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Phillips v. Raytheon Applied Signal Technology, Inc.

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

September 27, 2013



ELLEN L. HOLLANDER, District Judge.

Cynthia Phillips, plaintiff, filed suit against Raytheon Applied Signal Technology, Inc. ("Raytheon"), defendant, alleging unlawful employment discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, codified, as amended, at 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., and violation of the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), codified at 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601 et. seq. [2] In particular, Phillips alleges that she was discriminated against on the basis of race and gender (Counts I and II); that she was subjected to a hostile work environment on the basis of race and gender (Counts III and IV); that she was terminated in retaliation for filing a complaint with the company's Human Resources ("HR") department concerning discrimination and harassment (Count V); and that Raytheon violated plaintiff's rights under the FMLA by failing to reinstate her after she took a medical leave of absence (Count VI).

At the conclusion of discovery, Raytheon moved for summary judgment ("Motion, " ECF 44) and filed a supporting memorandum ("Memo, " ECF 44-1) as well as voluminous exhibits. Plaintiff opposed the Motion ("Opposition" or "Opp., " ECF 47), supported by numerous exhibits, and Raytheon replied ("Reply, " ECF 48).[3] The Motion has been fully briefed, and no hearing is necessary to resolve it. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, I will grant the Motion.

Factual Background[4]

A. Phillips' Employment with Raytheon

Raytheon is a government contractor that develops computer software and hardware for defense, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance applications. Declaration of Steve Campbell, Wireless Systems Director at Raytheon ("Campbell Decl., " ECF 44-42) ¶¶ 2-4. One such contract between Raytheon and the United States Government was the code-named "Tahoe" Project. Id. at ¶¶ 6-7. The Tahoe Project was comprised of nine platforms, or systems, that were similarly code-named after California lakes, including Shasta, Emerald, and Blue Water. Id. at ¶ 7. Raytheon's Wireless Communications Systems Division was primarily responsible for the Tahoe Project. Id. at ¶ 8.

On April 10, 2007, Raytheon hired Phillips, an African-American female, into the Wireless Communications Systems Division to perform software testing on the Tahoe Project. Am. Compl. ¶ 1. She remained at Raytheon for approximately 21 months, working primarily on two platforms, Shasta and Blue Water. See Phillips Timesheet, Ex. A to Campbell Decl.[5] Raytheon planned for Phillips to conduct work on the Emerald platform. Campbell Decl. ¶ 11.

At the time of her hiring, Phillips' direct supervisor was Peter Robinson, the Section Manager for the Systems Engineering Group. See 2007 Organizational Chart, Mot. Ex.10 (ECF 44-12) at 1; Deposition of Cynthia Phillips ("Phillips Dep.") at 56:8-11. Robinson reported to Matthew Cottrell, the Manager of the Systems Development Department, and Cottrell reported to Joe Leonelli, the Manager of the Wireless Communication Systems Division. See 2007 Organizational Chart. However, Phillips' day-to-day work was supervised by Bob Hinckley, who served as an intermediary between the software testers and Robinson. See Deposition of Matthew Cottrell ("Cottrell Dep.") at 11:20-12:20.

B. Phillips' Interactions with Bob Hinckley

Phillips alleges that throughout her employment at Raytheon, she was harassed and discriminated against on the basis of her race and gender. Further, she alleges that Raytheon failed to "timely and effectively address the discriminatory acts of Bob Hinckley" and that management participated "in the discriminatory conduct toward the plaintiff." Am. Compl. ¶¶ 33, 36, 38, 40.

According to plaintiff, the first instance of harassment took place between April and June 2007, when Hinckley allegedly told Phillips that "some men think that [she is] a bitch." Phillips Dep. at 128:6-129:10; see also Phillips Chart, Mot. Ex. 21 (ECF 44-23) at 2.[6] At his deposition, Hinckley denied using such pejorative language, but acknowledged that he had informed Phillips that others were "irritated" with her because she arrived to a worksite three hours late. Deposition of Robert Hinckley ("Hinckley Dep.") at 22:6-23:18. Phillips also alleges that on four occasions between April and June 2007, Hinckley referred to her as "stupid, ignorant, or dumb." Phillips Chart at 2. Each time, according to Phillips, she would "call him aside" and "tell him not to do it again." Phillips Dep. at 132:2-134:17. Hinckley denies making any of the statements. Hinckley Dep. at 25:8-12.

