United States District Court, District of Columbia
TIMOTHY J. KELLY United States District Judge.
Branch is a former logistics management specialist for the
United States Navy. She alleges that beginning in 2014, her
supervisors began mistreating her. The next year, she
suffered a stroke, her relationship with her supervisors
deteriorated further, and she was suspended for two days. Now
Branch has sued the Navy, asserting claims of disability
discrimination and retaliation. She claims that her
suspension was motivated by her stroke and her complaints
about being mistreated.
has moved for summary judgment, arguing that Branch's
claims are either untimely or unsupported by the record,
because no reasonable juror could infer that her
supervisors' motives were either discriminatory or
retaliatory. The Court agrees, and summary judgment will be
entered for Defendant. The Court will also deny Branch's
motion to amend her complaint, filed ten months after summary
judgment briefing was complete, because permitting Branch to
add new claims at such a late stage would prejudice Defendant
and unduly expand the scope of the case.
Factual and Procedural Background
Branch's Alleged Mistreatment
following facts are undisputed unless otherwise noted. Branch
began working for the Navy in 2010. Def's SOF ¶ 1;
Pl.'s SOF ¶¶ 1-4. As of 2014, she worked as a
logistics management specialist at pay grade GS-11. Def's
SOF ¶ 2; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 4. In March 2014, Branch
clashed with her supervisor, Lieutenant Commander Jay Gaul,
when she denied him access to a space containing classified
information because she thought he lacked the security
clearance to enter. Def's SOF ¶¶ 3, 10-25;
Pl.'s SOF ¶¶ 11-15, 18. Branch found Gaul's
behavior threatening and discriminatory based on her gender
and she reported the incident to Daniel Gardner, who
supervised them both. Def's SOF ¶¶ 3, 6, 31-33;
Pl.'s SOF ¶¶ 5, 8, 19.
also asked Gardner for the contact information for the Equal
Employment Opportunity office. See Def's SOF
¶¶ 27-28, 37-39; Pl.'s SOF ¶¶ 19-21.
Branch asserts that she contacted the EEO office in March
2014. Pl.'s SOF ¶ 21; see also Am. Compl.
¶ 18 (“Plaintiff subsequently . . . sought an EEO
counselor to file an EEO discrimination complaint against Lt.
Gaul in March 2014.”); ECF No. 20-1 at 5 (“I
contacted the EEO office in March 2014 . . . and filed a
complaint.”). Defendant appears to dispute that Branch
did so. See ECF No. 23 at 6 (describing Plaintiffs
statement that she “engaged in a protected activity by
complaining of discrimination to the EEO in March 2014”
as a “characterization of the intent of the Navy's
SOF and . . . not a fact”). Branch also filed a
complaint about the incident with the Navy's inspector
general. Def's SOF ¶ 102; ECF No. 20-1 at 3.
April 2014, Branch was promoted to supervisory logistics
management specialist at pay grade GS-12. Def.'s SOF
¶ 47; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 24. With that promotion,
Branch inherited responsibility for a “mobility
section, ” Def.'s SOF ¶ 53, meaning she
coordinated the provision of equipment to deploying
servicemembers, Def.'s Mot. at 3. The mobility section
was in a different building, so in October 2014, Sherry
Mellon, Branch's supervisor who had replaced Gaul, asked
her to work out of a building that was closer to her new
supervisees. Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 60-62. Branch
delayed doing so until she was issued a letter of caution for
her failure to follow Mellon's instruction. Id.
¶¶ 66-67. And when she did move, it did not go
smoothly: Mellon and others found Branch hard to get in touch
with, and Branch felt that she could not manage her workload
while splitting time between two buildings. Id.
¶¶ 62-63, 68-70; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 32. According
to Branch, in May 2015 she complained to Chief Master
Sergeant Kevin Kloeppel, a senior management official, that
the move was discriminatory and contributed to a hostile work
environment for her. Pl.'s SOF ¶ 32; ECF No. 22-6
¶¶ 2-3. She also says that, shortly after she met
with Kloeppel, she was “immediately questioned [and]
summoned by her supervisor Mellon to have a meeting with . .
