United States District Court, District of Columbia
GEORGIA A. STEWART, Plaintiff
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant
COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
an age discrimination and retaliation case brought by a
former employee of the District of Columbia Office of Human
Rights (“OHR”). Plaintiff Georgia Stewart alleges
that she was was discriminated against and ultimately
terminated due to her age and in retaliation for an earlier
discrimination complaint. Plaintiff brings this lawsuit
against the District of Columbia under the Age Discrimination
in Employment Act (“ADEA”) and Title VII of the
Civil Rights Act (“Title VII”).
the Court is Defendant District of Columbia's  Motion
for Summary Judgment. Defendant claims that it is entitled to
summary judgment on Plaintiff's retaliation claim because
Plaintiff has failed to establish causation between her 2013
discrimination complaint and her 2016 termination. Defendant
further claims that it is entitled to summary judgment on
Plaintiff's age discrimination claim as Plaintiff has
failed to produce evidence that Defendant's legitimate
reasons for terminating Plaintiff are pretextual and because
Plaintiff's allegations of a hostile work environment do
not state sufficiently severe or pervasive conduct.
consideration of the pleadings,  the relevant legal
authorities, and the record as a whole, the Court GRANTS
Defendant's motion. As to Plaintiff's retaliation
claim, the Court concludes that the almost three years
separating Plaintiff's 2013 discrimination charge from
her 2016 termination is too long a duration to infer
causation. And, Plaintiff has produced no other evidence
showing Defendant's proffered, non-retaliatory reasons
for its actions to be pretext for retaliation. Next,
considering Plaintiff's claim of age discrimination, the
Court concludes that Plaintiff has failed to show that
Defendant's proffered, non-discriminatory reasons for its
actions are pretextual, and Plaintiff has offered no evidence
connecting Defendant's actions to age discrimination.
Finally, in her Opposition to Defendant's Motion,
Plaintiff provides no support for her hostile work
environment claim, and the Court concludes that the claim
fails as a matter of law.
Georgia Stewart began her employment at the OHR in 1967.
Def.'s Stmt. of Undisputed Material Facts, ECF No. 25
(“Def.'s Stmt.”), at ¶ 2. During the
relevant time period, Plaintiff was the Manager of the
Mediation Unit at the OHR. Id. at ¶ 3.
January 2013, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with
the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
(“EEOC”). Id. at ¶ 6. In her
complaint, Plaintiff alleged that her supervisor and
then-Director of the OHR, Gustavo Valesquez, retaliated
against her for previously engaging in a protected activity.
Id. at ¶ 7.
November of 2013, Monica Palacio became the Interim Director
of the OHR and became the permanent Director in March 2014.
Id. at ¶ 8. Upon her appointment as Interim
Director, Ms. Palacio became Plaintiff's direct
supervisor. Id. at ¶ 9.
August 2015, Ms. Palacio submitted a request to the D.C.
Department of Human Resources and obtained a 10% increase to
Plaintiff's salary after Plaintiff informed Mr. Palacio
that she had not received a raise in several years.
Id. at ¶¶ 10-11. Ms. Palacio also approved
Plaintiff for a flexible work schedule. Id. at
Palacio states that she began to observe performance issues
with Plaintiff in early 2015 to early 2016. Def.'s Stmt.,
ECF No. 25, ¶ 13. As the Mediation Manager, Plaintiff
was responsible for maintaining and updating information
about mediations in the case management system called
“MATS.” Def.'s Stmt., ECF No. 25, ¶ 15.
When a complaint of discrimination is received by OHR, the
case goes through intake, mediation, and if necessary,
investigation, legal review, and conclusion. Id. at
¶ 17. It is crucial that MATS is updated regularly with
mediation information so that OHR's Investigations Unit
knows if a case has been settled or if an investigation is
needed. Id. at ¶ 20. Ms. Palacio determined
that the failure to regularly update MATS resulted in
inefficiencies in OHR's case management. Id. at
¶ 21. As a result, Ms. Palacio requested that Plaintiff
update MATS with mediation information within 24-48 hours of
mediation. Id. at ¶ 22. Plaintiff failed to
consistently update MATS in the timely manner requested.
Id. at ¶ 23. Plaintiff does not dispute this
failure, but instead argues that updating MATS in accord with
Ms. Palacio's request was not possible due to workload
constraints. Pl.'s Res., ECF No. 32, ¶ 23.
in approximately 2015 or 2016, Plaintiff requested an
additional administrative assistant to assist with the
workload. Def.'s Stmt., ECF No. 25, ¶ 41. But, Ms.
Palacio did not approve the request citing insufficient
funds. Id. at ¶ 42. Additionally, Plaintiff
already had a permanent administrative assistant. However,
this permanent administrative assistant also provided
coverage for the front desk on occasion. Id. at
addition to issues around MATS, Ms. Palacio further
determined that Plaintiff demonstrated poor judgment and
management of her staff. Id. at ¶ 26. As an
example of such mismanagement, when a full-time staff
mediator under Plaintiff's supervision resigned from the
OHR, she informed Ms. Palacio that Plaintiff had not assigned
her enough work. Id. at ¶ 27. Additionally, Ms.
