Clemmons v. Acad. for Educ. Dev., Civil Action No.: 10–0911 (RC)

CourtUnited States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
Citation107 F.Supp.3d 100
Docket NumberCivil Action No.: 10–0911 (RC)
Parties Lydia Clemmons, Plaintiff, v. Academy for Educational Development, et al., Defendants.
Decision Date04 June 2015

107 F.Supp.3d 100

Lydia Clemmons, Plaintiff,
Academy for Educational Development, et al., Defendants.

Civil Action No.: 10–0911 (RC)

United States District Court, District of Columbia.

Signed June 4, 2015

107 F.Supp.3d 104

David M. Wachtel, Peter M. Whelan, Bernabei & Wachtel, PLLC, Washington, DC, for Plaintiff.

Kara M. Maciel, Jordan B. Schwartz, Conn Maciel Carey PLLC, Deborah J. Israel, Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, PLLC, Washington, DC, Jesse A. Schaefer, Johnny M Loper, Womble, Carlyle, Sandridge & Rice, LLP, Raleigh, NC, for Defendants.


RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, United States District Judge



Now before the Court is Plaintiff Dr. Lydia Clemmons's motion to alter or amend a final judgment of this Court. By way of background, Dr. Clemmons brought suit against her former employer, the Academy for Educational Development ("AED"), after resigning from the company in 2009. Dr. Clemmons alleged that she had experienced a hostile work environment, constructive discharge, and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act ("DCHRA"), D.C.Code § 1–2501 et seq., as well as defamation under District of Columbia law. On September 30, 2014, this Court granted AED's motion for summary judgment as to all claims.1 Dr. Clemmons now argues that the Court's judgment is the product of clear error. She asks that the Court vacate its September 2014 judgment and that AED's motion for summary judgment be denied as to her hostile work environment and retaliation claims. She also asks the Court to grant a series of spoliation inferences that she claims were denied erroneously. Upon consideration of Dr. Clemmons's motion, the memoranda in support thereof and opposition thereto, the Court will deny the motion to alter or amend judgment.


During Dr. Clemmons's period of employment, AED managed two projects in

107 F.Supp.3d 105

Ghana that addressed HIV prevention for at-risk populations: the Strengthening HIV and AIDS Response Partnership Project ("SHARP") and the Ghana Sustainable Change Project ("GSCP"). See Def.'s Stmt. of Undisputed Facts ¶ 2, ECF No. 56 ("SOF"). Dr. Clemmons, an African–American woman, served as Chief of Party ("COP") for SHARP. Her immediate supervisor was initially Michael Kaplan, see id. ¶ 24, but Cheryl Mayo assumed that role in July 2008, Pl.'s Stmt. of Disputed Facts ¶ 91, ECF No. 68–1 ("SDF"). At all times, Dr. Clemmons's second-level supervisor at AED was Frank Beadle de Palomo ("Mr. Beadle"). See SOF ¶ 16.

Jacqui Larsen also worked for AED, serving first as the Deputy COP for GSCP and then as GSCP's COP beginning in late 2007. See SOF ¶ 6. Ms. Larsen's direct supervisor was Nancy Nachbar, see id. ¶ 7, who in turn was supervised by Margaret Parlato and Mark Rasmuson, SDF ¶ 75. Dawn McCown became GSCP's Deputy COP in January 2009. SOF ¶ 8. Ms. Larsen, Ms. Nachbar, and Ms. McCown are all Caucasian. See SDF ¶ 135.

The United States Agency for International Development ("USAID") was the principal funder and client for both SHARP and GSCP. See 2d Am. Compl. ("SAC") ¶¶ 8, 15, ECF No. 28. BethAnne Moskov, USAID's Director for Health, Population and Nutrition, managed the U.S. Government's health-related funded activities in Ghana, including both SHARP and GSCP, starting in August 2005. See SOF ¶ 9; Moskov Dep. 7:20–8:04, Aug. 19, 2013, ECF No. 68–19. USAID's Peter Wondergem reported to Ms. Moskov on SHARP's progress and activities, while Susan Wright reported on GSCP. SOF ¶ 10.

A. Pre–Complaint Conflict in the Workplace

By all accounts, Dr. Clemmons had a rocky relationship with Ms. Larsen and Ms. McCown of GSCP, and with Ms. Nachbar, who supervised Ms. Larsen and Ms. McCown. Their professional interactions were often unpleasant, marked by criticism and conflict. See SOF ¶¶ 19–21, 26–28 (describing mutual dislike and "increasing tensions and difficulties"); SDF ¶ 35 (alleging that Ms. Larsen and Ms. McCown sneered, yelled, rejected feedback, and displayed "hostile facial expressions and body language" to Dr. Clemmons); Def.'s Ex. O–5, ECF No. 5617 (alleging that Dr. Clemmons made "passive aggressive attacks on our work" and "continue[d] to make everything unbearably difficult, complex, changeable, and unpleasant" for GSCP).

