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Tyree v. Foxx

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

September 8, 2014

ANTHONY FOXX, [1] Secretary U.S. Department of Transportation.


RYA W. ZOBEL, District Judge.

Elizabeth Tyree, an engineer who appears pro se, [2] was enrolled in a master's degree program in physics at Worcester Polytechnic Institute ("WPI"). She also worked as a paid intern for two years at the Volpe Center, a part of the U.S. Department of Transportation ("USDOT"). One of her job duties was conducting research on aircraft wake turbulence. Tyree used that research in her efforts to complete her master's thesis. When her internship ended, Tyree and Volpe personnel discussed the possibility of entering into a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement ("CRADA") with WPI, which would allow Tyree to continue to collaborate with Volpe as she pursued her degree. Their discussions were ultimately unsuccessful, and Tyree sees impropriety in Volpe's failure to provide her a CRADA.

She alleges two violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. First, Tyree, a black Hispanic woman, claims that Volpe personnel discriminated against her on the basis of race, sex, and/or national origin by intentionally withholding the CRADA. Id . § 2000e-16(a). Second, she claims that she participated in a post-employment training program at Volpe, which its personnel terminated because of her race, sex, and/or national origin. Id . § 2000e-2(d). Defendant moves for summary judgment. Docket # 58. After holding a hearing and carefully reviewing the facts in the light most favorable to Tyree, the motion is ALLOWED. See, e.g., Estate of Hevia v. Portrio Corp. , 602 F.3d 34, 38 (1st Cir. 2010) (legal standard).

I. Background

Tyree's internship was part of the Federal Career Internship Program. She began working on February 17, 2009. Her supervisors were Dr. Michael Geyer and Dr. Frank Wang, both of whom specialize in aircraft wake turbulence. Geyer managed the wake program at Volpe, and Wang was the team leader. Tyree was one of approximately ten people on the team.

In November 2010, Tyree received a negative performance review from Geyer and Wang. Tyree asked Geyer for an explanation. According to Tyree, Geyer replied that nobody had told him that Tyree was doing high quality work. Geyer went on to compare Tyree unfavorably to a male colleague. Wang compared her unfavorably to a different male colleague. Tyree noted that these male colleagues had different duties and roles in the organization.

When Tyree's internship ended, she expressed her desire to continue her research. Geyer suggested a CRADA. On February 10, 2011, the day before Tyree's internship ended, she met with Geyer, Wang, and Felecia McBride, a Volpe lawyer, to discuss the matter. McBride explained that she could begin drafting a CRADA once she received a Statement of Work ("SOW"). This responsibility fell to Tyree and Wang.

Tyree emailed Wang a first draft of the SOW on February 16, 2011. On April 28, 2011, after some intervening communication, Wang suggested that Tyree use a particular statistical tool in her research, as reflected in the SOW. Tyree agreed that the statistical tool was useful but expressed dissatisfaction that the SOW was progressing so slowly.

In June 2011, Tyree emailed McBride. They scheduled a meeting between the two of them, Wang, and Geyer, on August 4, 2011. Meanwhile, discussions between Tyree and Wang continued, and although it is not altogether clear why, their relationship worsened. Tyree stated her belief that Wang was dragging his feet on the SOW by suggesting she use "synthetic" data rather than real aircraft data collected at San Francisco International Airport, and by not entering his proposed changes to her research plan into the SOW document. Wang suggested that, as a collaboration, a CRADA must be beneficial to Volpe as well as to Tyree, and his comments were intended to create those benefits.

Wang revised the SOW and emailed it to Tyree on July 17, 2011. Tyree did not respond to Wang's email or comment on Wang's revisions. The parties did not meet in August, as scheduled. The SOW was never completed; for that reason, neither was the CRADA.

Tyree contacted Volpe's Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") counselor on August 10, 2011. She alleged that Volpe's continued resistance to execute a CRADA amounted to discrimination on the basis of sex. She requested $300, 000 and a new point of contact for the CRADA. Volpe declined to provide her requested remedy and authorized Tyree to file an administrative complaint with USDOT. She did so. The complaint was dismissed. She then appealed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's Office of Federal Operations, which likewise rejected her appeal. Then Tyree filed this suit.

II. Legal Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The court must view the record in the light most favorable to the nonmovant and draw all justifiable inferences in that party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). If the evidence presented would ...

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