Richardson v. Petasis, Civil Action No.: 13-00826 (RC)

CourtUnited States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
Writing for the CourtRUDOLPH CONTRERAS, United States District Judge
Citation160 F.Supp.3d 88
Parties Sharon D. Richardson, Plaintiff, v. George Petasis, et al., Defendants.
Docket NumberCivil Action No.: 13-00826 (RC)
Decision Date07 December 2015

160 F.Supp.3d 88

Sharon D. Richardson, Plaintiff,
v.
George Petasis, et al., Defendants.

Civil Action No.: 13-00826 (RC)

United States District Court, District of Columbia.

Signed December 7, 2015


160 F.Supp.3d 94

John C. Luke, Jr., Law Offices of John C. Luke Jr., Uniondale, NY, Da'Net J. H. Sturdifen, Law Office of D. J. Sturdifen, Alexandria, VA, for Plaintiff.

Moxila A. Upadhyaya, Venable LLP, Washington, DC, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, United States District Judge

Granting in Part and Denying in Part Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Sharon D. Richardson, an African-American female, was an employee of Defendant The Johns Hopkins University (“JHU”) from April 2011 to January 2013. Ms. Richardson brings this civil action against JHU and four of its employees or former employees, Defendants George Petasis, Shanna Hines, Deborah Grandval,1 and Myron Kunka (collectively, the “Individual Defendants”), for race discrimination and retaliation in violation of Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Title 2 of the District of Columbia Human Rights Act of 1977 (“DCHRA”). See Am. Compl., ECF No. 27. Ms. Richardson alleges that JHU, through the conduct of the Individual Defendants, discriminated against her with respect to the terms and conditions of her employment because of her race (Counts I–III), created a hostile work environment (Count VI), and retaliated against her for her complaints of race discrimination (Count V) and that the Individual Defendants aided and abetted the discriminatory and retaliatory conduct (Count IV).2 See id. ¶¶ 121–50.

Before the Court is Defendants' motion seeking summary judgment on all counts

160 F.Supp.3d 95

of the Amended Complaint. See Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 40. Upon consideration of the parties' arguments in support of and in opposition to the motion3 and the record before the Court, the Court will grant the motion in part and deny the motion in part for the reasons explained below.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND4

JHU's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (“SAIS”) is a global educational institution that maintains its primary campus in Washington, D.C. Its Office of Information Technology provides computing support for SAIS students, faculty, and staff, including computing and audio-visual support for SAIS events. See Defs.' Stmt. Facts Not In Dispute (“Defs.' SOF”) ¶ 1, ECF No. 40-2. Plaintiff Sharon Richardson began working for SAIS's Office of Information Technology on April 11, 2011 and resigned on January 22, 2013. See id. ¶ 6.

160 F.Supp.3d 96

A. JHU's Hire of Ms. Richardson and Ms. Richardson's Responsibilities

Ms. Richardson was hired as an Information Technology Manager with the title of Director of Operations and maintained this title throughout her employment.5 See Defs.' Ex. 2, ECF No. 40-4. Defendant George Petasis, who was the Chief Information Officer (“CIO”) of SAIS and Ms. Richardson's superior throughout her employment, interviewed both Ms. Richardson and Defendant Deborah Grandval, who is Caucasian, for the position. See Defs.' SOF ¶¶ 4, 7; see also George Petasis Dep. Tr. at 9:11–18, Defs.' Ex. 4 (“Petasis Dep. Tr.”), ECF No. 40-6.6 At the time, Mr. Petasis concluded that Ms. Richardson was more qualified for the position than Ms. Grandval due to the experience that Ms. Richardson described on her resume, and he selected Ms. Richardson for the position. See Defs.' SOF ¶¶ 7–9; see also Petasis Dep. Tr. at 9:21–10:1; id. 11:4–6. According to Ms. Richardson, Mr. Petasis told her during her interview for the position that “he did not need a technical person” and that she “could be trained later.” Aff. Sharon D. Richardson ¶ 7, Pl.'s Ex. 7 (“Richardson Aff.”), ECF No. 42-10.

As the Director of Operations, Ms. Richardson supervised approximately eight employees. See Defs.' SOF ¶ 11.7 Her responsibilities included overseeing audio-visual events at SAIS, managing the Service Desk, which provides help to users with technology issues and requests for service, assisting SAIS faculty, staff, and students with their technology needs, managing the IT budget and staff, providing IT support for JHU's Carey Business School, and assisting Mr. Petasis with IT initiatives. See id. ; Defs.' Ex. 2. The JHU Staff Handbook also states that all employees are responsible for “perform[ing] duties assigned by [their] supervisor even if not included in [their] job description.” Defs.' Ex. 5 at JHU00454–55, ECF No. 40-7.

