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Washington v. Coastal International Security

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 16, 2015



DEBORAH K. CHASANOW, District Judge.

Presently pending and ready for resolution in this discrimination case are: (1) a motion to transfer the case filed by Plaintiff George Washington (ECF No. 44); and (2) a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant Coastal International Security (ECF No. 31). The issues have been fully briefed, and the court now rules, no hearing being deemed necessary. Local Rule 105.6. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's motion to transfer will be denied. Defendant's motion for summary judgment will be granted.

I. Background

A. Factual Background

Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are undisputed. Coastal International Security, Inc. ("Coastal" or "Defendant") is a government contractor providing private security services to high-impact government agencies such as the Department of State, Homeland Security and Defense, and commercial organizations in the Baltimore-Washington area. (ECF No. 32-1, at 2). Plaintiff George Washington ("Plaintiff" or "Mr. Washington") began working for Coastal in July of 2010 as an armed security officer. (ECF No. 32-3, at 9-10). One of Coastal's federal contracts involves providing armed security services at the White Oak facility, pursuant to a contract with the United States Department of Homeland Security-Federal Protective Services ("White Oak Contract"). (ECF No. 32-1, at 2, Caruso Affid. ¶ 3). Paul Caruso served as the Project Manager on the White Oak Contract. ( Id. ¶ 4).

Plaintiff began working on the White Oak Contract specifically as an armed security guard in or around December 25, 2011. ( Id. ¶ 5). Plaintiff is a war veteran and had to be available one weekend on a monthly basis to fulfill his military duties with the United States Navy Reserve. (ECF No. 32-3, at 13-14, Washington depo.). Mr. Caruso declares that after Plaintiff was assigned to the White Oak Contract, Plaintiff informed him about his weekend reserve obligations, at which point Mr. Caruso assured him that he would "direct [Plaintiff's] supervisors to always accommodate his schedule and ensure that he was given appropriate time off for any military leave." (ECF No. 32-1, at 3, Caruso Affid. ¶ 8). Employees on the White Oak Contract are instructed to coordinate their schedule and any military leave requests through their direct supervisors. ( Id. ¶ 13). Lieutenants Christopher Jamison and Darrell Blaine served as Plaintiff's direct supervisors on the White Oak Contract. ( Id. ¶ 14). Lieutenant Jamison previously served in the military himself and was a member of the United States Air Force. ( Id. ¶ 15). Lieutenant Jamison currently serves as an active member of the Army National Guard, and, like Plaintiff, must be available for training and military duty on a monthly basis. ( Id. ). Lieutenant Blaine also previously served in the military and was a member of the United States Marine Corps. ( Id. ¶ 16). Mr. Caruso instructed Plaintiff to coordinate his military leave schedule through Lieutenant Jamison. ( Id. ¶ 17). Mr. Caruso states that "[a]s a reflection of Coastal's commitment to employing former and active members of the military, [he] personally do[es] not ask those employees identifying with the military and needing leave for military purposes to provide [him] with their military orders confirming their training." ( Id. ¶ 10).

As the Project Manager, Mr. Caruso issued "any disciplinary action [to] personnel on the White Oak contract including issuing any verbal and written warnings, suspensions and employee counseling letters." ( Id. ¶ 20). "As a matter of workplace policy, in the event that any of [Coastal's] employees committed a workplace policy violation resulting in a disciplinary action, [Coastal] writes up a Personnel Action Report ("PAR"), which identifies the policy violated with a description of the violation. A PAR typically is supported by witness statements, approved by the employee's supervisor, and the employee is provided an opportunity to make a statement relating to the purported infraction." ( Id. ¶ 21). Throughout the course of his tenure with Coastal, Mr. Washington received six PARs. ( Id. ¶ 22).

