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Mitchell v. Powell

United States District Court, District of Columbia

December 24, 2018

GWENDOLYN MITCHELL, Plaintiff,
v.
JEROME H. POWELL, [1]Chair of the Federal Reserve Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Amit P. Mehta United States District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Gwendolyn Mitchell is the Manager of Metadata and Taxonomy Operations at the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, a position she has held for the past four years. Plaintiff, an African American woman, alleges discrimination by her employer on the basis of race and gender. First, she asserts that she was subjected to a hostile work environment by three of her co-workers, and that Defendant is liable for failing to act in response to her complaints. Second, she alleges that Defendant retaliated against her after she complained of this treatment by removing some of her responsibilities and transferring them to other employees. Finally, she maintains that the decision not to promote her to the role of Assistant Director was both discriminatory and in retaliation for her protected activity.

         Defendant seeks summary judgment as to all claims. For the reasons below, the court grants Defendant's motion as to Plaintiff's claims for hostile work environment and for non-promotion. However, Plaintiff's claim for the retaliatory removal of responsibilities can proceed to trial.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         Plaintiff Gwendolyn Mitchell is the Manager for Metadata and Taxonomy Operations in the Office of the Chief Data Officer (“OCDO”) at the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, a position she has held since January 2014. Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 15 [hereinafter Def.'s Mot.], Def.'s Stmt. of Uncontested Facts, ECF No. 15-2 [hereinafter Def.'s Facts], ¶ 1; Pl.'s Opp'n to Def.'s Mot., ECF No. 19 [hereinafter Pl.'s Opp'n], Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Facts, ECF No. 19-35 [hereinafter Pl.'s Facts] (uncontested); Def.'s Ex. A, ECF No. 15-3 [hereinafter Def.'s Ex. A]. A few months into her tenure, Plaintiff began to clash with another OCDO employee, Jeff Monica, the Assistant Director for Data Strategy and Policy. Pl.'s Opp'n at 3-9; Def.'s Ex. A. As an Assistant Director, Mr. Monica outranked Plaintiff, but did not act as her supervisor. Def.'s Mot. at 2; Pl.'s Opp'n at 3; Def.'s Ex. A. During the relevant period, both Plaintiff and Mr. Monica reported directly to Michael Kraemer, the Chief Data Officer. Def's Mot. at 2-3; Pl.'s Opp'n at 3; Def.'s Ex. A.

         Plaintiff recounts a series of incidents, starting in October 2014, in which Mr. Monica yelled at Plaintiff and made rude comments to her at work, often in public settings such as meetings. See, e.g., Pl.'s Opp'n, Pl.'s Ex. 27, ECF No. 19-27 [hereinafter Mitchell Decl.], ¶ 17 (“Jeff demanded that I assume the sole lead role of the Taxonomy work associated with his project and drafting a project charter because he wanted ‘one neck to choke.'”); id. (“[H]e began yelling that he didn't care about that and that he would influence what went into my performance appraisal.”); id. ¶ 19 (“Mr. Monica yelled at me rather than allowing me to explain what MDRM codes and what Fed names were and how important they were.”); id ¶ 20 (“Jeff yelled at me because he was upset about the progress of the Taxonomy project and continued to discount the taxonomy and metadata work of my team.”). According to Plaintiff, Mr. Monica's subordinates, Irena Zadonsky and Sridhar Dronamraju, also took actions to undermine Plaintiff's ability to do her job, including telling Plaintiff's subordinates not to work with her and excluding Plaintiff from meetings relevant to her work. See id. ¶ 31 (“Sridhar Dronamraju scheduled and attended EDI Lite kick-off meetings with the stakeholders without me . . . despite [my] obvious involvement in the program.”); id. ¶ 29 (“Irena Zadonsky instructed my subordinates not to complete the visual regarding data use at the Board[, a project which had been assigned to Plaintiff's team].”); id. ¶ 39 (“Irena Zandosky distributed an organizational chart relating to OCDO that relegated me to a subservient role in Enterprise Taxonomy Development.”); id. ¶ 40 (“Irena Zadonsky excluded me from a presentation by Patrick Lamb, an international taxonomy expert.”).

         Plaintiff also offers some evidence that Mr. Monica and his subordinates directed such behavior toward African American women in particular. See, e.g., Pl.'s Opp'n, Pl.'s Ex. 1, ECF No. 19-1, at 87 (responding to a deposition question as to when she was convinced that she had been subject to discrimination, Plaintiff replied that she became aware that the “behavior [was] being . . . directed at Yinka, Bunmi and myself [all of whom are African American women]”); Pl.'s Opp'n, Pl.'s Ex 2, ECF No. 19-2 [hereinafter Pl.'s Ex. 2], at 69-70 (describing an incident where Ms. Zadonsky yelled at Ms. Atkintade, an African American woman); Mitchell Decl. ¶ 20 (stating that Mr. Monica yelled at only Plaintiff at a meeting where Plaintiff and a white woman were updating Mr. Monica on a project).