B. Beginning of Ms. Richardson's Employment

The signs of a future strained relationship between Ms. Richardson and Mr. Petasis were evident early in Ms. Richardson's employment. When Ms. Richardson began working in April 2011, Mr. Petasis

160 F.Supp.3d 97

was out of the office on a two-week vacation, and when he returned to the office he and Ms. Richardson had a good and pleasant working relationship. See Defs.' SOF ¶ 15.

On or about May 5, 2011, however, Mr. Petasis yelled at Ms. Richardson in front of Mohammad Elahi, one of Ms. Richardson's staff members. See id. ¶ 16; Defs.' Ex. 7, ECF No. 40-9 (handwritten note dated May 11, 2011 describing the incident). Ms. Richardson states that Mr. Petasis “yelled and screamed at me in a physically hostile manner” and was “so close that I could feel his breath and smell the coffee on his breath.” Richardson Aff. ¶ 11. Ms. Richardson testified that she confronted Mr. Petasis about his conduct soon afterwards and told him that she found it “offensive.” See Sharon Richardson Dep. Tr. at 222:8–223:21, Defs.' Ex. 1-B (“Richardson Dep. Tr.”), ECF No. 41-2. She testified that their interaction was calm and that it ended by shaking hands. See id. Ms. Richardson also mentioned this incident to Defendant Shanna Hines, an African-American woman who was the Human Resources Manager during Ms. Richardson's employment, shortly thereafter. See Defs.' SOF ¶ 5; Richardson Dep. Tr. at 223:22–224:15. Ms. Richardson states, however, that Mr. Petasis frequently yelled and screamed at her and invaded her personal space throughout her employment. See Richardson Aff. ¶ 10. Nevertheless, Ms. Richardson testified that from May to September 2011, she and Mr. Petasis had a “good relationship” and treated each other with respect. See Richardson Dep. Tr. at 262:16–263:2, Defs.' Ex. 1-C, ECF No. 41-3.

Mr. Petasis states that within the first few months of Ms. Richardson's employment, he realized that Ms. Richardson's “technical competence was not at the level [he] had understood it to be based on her resume and [his] interview of her.”8 Aff. George Petasis ¶ 4, Defs.' Ex. 6 (“Petasis Aff.”), ECF No. 40-8. In July 2011, he hired Ms. Grandval as an IT Manager reporting directly to him with the title of IT Project Leader. See Defs.' SOF ¶ 33; Aff. Shanna Hines ¶ 14, Defs.' Ex. 3 (“Hines Aff.”), ECF No. 40-5; Pl.'s Ex. 12, ECF No. 42-15.

C. Physical Incident Involving Mr. Petasis and First Meeting with Human Resources

Ms. Richardson states that on or about September 27, 2011,9 Mr. Petasis touched her shoulder in a way that she felt was inappropriate. See Defs.' SOF ¶ 18. During her deposition, Ms. Richardson testified that on that day, while she and Mr. Petasis were working in a “very tight,” small control room, Mr. Petasis, with his body in “very close proximity,” briefly squeezed and rubbed her shoulder. Richardson Dep. Tr. at 235:17–240:19. She testified that she found this physical contact offensive. See id. at 240:22–241:17. The next day, Ms. Richardson confronted Mr. Petasis about the incident, telling him that he had made her uncomfortable. See id. at 245:3–11. Mr.

160 F.Supp.3d 98

Petasis responded by telling her that he “respect[s] that” and that he “didn't mean anything.” See id. at 245:16–18. Ms. Richardson felt satisfied with his response at the time, which she characterized as courteous. See id. at 246:19–20; id. at 248:4–5. Ms. Richardson does not attribute Mr. Petasis's actions to racial discrimination. See Defs.' SOF ¶ 21; Richardson Dep. Tr. at 248:8–11.

Two days later, on September 29, 2011, at her request, Ms. Richardson met with Ms. Hines and Defendant Myron Kunka, the Associate Dean for Finance and Administration at the time, who was responsible for overseeing Human Resources and the Office of Information Technology, to generally discuss her and her staff's concerns about Mr. Petasis. See Defs.' SOF ¶ 22. After the meeting, Ms. Richardson created a “Memorandum For Record” memorializing her recollection of the conversation. See Defs.' Ex. 8, ECF No. 40-10. According to Ms. Richardson's memorandum, the purpose of the meeting was to, first, “[m]ake management formally aware” that the Office of Information Technology was a “hostile” environment and, second, to “share concerns expressed by my direct reports (staff/personnel) and myself.” Id. at SDR000992. Ms. Richardson stated that her staff had expressed concerns regarding Mr. Petasis's “inappropriate and unprofessional behavior” and that she was doing her job “to project that information forward” by putting it “on record.” Id. She stated that her staff felt “threatened and bullied” by Mr. Petasis for a few different reasons. Id. She stated, for example, that she was informed that Mr. Petasis “has a history of volatile actions such as yelling, intimidation, harassment and even pounding his fist on the desk.” Id. at SDR000992–93. She also stated that her male staff had complained about Mr. Petasis grabbing their shoulders and shaking them. See id. at SDR000993.