Palacio determined that Plaintiff was relying too heavily on
contract mediators, rather than on staff mediators, costing
the agency additional money. Id. at ¶ 28. And,
Ms. Palacio also found that Plaintiff demonstrated poor
judgment in hiring an unqualified individual as a staff
mediator. Id. at ¶ 29. Plaintiff recommended
that this individual be hired; however, serious problems
emerged shortly after the hiring. Id. at ¶ 31.
These problems included that the individual slept in his
office, was disrespectful to Plaintiff, and could not use his
computer. Id. at ¶ 32. When Ms. Palacio
confronted Plaintiff about this individual, Plaintiff
admitted that she could not manage him. Id. at
¶ 33. Ms. Palacio requested that Plaintiff prepare a
memorandum about her concerns pertaining to this individual,
and Ms. Palacio terminated the individual's employment on
the basis of this information. Id. at ¶¶
Ms. Palacio determined that Plaintiff had difficulties
attending management and staff meetings and behaving
appropriately. Plaintiff failed to attend several regularly
scheduled management and staff meetings or would arrive late.
Id. at ¶¶ 36-37. Plaintiff contests
Defendant's argument, explaining that she failed to
attend these meetings due to participation in mediations.
Pl.'s Res., ECF No. 32, ¶ 36. But, in Ms.
Palacio's view, the failure to attend these meetings on
time was inexcusable as the meetings were regularly scheduled
for the first and second Tuesday of every month. Def.'s
Stmt., ECF No. 25, ¶ 37. Additionally, when Plaintiff
did attend meetings, she made unproductive and disrespectful
comments. Id. at ¶ 38. As an example, when Ms.
Palacio asked Plaintiff a question at a staff meeting with
approximately 40 employees, Plaintiff replied, “I
don't have to answer that.” Id. at ¶
September 20, 2016 memorandum, Ms. Palacio recommended
Plaintiff's termination. Id. at ¶ 56. In
the memorandum containing detailed examples, Ms. Palacio
requested termination based on (1) Plaintiff's failure
and refusal to follow case processing guidelines; (2)
Plaintiff's failure to attend management meetings or
collaborate with other managers; and (3) Plaintiff's poor
professional judgment and ineffective or wasteful management
decisions. Id. at ¶ 57. Plaintiff was notified
of her termination on September 30, 2016. Id. at
¶ 60. Plaintiff was replaced as Mediation Manager by an
existing OHR employee who was over 40 years old. Id.
at ¶¶ 61-62.
filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC and received a
right-to-sue letter on December 19, 2016. On March 17, 2017,
Plaintiff filed this lawsuit. On November 6, 2017, Court
dismissed Plaintiff's intentional infliction of emotional
distress claim and replaced the individual Defendants
Plaintiff had sued with the proper Defendant, the District of
Columbia. Nov. 6, 2017 Order, ECF No. 10. Following the
Court's Order, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint and
the parties engaged in discovery. On May 10, 2019, Defendant
filed for summary judgment. Defendant's Reply in Support
of its Motion for Summary Judgment included a request that
the Court strike or disregard seven exhibits relied upon by
Plaintiff in her Opposition to Defendant's Motion on the
grounds that Plaintiff did not produce such documents during
discovery. The Court ordered additional briefing so that
Plaintiff would have the opportunity to respond to
Defendant's allegation. As will be further explained
below, the Court concludes that Plaintiff committed a
discovery violation in failing to produce these documents and
that the documents should be disregarded. See Supra
Sec. III.A. However, throughout this opinion, where relevant,
the Court considers Plaintiff's non-produced documents
because they do not lead the Court to a different result.
addition to the above factual background, the Court also
notes the following three disputes of fact which the Court
concludes are either not material or not genuine. First,
Defendant states that, sometime in 2015, Ms. Palacio approved
a television for Plaintiff's office. Def.'s Stmt.,
ECF No. 25, ¶ 12. Plaintiff disputes the fact that Ms.
Palacio approved a television for her office and contends
that she already had a television in her office. Pl.'s
Res. to Def.'s Stmt. Of Undisputed Material Facts
(“Pl.'s Res.”), ECF No. 32, ¶ 12. The
Court concludes that this factual dispute is immaterial as
neither party relies on this fact as evidence proving or
disproving retaliation or age discrimination.
Defendant contends that Ms. Palacio met with Plaintiff
regularly, provided guidance, and requested that she improve
her performance. Def.'s Stmt., ECF No. 25, ¶ 14.