On September 21, 2007, Phillips met with Julie Mallam, a Raytheon HR employee. She explained that she felt she was "working in a good-old-boys club, " and asked Mallam for advice. Phillips Dep. at 140:10-142:18; Phillips Chart at 3. Phillips did not file a formal complaint, however. Phillips Dep. at 142:16. According to Phillips, Hinckley later told her that he knew about her meeting with Mallam and that any further complaints would "get back to him." Phillips Dep. at 141:11-21; Phillips Chart at 3.

Phillips also alleges two separate incidents of discrimination on October 2, 2007. As to one, she alleges that Hinckley told her that she was "overpaid." Phillips Chart at 3; see also Affidavit of Cynthia Phillips ("Phillips Aff., " ECF 47-1) ¶ 5. Phillips testified at her deposition that she believed Hinckley "was trying to insult" her because he was "upset" about "an incident." Phillips Dep. at 146:4-12. Hinckley denies making the statement. Hinckley Dep. at 25:16-19; 35:19-36:4. As to the other, Phillips claims that she found hidden in the bottom of a drawer a "key document" relating to a "pager system" that she had requested from Hinckley. Phillips Chart at 3. When asked what led her to believe that it had been hidden from her, Phillips cited the document's condition, noting that it "wasn't dirty and filthy... [and] appeared to be placed there and turned over under some books." Phillips Dep. at 147:4-20. Phillips has not explained why she believes it was Hinckley who hid the document, but claims that Hinckley later used the document to train a female employee named Jessica. Phillips Dep. at 151:16-152:4. Hinckley maintained that, at the time of the incident, he was unaware that the document contained information related to the pager system. Hinckley Dep. at 36:5-17.

Later that month, Raytheon created a separate Integration and Test Group within the Systems Engineering Group. Campbell Decl. ¶ 14. Raytheon assigned Phillips to this new group and named Hinckley as its Supervisor. Id. ¶ 15. As a result of this reorganization, Hinckley became Phillips' direct supervisor. Id. ¶ 16.

Phillips also complains about a Christmas lunch in December 2007, when she joined five male Raytheon employees, including Hinckley. At the lunch, Hinckley told a story about his time in the Navy, and named the characters in the story after the individuals present at the lunch. The character to whom he assigned the name "Cynthia" had behaved in a "silly" or "dumb" way. Phillips Dep. at 152:10-154:12; Hinckley Dep. at 24:1-25:7.

In January 2008, Robinson sent an email to several Raytheon employees, including Phillips, requesting that they provide comments for him to include in an annual performance appraisal of Hinckley. Opp. Ex. 30 (ECF 47-30). Although Phillips indicated that she would provide her comments in the next two days, she never did so. Id .; see also Deposition of Peter Robinson ("Robinson Dep.") at 27:20-29:5.

In March 2008, as part of the company's annual performance evaluation process, Raytheon asked Phillips to submit a self-evaluation. Robinson Dep. at 35:15-36:7; Phillips Chart at 3. While drafting her self-evaluation, Phillips wrote two single-spaced pages about the "insults and abuse" she felt she had endured "at the hands of Bob Hinckley." Phillips Chart at 3; Phillips Aff. ¶ 7. On March 15, 2008, Phillips decided to report Hinckley's behavior to HR, and she made an appointment to meet with HR employee Ingrid Ross-Sinkler on March 21, 2008. Phillips Dep. at 155:18-159:2; Phillips Aff. ¶ 7. Prior to that appointment, on March 19, 2008, Phillips met with Robinson to discuss her interactions with Hinckley. Phillips Aff. ¶ 10. Robinson advised Phillips not to report the incidents to HR, instead assuring her that he would discuss the matter with Cottrell and then decide the appropriate course of action. Phillips Aff. ¶ 10; Robinson Dep. at 26:20-30:15. As a result, Phillips cancelled her March 21 meeting with Ross-Sinkler. Phillips Aff. ¶ 10.