Ms. Richardson also told Ms. Hines and Mr. Kunka that some of her male staff wanted Mr. Petasis to stop referring to them as “his boys.” Id. at SDR000992. She wrote in her memorandum: “They find this reference offensive and degrading, example: One staff is of [Philippians [sic] Origin] and another is [Ethiopian Nationality].” Id. (punctuation in original). During her deposition testimony, Ms. Richardson provided some...

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24 practice notes
  • Ross v. U.S. Capitol Police, Civil No. 14-cv-1400 (KBJ)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • June 30, 2016
    ...marks omitted) (quoting Kalinoski v. Gutierrez , 435 F.Supp.2d 55, 78 (D.D.C.2006) ); see also Richardson v. Petasis , No. 13–00826, 160 F.Supp.3d 88, 128–29, 2015 WL 8082244, at *28 (D.D.C. Dec. 7, 2015) (denying summary judgment where a reasonable employee could have "interpret[ed] [the] ......
  • Wang v. Wash. Metro. Area Transit Auth., Civil Action No.: 14-1189 (RC)
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • July 25, 2016
    ...conduct. Magowan v. Lowery , No. 15–0917, 2016 WL 778351, at *18 (D.D.C. Feb. 29, 2016) ; see also Richardson v. Petasis , No. 13–0826, 160 F.Supp.3d 88, 2015 WL 8082244, at *29–31 (D.D.C. Dec. 7, 2015) ; Uzoukwu v. Metro. Wash. COG , 130 F.Supp.3d 403, 416–17 (D.D.C.2015) ; Brooks v. Kerry......
  • Doe v. George Wash. Univ., Civil Action No. 18-1391 (RBW)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • March 27, 2019
    ...aiding and abetting provision absent an underlying direct violation of the [D.C. Human Rights Act]," id. (citing Richardson v. Petasis, 160 F.Supp.3d 88, 138 (D.D.C. 2015) ). Because the Court does not agree 369 F.Supp.3d 87entirely with the defendants "that [the p]laintiffs' [D.C. Human Ri......
  • Hogan v. Hayden, Civil Action No. 16-cv-1382 (TSC)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • September 11, 2019
    ...is a "commonly asserted, legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for taking an adverse employment action." Richardson v. Petasis , 160 F. Supp. 3d 88, 118 (D.D.C. 2015) ; see also Smith v. Dist. of Columbia , 430 F.3d 450, 455 (D.C. Cir. 2005) (affirming that an employee's "negligence and ins......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
23 cases
  • Ross v. U.S. Capitol Police, Civil No. 14-cv-1400 (KBJ)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • June 30, 2016
    ...marks omitted) (quoting Kalinoski v. Gutierrez , 435 F.Supp.2d 55, 78 (D.D.C.2006) ); see also Richardson v. Petasis , No. 13–00826, 160 F.Supp.3d 88, 128–29, 2015 WL 8082244, at *28 (D.D.C. Dec. 7, 2015) (denying summary judgment where a reasonable employee could have "interpret[ed] [the] ......
  • Doe v. George Wash. Univ., Civil Action No. 18-1391 (RBW)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • March 27, 2019
    ...aiding and abetting provision absent an underlying direct violation of the [D.C. Human Rights Act]," id. (citing Richardson v. Petasis, 160 F.Supp.3d 88, 138 (D.D.C. 2015) ). Because the Court does not agree 369 F.Supp.3d 87entirely with the defendants "that [the p]laintiffs' [D.C. Human Ri......
  • Wang v. Wash. Metro. Area Transit Auth., Civil Action No.: 14-1189 (RC)
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • July 25, 2016
    ...conduct. Magowan v. Lowery , No. 15–0917, 2016 WL 778351, at *18 (D.D.C. Feb. 29, 2016) ; see also Richardson v. Petasis , No. 13–0826, 160 F.Supp.3d 88, 2015 WL 8082244, at *29–31 (D.D.C. Dec. 7, 2015) ; Uzoukwu v. Metro. Wash. COG , 130 F.Supp.3d 403, 416–17 (D.D.C.2015) ; Brooks v. Kerry......
  • Hogan v. Hayden, Civil Action No. 16-cv-1382 (TSC)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • September 11, 2019
    ...is a "commonly asserted, legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for taking an adverse employment action." Richardson v. Petasis , 160 F. Supp. 3d 88, 118 (D.D.C. 2015) ; see also Smith v. Dist. of Columbia , 430 F.3d 450, 455 (D.C. Cir. 2005) (affirming that an employee's "negligence and ins......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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