Jones v. Granholm

Decision Date21 June 2021
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 20-0472 (CKK)
PartiesMARIA JONES, Plaintiff, v. JENNIFER GRANHOLM, Secretary of the United States Department of Energy, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

Plaintiff Maria Jones brings this action pro se against Jennifer Granholm, in her official capacity as the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy (the "Defendant" or "Department"), pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. Plaintiff alleges that Department management created a hostile work environment and retaliated against her in response to formal and informal complaints she filed with the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") in 2010. Pending before the Court is Defendant's [11] Motion to Dismiss, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).

Upon consideration of the pleadings, the relevant legal authorities, and the record as a whole,2 the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Defendant's [11] Motion toDismiss. Specifically, the Court will GRANT Defendant's request to dismiss Plaintiff's discrete retaliation claims, respectively predicated on Plaintiff's removal from the Department's "COOP" emergency response team, the denial of Plaintiff's requested detail assignment, and Plaintiff's proposed removal from federal service. The Court, however, will DENY Defendant's request to dismiss Plaintiff's remaining retaliation claims predicated on Plaintiff's September 13, 2010 Counseling Memorandum, her negative 2010 performance review, and her January 5, 2011 Performance Improvement Plan. Next, the Court will DENY Defendant's request to dismiss Plaintiff's claim for a retaliatory hostile work environment. Finally, the Court will DISMISS Plaintiff's race discrimination and disability claims, as Plaintiff has not provided a plain and concise statement of those claims sufficient to satisfy Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8.

A. Factual Background

Plaintiff is an African American woman who began working for the Department of Energy in 1987, as a GS-5 Secretary in the International Statistics Branch. Compl. ¶ 5.3 In 1989, Plaintiff was hired by the Office of Budget and Management Division, Naval Petroleum and Oil Share Reserves ("NPOSR"), Office of Fossil Energy ("FE"), as a GS-6 Secretary. Id. Plaintiff was then later promoted to a GS-12 Program Analyst position within NPOSR, and also earned a Bachelor's of Science in Accounting during this time period. Id. In 2003, the Department transferred Plaintiff to the Office of Budget and Financial Management ("OBFM"), where she served as a GS-12 Program Analyst, working on "budget execution, budget formulation, contracts, [and]procurement." Id. ¶ 6. At OBFM, Plaintiff served under the supervision of Mr. Charles Roy, the Director of OBFM until 2009, his successor, Ms. Edna Thomas, and Mr. Robert Pafe, Plaintiff's immediate supervisor. Id. ¶ 8. In her present complaint, Plaintiff describes a complex web of alleged discrimination, harassment, and retaliation that she experienced at OBFM under these supervisors. See Pl.'s Opp'n, ECF No. 16, at 9.

To begin, Plaintiff alleges that she was subjected to racial discrimination during her tenure within OBFM. Plaintiff alleges that while Mr. Roy was the Director of OBFM, Plaintiff "was the only African-American assigned to [the] office under the supervision of Mr. Roy and Mr. Pafe," both of whom are white. Compl. ¶ 8. When "working under the supervision of Mr. Roy and Mr. Pafe," Plaintiff "was embarrassed and humiliated by her managers, because they isolated her from her white co-workers." Id. ¶ 9. For example, Plaintiff alleges that Mr. Roy and Mr. Pafe "relocated all white staff members to another location and left [Plaintiff] in an empty office setting" by herself, without "equipment, files, furniture, [or] supplies." Id. ¶ 10. Moreover, Ms. Thomas, who became the OBFM Director in 2010, allegedly used "racial slurs" when referring to employees, including calling one staff member a "House Nigger." Id. ¶ 12. Furthermore, Plaintiff alleges that multiple of her white colleagues were delinquent in their work or openly insubordinate to the OBFM supervisors, yet did not receive any disciplinary sanctions. See id. ¶¶ 51-56.

Plaintiff also presents numerous allegations regarding the retaliatory treatment she received at OBFM after filing multiple EEO complaints. On June 4, 2010, Plaintiff filed an informal EEO complaint regarding improper references to a prior EEO settlement allegedly included within one of her OBFM performance reviews. See June 4, 2010 EEO Compl., ECF No. 11-1, at 3, 5-7. Plaintiff alleges that Ms. Thomas learned of this EEO complaint and, on July 19, 2010, sent Plaintiff an "inappropriate" and "harassing" email referencing the informal EEO complaint. SeeCompl. ¶ 12. Through this July 19, 2010 email, Ms. Thomas also removed Plaintiff from the OBFM "COOP" team—a group within OBFM assembled to ensure continued operations during office emergencies—and asked Plaintiff to return her work-issued phone. Id. ¶ 13. Only a few days after Plaintiff's removal from the COOP team, however, both Ms. Thomas and Mr. Pafe informed Plaintiff that she was "on track to meet expectations" for her Fiscal Year ("FY") 2010 mid-year performance evaluation. Id. ¶ 14.