When Robinson and Cottrell did not take any formal action by March 28, 2008, Phillips decided to meet with Ross-Sinkler. Phillips Dep. at 159:2-14; see Robinson Dep. at 30:16-31:10. At their meeting, Ross-Sinkler advised Phillips to write a detailed account of her interactions with Hinckley. Phillips Aff. ¶ 11. Later that day, Robinson informed Phillips that he was aware that she had met with Ross-Sinkler, and he urged Phillips to write about her interactions with Hinckley in a document separate from her self-evaluation. Phillips Aff. ¶ 12. Her self-evaluation, he explained, should describe her job performance and not her interpersonal conflicts. Id .; see also Robinson Dep. at 34:13-35:5. Three days later, Phillips submitted her self-evaluation to Robinson via email. See Opp. Ex. 34 (ECF 47-34). Despite Robinson's requests, Phillips included a lengthy description of her interactions with Hinckley. Robinson Dep. 35:15-21, 38:22-39:6.

The next day, April 1, 2008, Leonelli, Cottrell, Robinson, and Hinckley met to discuss Phillips' concerns. Mallam served as the HR representative at the meeting. The attendees discussed Phillips' technical value to and personal interactions with the team. See Mot. Ex. 34 (ECF 44-36) at 1; Opp. Ex. 25 (ECF 47-25) at 1. Leonelli warned Hinckley that he "could be creating an abusive environment" and reminded the others of the company's sexual harassment policy.[7] See Mot. Ex. 34 (ECF 44-36) at 1-2; Opp. Ex. 25 (ECF 47-25) at 1-2.

The following day, April 2, 2008, Leonelli met with Phillips. HR's Ross-Sinkler and Mallam were also present. At the meeting, Phillips raised numerous concerns about Hinckley. In describing her interactions with Hinckley, Phillips noted that she "doesn't believe it is a racial issue, but more of a female issue" and that she believed Hinckley "has female abuse' issues." See Mot. Ex. 34 (ECF 44-36) at 2; Opp. Ex. 25 (ECF 47-25) at 2. Phillips claims that Leonelli instructed her not to "act like a victim." Phillips Aff. ¶ 14.

Leonelli, Hinckley, Mallam, and Phillips met again on April 3, 2008. Leonelli asked Phillips what course of action she wanted the company to take, and Phillips replied that she wanted Hinckley to undergo sensitivity training and to be formally censured. See Mot. Ex. 34 (ECF 44-36) at 3; Opp. Ex. 25 (ECF 47-25) at 3.

On April 7, 2008, Cottrell sent Hinckley a memorandum regarding workplace behavior, which Hinckley signed. See Mot. Ex. 35 (ECF 44-37) at 1. In the memorandum, Cottrell advised Hinckley that "management has been informed of multiple instances of an employee under your supervision feeling personally and professionally insulted by your behavior toward her, as well as feeling threatened with retaliation." Id. He also admonished Hinckley for his "unacceptable behavior, " and informed him that the company would "exhibit zero tolerance for further instances of behaviors discussed" in the previous week's meetings. Id. at 2. Moreover, Hinckley was told that his "behavior and actions must be fair and ethical, and above reproach, " because "management will accept nothing less." Id. at 1. In addition, he was advised: "Continued complaints about your behavior and treatment of employees will result in more serious disciplinary action." Id. at 2.

