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Watson v. Wilkie

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

July 24, 2019

MONICA WATSON, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT WILKIE, SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF VETERAN AFFAIRS[1]; Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          ROSEANN A. KETCHMARK, JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Defendant Robert Wilkie, Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs (“Defendant”)'s Motion for Summary Judgment (“the Motion”). (Doc. 49.) The Motion is fully briefed. (Docs. 51, 55.) After careful consideration and for the reasons below, the Motion is GRANTED.

         Background

         Plaintiff Monica Watson (“Plaintiff”) brings the following allegations in her Complaint. (Doc. 35.) Plaintiff is an African American female that was employed with the Department of Veterans Affairs from September 2006 until her resignation in May 2016. In 2014, Plaintiff was a GS-0675-9 level employee with the position title of Medical Records Technician. She was employed at the Kansas City VA Medical Center.

         Plaintiff alleges claims against Defendant pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 20003 et seq. Plaintiff alleges she was racially discriminated against by her supervisor Laurie Schwab (“Schwab”), and this discrimination resulted in Plaintiff's constructive discharge. Plaintiff alleges the following causes of action: Count I: Race Discrimination; Count II: Hostile Work Environment; Count III: Retaliation; and Count IV: Constructive Discharge. Plaintiff seeks the following relief: monetary damages including lost wages, lost earning capacity, emotional distress, back pay, compensatory damages, and special damages; equitable or injunctive relief; punitive and/or statutory damages; attorney's fees; and costs. Plaintiff alleges the following events in support of all claims.

         - Boarding Issue[2]

         The parties agree that Plaintiff's position title was officially changed on June 28, 2015, to Medical Records Technician (Coder) - CDIS. The parties agree the title change was in accordance with new “hybrid Title 38” position titles. The parties agree that Plaintiff's salary did not change with the position change.

         Plaintiff argues that the failure to provide Plaintiff the opportunity to board into her new position prevented her from being able to meet the qualifications at the new position. Plaintiff testified that she and other African American employees were only allowed to engage in coding work. (Doc. 51-7, Plaintiff's Affid.) Plaintiff testified that as a result of the failure to board, Plaintiff and her similarly situated colleagues were subjected to increased workloads and passed over for advancement opportunities. (Doc. 51-7, Plaintiff's Affid.)

         Schwab testified that Plaintiff did not require boarding because Plaintiff received boarding for a promotion to the Coder, GS-0675-9 position prior to 2010; therefore, she did not require additional boarding for the new position. (Doc. 49-6, Schwab Affid.) Utley testified that the increase in Plaintiff's workload was the result of a staffing shortage, not the result of race discrimination. (Doc. 49-7, Utley Affid.)

         - October 19, 2015 Meeting

         The parties agree that on October 19, 2015, Plaintiff's supervisor, Stan Utley, stated that if the staff in Plaintiff's department did not improve productivity, the senior management would suspend the program group Plaintiff was assigned. The parties agree the program was eventually disbanded. The parties agree the shutdown did not affect Plaintiff's salary, grade, or job benefits.

         - October 21, 2015 Performance Rating

         The parties agree that Plaintiff received an annual performance rating of “Fully Successful” on her annual performance appraisal completed by Schwab. Plaintiff testified that she was unable to surpass the performance standards because her work load was too high and did not receive proper boarding for the work. (Doc. 51-7, Plaintiff's Affid.) Plaintiff also testified that Schwab manipulated the policies and procedures to deny Plaintiff access to career advancement. Schwab testified that Plaintiff received the rating of “Fully Successful” because Plaintiff merely met her performance standards. (Doc. 49-6, Schwab Affid.) Utley testified that the increased workload was not the result of discrimination, and instead, was the result of a staffing shortage. (Doc. 49-7, Utley Affid.) Schwab also testified that Plaintiff did not require boarding. (Doc. 49-6, Schwab Affid.)

         - Job Announcements

         The parties agree that Schwab forwarded job announcements to Plaintiff and other employees. Plaintiff testified that these job announcements were directed only to her, and the announcements were nonverbal gestures that Schwab was encouraging Plaintiff to find a new job. (Doc. 51-7, Plaintiff's Affid.) Schwab testified that job announcements were sent to multiple coding employees. (Doc. 49-6, Schwab Affid.) Utley testified that the letters were sent because Plaintiff said she was actively seeking a different job. (Docs. 49-7, Utley Affid.)

         - Criticism of Plaintiff to Management

         Plaintiff argues that Schwab spoke poorly of her to several senior level managers and a union representative. (Doc. 51-7, Plaintiff's Affid.) Specifically, Plaintiff alleges Schwab stated that Plaintiff would not be good at presenting to physicians. (Id.) Plaintiff argues that these statements were in retaliation for the EEO Complaint because Schwab had rated Plaintiff's presentation skills highly before the EEO Complaint was filed.

         Defendant argues that the alleged statements could not have been made in retaliation because Plaintiff alleges the discussion occurred in February 2016, but Plaintiff did not seek EEO counseling until March 2016 and filed the EEO Complaint in June 2016.

         - Counseling Memorandum

         The parties agree that Plaintiff received a written counseling memorandum from Schwab on March 18, 2016. The parties also agree the written counseling states that Plaintiff failed to follow instructions regarding deadlines and states that Plaintiff's productivity is at eighteen percent for the period of February 28, 2016, through March 4, 2016.

         Plaintiff testified that her productivity was low during that period because she was out on sick leave during that time. (Doc. 51-7, Plaintiff's Depo.) Plaintiff also testified that she and another African American colleague were given written counseling memorandums, but a white coworker who also missed deadlines was not. (Doc. 51-8, McKenzie Memo. to Inkley.) Plaintiff testified that the receipt of a written counseling memorandum puts Plaintiff in a position vulnerable to termination. (Doc. 51-7, Plaintiff's Affid.)

         Defendant states that Plaintiff's written counseling was not a disciplinary action, and instead, Schwab explained that it served only as an opportunity for improvement regarding repeated failure to follow instructions. (Doc. 49-6, Schwab Affid.) Defendant also states Schwab did not give a written counseling to a white coworker who was going to receive the same written counseling because the white coworker turned in the assignment five minutes before the deadline, where Plaintiff's assignment was late. (Id.)

         - Denial of Special Advancement Award

         The parties agree that Plaintiff did not receive a special advancement award. Plaintiff argues that she qualified for the Special Advancement Award but was denied the award solely as a result of Schwab's performance review of Plaintiff. Defendant states that Plaintiff was denied the award because she did not show excellence in performance and there was no evidence of any “extra special” achievement. (Doc. 49-22.)

         - Resignation

         The parties agree that Plaintiff submitted her letter of resignation on May 16, 2016. The parties agree that Plaintiff's letter of resignation stated, This is an official letter of resignation of my current position at the KCVA Medical Center, I will be moving forward in my career path and have accepted a professional position that will allow me to fully utilize my plethora of skills and knowledge and is commensurate with my ...


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