On July 26, 2010, Plaintiff filed a formal EEO complaint that specifically asserted harassment allegations against Ms. Thomas. See July 26, 2010 EEO Compl., ECF No. 11-1, at 9-17. In response to this new EEO complaint, Mr. Pafe allegedly "started harassing and retaliating against Plaintiff." Compl. ¶ 16. On September 13, 2010, for example, Mr. Pafe sent Plaintiff a "Counseling Memorandum," which claimed that her performance had "adversely affected the productivity of [the] office." Counseling Mem., ECF No. 1-2, at 17. According to Plaintiff, the negative events listed in the Counseling Memorandum were factually incorrect and fabricated in order to retaliate against her for her prior EEO activity. Compl. ¶¶ 17-26. In particular, Plaintiff claims that she was counseled for not completing an assignment that she had actually completed, id. ¶ 19, for not submitting comments to the Chief Financial Officer regarding a memorandum when she did in fact submit comments to the document, id. ¶ 23, and was "sabotage[d]" by Mr. Pafe when he required her to work from a "large spreadsheet in PDF format," as opposed to excel, so that she "[w]ould miss the deadline" to complete an assignment, id. ¶ 24. Moreover, the allegedly "false information" listed in the September 13, 2010 Counseling Memorandum was not included in Plaintiff's mid-year performance evaluation, which Mr. Pafe and Ms. Thomas had each signed in July and August 2010, respectively. Id. ¶¶ 18, 21.

Next, Plaintiff contends that Mr. Pafe and Ms. Thomas continued to retaliate against her by giving Plaintiff a "Fails to Meet Expectation" rating on her final Fiscal Year ("FY") 2010 performance evaluation. Id. ¶ 27. Plaintiff received this "adverse" performance review on December 1, 2010, after she returned from a period of medical leave. Id. ¶¶ 27-28. And then on December 2, 2010, Mr. Pafe denied Plaintiff's medical request to telework, citing to Plaintiff's poor FY 2010 performance review as support for his denial. Id. ¶ 30; see Dec. 2, 2010 Email, ECF No. 1-2, at 45 (stating Plaintiff was "not eligible for medical flexplace because of [her] rating"). Plaintiff relatedly alleges that, shortly after her return from medical leave, the Department held a fire drill that required her to "walk down four flights of stairs." Compl. ¶ 31. This physical exertion was difficult for Plaintiff given her medical condition, and Plaintiff alleges that Mr. Pafe "laughed" at Plaintiff's struggles during the fire drill. Id.

Plaintiff also alleges that the retaliation from her OBFM supervisors continued into 2011. On January 5, 2011, Mr. Pafe placed Plaintiff on a Performance Improvement Plan ("PIP"), which afforded her a 120-day period within which to improve her work product. Id. ¶ 28. The very next day, Plaintiff filed an amendment to her pending EEO complaint from July 26, 2010, to complain about her newly issued PIP. See Jan. 6, 2011 EEO Compl., ECF No. 11-1, at 18-21. According to Plaintiff, the PIP was yet another form of retaliation, as the PIP was "fabricated" and contained numerous factual inaccuracies. Compl. ¶¶ 32-36. Nonetheless, on May 11, 2011, Mr. Pafe notified Plaintiff that "she was going to get fired," id. ¶ 37, and two days later, Mr. Pafe informed Plaintiff that she had failed the PIP, id. ¶ 38. On August 3, 2011, Plaintiff requested permission to accept a 90-day detail assignment with the Office of Procurement, in an attempt to secure a new position outside of OBFM. Id. ¶ 48. Mr. Pafe, however, denied this requested detail assignment, allegedly in furtherance of his desire to "remove . . . Plaintiff from federal service." Id.

Then, on August 25, 2011, Mr. Pafe issued Plaintiff a memorandum titled "Proposal to Remove for Unacceptable Performance." Id. ¶ 39. This memorandum stated that Plaintiff was to be terminated because of her "failure to perform at a meets expectations level on [her] budget formulation, execution performance elements, and [Plaintiff's] failure to display initiative, effort and commitment towards completing assignments in a timely manner while maintaining the integrity of the organization." Aug. 25, 2011 Mem., ECF No. 1-2, at 51. Plaintiff again alleges that many of the statements in the removal proposal were "not true," Compl. ¶ 39, and that Mr. Pafe "plac[ed] nonfactual statements in documents to bolster his adverse documents," id. ¶ 47. Plaintiff, however, eventually resigned from her position at OBFM on February 16, 2012, one day prior to the effective date of her removal, in order to "preserve [her] retirement benefits." Pl.'s Opp'n at 9.

B. Procedural History

Throughout the course of her alleged...

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