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Lockheed Martin Corp. v. Balderrama

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

March 31, 2016

LOCKHEED MARTIN CORPORATION
v.
VINCENT BALDERRAMA

          JUDGMENT OF THE CIRCUIT COURT FOR MONTGOMERY COUNTY REVERSED. COSTS TO BE PAID BY APPELLEE.

         For Appellant: Steven M. Klepper (Louis P. Malick, Kramon & Graham, PA, Baltimore, MD; Tamika R. Nordstrom, Constancy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP, Atlanta, GA) all on the brief.

         For Appellee: Adam A. Carter (R. Scott Oswald, The Employment Law Group, PC, Washington, D.C.) all on the brief.

         Graeff, Leahy, Wilner, Alan M. (Retired, Specially Assigned) JJ.[*]

          OPINION

          [227 Md.App. 481] Graeff, J.

         This case arises from a lawsuit filed in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County by Vincent Balderrama, appellee, against Lockheed Martin Corporation, his former employer, alleging that Lockheed Martin terminated his employment in retaliation for claiming that his negative performance evaluation resulted from discrimination based on national origin. Although Mr. Balderrama also sued on the ground of discrimination based on national origin, the circuit court granted Lockheed Martin's motion for summary judgment on that claim, finding that there was not legally sufficient evidence to support it. The sole issue presented to the jury was the claim that Lockheed Martin fired Mr. Balderrama in retaliation for making a complaint of discrimination. The jury found in favor of Mr. Balderrama and awarded him $830,000.

         On appeal, Lockheed Martin presents several questions for our review, which we have rephrased slightly, as follows:

[227 Md.App. 482] 1. Did the circuit court err in finding that Mr. Balderrama's retaliation claim presented a jury question and in not granting judgment in favor of Lockheed Martin?

2. Did the circuit court abuse its discretion in denying a new trial after the jury awarded $830,000 in damages?

3. Did the circuit court err or abuse its discretion in awarding excessive fees and costs?

         For the reasons set forth below, we answer the first question in the affirmative, holding that Mr. Balderrama did not produce sufficient evidence to submit the retaliation claim to the jury. Accordingly, we shall reverse the judgment of the circuit court.[1]

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Background and Early Years

         Mr. Balderrama stated in his amended complaint that, at the time of filing, he was a 58-year-old Hispanic male. He was hired by Lockheed Martin in 2004 to fill the role of Business Development Manager. In 2007, Mr. Balderrama transferred to the Mission Systems and Sensors Integration Division. He was tasked with, inter alia, " identifying and qualifying international sales opportunities of MH-60 Seahawk helicopters for sale to governments of countries in his portfolio." Mr. Balderrama was a member of " Team Seahawk," a cooperative enterprise comprised of multiple teams within multiple organizations, with the unifying goal of producing and marketing Seahawk helicopters internationally.[2]

         During his first five years with the company, Mr. Balderrama was considered a " higher performer." In 2009 and 2010, however, Mr. Balderrama's then supervisor, Ron Christensen, [227 Md.App. 483] gave him a significantly lower performance rating than in previous years. For the 2010 evaluation year, Mr. Christensen gave Mr. Balderrama an overall performance score of 3 out of 5, which corresponds to " acceptable" performance.

         Mr. Balderrama's Ratings Continue to Decline Despite Team Seahawk Win

         In January 2011, Doug Laurendeau replaced Mr. Christensen as Mr. Balderrama's immediate supervisor. Mr. Laurendeau gave Mr. Balderrama the same " acceptable" score of 3 out of 5 for his performance in 2011.

         In 2012, Mr. Balderrama, acting as " business development lead," was tasked with selling Seahawk helicopters to Denmark. That year, Team Seahawk succeeded in selling nine helicopters to Denmark, a sale of approximately $700 million, which resulted in approximately $130 million in gross revenue to Lockheed Martin. Mr. Balderrama's customer relationships were credited as having a " tangible impact on the win." [3] In February 2013, Lockheed Martin issued an " Independent Lessons Learned" document that rated positively Team Seahawk's work on the Denmark " capture."

