United States District Court, D. Maryland
MARGUERITE E. EDWARDS
THOMAS J. VILSACK, Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture
DEBORAH K. CHASANOW UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
pending and ready for resolution in this employment
discrimination case is a motion for summary judgment filed by
Defendant Thomas J. Vilsack, Secretary of the United States
Department of Agriculture ("Defendant"). (ECF No.
21). The issues have been fully briefed, and the court now
rules, no hearing being deemed necessary. Local Rule 105.6.
For the following reasons, Defendant's motion for summary
judgment will be granted.
otherwise noted, the facts outlined here are undisputed and
construed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff Marguerite
E. Edwards ("Plaintiff"). On May 9, 2010,
Plaintiff, a fifty-nine year old, African-American woman,
began working at the United States Department of Agriculture
(the "USDA") as a temporary program assistant. (ECF
No. 21-1, at 4). Plaintiff was one of six 12-month temporary
employees hired to assist permanent staff members on a large
"Accreditation Project" to update the USDA's
database of accredited veterinarians. (Id. at
The Accreditation Project, according to Dr. Todd H. Behre,
the project's supervisor, "required a huge data
acquisition, cleansing, entry, and verification process that
far exceeded the time and work capacity of [USDA] full-time
staff personnel." (ECF No. 21-4 ¶ 5). Four of the
five other temporary employees were African American. (ECF
No. 21-5, at 9). Although Plaintiff contends that she was the
oldest temporary employee, Shirley Bell, another temporary
employee, was only one year younger than Plaintiff.
(See ECF Nos. 21-4 ¶ 14; 21-5, at 10).
an orientation session, the six temporary employees began
working in cubicles on the fourth floor. (ECF Nos. 21-1, at
4; 28, at 3). On approximately May 18 or 20, Plaintiff began
working in a workspace on the third floor, where she sat in
close proximity to Stephen Hood, another temporary employee.
(ECF Nos. 21-4 ¶ 15; 28, at 4). On May 27, Plaintiff
sent Dr. Behre and other supervisors an e-mail requesting
that either she or Mr. Hood be allowed to move because she
was having allergy symptoms that she believed were caused by
Mr. Hood. (ECF No. 21-3, at 80).
17, Plaintiff thought that Mr. Hood placed a chair at her
desk, and she confronted him and asked him to "stop
bothering around her desk." (ECF No. 28, at 5). Dr.
Behre avers that Plaintiff believed Mr. Hood was
"performing some sort of witchcraft" on her. (ECF
No. 21-4 ¶ 15). Plaintiff sent another e-mail to Dr.
Behre informing him that she did not feel safe working with
Mr. Hood. (ECF No. 21-3, at 83). Mr. Hood informed his
supervisors that Plaintiff said, in a threatening tone,
"one of us will leave this room." (Id. at
84-85; ECF No. 21-8, at 2). Dr. Behre was not in the office,
so Plaintiff spoke with Betsy Sillers, another supervisor,
about her concerns with Mr. Hood. (ECF No. 21-3, at 82).
Plaintiff informed Ms. Sillers that she was worried about a
powder that she believed Mr. Hood was putting on her chair.
(Id.). Ms. Sillers and Dr. Behre instructed
Plaintiff to leave the third-floor room and sit in the office
library. Despite Dr. Behre's instruction, Plaintiff
returned to the third-floor room the following day. (ECF No.
21-1, at 8).
18, Dr. Behre and two human resources representatives met
with Plaintiff and Mr. Hood to discuss the previous day's
incident. (Id. at 6). According to Plaintiff, Dr.
Behre told her that she could either work in the third-floor
room or could take leave without pay. (ECF No. 28, at 6).
Plaintiff believed that she had retained leave from a
previous federal government job and filled out a request for
leave or approved absence, noting that it was
"tentative" and that she "may or may not take
leave." (ECF No. 28-3, at 2). Plaintiff's
supervisors recall that they instructed Plaintiff to call Dr.
