United States District Court, D. Maryland
XINIS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
in this employment discrimination case are two Motions for
Summary Judgment filed by Defendants Leidos Biomedical
Research, Inc. (“Leidos”), ECF No. 83, and
then-Acting Secretary of Health and Human Services Eric
Hargan, ECF No. 86. The issues have been fully briefed, and no
hearing is necessary. See D. Md. Loc. R. 105.6. For
the reasons stated below, Defendants' Motions are
February 2012, Plaintiff Fanta Sillah began working for
Leidos (then SAIC-Frederick) as a Patient Care Coordinator
II, and was assigned to work at the National Institute of
Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
(“NIAMS”) at the National Institutes of Health
(“NIH”). See ECF No. 83-3 at 79-80
(Sillah Dep. Ex. 2); ECF No. 86-3 at 9, 10 (Sillah Dep.
35:1-4, 37:2-20). The NIH had engaged Leidos to provide
clinical support personnel for the institution. ECF No. 86-5
at 21 (Talar-Williams Dep. 77:16-79:5). Sillah worked at an
NIH building and received training from the NIH. ECF No. 86-3
at 73 (Sillah Dep. 292:3-16). Leidos paid Sillah's salary
and determined her sick leave. ECF 86-3 at 74 (Sillah Dep.
worked for the Lupus Clinical Research Program in NIAMS, led
by Dr. Sarfaraz Hasni. ECF No. 89-13 ¶ 3; ECF No. 86-4
at 6 (Hasni Dep. 18:22-19:8). Sillah scheduled patients and
acted as a liaison between physicians, nursing staff, and
other departments. ECF No. 86-7. Sillah's duties also
included picking up blood specimens (“blood
pickups” or “blood runs”), calling
patients, and giving occasional support to clinical trials.
ECF No. 86-3 at 11 (Sillah Dep. 42:11-44:9). Defendants
contend that Sillah's job performance had become
increasingly poor leading up to her termination. See
ECF No. 86-5 at 13 (Talar-Williams Dep. 45:12-47:8). Sillah
received a rating of 3 out of 5 in her 2013 and 2014
performance reviews, and 2 out of 5 in 2015. ECF No. 86-3 at
12, 13, 14 (Sillah Dep. 47:10-16, 49:5-15, 56:4-18).
mid-2014, Sillah became pregnant. ECF 86-3 at 16 (Sillah Dep.
64:16-19). In November 2014, Sillah experienced complications
arising from her pregnancy which resulted in her
hospitalization. See ECF 86-3 at 17 (Sillah Dep.
66:17-22). Initially, Sillah told her Leidos supervisor,
Taree Foltz, that she had been hospitalized for a stomach
virus, but later told Foltz the truth when more extensive
hospitalization was needed. ECF No. 86-6 at 16 (Foltz Dep.
59:6-16, 60:2-12). On December 2, 2014, Sillah suffered a
miscarriage. ECF No. 86-3 at 19 (Sillah Dep. 75:4-6). She
received short-term disability insurance and took time off
pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act from November
18, 2014, through January 12, 2015. ECF No. 86-3 at 18-19
(Sillah Dep. 72:16-74:10). Sillah returned to work on January
13, 2015. ECF No. 86-3 at 19 (Sillah Dep.75:8-10).
March 2015, Dr. Hasni expressed concerns about Sillah's
work performance. ECF No. 89-13 ¶¶ 4-6. Although
Sillah's performance review in 2014 was generally
positive, according to Dr. Hasni, Sillah's performance
was unsatisfactory and inconsistent in 2014 (before she
became pregnant), as well as after she returned from leave in
January 2015. See ECF No. 86-4 at 21 (Hasni Dep.
79:2-80:11). Like Dr. Hasni, Foltz testified that
Sillah's performance was lacking both before and after
her first pregnancy and that Sillah's work performance
suffered from her unsatisfactory communication skills. ECF
No. 86-6 at 17 (Foltz Dep. 62:22- 64:4); see also
ECF No. 92-35 at 2 (noting issues with Sillah in October
2014). On March 10, 2015, Dr. Hasni emailed NIAMS clinical
operations manager Cheryl Talar-Williams to say that he had
met with Sillah's coworkers regarding their complaints
about Sillah's poor work performance. See
generally ECF No. 89-14. Dr. Hasni also told
Talar-Williams that “we need a more reliable person as
a patient care coordinator. Can we please discuss her
performance and work on getting a better alternative.”
ECF No. 89-14 at 3. On March 11, 2015, Talar-Williams said
she would touch base with Foltz. ECF No. 89-14 at 2.