         On October 6, 2015, Plaintiff and two colleagues met with Mr. Kraemer to discuss their concerns about the pattern of harassing behavior. Pl.'s Opp'n at 10; Pl.'s Ex. 1 at 92. At this meeting, Plaintiff and her colleagues discussed their belief that the behavior was motivated by discrimination based on race and sex.[2] Pl.'s Opp'n at 10; Pl.'s Ex. 1 at 92. Following this meeting, Defendant took no steps to address the issues raised. See Def.'s Facts (offering no examples of actions taken between October 6 and a second meeting on December 4, 2015); Def.'s Mot. (same); Def.'s Reply to Pl.'s Opp'n, ECF No. 23 [hereinafter Def.'s Reply] (same). Not surprisingly, Plaintiff continued to experience harassing behavior. In November of 2015, Mr. Monica yelled at Plaintiff in a meeting, and in a separate incident Ms. Zadonsky excluded Plaintiff and another African American female colleague from a meeting. Pl.'s Opp'n at 9, 12; Pl.'s Opp'n, Pl.'s Ex. 26, ECF No. 19-26 (email showing the exclusion from a meeting); Mitchell Decl. ¶ 33.

         Additionally, Plaintiff asserts that Mr. Kraemer engaged in retaliatory actions against her after she complained to him in October 2015. Specifically, she claims that he removed certain responsibilities from her purview or countenanced such action by Mr. Monica. See, e.g., Pl.'s Opp'n at 11 (“Mr. Kraemer approved the exclusion of Ms. Mitchell from the Enterprise Data Inventory Advisory Group.”); id. (“Mr. Kraemer allowed Jeffrey Monica to completely remove Ms. Mitchell's responsibility for the modernization of the MDRM codes and Fed names, which Ms. Mitchell had been overseeing.”); id. (“Mr. Kraemer also signed a memo supporting Mr. Monica's intention to decide all ‘future planning for MDRM coding and FEDnames/Nomenclature. . . '”).

         Plaintiff raised her concerns again on December 4, 2015, in a meeting with Mr. Kraemer and Donald Hammond, Mr. Kraemer's supervisor. Def.'s Mot., Def's Ex. P, ECF No. 15-18, at 5-6. No immediate actions were taken in response to the complaints. See Def.'s Facts (offering no examples of actions taken between the second meeting on December 4, 2015 and “early” 2016 when a consultant was hired to conduct a “climate assessment”); Def.'s Mot. (same); Def.'s Reply (same).

         In early 2016, Defendant hired a third-party contractor, ADR Vantage, to conduct a “climate assessment” of the OCDO. Def.'s Facts ¶ 27; Pl.'s Facts (uncontested). The parties dispute whether this was done in response to Plaintiff's complaints. Compare Def.'s Facts ¶ 27 (“[T]he OCDO engaged an outside consultant, ADR Vantage, to conduct a climate assessment . . . based on workplace tensions . . . including complaints raised by plaintiff in late 2015”) with Pl.'s Opp'n at 26 (“Mr. Kraemer contended at his deposition that [the climate assessment] was not conducted because of Ms. Mitchell's complaints of race discrimination.”). ADR Vantage released a summary report of its findings in June of 2016. Pl.'s Opp'n, Pl.'s Ex. 31, ECF No. 19-31. Defendant issued letters of reprimand based on the findings of the report to Mr. Monica, Ms. Zadonsky, and Mr. Dronamraju in August 2016. Id.; Pl.'s Opp'n, Pl.'s Ex. 32, ECF No. 19-32; Pl.'s Opp'n, Pl.'s Ex. 33, ECF No. 19-33.

         In the spring of 2016, before release of the climate assessment results, Plaintiff applied for a promotion to Assistant Director of Data Management Business Services, also in the OCDO. Def.'s Mot, Def.'s Ex. J, ECF No. 15-12; Def.'s Ex. A. Plaintiff was one of three finalists for the position. Def.'s Facts ¶ 24; Pl.'s Facts (uncontested). Defendant ultimately selected Phil Daher, a white male who had served as the Manager for Information Management at the Federal Reserve in another division for the preceding nine years. Def.'s Facts ¶ 17; Pl.'s Facts (uncontested); Def.'s Mot., Def.'s Ex. M, ECF No. 15-15.

         Plaintiff sought Equal Employment Opportunity counseling at the end of June 2016, and filed a formal administrative complaint in July of that year. Compl., ECF No. 1 [hereinafter Compl.], ¶ 4; Def.'s Answer, ECF No. 7, ¶ 4.

         B. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed her complaint in this case on January 27, 2017, alleging race and sex discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation under Title VII. See Compl. The parties conducted substantial discovery, and Defendant filed this ...


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