AED attributes the contentious relationships to personality differences between the women that were compounded by the competitive relationship between SHARP and GSCP, both of which vied for attention and resources from USAID. See SOF ¶ 19; Beadle Dep. 216:3– 216:15, Nov. 6, 2013, ECF No. 68–12. A Joint Implementation Plan ("JIP") was devised in May 2007 with the goal of addressing the "disconnection" between SHARP and GSCP by requiring the two projects to increase collaboration on certain tasks. See Pl.'s Ex. G–173, ECF No. 68–10; Moskov Dep. 66:20–68:8. "GSCP became responsible for producing all communications materials used and needed by SHARP ... [and] SHARP's contact with GSCP increased" as a result of the JIP. Shillingi Decl. ¶ 7, Pl.'s Ex. F–113, ECF No. 68–9. But the plan backfired, ultimately increasing tensions between SHARP and GSCP as SHARP staff expressed concerns about the quality and timeliness of GSCP's work. See id. at ¶¶ 7–10; Moskov Dep. 67:16–68:17.

Relatedly, AED contends that another root cause of the conflict between Dr. Clemmons and GSCP's leadership was Dr.

107 F.Supp.3d 106

Clemmons's persistent criticism of Ms. Larsen and GSCP, which contributed to the deteriorating relationship between the projects. For example, Dr. Clemmons copied USAID on e-mails noting that data from GSCP was overdue or had "quality problems," Def.'s Exs. O–119–20, ECF No. 56–19, accused GSCP of doing technically unsound "slap-dash work" that required correcting, see Def.'s Ex. O–116, ECF No. 56–19, and alleged that GSCP would routinely and "deliberately wait until the last minute to spring something on SHARP so as to limit [their] ability and time to provide any inputs," Pl.'s Ex. F–127, ECF No. 68–9. The GSCP team did not take kindly to being told that their materials "were not suitable" or that there were "problems with the quality of the work produced by the GSCP project." See Shillingi Decl. ¶¶ 10–12, Pl.'s Ex. F–113. They began to feel that Dr. Clemmons was "very deliberately undermin[ing]" them because nothing they did was "ever satisfactory and more changes [were] always required," Def.'s Ex. O–58, ECF No. 56–18, and they claimed that her "passive aggressive attacks on [their] work" made them "miserable," "tearful," and "depressed," Def.'s Ex. O–5, ECF No. 56–17; see also McCown Dep. 122:3–122:11, Oct. 8, 2013, ECF No. 68–18 (describing "feeling devalued and belittled"). GSCP members also complained about Dr. Clemmons verbally attacking them when providing technical feedback, and about her deliberately undermining GSCP in front of USAID. See Clemmons Dep. 106:18–108:3, Aug. 2, 2013, ECF No. 68–13; Def.'s Ex. O–58 (describing GSCP staff as feeling undermined and "deeply upset" by Dr. Clemmons).

Dr. Clemmons, on the other hand, maintains that Ms. Larsen and Ms. McCown were responsible for creating a hostile work environment by rejecting her technical feedback on GSCP projects and by criticizing her to others in AED and at USAID. According to Dr. Clemmons, this behavior amounted to workplace mobbing, a "type of bullying" where "colleagues attack your dignity, integrity and competence over a period of months or years ... [until] more coworkers unquestioningly accept the party line that you are unpleasant and inept and have no place in the organization." Def.'s Ex. O–1, ECF No. 56–17 (internal quotation marks omitted). Dr. Clemmons alleges that the mobbing occurred because of her race, and she observed that Ms. Larsen and Ms. McCown did not express the same hostility to feedback from white individuals or African individuals who were not in similar positions of authority. Clemmons Dep. 124:15–22. She also alleges that on one occasion, Ms. Larsen told Dr. Clemmons that she was "just like a dog ... like a terrier that won't let go of a bone ... like a ... little dog that won't let go of a pant leg after it sunk its teeth into it, no matter how much you try to shake it off." Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Interrog. No. 3–2, Def.'s Ex. O–111, ECF No. 56–19.

To illustrate the mobbing at issue, Dr. Clemmons points first to the fact that Mr. Kaplan's view of her changed from supportive in October 2007 to unsupportive in February 2008, allegedly as a result of the workplace mobbing. See Pl.'s Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. at 23, ECF No. 68. In October 2007, Dr. Clemmons "expressed [her] concerns about the human resources available within GSCP to actually implement the joint plan," first in a meeting with GSCP on October 8, and then in an email she sent that same day to both Mr. Kaplan and Mr. Rasmuson. Def.'s Ex. O–115, ECF No. 56–19. Dr. Clemmons asserts that Ms. Larsen then made

a baseless complaint about her behavior at the October meeting to Ms. Parlato, who in turn...

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