         Despite the significant Team Seahawk " win," Mr. Balderrama's supervisors were not satisfied with his performance during that year, particularly his failure to follow management direction and his inability or unwillingness to communicate with his team. Mr. Balderrama would disparage Mr. Laurendeau's managerial decisions and " bad-mouth" him in conversations with senior members of their Navy customer. Mr. Laurendeau believed that Mr. Balderrama was either unwilling or unable to create a " political call plan" that would establish acceptable customer " counterparts," and instead, he contacted those " counterparts" himself. In some instances, Mr. Balderrama violated company policy by contacting senior Navy officials that he was not authorized to engage. Mr. Laurendeau gave Mr. Balderrama a lower performance rating [227 Md.App. 484] for 2012, which placed him in the bottom 10% of employees in his peer group at Lockheed Martin.

         Prior to notifying Mr. Balderrama of his evaluation, Mr. Laurendeau notified his supervisor, George Barton, and Cindy Gadra, a member of Lockheed Martin's human resources department. He stated that, although Mr. Balderrama " brings some significant strengths to the team," Mr. Balderrama had " not been successful at demonstrating improvement" in areas of development that had been discussed. Mr. Laurendeau expected that Mr. Balderrama would be upset with his performance review, and he proposed a meeting with Mr. Shultz to bring the issue to his attention so Mr. Schultz would not be " blindsided" if Mr. Balderrama reached out to him to challenge his negative evaluation.[4]

         Mr. Balderrama's 2012 Performance Review

         On February 12, 2013, Mr. Laurendeau met with Mr. Balderrama to discuss his performance review for 2012. Mr. Laurendeau credited Mr. Balderrama's contribution to the Denmark win, but he stated " that's not everything." Mr. Laurendeau explained that Mr. Balderrama had not provided him with all the expected plans, and he " tended to do stuff by [him]self" instead of engaging the whole team. When Mr. Balderrama was asked about his " positioning to win" strategy, he " tend[ed] to just come up with anecdotes and not real facts to support [them]."

         Mr. Balderrama refuted these criticisms, asserting that he gave Mr. Laurendeau all the requisite plans, and he regularly updated and fully briefed Mr. Laurendeau. He claimed that the problem was that Mr. Laurendeau did not believe the briefings that he received, and he accused Mr. Laurendeau of being unfair. Mr. Balderrama stated: " I gave you all this information, and I don't think you're judging me by the same standard as everybody else."

          [227 Md.App. 485] Mr. Laurendeau then reiterated his criticism that Mr. Balderrama failed to engage his team, and Mr. Balderrama did not engage executives and allow them to establish relationships with their counterparts in Denmark, but rather, he " stifled [management] at every opportunity to do that." Mr. Balderrama again disputed these allegations. He stated that, even though the Danes with whom they were negotiating stated that they did not want executives " parachuting" into their negotiations, the Lockheed Martin executives nonetheless had numerous opportunities to meet with Danish officials.

         Mr. Laurendeau credited Mr. Balderrama for knowing a lot of people and " understanding external stakeholders," but he was not happy that Mr. Balderrama engaged Danish politicians by himself when that role should have been reserved for more senior employees. He also criticized Mr. Balderrama for failing to " take advantage of the diverse opinions." He stated that he was

getting feedback from the PMT, the program team, and from management that you don't listen, that you don't take in people's advice and you don't listen to what they're saying in meetings -- you're talking too much. You're not getting in the different perspective views of other people. You just have your own agenda and you pursue it, despite what other people are trying to give their opinions on.

         Mr. Balderrama responded that his meeting with Danish politicians was authorized, and he argued that he had " always taken in people's opinions," and he was a " team player," as well as a " team leader."

         Mr. Laurendeau then told Mr. Balderrama that, " when you add all these things up together, the total average comes out to you're in the bottom ten percent of [your] peer group." Mr. Balderrama responded:

Are you kidding me? I'm in the bottom ten percent? I mean, we won Denmark. We've been a team player with everybody. Everybody except for you [Mr. Laurendeau] seems to think that I did a wonderful job, you know? I just think you've been -- I've said it before. I think you're [227 Md.App. 486] prejudiced. I think this whole thing is -- you've been measuring -- this shows you've been measuring me by a different yardstick.

