United States District Court, District of Columbia
SAMUEL C. WILLIAMS, IV, Plaintiff,
SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION, Defendant.
S. CHUTKAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Samuel C. Williams, IV sued his former employer, the
Smithsonian Institution, alleging race discrimination and
retaliation for protected activity under Title VII of the
Civil Rights Act of 1964. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 56, the Smithsonian moves for summary judgment on
both claims. ECF No. 37. For the reasons set forth below, the
court will GRANT the Smithsonian's motion.
who is African American, was employed by the Smithsonian as a
Management and Program Analyst (MPA) in the Systems
Engineering Division, Work Management Center (WMC), Office of
Facilities Management & Reliability (OFMR), between
November 2012 and August 2013. ECF No. 37 (“Def.'s
Stmt. Mat. Facts”) ¶¶ 1, 36.
Williams applied for the MPA position, WMC Supervisor Enos
Scragg required him to complete two evaluations: an Excel
assessment and a writing sample. ECF No. 39-1, Ex. D
(“Williams Dep.”) at 15:25-16:19. The posting
announcing the vacant position, however, did not indicate
that any tests were necessary. ECF No. 39-1 (“Pl.'s
Ex. A”) at 000003. Scragg, who is Caucasian, hired
Williams and became his supervisor in the WMC. Def.'s
Stmt. Mat. Facts ¶ 1. Williams' employment at the
Smithsonian was subject to a one-year probationary period,
which the Smithsonian uses “to determine the fitness of
the employee and shall terminate his services during this
period if s/he fails to demonstrate fully his qualifications
for continued employment.” Id. ¶ 2.
During Williams' first year at the Smithsonian, his
supervisor was to “continually assess [his] performance
during [the] probationary period and may make a determination
regarding [his] continued employment at any time during the
probationary period.” Id. Williams was
informed that the probationary period was “a highly
significant and final step in the examining process.”
Management Project Analyst Position
OFMR provides maintenance, repair, and other building
services to more than 400 facilities owned by the
Smithsonian. Id. ¶ 3. Within the OFMR, the WMC
is the “key work control point for distributing and
tracking facilities work throughout the Institution.”
ECF No. 37-9. Specifically, the WMC uses a computerized
maintenance management system (CMMS) to manage service
requests, maintain equipment inventories, schedule equipment
testing and inspection, track labor, materials, venders, and
contractors, and manage required data and status update
reports for Smithsonian facilities in the Washington, D.C.
area. Def 's Stmt. Mat. Facts ¶ 4. An MPA in the WMC
performs “detailed-critical work” that requires
close attention to ongoing tasks and near-perfect accuracy.
Id. ¶ 5.
performance plan in the WMC had five elements: (1) analysis
and management of computerized maintenance management system
processes and activities; (2) customer service and unit staff
support; (3) analysis and management of program performance;
(4) safety, health, and security; and (5) professional
development and teamwork. Id. ¶ 6. The first
element required that Williams “[c]onduct highly
complex, non-routine entry or corrections to data records
lacking defined procedures as needed or requested, ”
demonstrate a “minimal need for supervisory direction,
” and meet a minimum accuracy level of 95 percent.
Id. ¶ 7. The second element required Williams
to “[s]erve as CMMS subject matter expert on all
scheduled maintenance activities and associated
processes.” Id. ¶ 8. The third element
required “the effective use of queries, pivot tables,
formulas and macros in work assignments resulting accuracy
[sic] and consistent output during the performance
period.” Id. ¶ 9. The parties do not
focus on the specific requirements of the fourth and fifth
elements of Williams' performance plan.
Williams' Job Performance
the first few months that Williams worked at the Smithsonian,
he processed tickets for facility maintenance, which would
“come in by the hundreds” daily. Williams Dep. at
35:23-25. The parties dispute whether the ticketing work was
included in Williams' duties, or whether customer service
representatives were supposed to complete these assignments.
ECF No. 39 (“Pl.'s Opp'n”) at 3; ECF No.