March 12, 2015, Foltz met with Sillah to discuss performance
concerns, noting Sillah's problems with completing tasks,
responding to requests, and communication. ECF No. 89-15 at
2-3. Foltz warned Sillah that she may be placed on a
performance improvement plan (“PIP”) in the
future. ECF No. 89-15 at 3.
April 2015, Foltz emailed Dr. Hasni and other members of
Sillah's NIAMS team for feedback in advance of
Sillah's annual performance evaluation. ECF No. 89-16 at
2. Dr. Hasni wrote, “I have noticed improvement in her
work. But I think she still need[s] to work on closing the
loop of her assigned work at the end of the day. However, a
significant improvement overall.” ECF No. 89-16 at 2.
April 20, 2015, Sillah received a rating of 2 out of 5 for
her 2015 performance evaluation. ECF No. 86-9 at 2. That
rating is described as “generally meets
expectations.” ECF No. 86-9 at 1. The review stated
that Sillah's work was “somewhat
inconsistent” and that Sillah required
“step-by-step instructions on how to complete various
tasks.” ECF No. 86-9 at 1. In the review, it was
“strongly suggested that [Sillah] utilize existing
out-of-office notifications, both via email and phone, so
that staff and patients are made aware of her
availability.” ECF No. 86-9 at 1. Although initially
Foltz had planned to put Sillah on a PIP at that time, Foltz
decided to withhold the PIP and instead monitor Sillah less
formally. ECF No. 89-18 at 2.
the April evaluation, in late April or early May, Sillah
learned that she was pregnant again. ECF No. 86-3 at 20
(Sillah Dep. 77:9-11). Although Sillah did not announce her
pregnancy at that time, Sillah testified that she began
showing physical signs of pregnancy in late May or early
June. ECF No. 86-3 at 21 (Sillah Dep. 81:1-15). Sillah states
that she suffered from morning sickness while at work, but
admits that she did not tell her co-workers, nor did anyone
ask. ECF No. 86-3 at 21 (Sillah Dep. 82:11-22). No. other
record evidence demonstrates that anyone knew about
Sillah's second pregnancy at that time.
1, 2015, Foltz met with Sillah to discuss persistent work
deficiencies, including Sillah's failure to complete
tasks, notify her supervisor and team of absences, or set up
out-of-office notifications. ECF No. 89-18 at 2-3;
see ECF No. 86-3 at 26 (Sillah Dep. 103:10- 104:18).
On June 15, 2015, Sillah emailed Dr. Hasni and Foltz that she
was out sick. ECF No. 89-44 at 5. Foltz replied to
Sillah's email asking whether she set an out-of-office
notification. ECF No. 89-44 at 4. On June 16, 2015, Sillah
followed up with Foltz, explaining that she had not set a
notification because she had been hospitalized due to a
stomach virus. ECF No. 89-44 at 3-4.
17, 2015, Foltz reached out to Dr. Hasni for feedback on
Sillah's performance, noting that Dr. Hasni and
Talar-Williams had expressed disappointment that Sillah had
not been placed on a PIP. ECF No. 89-21 at 2-3. Dr. Hasni
confirmed that he was surprised Sillah was not already on a
PIP, and that “[h]er performance is unpredictable at
times[.] [S]he will do things right and other times she will
not.” ECF No. 89-21 at 2. Indeed, both Dr. Hasni and
Talar-Williams believed that Sillah had been put on a PIP by
Foltz around April, and only later learned that Foltz had
delayed its implementation. ECF No. 86-5 at 17
(Talar-Williams Dep. 62:18-64:21).
24, 2015, Foltz placed Sillah on a sixty-day PIP, which
required that Sillah improve her “reliability,
communication skills, organization, and attention to
detail.” ECF No. 89-22 at 2. If Sillah “fail[ed]
to demonstrate immediate and sustained improvement” in
identified performance areas, Sillah “may be released
from employment at the end of the 60 days.” ECF No.
89-22 at 4. As part of the PIP, Sillah was required to
complete weekly progress logs and meetings regarding her
work. ECF No. 89-22 at 3; see ECF No. 89-23.
26, 2015, Sillah met with Dr. Hasni and Mary Spinelli, who
was filling in for Foltz. ECF No. 89-23 at 2; ECF No. 89-37
at 20 (Spinelli Dep. 70:18-21). Dr. Hasni discussed with
Sillah the need for better communication skills, initiative
to complete assignments in a timely fashion, and notification
to her team of absences. ECF No. 89-23 at 2.
early July 2015, Sillah required surgery related to her
pregnancy and missed one week of work as a result. ECF No.
86-3 at 32 (Sillah Dep. 127:21-128:4). Sillah did not tell
her supervisors that the surgery was pregnancy-related. ECF
No. 86-3 at 52 (Sillah Dep. 205:5-20); ECF No. 86-4 ...