. Gardner.” Pl.'s SOF ¶ 32. Following this
meeting, she received an email from Gardner on May 13, 2015,
that she describes as reprimanding her for speaking with
Kloeppel. Id. Defendant disputes most of the facts
surrounding Branch's meeting with Kloeppel, arguing that
nothing in the record suggests that Branch complained to him
of discrimination or retaliation, or that she was
reprimanded. ECF No. 23 at 8.
22, 2015, Branch suffered a stroke and was hospitalized.
Pl.'s SOF ¶ 33. She was released from the hospital
two days later but remained out of work on doctor's
orders for several months. Id. ¶¶ 36-37,
40. Shortly after her stroke, Branch's sister called
Mellon to inform her that Branch was in the hospital.
Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 81-83; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 35.
In July, Branch told Mellon herself that she would be out
sick for some time. Pl.'s SOF ¶¶ 38-39.
Branch's October 2015 Suspension
10, 2015, less than two weeks before Branch's stroke,
Mellon began the process to discipline her for various
performance problems. Def.'s SOF ¶ 92. Branch does not
dispute this timing. See Pl.'s SOF ¶¶
42-44, 50-54. Branch did not find out about the discipline,
however, until a few months later. Def.'s SOF ¶ 96;
Pl.'s SOF ¶ 42. More precisely, in late July,
Branch's supervisors mailed her a Notice of Proposed
14-Calendar Day Suspension, which she received in August.
Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 94-96; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 42.
The notice described the reasons for Branch's proposed
discipline as delaying in carrying out an assignment, failure
to follow instructions, and disrespectful conduct. Def.'s
SOF ¶ 94.
charge for delay in carrying out an assignment was based on
two incidents further described in the notice. First, Branch
allegedly failed to “develop a draft of the
Installation Deployment Plan” by March 23, 2015. ECF
No. 20-1 at 113. She received several extensions, until April
7, May 19, May 26, June 1, and June 8, but purportedly failed
to complete a draft by any of those dates. Id. at
113-14. Second, Branch was tasked with “accomplish[ing]
a critical analysis project” for a superior by 10:00
a.m. on March 16, 2015, but she allegedly did not send the
analysis until 12:06 p.m. Id. at 114.
charge for failure to follow instructions was based on a May
13, 2015 meeting held with Branch “to discuss the
proper use of chain of command, reporting procedures,
reporting to work, and communication issues.”
Id. But a few weeks later, Branch allegedly did not
appear for a meeting with a co-worker, Holli Dunn.
Id. When Dunn went looking for Branch, she found a
sign on Branch's door that did not help her find or
contact Branch, which violated the procedures discussed with
Branch at the May 13 meeting. Id. And Dunn had no
way to leave a voice mail for Branch, because Branch had not
set up a voice mailbox despite having been told to do so.
charge for disrespectful conduct arose from an incident
between Branch and Dunn on June 1, 2015. Id. In
describing the basis for this charge, Dunn wrote:
On 1 June 2015, while in your office you had informed me that
you could not meet with me on 2 June 2015 due to a scheduled
brief with the Vice Commander. I informed you that I was not
made aware of that brief, to which you stated that you did
not need to tell me about it. I informed you that that was
not correct and as the Deputy Site Director, I am responsible
for the operations of the Organization and reminded you of
your chain of command. I informed you that you needed to
brief Ms. Mellon that afternoon on the information that you
were going to present to the Installation Commander. You
informed me that you didn't need to do that. I was going
to say, “Lena, we need to go over the material so we
know what's going to be briefed and make sure you are
prepared, ” however, all I was able to say was
“Lena” and you immediately cut me off and said,
“Holli” in a very disrespectful manner while
taking an aggressive stance.
Id. at 114-15.
receiving the notice in the mail, Branch contacted the EEO
office on August 17, 2015, to file a complaint about the
proposed suspension. Def.'s SOF ¶ 41; Pl.'s SOF
¶ 45. In late August, Gardner began considering whether
to issue the proposed discipline, and in September he opted
to suspend her for two days. Def.'s SOF ¶¶
97-98; Pl.'s SOF ¶¶ ...