40 (“Def.'s Reply”) at 4-5. Williams also
asserts that he was responsible for completing more of the
ticketing work than other MPAs. Williams Dep. at 35:7-37:8.
after Williams began working in the WMC, Scragg found that
Williams' “Excel skill set was weak.”
Def.'s Stmt. Mat. Facts ¶ 10. In addition to
discussing Williams' work performance with him on a
“daily and weekly basis, ” Scragg held weekly
meetings with WMC staff, including Williams, during which
Scragg discussed employees' work request statistics and
accuracy rates. Id. ¶¶ 11-12. John Kerns,
Williams' co-worker and the WMC team lead, also observed
errors with Williams' work involving job plans and
preventative maintenance schedules. Id. ¶ 13.
Williams' mid-year performance appraisal on April 16,
2013, Scragg informed him that his accuracy rate was 94
percent, just below the established minimum accuracy rating
of 95 percent required by his performance plan. Id.
¶¶ 15, 17. Scragg noted that Williams'
performance was “developing well” and,
notwithstanding Williams' accuracy rating, was
“confident [Williams was] the right person for this
role.” ECF No. 37-16 (“Def.'s Ex. 16”)
at 9. Scragg instructed Williams to focus on improving his
accuracy, self-reviewing his work, and reviewing standard
operating procedures. Id.
April 16, 2013, and July 17, 2013, Williams' accuracy
rate decreased to 90.6 percent and his average response time
doubled, from 0.09 hours to 0.18 hours. Def.'s Stmt. Mat.
Facts ¶¶ 17, 20. During this period, Williams had
the lowest accuracy rating in the WMC by 7.6 percent.
Id. ¶ 22. He and one other employee were tied
for the longest response time. Id. ¶ 23.
around late June or early July 2013, Scragg held Williams
responsible for major data errors in preventative maintenance
schedule plans. Id. ¶ 26. Before leaving for a
vacation, Williams produced 73 job plans, but did not review
his work. Id. ¶¶ 26-27. The errors in the
plans caused the WMC to lose approximately one week of work
product, generated confusion throughout the Smithsonian, and
took four weeks to fully correct. Id. ¶¶
28-29. Williams claimed that a system error was responsible
for the erroneous work product. Williams Dep. at 66:3-73:19.
Dan Boyle, a co-worker, told Williams that the error
“was a systems malfunction rather than a user
error.” Id. at 72:14-16.
acknowledged that systemic issues were the underlying cause
of the error, but he contended that Williams, who was
expected to be an expert in the system, should have quickly
identified the error had he reviewed his work and followed
standard operating procedures. Id. ¶ 30;
Williams Dep. at 72:25-73:19. Williams then e-mailed Scragg
on July 5, 2013 to request a copy of the relevant standard
operating procedures. Id. at 73:21-75:10; Pl.'s
Ex. A at 000041- 42. In response, Scragg explained that
“[t]he procedure I referred to is the standing
expectation that any work done is reviewed for errors. If you
had double checked the job plans you created to verify the
procedures and work tasks had been generated properly, the
system error would have been discovered sooner.”
Pl.'s Ex. A at 000041. Williams' attempts to address
the errors contained mistakes that other WMC employees
subsequently had to correct. Def.'s Stmt. Mat. Facts
Scragg's Use of Pre-Employment Tests and Williams'
Exchanges with Katherine Simenton
after he was hired by the Smithsonian, Williams requested a
copy of his pre-employment test results from Katherine
Simenton, in the Personnel Unit of the Business Operations
Division of the OFMR. Pl.'s Ex. A at 000003. Simenton
informed him that no tests were required for his position.
Id. Scragg states he requested that applicants
complete the two assessments because the skills they tested
were important to the MPA position. Def.'s Mot. S.J. at
16; ECF No. 37-10 (“Scragg Dep.”) at 54:1-6,
59:4-61:21. Scragg also asserts that each time he was the
hiring official for a vacant position, he requested that
every applicant submit the same information, including the
pre-employment tests. Id. at 51:7-12; 128:15-21.
assisting with an interview panel for a vacant MPA position
in or around May 2013, Williams heard Scragg, the hiring
official, ask an African American applicant if the applicant
had submitted a written test. Pl.'s Ex. A at 000003.