Plaintiff disputes this fact and contends that Ms. Palacio
never made Plaintiff aware of any issues. Pl.'s Res., ECF
No. 32, ¶¶ 13-14. However, Plaintiff later refers
to an ongoing “conflicting issue between [Ms.] Palacio
and [herself] about the frequency with which IMS cases should
be verified and documented.” Ex. A, ECF No. 32-1,
¶ 55. As such, the Court finds that this dispute is not
genuine because, in her Declaration, Plaintiff admits that
Ms. Palacio had informed her of concerns regarding
Plaintiff's failure to follow case processing guidelines.
Moreover, this dispute is immaterial as Plaintiff does not
argue that Ms. Palacio's alleged failure to make her
aware of issues is probative of possible retaliation or
Plaintiff disputes that funding was the true reason for Ms.
Palacio's refusal to hire an additional administrative
assistant. Pl.'s Res., ECF No. 32, ¶ 42. However,
the documents to which Plaintiff cites as evidence of the
fact that budget constraints were not the true reason for the
refusal to hire an additional administrative assistant
concern the OHR's decisions to convert a mediator
position into an investigator position and to remove a
vacancy for a mediator. The documents say nothing about
hiring an additional administrative assistant. Ex. H, ECF No.
32-1, 62-67. As Plaintiff has produced no evidence refuting
Ms. Palacio's given reason for not hiring a second
administrative assistant, this dispute is not genuine.
judgment is appropriate where “the movant shows 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). The mere existence of some factual
dispute is insufficient on its own to bar summary judgment;
the dispute must pertain to a “material” fact.
Id. Accordingly, “[o]nly disputes over facts
that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing
law will properly preclude the entry of summary
judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Nor may summary judgment be avoided
based on just any disagreement as to the relevant facts; the
dispute must be “genuine, ” meaning that there
must be sufficient admissible evidence for a reasonable trier
of fact to find for the non-movant. Id.
order to establish that a fact is or cannot be genuinely
disputed, a party must (a) cite to specific parts of the
record-including deposition testimony, documentary evidence,
affidavits or declarations, or other competent evidence-in
support of its position, or (b) demonstrate that the
materials relied upon by the opposing party do not actually
establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). Conclusory assertions offered without
any factual basis in the record cannot create a genuine
dispute sufficient to survive summary judgment. See
Ass'n of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO v. Dep't of
Transp., 564 F.3d 462, 465-66 (D.C. Cir. 2009).
Moreover, where “a party fails to properly support an
assertion of fact or fails to properly address another
party's assertion of fact, ” the district court may
“consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the
motion.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).
faced with a motion for summary judgment, the district court
may not make credibility determinations or weigh the
evidence; instead, the evidence must be analyzed in the light
most favorable to the non-movant, with all justifiable
inferences drawn in her favor. Liberty Lobby, 477
U.S. at 255. If material facts are genuinely in dispute, or
undisputed facts are susceptible to divergent yet justifiable
inferences, summary judgment is inappropriate. Moore v.
Hartman, 571 F.3d 62, 66 (D.C. Cir. 2009). In the end,
the district court's task is to determine “whether
the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require
submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one
party must prevail as a matter of law.” Liberty
Lobby, 477 U.S. at 251-52. In this regard, the
non-movant must “do more than simply show that there is
some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.”
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio
Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). “If the evidence
is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative,
summary judgment may be granted.” Liberty
Lobby, 477 U.S. at 249-50 (internal citations omitted).
recognition of the difficulty in uncovering clear evidence of
discriminatory or retaliatory intent, the district court
should approach summary judgment in an action for employment
discrimination or retaliation with “special
caution.” Aka v. Wash. Hosp. Ctr., 116 F.3d
876, 879-80 (D.C. Cir. 1997), vacated on other
grounds, 156 F.3d 1284 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (en
banc). Be that as it may, the plaintiff is not relieved
of her burden to support her allegations with competent
evidence. Brown v. Mills, 674 F.Supp.2d 182, 188
(D.D.C. 2009). As in any context, where the plaintiff would
bear the burden of proof on a dispositive issue at trial, at
the summary judgment stage she bears the burden of production
to designate specific facts showing that there exists a
genuine dispute requiring trial. Ricci v. DeStefano,
557 U.S. 557, 586 (2009). Otherwise, the plaintiff could
effectively defeat the “central purpose” of the
summary judgment device-namely, “to weed out those
cases insufficiently meritorious to warrant . . .
trial”- simply by way of offering conclusory
allegations, speculation, and argument. Greene v.
Dalton, 164 F.3d 671, 675 (D.C. Cir. 1999).
has moved for summary judgment on Plaintiff's retaliation
and age discrimination claims. First, Defendant contends that
Plaintiff's retaliation claim fails as a matter of law
because there is no evidence of causation between
Plaintiff's 2013 charge of discrimination and her 2016
termination. Second, Defendant argues that summary judgment
should be granted on Plaintiff's age discrimination
claim. Defendant contends that Plaintiff has failed to
produce any evidence that she was terminated on account of
her age and that Plaintiff's allegations are not
substantial or pervasive enough to constitute a hostile work
environment. The Court will address each argument in turn.
However, prior to addressing Defendant's arguments in