Behre if she decided not to report to work. (ECF Nos. 21-1,
at 6; 21-3, at 86). Plaintiff did not report to work the next
two days and did not call Dr. Behre to inform him that she
would not be working. (ECF Nos. 21-1, at 7; 28, at 6). On the
second day, Plaintiff called Dr. Behre and asked if she could
report to work for the rest of the week and wear a dust mask,
and Plaintiff returned to work. (ECF No. 28, at 6).
29, a USDA database administrator informed one of
Plaintiff's supervisors that Plaintiff had made mistakes
in her data entry. (ECF Nos. 21-1, at 8-9; 21-3, at 54).
Plaintiff had begun utilizing a new process that she believed
was faster, but which led to formatting problems and
inaccurate entries. Plaintiff's supervisors later
discovered that Plaintiff was, on average, completing
approximately 61% of the work as the other temporary
employees. (ECF No. 21-3, at 44). In light of Plaintiff's
"continuing performance and conduct situations, "
Plaintiff was put on administrative leave. (ECF Nos. 21-1, at
9; 28-8). Plaintiff was paid while on administrative leave,
but was told to not report to the office or perform any
official duties. (ECF No. 28-8). Dr. Behre states that
Plaintiff was placed on administrative leave to provide time
to formalize her termination. (ECF No. 21-3, at 44). On July
7, Dr. Behre sent Plaintiff a letter terminating her
employment because she had "failed to follow
instructions and [exhibited] inappropriate conduct" that
"undermine[d] the basic employee/employer trust and
impede[d] the goals and objectives of the agency." (ECF
No. 28-9, at 2-3). Dr. Behre's letter specifically noted
that Plaintiff: interrupted coworkers with questions that
should have been directed to Dr. Behre; ignored instructions
on completing time and attendance reports; failed to follow
instructions regarding avoiding the third-floor room and Mr.
Hood; failed to inform Dr. Behre that she would be absent
from work; and failed to follow proper data entry procedures.
8, 2010, Plaintiff contacted an Equal Employment Opportunity
counselor at the USDA. (ECF No. 21-3, at 13). On September
24, Plaintiff filed a formal complaint of discrimination with
the USDA, alleging that she was wrongfully placed on
administrative leave and terminated because of her age and
race. (Id. at 9). On October 23, 2012, an
administrative judge with the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission ("EEOC") granted the USDA's motion
for summary judgment (ECF No. 21-9), which was affirmed by
the USDA Office of Adjudication (ECF No. 21-13). Plaintiff
appealed the decision to the EEOC, which affirmed. (ECF No.
22, 2015, Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, filed a
complaint commencing this action (ECF No. 1), and the court
granted Plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma
pauperis (ECF No. 5). The complaint asserts two counts:
discrimination based on age in violation of the Age
Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 ("ADEA"),
29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. (Count I); and
discrimination based on race in violation of Title VII of the
Civil Rights Act ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. §
2000e et seq. (Count II). Following multiple
extensions of time, Defendant filed the pending motion for
summary judgment. (ECF No. 21). Plaintiff was provided with a
Roseboro notice, which advised her of the pendency
of the motion for summary judgment and her entitlement to
respond within 17 days. (ECF No. 22); see Roseboro v.
Garrison, 528 F.2d 309, 310 (4th Cir. 1975)
(holding that pro se plaintiffs should be advised of
their right to file responsive material to a motion for
summary judgment). Plaintiff responded to Defendant's
motion (ECF No. 28), and Defendant replied (ECF No. 33).
Standard of Review
judgment is appropriate under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
Rule 56(a) when there is no genuine dispute as to any
material fact, and the moving party is plainly entitled to
judgment in its favor as a matter of law. In Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986), the
Supreme Court of the United States explained that, in
considering a motion for summary judgment, the
"judge's function is not himself to weigh the
evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to
determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." A
dispute about a material fact is genuine "if the
evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. at 248.
Thus, "the judge must ask himself not whether he thinks