         Mr. Balderrama stated that Mr. Laurendeau was " speaking in generalities," and he asked for specific examples of misbehavior. Mr. Laurendeau stated that Mr. Balderrama did not get executive management or other leadership engaged. Mr. Laurendeau advised that his review was " a fair and accurate assessment" of Mr. Balderrama's performance in 2012. Mr. Balderrama responded:

You've been prejudiced to me. This is -- it's a pure example again of how you've been measuring me by a different yardstick. You didn't even look at the facts. . . . I don't get it. I don't understand it. That's unfair. You know? I have to do something about this. I can't let this stand.

         Mr. Laurendeau asked Mr. Balderrama what he intended to do, and Mr. Balderrama replied that he did not know, but he would talk to Dan Schultz. Mr. Laurendeau stated that Mr. Schultz was " not in the chain," to which Mr. Balderrama replied that Mr. Schultz knew him, and he would have to talk to human resources " or something else." Mr. Laurendeau told Mr. Balderrama that he was " free to talk to HR," and he referred Mr. Balderrama to Ms. Gadra.

         Mr. Balderrama signed his performance review on February 28, 2013, after adding the following comments:

I refute the evaluation of my supervisor and intend to submit for formal redress and appeal to Human Resources. The evaluation of my supervisor is a prejudiced assessment that failed to accurately recount and assess my contributions and accomplishments. Many of my supervisor's evaluation comments fail to correlate directly to agreed upon specific measurements of commitment objectives. Moreover, many of his comments lack specificity and contain broad generalities that can be refuted by facts. I question his general comments that characterize my contributions to strongly imply, if not overtly state, that my leadership of the Denmark campaign lacked early and detailed planning [227 Md.App. 487] and was less than effective. Yet, Denmark was a WIN for MST [Mission Systems and Training]-a win against a lower priced, very aggressive competitor in their own " backyard." In fact, it was the only Maritime Helicopter win for MST in 2012 and the culmination of a five-year campaign. My supervisor makes numerous claims of my lack of engaging the " broader organization" ; yet he has never defined the " broader organization" . My capture execution directly engaged the counsel and support of the expanse of LM to include functional organizations, programs . . . as well as Team Seahawk teammates from the Navy, Sikorsky and other U.S. Industry and Danish Industry. That seems to me to be the " broader organization." My supervisor claims that I was less than responsive in providing [a Price/Position-to-Win strategy], offset plans, political plans, and media plans yet I can provide numerous revisions of all those plans that had been provided to my supervisor. My supervisor repeatedly makes claims that I failed to make plans or enable appropriate relationships to be established by senior management. This claim once more reveals my supervisor's continued failure to understand and accept the cultural Danish attitudes and desires in contact with politicians and key stakeholders. Moreover it reveals his failure to acknowledge that senior management and executives were exposed to Her Majesty, the Queen of Denmark, on multiple occasions the Danish Ambassador to the U.S. and his Defense Attaché . . . and they were also introduced to the majority of the Danish Defense Committee. These aforementioned factual examples are just a few counterpoints to inaccuracies or misrepresentations by my supervisor of my performance and contribution in 2012. A more detailed reclama will be provided to Human Resource along with a request for independent review and adjustment upward of my performance evaluation.[5]

          [227 Md.App. 488] On March 1, 2013, Mr. Laurendeau forwarded his comments to Ms. Gadra in human resources.[6]

         Mr. Balderrama Appeals His 2012 Performance Evaluation

         On March 5, 2013, Mr. Balderrama emailed Ms. Gadra, indicating his desire to file an appeal of his 2012 performance evaluation. He stated that his " reclama" would " assert that the evaluation of [his] supervisor [was] a prejudiced assessment that failed to accurately recount and assess [his] contributions and accomplishments." [7]

         On March 15, 2013, Mr. Balderrama emailed a sixteen-page reclama to Ms. Gadra. In the body of the email, Mr. Balderrama noted the following:

I have thought long and hard on whether to pursue an effort to seek redress of my supervisor's evaluation of my performance in 2012. Given the state of our business and future outlook I feel I cannot let it stand. To do so places me at [227 Md.App. 489] great risk to my career and future opportunity in the Corporation.[8]

