United States District Court, District of Columbia
S. CHUTKAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Qian Ye brings this suit for discrimination based on national
origin, race, and sex pursuant to the Congressional
Accountability Act, 2 U.S.C. §§ 1302(a), 1311(a),
which applies Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42
U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., to offices in the
legislative branch. Defendant Office of the Senate Sergeant
at Arms (SAA), has moved for summary judgment. For the
reasons set forth below, the court will GRANT SAA's
former SAA employee and woman of Chinese origin, alleges that
SAA suspended her for one week without pay and ultimately
terminated her employment because of her national origin,
race, and sex. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 71-80, ECF No. 16.
Ye claims that her co-worker and team lead, Cris Benge,
“begged management to get rid of [her] because he was
uncomfortable working with someone who was not white.”
Opp'n to Mot. for Summ. J. at 17, ECF No. 35. Ye admits
that no SAA supervisor made a disparaging comment in her
presence about her national origin, race, or sex, Pl.'s
Resp. to SOF ¶ 13, ECF No. 35-1, but points to several
instances that she claims show Benge's discriminatory
animus towards her, Opp'n to Mot. for Summ J. at 15- 19.
SAA, however, claims that it suspended and terminated Ye
because of her continuous acts of insubordination.
Employment Background and Reporting Structure
began working for SAA on July 21, 2014 as a Senior Systems
Engineer, responsible for maintaining and supporting
SAA's SQL databases. Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 1, 3-4.
Benge began working at SAA in August 2015 as a Principal
Systems Engineer, and was also appointed as the team lead,
responsible for project planning and giving direction to Ye.
Id. ¶¶ 18, 23-24. Ye and Benge comprised
the SQL team, which was a part of the Enterprise Database
Support group (“EDS”). Id. ¶¶
6, 14-18. At all relevant times, Bryan Steward was Ye's
second-line supervisor and Jay Moore was her third-line
supervisor. Id. ¶¶ 8, 12. Chris Molander
was Ye's first-line supervisor until late July 2016, when
he took indefinite medical leave. Id. ¶¶
7, 9. According to SAA, Steward became Ye's first-line
supervisor at that time. Id. ¶ 11. Ye claims
that Anthony Golding was her acting supervisor for several
weeks before Steward became her interim first-line
supervisor. Ye Dep. 22:12-23:19, Ex. 1, ECF No. 36-1.
Alleged Discriminatory Animus
alleges that Benge harbored discriminatory animus towards
her, based on his complaints to management and human
resources department (HR) about her, criticism of her written
communications, and comments he made in an e-mail exchange
between himself and another SAA employee. See
generally Opp'n to Mot. for Summ. J.
Benge's Complaints to Management and HR
claims that in complaints to management and HR, Benge
“falsely accused her of misconduct and unprofessional
behavior.” Opp'n to Mot. for Summ. J. at 15.
in or around June 2016, Benge filed an HR complaint against
Ye, in which he claimed that Ye (1) challenged team decisions
and implemented changes contrary to those decisions; (2)
temporarily removed Benge's access to certain systems and
failed to properly communicate with the team within the last
year; and (3) called Benge insulting names such as “SQL
Master, ” “flim flam man, ” “liar,
” and “lawyer.” Ex. 23, ECF No. 36-23. HR
conducted an investigation and concluded that Ye's
conduct was “unprofessional . . . [but did] not
constitute harassment or a hostile work environment.”
Criticisms of Ye's Written Communication
Ye claims that Benge “repeatedly made fun of [her]
grammar and written communication.” Opp'n to Mot.
for Summ. J. at 17-19. For example, in July 2016 Benge and a
colleague, Sharif Akand, had an instant message conversation
about Benge's intended resignation. Ex. 25, ECF No.
36-25. Akand told Benge that Ye informed him by e-mail that
“he resigned” without specifying who she was
talking about, to which Benge responded “oh, she
didn't specify any context? World class communicator,
that one.” Id. Benge testified at his
deposition that he had also criticized Ye's written
communication skills when her understanding of comma usage
led to an incorrect understanding of an error message. Benge
Dep. 104:10- 105:3, Ex. 5, ECF No. 36-5.
