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Cooper v. Nielsen

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 19, 2019

TOSHIA COOPER, Plaintiff,
v.
KIRSTJEN NIELSEN et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          AMY BERMAN JACKSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff, appearing pro se, filed this action against her former employer, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et. seq., alleging race discrimination, retaliation, hostile work environment, harassment and wrongful termination. On March 29, 2018, the Court granted defendant's motion for partial relief under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), dismissed the retaliation claim, and directed plaintiff to file a revised version of her complaint to clarify the remaining claims and to “eliminate any retaliation allegations.” Mem. Op. and Order at 5-8, 11 [Dkt. # 19] (Cooper I). Plaintiff has filed an Amended Complaint “for Harassment, Hostile Work Environment and Wrongful Termination Discrimination” [Dkt. # 20], and defendant has moved to dismiss or for summary judgment. See Second Mot. to Dismiss or in the Alternative for Summ. J. [Dkt. # 22].

         The Court finds (1) that defendant has advanced legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for the actionable employment decision, which plaintiff has not adequately refuted; and (2) that plaintiff's hostile work environment claim is factually unsupported. So, the Court will grant summary judgment to defendant for the reasons explained more fully below.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff is an African American woman who worked for FEMA as a GS-7 legal secretary from October 22, 2011, to April 19, 2013, when she was terminated. Plaintiff was assigned to the Office of the Chief Counsel's Mission Support Division and, beginning in December 2011, was supervised by Deputy Chief Counsel Ashley Darbo. Working full-time, plaintiff provided administrative support to various attorneys, see Def.'s Stmt. of Material Facts as to Which There is No Genuine Dispute (“Def.'s Facts”) ¶ 4 [Dkt. # 23], but it is Darbo's alleged behavior that gave rise to this action.

         A. Amended Claims

         In her two-count Amended Complaint [Dkt. # 20], plaintiff elaborates on the actions alleged in the initial complaint, including in large part those supporting the dismissed retaliation claim. Plaintiff summarizes the claims as follows:

         Count One: Harassment Discrimination in Violation of Title VII 1. Harassment Claim

1 - On June 5, 2012, Plaintiff's supervisor adversely punished the Plaintiff and reduced her one- hour lunch to 30 min lunch break because she engaged in Protected activity on June 5th and she suffered adverse isolation and discrimination and was singled out, despite other employees allowed a one-hour lunch.
2. Harassment Claim 2 - On June 5, 2012, Plaintiff's supervisor also falsely adversely informed the Plaintiff that she was not entitled to two 15-minute breaks because there were no such breaks because she engaged in Protected activity June 5th and she suffered adverse isolation and discrimination.
3. Harassment Claim 3 - On June 14, 2012 the next following week Ms. Darbo continued to punish and harass the Plaintiff and adversely used the Plaintiff flexible work schedule benefits against her and falsely accused the Plaintiff of “Gaming the system”, and “Arriving late and leaving early” and [sic] implication of stealing government hours, because she engaged in Protected activity on June 5th and she suffered adverse isolation, humiliation and discrimination[.]
4. Harassment Claim 4 - Letter of Reprimand - On March 7, 2013 the Plaintiff received an adverse Letter of Reprimand for sending an enveloped package in overnight mail to a judge after she/Plaintiff was given signed authorization from Ms. Darbo to overnight because the Plaintiff engaged in Protected activity on June 5th and she suffered adverse ridicule, isolation and discrimination.

         Am. Compl. at 17, 18. And,

Count Three: Hostile Work Environment Discrimination in Violation of Title VII
1. Hostile Abusive Environment Claim 1 - Plaintiff ordered to time her work within her weekly work summary. On June 15, 2012 Ms. Darbo ordered the Plaintiff to time her work assignment as if she was billing a client in a law firm received from 8 attorneys she supported. (material adverse action).
2. Hostile Abusive Environment Claim 2 - On April 9, 2013 Plaintiff was brought to tears when enforced to use her personal sick leave for visiting the FEMA nurse and falsely advised that vising the nurse was like “going to a personal doctor's appointment” (material adverse action).
3. Hostile Abusive Environment Claim 3 - Plaintiff was rebelled against excused absence/administrative leave for visiting the FEMA nurse. On April 19, 2013 Plaintiff supervisor adversely resisted approving Plaintiff timesheet, ordering to use her personal sick leave instead and she cried. Plaintiff engaged in another protective activity and challenged her supervisor by going to HR to enforce proper administrative leave approval within Plaintiff's timesheet for vising the site nurse (material adverse action).
4. Hostile Abusive Environment Claim 4 - April 19, 2013 Plaintiff was adversely withheld from her annual performance rating including a review (immediately after Plaintiff engaged in another protected opposition re: HR challenge to approve ...

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