After the candidate refused to complete the tests on the
grounds that they were not required by the vacancy posting,
Scragg instructed the panel to remove the candidate's
name from the pool of applicants. Id. Tamia Rush,
who is also African American, was ultimately hired to fill
the position. Id. She later told Williams that she
had been required only to submit a writing sample during the
application process. Id. Scragg claims that, by this
time, he had decided to eliminate the Excel component of the
assessment “because he lost faith that he was getting
accurate results.” Scragg Dep. at 56:6-12. Scragg later
discontinued the writing sample as well. Id. at
early July 2013, Williams, allegedly confused by how Scragg
handled the system malfunction issue and concerned by the
“disparity in job requirements, ” spoke to
Simenton about the pre-employment tests and “expressed
to her his belief it was discriminatory.” Pl.'s Ex.
A at 000003. Simenton told him that Scragg had previously
been informed that the two evaluations fell outside of the
Smithsonian's Office of Personnel Management's
guidelines. Id. On July 9, 2013, Williams met with
Simenton to “discuss inconsistencies with
pre-employment tests that were given to Tamia Rush . . . and
[himself].” Id. at 000014. During this
conversation, Simenton reiterated that such tests were
prohibited unless included on the position announcement and
said she had informed Scragg that pre-employment testing was
“illegal.” Williams Dep. at 124:2-125:17. Later
that day, Scragg stopped at Williams' cubicle while
Williams was talking to co-worker Chris Butler. Pl.'s Ex.
A at 000033. Scragg remarked, “What kind of trouble are
you troublemakers getting into?” Id. When
Williams and Butler asked what Scragg meant, Scragg
“replied with a snicker and walked off.”
Williams' Termination from the Smithsonian
Williams' unsatisfactory performance as an MPA and his
inability to accept responsibility for errors in his work,
Scragg notified Williams on July 23, 2013 that he would be
terminated from his employment at the Smithsonian prior to
the end of his probationary period.Scragg Dep. at 82:20-83:3.
Scragg had previously discussed the decision to fire Williams
with Scragg's supervisor, Kendra Gastright, the OFMR
director. Def.'s Stmt. Mat. Facts ¶ 35; Pl.'s
Ex. A at 000003. Williams' termination became effective
August 6, 2013. Def.'s Stmt. Mat. Facts ¶ 36.
29, 2013, six days after Williams received notification of
his termination, he sought counseling from an Equal
Employment Opportunity (“EEO”) counselor at the
Smithsonian. Id. ¶ 38. He subsequently filed a
formal complaint with the Smithsonian's Office of Equal
Employment and Minority Affairs (“OEEMA”), the
agency's EEO office, on March 10, 2014. Id.
¶ 39. In his complaint, Williams claimed he had been
subject to discrimination on the basis of race when Scragg
required him to take two pre-employment tests. Id.
¶ 40. Williams also submitted a retaliation complaint,
alleging that he was fired because he had expressed concerns
about Scragg's use of the pre-employment assessments.
Id. ¶ 42. OEEMA completed its investigation and
issued its Report of Investigation to Williams (included in
the record) on September 11, 2014. Id. ¶ 51.
Additionally, Williams filed a complaint with the U.S. Office
of Special Counsel, reiterating the claims that he made in
his EEO complaint. ECF No. 37-6 at 181:2-15. After conducting
an initial investigation, the Office of Special Counsel
elected not to take further action. ECF No. 37-30.
Smithsonian previously filed a motion to dismiss
Williams' retaliation claim and his claim that the
Smithsonian denied him training opportunities on account of
race. ECF No. 6. The court dismissed Williams'
failure-to-train claim because Williams conceded that he had
failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. Williams
v. Smithsonian Inst., 177 F.Supp.3d 331, 334 (D.D.C.
2016). The court denied the Smithsonian's motion to
dismiss the retaliation claim, finding that Williams had
established a prima facie case for retaliation. Id.
at 6. The Smithsonian has now moved for summary judgment on
Williams' remaining discrimination and retaliation
claims, ECF No. 37.