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Varnado v. Save The Children

United States District Court, District of Columbia

May 21, 2019

M. ISABEL VARNADO, Plaintiff,
v.
SAVE THE CHILDREN, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          TREVOR N. McFADDEN, U.S.D.J.

         M. Isabel Varnado has sued her former employer, Save the Children, alleging a hostile work environment and racial discrimination. Save the Children now moves for summary judgment. For the following reasons, the Court will grant its motion.

         I.

         As the Court must at this stage, it sets out the facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff. McCready v. Nicholson, 465 F.3d 1, 7 (D.C. Cir. 2006).

         Save the Children is a non-governmental organization that provides relief and support to children around the world. Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (“DMF”), ECF No. 21-2 ¶ 1; Pl.'s Resp. Mot. in Opp. (“Pl.'s Mot.”), ECF No. 24 at 1.[1] Within Save the Children, U.S. Programs Finance (“USP Finance”) is responsible for managing (1) grants from outside donors and (2) sub-award contracts with schools and community programs. DMF ¶ 6, Pl.'s Mot. at 12.

         Save the Children hired Ms. Varnado, who is African American, to be an Associate Director of Financial and Sub-Award Management within USP Finance. Pl.'s Mot. at 3, 5. During her first performance review, Ms. Varnado received positive feedback from her supervisor, Juliana Brannan. Id. at 2. The next month, a finance manager on Ms. Varnado's team gave notice, and Save the Children tried to hire someone temporarily to cover that manager's immediate responsibilities. Pl.'s Mot. at 5. When that proved difficult, Ms. Varnado offered to take on the role to learn more about it, and she moved to Lexington, Kentucky, to do so. Id. Upon arrival, she received training from another finance manager about the role. Id.

         Even in Ms. Varnado's telling, this arrangement was not a happy one. First, Ms. Varnado was late to a conference call about her finance manager responsibilities. Id. Then, she had issues using a risk assessment tool. Id. More, she claims that she was not properly trained for her role as a finance manager. Id. at 6. Ultimately Save the Children fired her. Id. at 6.

         After receiving her Notice of Right to Sue Letter from the EEOC, Ms. Varnado, proceeding pro se, sued Save the Children. Compl. at 2. She claims that Save the Children (1) subjected her to a hostile work environment and (2) racially discriminated against her when it fired her. See generally Compl. at 2.

         II.

         To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, a movant must show that “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986). A factual dispute is material if it could alter the outcome of the suit under the substantive governing law. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. A dispute about a material fact is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. “[A] party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the movant makes this showing, the non-moving party bears the burden of setting forth “specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250.

         “A document filed pro se is to be liberally construed.” Abdelfattah v. U.S. Dep't of Homeland Sec., 787 F.3d 524, 533 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007)). When a pro se plaintiff brings an action, a district court has an obligation “to consider his filings as a whole before dismissing a complaint, ” Schnitzler v. United States, 761 F.3d 33, 38 (D.C. Cir. 2014), because such complaints are held “to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972).

         III.

         A.

         According to Ms. Varnado, she was subjected to a hostile work environment at Save the Children. Pl.'s Mot. at 6. To support this claim, she points to three specific conversations with her supervisor, Ms. Brannan:

• When Ms. Brannan met Ms. Varnado for the first time, Ms. Brannan remarked “you're not at all like ...

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