Plaintiff received his first PAR on February 3, 2012 for using unauthorized electronics while on duty to an assigned post in violation of the Security Guard Information Manual. ( Id. ¶ 23; see also ECF No. 32-1, at 12-18). Plaintiff asserts that he needed to request a restroom break "but could not remember the phone [number] to the Relief Guard[, ]" which number was in the his cell phone. (ECF No. 32-1, at 13). He was approached by Captain Saunders, who told him that cell phone use was prohibited. After considering Plaintiff's explanation along with witness statements, Mr. Caruso suspended Plaintiff for three (3) days for this infraction. (ECF No. 32-1, at 5, Caruso Affid. ¶ 24). On March 8, 2012, Mr. Washington received a second PAR for attempting to remove his gear before the end of his shift in violation of Coastal's Employee Handbook and the Security Guard Information Manual. ( Id. ¶ 25; see also ECF No. 32-1, at 20-25). According to this second PAR:

On Thursday March 8, 2012 at approximately 07:55 AM, PSO Washington was in the security office attempting to disarm and go home. I (Lt. Somoza)[] informed PSO Washington that he could not disarm until 08[:]00. PSO Washington stated that I was being petty and disarmed prior to 08[:]00. PSO Washington disobeyed a direct order from a supervisor and falsified his time out on the 139. PSO left post 12 prior to 08[:]00.

(ECF No. 32-1, at 20). Plaintiff believes that he was given conflicting orders because Lieutenant Rollins apparently signaled to Plaintiff to "gear down." ( Id. at 24; see also ECF No. 35, at 20, Washington Affid. ¶ 18).

Plaintiff was issued a third PAR on September 13, 2012 for failing to follow a direct order to remain in the assigned area of the post in violation of Coastal's Employee Handbook, Coastal's Collective Bargaining Agreement, and the Security Guard Information Manual. (ECF No. 32-1, at 6, Caruso Affid. ¶ 26; ECF No. 32-1, at 27-31). According to this PAR, Plaintiff was scheduled "at post 8 in building 22" and was "verbally advised to remain in the lobby of building 22 unless on a building tour which should be called in by phone or radio when initiated." (ECF No. 32-1, at 27). The PAR states:

P[SO] Washington, again on [September 13, 2012] [at 1:35 was] advised again that [he] should remain in the lobby of building 22 after [Lieutenant Jamison] placed an accountability call to post and found [Plaintiff] missing. P[SO] Washington was, again, missing from the lobby of building 22 [at 2:11] when [Lieutenant Jamison] placed another officer accountability call.

( Id. ). Lieutenant Jamison sent Plaintiff home after the third PAR. (Caruso Affid. ¶ 27; ECF No. 32-1, at 31). Plaintiff disputes this PAR, stating: "My supervisor directed that I function as a rover whereas[] I was subsequently admonished for abandoning the post assigned by another [] line supervisor." (ECF No. 35, at 20, Washington Affid. ¶ 19).

On September 13, 2012, on the same day that Plaintiff was issued the third PAR, he presented Mr. Caruso with "an apparent letter he drafted to the Department of Labor." (Caruso Affid. ¶ 28; see also ECF No. 32-1, at 33-34, letter). The letter stated that Plaintiff was a veteran and that his "employer just recently terminated [his] employment [for] reasons unknown." (ECF No. 32-1, at 33). Plaintiff disputed the basis for the third PAR and requested his "full pay as scheduled and the return to [his] schedule[d] duties." ( Id. ). Mr. Caruso asserts that he informed Plaintiff that he was not terminated, "yet told him he is free to pursue his claim with the Department of Labor if he so wished. I also informed Washington that I do not have the authority to make termination decisions, further confirming to Washington that he was not terminated." (Caruso Affid. ¶¶ 30-31). According to Mr. Caruso, upon learning that he was not terminated but sent home for the day for the third PAR, Plaintiff informed Mr. Caruso "that he would drop his complaint with the Department of Labor, " and the proposed letter was placed in Plaintiff's personnel file. ( Id. ¶ 32).