         In his " reclama," Mr. Balderrama responded to each of Mr. Laurendeau's criticisms noted in his performance review. For example, he argued that Mr. Laurendeau's " claim that [Mr. Balderrama's] lack of inclusion of others' opinions and collaboration is unsubstantiated. If anything, his claim is directly related to [their] personal disagreements on the best way to pursue and win Denmark." Moreover, he " especially refute[d] [Mr. Laurendeau's] comment that [their] campaign was 'less than effective,'" stating: " How much more effective can you get than by Winning the pursuit?" He requested review of his evaluation and sought " to strike this evaluation from [his] record."

         Mr. Balderrama made no indication at this time that he was alleging discrimination on the basis of age, race, ethnicity, national origin, or other protected class. Mr. Balderrama later emailed Ms. Gadra, offering to provide her evidence that he believed would substantiate his complaints.

         On March 15, 2013, Ms. Gadra began an investigation of Mr. Balderrama's claims. Based on his appeal, she was not investigating a complaint of discrimination, but rather, she was investigating " an appeal to the performance review system." Ms. Gadra interviewed Mr. Balderrama and four of his co-workers: George Barton (Mr. Laurendeau's boss); Jack McCreary; Tom Kane; and Andy Cox.[9]

         Although some comments were positive, several co-workers advised that Mr. Balderrama was difficult to get along with and caused frustration. For example, one person stated: Mr. Balderrama was asked to set up executive calls for a " capture," [227 Md.App. 490] but he said " no." This person also stated that Mr. Balderrama was untrustworthy, noting that Mr. Balderrama gave " bad information and sometimes made up things, spinning things rather than providing facts." Other comments included criticism of Mr. Balderrama's communication and social skills, including that any communication with Mr. Balderrama was one way, and Mr. Balderrama told " everyone else what to do" and did not listen to other people's ideas.

         After concluding her interviews, Ms. Gadra created a document that contrasted Mr. Balderrama's assessment of his performance with Mr. Laurendeau's assessment. She followed-up with Mr. Laurendeau to " get his feedback on where there were gaps in their assessment[s]." She then summarized her investigation, formed an assessment of Mr. Balderrama's appeal, and submitted a report to Lockheed Martin's Equal Employment Opportunity (" EEO" ) office, which was " standard practice for every performance rating appeal." In response to questions listed on the report, she stated that no protected characteristics were mentioned and there were no indicators that the complaint involved any protected characteristics. Ms. Gadra concluded that Mr. Balderrama's " performance evaluation for 2012 would stand," which meant that his rating would remain in the bottom 10% tier.

         On April 10, 2013, Ms. Gadra spoke with Mr. Balderrama to discuss the results of her investigation. Ms. Gadra testified that, during that phone call, Mr. Balderrama reiterated that the 2012 performance review was a " prejudice[d] assessment." Ms. Gadra asked him what he meant by " prejudice," and Mr. Balderrama responded that he felt " pressured." Mr. Balderrama never mentioned race, national origin, ethnicity, or any other protected characteristic. She stated that

[t]he term prejudice can mean many different things. It was never stated anywhere that Mr. [Balderrama] felt he was prejudiced against. He stated it was a prejudiced assessment. In other places he stated it was an unfair assessment, a distorted assessment. That term seemed to be interchangeable with those other terms and he went on [227 Md.App. 491] to be very specific about what he disagreed with in the assessment. So my focus was on the assessment.

         Mr. Balderrama agreed that he never explicitly mentioned a protected characteristic. He stated, however, that he expected that Ms. Gadra, " as an HR experienced, very senior person, who she said has gone through a lot of these things," would understand what prejudice meant from a Hispanic male.

         Ms. Gadra testified that, during her conversation with Mr. Balderrama, he stated that he would have to continue appealing because she set him up and put him in " a precarious position in the event of layoffs." In her notes from the conversation, Ms. Gadra concluded that Mr. Balderrama was " not taking responsibility for his actions," " [i]ssues are others [sic] fault, not his," and " [i]t's unlikely there will be performance improvement in 2013 based on this discussion."

         Mr. Balderrama Seeks Further Review, Alleging National Origin ...


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