep. at 13.

         On May 16, 2016, Mr. O'Day told the plaintiff that she would be displaced from employment with AARP, effective July 8, 2016. Pl.'s Decl. ¶ 15. At the plaintiff's request, AARP extended her termination date until August 1, 2016, so that the ...


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