On November 9, 2012, Plaintiff was issued a fourth PAR for failing to arrive to work on time in violation of Coastal's Employee Handbook, Coastal's Collective Bargaining Agreement, and the Security Guard Information Manual. (Caruso Affid. ¶ 36; see also ECF No. 32-1, at 36-38). In his affidavit, Plaintiff denies being late. (ECF No. 35, at 20, Washington Affid. ¶ 20). On November 22, 2012, Plaintiff received a fifth PAR "for engaging in insubordination after refusing to follow a direct order to move to a different post." (Caruso Affid. ¶ 37). The PAR explained:

On [November 22, 2012] at approximately 06[:]15[, ] PSO Washington was assigned to P08 0001-0800, [] Lieutenant Olajide[] gave him a direct order to sign out [from] post 8 and sign onto post 33, PSO Washington said, "No! I am not doing that; you need to find someone else." PSO Washington again was given a direct order stating what he needed to do and was also advised this was a direct order. I informed him the manner in which he was conducting himself was grounds for insubordination. He was informed he would be receiving disciplinary action. PSO Washington stated he did not care.

(ECF No. 32-1, at 40) (emphasis in original). Plaintiff contends that he was not insubordinate, but was "simply questioning the management's decision in this specific instance." (ECF No. 35, at 20-21, Washington Affid. ¶ 21). He asserts that he was working two different posts that day, was ordered to report to a third post, and "previously had compensation issues and was shorted on money when working multiple posts during one duty shift." ( Id. ). After this fifth violation, Mr. Caruso again suspended Plaintiff for three days. (Caruso Affid. ¶ 38; ECF No. 32-1, at 46, official notice of suspension).

Thereafter, Mr. Caruso delivered a "letter of counseling" to Plaintiff on November 26, 2012. (ECF No. 32-1, at 49; Caruso Affid. ¶ 39). The letter stated, in relevant part:

Please be advised that following instructions from a Supervisor is a critical part of an officer['s] task during their tour of duty. Under no circumstances is it acceptable to refuse to follow a supervisor's instruction or directive.
From this point forward, you will be expected to immediately and strictly adhere to Coastal policies and procedures as well as applicable post orders. You are instructed to follow policies and procedures.
This is a Final Warning that any future substantiated violations of any nature will result in the termination of your employment with Coastal International Security, Inc.

(ECF No. 32-1, at 49) (emphasis in original). Mr. Caruso declares that when he presented this letter to Plaintiff, he specifically informed him "that this was final warning and that any future policy violations would result in his immediate termination." (Caruso Affid. ¶ 40). Plaintiff signed and dated the letter and acknowledged his understanding of its contents. ( Id. ¶ 41; see also ECF No. 31-2, at 49).

On April 28, 2013, Mr. Washington received a sixth PAR for failing to wear a proper ballistic vest. (Caruso Affid. ¶ 43; ECF No. 32-1, at 51-58). According to the PAR, Mr. Washington worked the entire shift without wearing his protective vest, "endangering [himself], co-workers, and the client that [he was] there to protect." (ECF NO. 32-1, at 51). Plaintiff admits that he failed "to insert the back plate of his bullet proof vest or body armor, " but states that it was "simply an oversight." (ECF No. 35, at 21, Washington Affid. ¶ 22).

After Plaintiff received a sixth PAR, Mr. Caruso requested from Coastal's Human Resources Department that Plaintiff be removed permanently from the White Oak Contract. (Caruso Affid. ¶ 44; see also ECF No. 32-1, at 60). Janet Gunn, the Vice President of Human Resources for Coastal, provided a declaration stating: "[i]n the event a Program Manager makes a recommendation for termination, Human Resources, at my direction, conducts a review of the matter including the employee's personnel history, taking into consideration the number of policy violations, the severity of the violation(s), the duration between policy violations, and whether or not the employee was provided a final warning." (ECF No. 32-2, at 5, Gunn Affid. ¶ 16). Ms. Gunn further declared:

17. On April 29, 2013, Paul Caruso, Project Manager on the White Oak Contract, made a formal recommendation for Washington to be terminated in light of the six policy violations committed in a fourteenth month period. Exhibit F.
18. Upon receiving this recommendation, my office conducted a review to assess whether or not to terminate Washington.
19. After conducting such a review, consulting with Washington's supervisors, reviewing the six (6) Personnel Action Reports issued to Washington in a 14-month span, along with the supporting witness statements, resulting in two three (3) day suspensions, as well as a final warning notifying him that any subsequent ...

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