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Menezes v. U.S. Department of Transportation

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

August 31, 2017

HARRIET MENEZES
v.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, and ANTHONY R. FOXX, Sec'y, U.S. Dep't of Transp.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          RICHARD G. STEARNS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Harriet Menezes brought this lawsuit against her former employer, the United States Department of Transportation (DOT), claiming, inter alia, a failure to accommodate her disabilities; retaliation and discriminatory treatment based on her disability, religious beliefs, race, gender, and age; and a creation of a hostile work environment. After a parade of dispositive motions and amended complaints, all that remains is a Title VII-retaliation claim based on Menezes' filings with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The claim is targeted at several of Menezes' Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) supervisors.[1] Discovery in this case ended on February 28, 2017. On May 12, 2017, the government moved for summary judgment. Menezes filed her Opposition on June 16, 2017.

         BACKGROUND

         Menezes recites five EEOC complaints that she filed between December 12, 2010, and March 22, 2013 (prior to her termination), that she alleges incited her managers to retaliate against her. The genesis and chronology of the relevant EEOC complaints are as follows.

         Menezes initiated an EEOC proceeding on December 6, 2010, complaining that an FAA manager, Scott Brackett, had discriminated against her. On January 10, 2011, Menezes filed a formal EEOC complaint detailing a number of alleged acts of discrimination. See Gov't Ex. 1 at 2.

         On January 13, 2012, Carlos Pestana, another of Menezes' supervisors, issued her a Letter of Reprimand for “Resisting Management Authority, ” after Menezes refused Pestana's order that she move to another workspace. Menezes told him that he was engaged in “military style management again.” See Gov't Ex. 2 at 1-2. The reprimand admonished her for “Inappropriate Conduct, ” based on an email she had sent to a co-worker complaining about her managers' work performance and her job responsibilities. On January 20, 2012, Menezes filed a second formal EEOC Complaint (EEOC No. 520-2012-00432), regarding Pestana's Letter of Reprimand, and seven claims of discrimination allegedly based on her Asian and White race, her brown skin color, her sex, her English birth, her age (51), her physical disabilities (cancer, sleep disorder, allergies), and a mental disability (anxiety), all occurring in the Fall of 2011, allegedly in reprisal for her first EEOC complaint.

         On May 16, 2012, Pestana issued a Letter of Decision to Menezes imposing a three-day suspension (May 21-24, 2012) for Inappropriate Conduct after Menezes sent an email to Pestana and co-workers complaining that she was “feeling the same battered wife syndrome as your wife [Pestana's] mentioned in her divorce filing, ” and that Pestana was “an abusive man.” Gov't Ex. 3 at 2. On June 3, 2012, the FAA assigned Menezes to a new supervisor, Angela Olson. On June 19, 2012, Menezes amended her pending EEOC Complaint to allege that the three-day suspension was the result of discrimination.

         On August 23, 2012, Olson issued Menezes a “Notice of Proposed Suspension for Fourteen Days for Inappropriate Conduct.” On September 24, 2012, she sent a Letter of Decision to Menezes imposing the suspension. This new charge of inappropriate conduct was based on an email Menezes sent to two FAA managers, Colleen D'Alessandro and Diane Romanosky, accusing Pestana of falsifying a travel voucher. See Gov't Ex. 5. Olson noted that Menezes' recent 3-day suspension and prior reprimand “have done little to deter this latest instance of inappropriate conduct, ” and that her lack of remorse and failure to acknowledge any responsibility for her actions warranted progressive discipline. Id. at 2, 5. Menezes contacted an EEO counselor on October 12, 2012, to complain about the suspension, and filed a third formal EEOC complaint on January 28, 2013. See Gov't Ex. 6.

         On February 12, 2013, Olson issued Menezes a “Notice of Proposed Removal for Inappropriate Conduct, Failure or Delay to Follow Instructions, and Defying Managerial Authority” based on Menezes' actions on December 3 and 4, 2012. Olson cited an email that Menezes had sent to her and fourteen other FAA employees stating that Olson had condoned “malicious gossip and speculations that management should not make to subordinates. . .” and had failed to investigate “false accusations made by an employee on alleged workplace violence.” With regard to Menezes' “Failure or Delay to Follow Instructions, ” Olson cited: (1) Menezes' failure to respond to five requests to correct a discrepancy in her time and attendance report; (2) failing to prioritize work assignments as directed; (3) failing to comply with four instructions not to place a telephone call while Olson was questioning her about a work assignment; (4) failing to give Olson the telephone before terminating the call so that Olson could speak to the other party; (5) failing to answer an incoming telephone call after three directives to do so; and (6) failing to notify Olson when she arrived at work at other than the scheduled start time. Olson also cited the following instances of Menezes “Defying Managerial Authority”: (1) her refusal to tell Olson when she had arrived for work and stating that the question was an abuse of Olson's authority; (2) refusing to meet with Olson to discuss the appropriate use of emails and other communications and, again telling Olson that her request was an abuse of authority; (3) her refusal to apprise Olson of the current status of Menezes' work and again iterating the accusation of abuse of authority; and (4) Menezes' refusal to perform a particular work assignment and again telling Olson that the assignment was an abuse of her authority. See Gov't Ex. 7. Olson provided Menezes with 16 hours of excused absence to review the materials attached to the “proposed removal” memorandum and to file a reply. After receiving two extensions to prepare a response, on March 20, 2013, Menezes filed her rebuttal.

         After six years of government service, Menezes was terminated from her position as an Administrative Officer at the FAA effective May 3, 2013. See Gov't Ex. 8. Menezes filed her next EEOC Complaint on July 3, 2013, challenging her dismissal. Ultimately, Menezes withdrew her EEOC Complaint of January 28, 2013, and on May 19, 2015, filed a 60-page Complaint initiating this action.

         DISCUSSION

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) “mandates the entry of summary judgment . . . upon motion against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-323 (1986).

For purposes of summary judgment we are required to draw every reasonable inference in favor of the nonmoving party. However, at this stage we need not credit inferences that “rely on tenuous insinuation.” Nat'l Amusements, Inc. v. Town of Dedham, 43 F.3d 731, 743 (1st Cir. 1995) (internal quotations omitted). Moreover, the nonmovant still has “the burden of producing specific facts sufficient to deflect . . . summary judgment. . . . ” Mulvihill v. Top-Flite Golf Co., 335 F.3d 15, 19 (1st Cir. 2003).

Dennis v. Osram Sylvania, Inc., 549 F.3d 851, 858 (1st Cir. 2008). A trial judge acts well within his authority on a summary judgment motion in assessing the reasonableness of the inferences that might be drawn from the circumstantial evidence. Ricci v. Alternative Energy, Inc., 211 F.3d 157, 161-162 (1st Cir. 2000). “[A] mere challenge to the credibility of a movant's witnesses without any supporting evidence does not raise a trialworthy issue of fact.” Moreau v. Local Union No. 247, 851 F.2d 516, 519 (1st Cir. 1998); see also Favorito v. Pannell, 27 F.3d 716, 721 (1st Cir. 1994); LaFrenier v. Kinirey,550 F.3d 166, 167-168 (1st Cir. 2008). “[O]n summary judgment, absent specific facts discrediting testimony from a witness associated with the movant, and absent a direct conflict in the testimony, the opponent ...


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