United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division
STEPHEN R. BOUGH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court is Defendant William Barr's
(“FBI”) Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. #42).
For the following reasons the motion is GRANTED.
Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) requires a court to grant a
motion for summary judgment if 1) the moving party
“shows that there is no genuine dispute of material
fact” and 2) the moving party is “entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.” A nonmoving party
survives a summary judgment motion if the evidence, viewed in
the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, is
“such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for
the nonmoving party.” Stuart C. Irby Co. v.
Tipton, 796 F.3d 918, 922 (8th Cir. 2015) (quoting
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
(1986)). The purpose of summary judgment “is not to cut
litigants off from their right of trial by jury if they
really have issues to try.” Hughes v. Am. Jawa,
Ltd., 529 F.2d 21, 23 (8th Cir. 1976) (internal
quotation marks omitted) (quoting Poller v. Columbia
Broadcasting Sys., Inc., 368 U.S. 464, 467 (1962)).
Julie Meriano (“Meriano”), a former Special Agent
for the Kansas City Division of the FBI, seeks relief from
alleged violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of
1964 (“Title VII”). Considering the parties'
factual positions in the light most favorable to the
non-moving party, the Court finds the relevant facts to be as
follows. Meriano transferred into the FBI's Kansas City
field office in July 2009, where she was assigned to a
ten-agent covert surveillance unit. Shortly after, Meriano
became involved in a sexual relationship with an agent
assigned to the surveillance unit, Special Agent Sean Edwards
(“Edwards”), a relationship which eventually came
to include Edwards' wife. The relationship ended badly
during the summer of 2010, and Edwards and his wife soon
began subjecting Meriano to various types of harassing
conduct. Relevant here are Meriano's claims that Edwards
spread false and negative rumors about her, including
attributing her professional success to her promiscuity,
stating she was “overly emotional and histrionic about
minor things, ” and accusing her of creating a fake
online-dating profile for him. (Doc. #46, p. 18).
transferred Edwards out of the surveillance unit in 2011.
Meriano decided not to pursue an Equal Employment Opportunity
(“EEO”) hostile work environment complaint
related to Edwards' conduct at that time, in part because
she believed the matter would be reported to the FBI's
Office of Professional Responsibility. Following Edwards'
transfer, Meriano no longer saw or interacted with him.
However, Meriano alleges that Edwards' harassment
continued after his transfer, namely in the form of damaging
and negative rumors he periodically communicated to third
was, by all accounts, an effective FBI agent. She received
strong performance ratings from her supervisors, and in 2014
she was assessed as “outstanding” by her
immediate supervisor. She additionally received two
performance awards in March and April 2015. At some point in
2015, Meriano was designated as the team leader for the
surveillance squad. While this designation does not result in
increased pay or benefits, according to Meriano it is a
position of prestige that carries with it additional time
initiated his own EEO complaint and eventually filed a
lawsuit alleging, inter alia, that his transfer was
discriminatory and Meriano had received preferential
treatment from the FBI. See Edwards v. Lynch, No.
13-0729-CV-ODS, 111 F.Supp.3d 989 (W.D. Mo. May 22, 2015).
The bench trial of Edwards' discrimination case took
place in May 2015, and Meriano testified in court on behalf
of the FBI on May 7, 2015. While the nature and scope of
Meriano's preoccupation with the Edwards trial is
disputed, Meriano did offer at one point to step down as team
leader due to the upcoming trial. Meriano feared that Edwards
might react toward her in a violent and retaliatory way if he
lost his case, and she expressed those concerns in writing to
FBI management prior to the trial. At one point, Meriano also
met with members of Legal Aid and the Kansas City Police
Department regarding her safety concerns. After her testimony
at Edwards' trial but prior to the verdict, Meriano
requested a meeting with Special Agent-in-Charge Jackson
(“Jackson”) and communicated her plan to take
open-ended leave once the verdict in Edwards' case was
announced. Jackson scheduled that meeting for May 29, 2015.
Subsequently, the Honorable Ortrie Smith issued a written
decision on May 22, 2015, finding in favor of the FBI on all
of Edwards' employment discrimination claims.
and Jackson met as scheduled on May 29, 2015, at the FBI
offices. Certain aspects of this meeting are highly disputed.
Meriano admits she had not slept the night before the meeting
and states she was frightened about meeting in a building
where Edwards might also be located. During that meeting,
Jackson informed Meriano that he had received complaints
about her preoccupation with the Edwards trial, including her
diminished performance and effectiveness as team leader.
Meriano claims Jackson verbally reprimanded her, berated her,
and threatened to transfer her to a different division and
confiscate her weapon. Jackson did not ultimately act on his
threats. Jackson also asked if she had received any contact
from Edwards in the four years since he had been transferred
to a different unit. Meriano responded that she had not, but
Meriano claims that when she attempted to explain her
concerns, Jackson acted dismissively, “put his hand in
her face, ” and did not allow her to explain further.
At one point during the meeting, Meriano began to cry.
Jackson proceeded to remove Meriano as team leader of the
surveillance squad, though whether that removal was permanent
or temporary is disputed. Jackson also instructed Meriano to
go on leave from work, though the nature of that instruction
and the type of leave she was supposed to take is disputed.
Jackson also referred Meriano to the FBI's Employee
Assistance Program (“EAP”) due to her emotional
state and visible signs of excessive stress.
and Jackson met again on June 9, 2015. During that meeting,
Jackson told Meriano he would consider the recommendations of
the EAP counselor in determining how to best move forward.
Meriano claims she was also directed to not discuss with
anyone her harassment or reprisal concerns regarding Edwards.
Following a physical examination in June 2015 that declared
her able to return to work, Meriano's supervisor(s) asked
her to return to work on July 1, 2015. Meriano declined to do
so. For the first time, Meriano also reported her concerns of
workplace retaliation and a hostile work environment to an
EEO counselor on July 1, 2015.
nature and circumstances of Meriano's continued leave is
disputed, though between June 29, 2015, and January 28, 2016,
Meriano used 480 hours of FMLA and Leave Without Pay
(“LWOP”), 342 hours of discretionary LWOP, 10
hours of compensatory time-off for travel, 268.25 hours of
annual leave, and 109.75 hours of sick leave. On January 29,
2016, the FBI declared Meriano to be absent without leave
(“AWOL”). Following ongoing consultations with
medical providers, Meriano's physician issued a letter
concluding Meriano was unable to return to work for the FBI
in any capacity on March 8, 2016. On April 4, 2016, Jackson
proposed that Meriano be removed from employment with the
FBI, and her employment was ultimately terminated on August
4, 2016. At that time, Meriano acknowledged that she was no
longer medically able to perform her duties as a special
agent for the FBI.
complaint, Meriano alleges she suffered unlawful sex
discrimination and retaliation during her tenure at the FBI.
Meriano seeks recovery for: (1) Count I: Discrimination Based
on Sex; (2) Count II: Sexual Harassment/Hostile Work
Environment; and (3) Count III: Retaliation. The FBI moves
for summary judgment on all Counts. The Court first addresses
Meriano's hostile work environment claim under Count II,
followed by her sex discrimination and retaliation claims
raised under Counts I & III.
Count II: Sexual ...