In addition, the memorandum quoted portions of "AST Policy POL-035-91, " which stated, in part: "Applied Signal Technology is committed to fair and ethical behavior, and our corporate reputation for adhering to high standards is one of our most valuable assets.'" Id. at 1 (quoting Policy). Further, the Policy stated: "Applied Signal Technology expects its employees to conduct business with the highest possible standards of personal and professional conduct. It is important to the Company that these standards are taken seriously by all employees. Accordingly, violations of these standards will not be tolerated. '" Id. (quoting Policy) (emphasis added by Raytheon). In addition, Hinckley was reminded that "all employees are required to read and signify their understanding of this policy on a yearly basis, " and he was urged to review the policy. Id.

At some point that year, Raytheon conducted sensitivity training for its employees. Deposition of Joseph Leonelli ("Leonelli Dep.") at 23:18-24:10; Deposition of Ingrid Ross-Sinkler ("Ross-Sinkler Dep.") at 22:9-24, 24:25-25:4.

On April 24, 2008, Phillips met with Hinckley and Robinson for her annual review. Phillips alleges that Robinson referred to Phillips' job-related interactions as "unprofessional" and "hostile." Phillips Aff. ¶ 33. Phillips felt that Robinson intended "to provoke her into acting unprofessionally" because of her previous complaints about Hinckley. Id. At the end of the meeting, Robinson offered Phillips a 3% salary increase. Opp. Ex. 29 (ECF 44-17).

Phillips filed a complaint with HR about Robinson's comments at the meeting and suggested that her salary increase would have been greater had she not filed a complaint against Hinckley. Opp. Ex. 29 (ECF 47-29); Mot. Ex. 15 (ECF 44-17). She also complained that "a cost of living raise is currently running around 4.6%." However, Phillips has not provided any evidence relating to salary or cost-of-living increases awarded to other employees to show that she was treated less favorably than similarly situated employees.

At Phillips' request, she moved into a different office space in June 2008. See Robinson Dep. at 57:2-8; Mot. Ex. 37 (ECF 44-39) at 3. Phillips suggests that she did not request the relocation of her office. See, e.g., Phillips Aff. ¶ 16 ("Hinckley moved me into a separate office...."); Phillips Chart at 5 ("Joe Leonelli decided it was best that I move to another office."). However, Phillips' deposition testimony and April 2008 self-evaluation establish that she requested another office. See Phillips Dep. at 201:9 ("I asked to be separated from Bob."); Id. at 202:6-12; Phillips' April 2008 Employee Self-Appraisal, Ex. 37 to Memo (ECF 44-39) at 3 ("I would like to have a different office.").

Around the same time (June 2008), Hinckley advised Phillips that she need not attend the Configuration Control Board's weekly status meetings. Hinckley Dep. at 50:7-12. According to Hinckley, he had initially asked both Phillips and her male co-worker, Jerome McDonald, [8] a software tester at Raytheon, to attend the meetings. Id. at 50:7-19; Deposition of Jerome McDonald ("McDonald Dep.") at 8:6-8. Once they "understood some of the process, " however, it was no longer necessary for Phillips and McDonald to attend, which Hinckley explained. Hinckley Dep. at 50:7-19.

In June or July 2008, Raytheon again reorganized the Wireless Communications Systems Division, [9] this time renaming it the Intelligence and Electronics Warfare Division. Campbell Decl. ¶ 17. On July 28, 2008, Cottrell transferred Phillips from Hinckley's Integration and Test Group to the Systems Engineering Group, which was supervised by Eric Glover. Campbell Decl. ¶ 18; Opp. Ex. 26 (ECF 47-26); Phillips Dep. at 212:10-21.

Shortly after the change in supervisory authority, Hinckley completed an interim performance review of Phillips. Phillips Dep. at 214:11-22; see Interim Performance Review, Mot. Ex. 17 (ECF 44-19). In the review, Hinckley thanked Phillips for her efforts and noted his belief that he and Phillips "have made excellent strides in understanding each others [sic] working ethics" and that she had "helped [him] improve some of [his] organizational skills." Id. at 1. Hinckley also wrote that he "appreciate[d] [Phillips'] enormous improvement in our testing documentation." Id. In Section Three of the evaluation, titled "Comments, " Hinckley included a list of character traits and professional skills "that make up an extraordinary leader, " which he "wanted to share" with Phillips. Id. at 2. The list contained fifty-two bullet points, such as, id. at 2-3:

• Being approachable by anyone
• Treating everyone the same - no "smiling up and kicking down" behavior
• Treating the waitress and bellhop with dignity, as well as people of high status
• Being tenacious and not giving up because something is difficult
• Personally sponsor an initiative or action
• Developing the skills and talents of subordinates
• Teaching others in a helpful manner

According to Phillips, the list contained "false information" and was racially offensive. Opp. at 10. Specifically, Phillips claims that the evaluation was retaliatory and that the tenor of the evaluation suggests that Hinckley regarded her as an "uppity negro." Phillips Aff. ¶ 18.

The next day, July 29, 2008, Phillips submitted a document to HR requesting a leave of absence for two surgical procedures, the first of which was to take place on August 22, 2008. Phillips Dep. at 219:21-220:22. Raytheon granted Phillips a leave of absence and on August 7, 2008, Phillips met with Ross-Sinkler to sign a Leave of Absence Agreement. Mot. Ex. 18 (ECF 44-20). The Agreement detailed Phillips' rights under the FMLA, including that "the maximum length of a FMLA Leave is 12 workweeks" and that "a physician's release to return to work is required." Id. (emphasis in original). Phillips' leave of absence began on August 21, 2008. Phillips Aff. ¶ 19.

C. Tahoe Project Cancellations

In August and September 2008, Raytheon's government client for the "Tahoe" project terminated several of the nine platforms comprising the project.[10] Campbell Dep. at 15:1-16:10; Cottrell Dep. 50:21-51:11. The parties dispute the impact of these cancellations on the projects on which Phillips had been working. Raytheon maintains that the cancellations affected both Hinckley's Integration and Test Group and Glover's Systems Engineering Group. According to Raytheon, by January 2009 both groups had been reduced from six to three employees, and in February 2009, the Integration and Test Group was disbanded entirely. Campbell Decl. ¶ 22-24. By the end of March, all of the individuals who had been performing software testing on Blue Water and Emerald (other than Phillips) either found work on other Raytheon projects or left the company voluntarily. Campbell Decl. ¶ 25.

Phillips suggests that Raytheon has exaggerated the impact of the contract cancellations. Specifically, Phillips notes that work on the Shasta project continued at least into late 2009. See, e.g., McDonald Dep. at 28:12-37:18. Additionally, Phillips has shown that Raytheon advertised two available software testing positions in late January 2009. See Deposition of Robert Adams, Raytheon's Director of Mission Operations ("Adams Dep.") at 15:18-18:21.[11]

D. Phillips' Attempted Return to Raytheon

In early November 2008, Phillips emailed Glover and McDonald to inform them of her intent to return to work on November 10, 2008. Phillips Aff. ¶ 35.[12] Phillips claims that she then contacted Ross-Sinkler to request permission to return on November 17, 2008, due to "a delay in the paperwork by [her] doctor." Phillips Aff. ¶ 35. According to Phillips, Ross-Sinkler advised that such an arrangement would be acceptable and did not notify Phillips that she might forfeit her FMLA protection by returning more than twelve weeks after her leave of absence began. Phillips Aff. ¶ 35. Raytheon disputes that any such conversation between Phillips and Ross-Sinkler took place, noting that Phillips' Amended Complaint, deposition testimony, and chart of events make no mention of any such conversation. See Reply at 21-22. In any event, Phillips was not medically cleared to return to work until November 24, 2008. See Mot. Ex. 20 (ECF 44-22).

On November 14, 2008, Cottrell contacted Phillips to inform her that because of the Tahoe contract cancellations, Raytheon had no work available for her. Phillips Dep. at 233:19-234:7. Cottrell advised Phillips not to return to work, but he also assured her that she had not been fired. Id.; Phillips Chart at 6. One week later, on November 21, 2008, Ross-Sinkler contacted Phillips with essentially the same information; ...

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