Bass v. E.I. Dupont De Nemours & Co., 02-1129.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
Citation324 F.3d 761
Docket NumberNo. 02-1989.,No. 02-1456.,No. 02-1129.,02-1129.,02-1456.,02-1989.
PartiesPortia BASS, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. E.I. DUPONT DE NEMOURS & COMPANY, Defendant-Appellee. Portia Bass, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. E.I. Dupont de Nemours & Company, Defendant-Appellee. Portia Bass, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. E.I. Dupont de Nemours & Company, Defendant-Appellee.
Decision Date26 March 2003

Page 761

324 F.3d 761
Portia BASS, Plaintiff-Appellant,
E.I. DUPONT DE NEMOURS & COMPANY, Defendant-Appellee.
Portia Bass, Plaintiff-Appellant,
E.I. Dupont de Nemours & Company, Defendant-Appellee.
Portia Bass, Plaintiff-Appellant,
E.I. Dupont de Nemours & Company, Defendant-Appellee.
No. 02-1129.
No. 02-1456.
No. 02-1989.
United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit.
Argued: February 24, 2003.
Decided: March 26, 2003.

Page 762

ARGUED: Tamika Chelsea Harris, Waynesboro, Virginia, for Appellant. James Moss Johnson, Jr., McGuirewoods, L.L.P., Charlottesville, Virginia, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: R. Craig Wood, McGuirewoods, L.L.P., Charlottesville, Virginia, for Appellee.

Before WILKINS, Chief Judge, and LUTTIG and GREGORY, Circuit Judges.

Affirmed in part and vacated in part by published opinion. Judge LUTTIG wrote the opinion, in which Chief Judge WILKINS and Judge GREGORY joined.

Page 763


LUTTIG, Circuit Judge:

For several years, Portia Bass was an employee of E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Company ("DuPont"). Trouble began when DuPont decided to reassign Bass, changing her duties. From that point on, the relationship between employer and employee deteriorated until DuPont finally decided to terminate Bass. Before her termination, Bass filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). After her termination, she brought suit in federal district court alleging numerous claims of discrimination and even claims of a conspiracy between the EEOC and DuPont. The district court dismissed several of Bass' claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Bass' remaining claims were dismissed at summary judgment. The district court also awarded costs and attorneys' fees to DuPont as the prevailing party, and issued Rule 11 sanctions against Bass' attorney. Bass appeals all these rulings by the district court. We conclude that the district court properly dismissed Bass' claims, and that its award of costs and attorneys' fees was appropriate. Those rulings we affirm. The district court failed to comply with Rule 11 when it issued sanctions, however, and we accordingly vacate that ruling.


Because this appeal arises out of the grant of dismissal and summary judgment below, we view the facts in the light most favorable to Bass, the complainant and nonmoving party. The essential facts of the case, as well related by the district, are these. Bass is a black woman who is over forty. She worked for DuPont's Lycra division at the company's Waynesboro site for approximately fifteen years. In 1992, she became Coordinator for Material Safety Data Sheets and for Toxic Substances Control Act ("TSCA") and Chemical Hygiene.

On July 1, 1998, Bass' duties were changed. Bass became Coordinator of Chemical Safety, and her TSCA-related duties were assigned to Nancy Deputy, a white woman less than 40 years of age. In a letter dated July 27, 1998, Bass complained to DuPont management that she had not been given any reason for the change in her duties. In response, Lycra human resources manager Susan Kapalka conducted an investigation. Kapalka concluded that Bass was properly reassigned because of her "inability to complete TSCA work at the required pace" and because "[h]er breadth of business judgment does not meet the TSCA job requirements." J.A. 403. Kapalka acknowledged that Bass was not informed of these reasons by her supervisors when she was reassigned. Prior to being reassigned, Bass had been consistently promoted, given increasing responsibilities, and told that her performance was satisfactory. Bass received no reduction in pay as a result of the change in her duties.

Several months after her reassignment, Bass' supervisors asked her to resume duties for DuPont's Benger Laboratory site that required access to TSCA information. Because Bass was no longer a TSCA coordinator, and therefore believed she was not permitted to access TSCA information, she refused to resume those duties. In a letter dated March 4, 1999, Bass complained to management that the work environment had become hostile. In response, Kapalka put together a diverse investigative team made up of five people, including herself. The team spoke with Bass and discussed her complaints. Bass reiterated her complaints about a hostile work environment, but did not allege that the environment was hostile due to her gender, race, or age. The investigative

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team also spoke with Bass' co-workers and supervisors. On April 4, 1999, the team issued a formal report, in which it concluded that Bass had been reassigned because of an expanding number of duties that fell within her job description, and her inability to perform all of those duties satisfactorily. In addition, the team concluded that Bass had sufficient access to TSCA information to perform her duties for Benger Laboratory, but was unwilling to change her view of how the work should be performed in light of her changed duties. The team recommended that Bass be assigned new duties.

During the investigation, Bass had been permitted to work in an office away from her co-workers and supervisors. After the team issued its report, Bass was instructed to return to her office to assume her new duties. She refused, again citing a hostile work environment. On May 10, 1999, Bass filed a charge with the EEOC. Her supervisors again demanded that she return to her office and assume her duties. Bass insisted that she did not have to do so during the pendency of the EEOC investigation. Her supervisors then called the EEOC, which confirmed that they could require Bass to assume her duties.

In early June, 1999, Bass continued to refuse to assume her duties or return to her office. After warnings, her supervisors escorted Bass from the Waynesboro site. Bass' termination was approved on June 16, 1999, but the termination date was moved forward to June 30, 1999, giving Bass just enough years of employment with DuPont to qualify her for pension benefits.

On August 7, 2000, Bass brought suit against DuPont. She alleged that DuPont was liable for violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq.; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq.; and the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d). Bass also claimed that the EEOC and DuPont had conspired to hinder the investigation of her EEOC complaint in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3), Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388, 91 S.Ct. 1999, 29 L.Ed.2d 619 (1971), and state conspiracy law.

DuPont moved to dismiss several of the counts in Bass' complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). The district court granted that motion with respect to Bass' hostile work environment, Bivens, and federal and state law conspiracy claims. Later, the district court granted summary judgment to DuPont on Bass' remaining Title VII, ADEA, and Equal Pay Act claims. Finally, the district court awarded costs and attorneys' fees to DuPont, and issued Rule 11 sanctions against Bass' attorney. Bass appeals all of these rulings.


We consider first Bass' contention that the district court improperly dismissed several of her claims. In reviewing the dismissal of claims pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), we take the factual allegations in the complaint as true and review any legal issues de novo. See Iodice v. United States, 289 F.3d 270, 273 (4th Cir.2002).

On appeal, Bass argues that she was not required to plead facts in support of her hostile work environment claim. The Supreme Court has recently admonished that the requirements of notice pleading are not onerous. See Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 122 S.Ct. 992, 152 L.Ed.2d 1 (2002). In Swierkiewicz v. Sorema, the Court held that a complaint in an employment discrimination lawsuit need not allege specific facts establishing a prima facie case of discrimination. Id. at 510-11, 122 S.Ct. 992. In other words, a plaintiff is not charged with "forecast[ing] evidence sufficient to prove an

Page 765

element" of her claim. Iodice, 289 F.3d at 281 (emphasis omitted). Our circuit has not, however, interpreted Swierki...

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