Garrison's E-Mail to Benge
Ye points to a September 12, 2016 e-mail exchange between
Benge and Richard Garrison in which they discussed
Benge's difficulties with Ye and Garrison's
difficulties with another female Asian employee named
Dung. Opp'n to Mot. for Summ. J. at 16; Ex.
17, ECF No. 36-17. Benge wrote “I really don't see
[management] terminating her, and if she were going to choose
to leave she likely would have already given everything
that's transpired against her position.” Ex. 17,
ECF No. 36-17. Ye contends this comment indicates that Benge
tried to force her to quit. Opp'n to Mot. for Summ. J. at
11, ¶ 60. In his response to Benge, Garrison wrote
“[s]ome things are inherently cultural, but I believe a
lot that you and I are dealing with are more character basic
things that were never addressed throughout [Ye and
Dung's] life.” Ex. 17, ECF No. 36-17.
Ye's Alleged Insubordination
counters Ye's claims of discriminatory animus by pointing
to four instances of her alleged insubordination that it says
were part of a pattern that led to her suspension and
ultimate termination. See Mot. for Summ. J, ECF No.
EDS Group Meeting and Counseling Memorandum
14, 2016, Ye, Benge, and Molander attended an EDS group
meeting. Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 25-26. Ye began to speak
about a technical disagreement between her and Benge and
tried to get Molander to vote on the resolution to a
technical issue that had previously been debated at length.
Id. ¶¶ 28-30. Though Ye claims that
management had not yet made a decision, Pl.'s Resp. to
SOF ¶ 29, Benge had already made a technical
decision on the issue, and SAA contends that Ye tried to get
those present at the meeting to overrule Benge's
decision, Def.'s SOF ¶ 30. Molander told Ye that
discussing the issue was inappropriate at the EDS meeting,
and that “she should defer the discussion until the
SQL-team only meeting scheduled for later that day.”
Id. ¶ 31. SAA claims that Molander asked Ye to
defer the conversation three times, and she refused to do so
until his third request. Id. ¶¶ 31-36.
According to Ye, Molander “interrupted her, banged his
hands on the table, and yelled, “‘Stop, stop,
stop!'” Pl's Resp. to SOF ¶ 31. Ye also
claims that she did not know about the SQL-team only meeting
scheduled for later and that Molander later admitted that he
had not yet invited her to the meeting. Id.
¶¶ 31, 37.
that day, Molander verbally counseled Ye about her behavior
during the meeting, and on June 20, 2016, Steward delivered a
written Counseling Memorandum to Ye that was partly based on
her insubordinate behavior during the June 14 meeting and
warned her that further failure to follow orders could result
in disciplinary action. Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 37-38,
45. Ye denied any wrongdoing or insubordination. Pl.'s
Resp. to SOF ¶ 44. The Counseling Memorandum instructed
Ye to “[s]upport and abide by the technical decisions
made by [her] team lead, ” and to “not continue
to debate or express [her] disagreement once [she] has
provided [her] input and technical decisions are made.”
Ex. 6, ECF 30-6.
Unauthorized Changes to Folder Paths During Data
summer, as part of SAA's migration of data from one
storage solution to another, Benge decided to clean up an
inconsistency he believed existed in some folder paths and
informed Ye of his plan for doing so. Def.'s SOF
¶¶ 46-51. Although Ye thought Benge's plan was
inefficient, according to SAA, the SQL team ultimately
selected Benge's solution after discussion among Ye,
Benge, and management. Id. ¶¶ 52-55. Ye
denies that the SQL team selected Benge's plan. Pl.'s
Resp. to SOF ¶ 55.
Ye's employment at SAA, these types of changes were
typically coded and tested in SAA's “development
environments”-a set of SQL databases that does not
support publicly accessible websites-before being implemented
in the “production environment” -a set of SQL
databases that supports publicly accessible Senate websites.
Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 58-61. Benge implemented the
changes in the development environment in May 2016, and Ye
claims that these changes resulted in errors in the
development environment. Id. ¶ 62; Pl.'s
Resp. to SOF ¶¶ 62, 64. While Benge was out of the
office, Ye was asked to migrate the data in the production
environment. Def.'s SOF ¶ 65. According to SAA,
Benge provided Ye with detailed ...