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Mott v. Accenture, LLP

United States District Court, D. Maryland

April 30, 2019

JOSEPH M. MOTT, Plaintiff,
ACCENTURE, LLP, Defendant.


          Date Paula, United States District Judge.

         Pending in this employment discrimination case is Defendant Accenture, LLP's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 123), as well as Plaintiff Joseph Mott's Motion to Strike (ECF No. 125) and Cross-Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (ECF No. 124). Also pending are Defendant's Request for Attorney's Fees (ECF No. 115) and Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration (ECF No. 116), arising from this Court's August 28, 2018 Order (ECF No. 114). The motions are fully briefed, and no hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion to Strike is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part; Plaintiff's Cross-Motion for Partial Summary Judgment and Motion for Reconsideration are DENIED; and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

         I. Background

         A. Mott's Employment at Accenture

         Plaintiff Joseph Mott (“Mott”) is an American male, born on July 5, 1953. ECF No. 123-2 at 15. Mott was employed by Defendant Accenture, LLP (“Accenture”), a “global management consulting and professional services firm, ” as an in-house counsel from December 3, 2014 to November 20, 2016. Id. at 6; ECF No. 124-3 at 36. Prior to joining Accenture, Mott had worked as an attorney for over thirty-five years, including a decade of practice in the health care regulatory field. ECF No. 124-3 at 44.

         In 2014, Mott applied to Accenture for the position of Senior Manager in the Global Offerings Support (“Offerings”) team within the Compliance, Offerings, Regulatory and Ethics (“CORE”) division of the firm's Legal Department. ECF No. 123-2 at 6; ECF No. 123-3 at 5-6. Mott was interviewed by multiple members of the Offerings team, including Charlotte Guillorit, Hollis Chen, Abe Zacharia, and Louise Arsenault. ECF No. 123-3 at 5. Charlotte Guillorit, a French female born on August 29, 1972, the head of the Offerings team who retained ultimate staffing authority, hired Mott. ECF No. 123-2 at 170, 182, 186.

         When Mott first worked for Accenture, he reported directly to Abe Zacharia, an American male born on November 19, 1960, who managed the Health and Life Sciences team within Offerings. ECF No. 123-3 at 43 (Zacharia Decl.). Zacharia, in turn, reported to Guillorit. Id. Zacharia's team included (1) Mott; (2) Hollis Chen, an American male born on March 27, 1966; and (3) Arnaud Mottet, a French male born on May 12, 1977. ECF No. 123-2 at 6 (Chen Decl.); ECF No. 123-3 at 56 (Mottet Dep.). For the duration of Mott's employment, he worked remotely from Maryland.

         B. Facts Related to Mott's Hostile Work Environment Claim

         Mott contends that a “hostile work environment began almost immediately” after he joined Accenture. ECF No. 124-3 at 44. In March 2015, Mott traveled to London for training where he met his team member, Arnaud Mottet, in person for the first time. ECF No. 123-2 at 61. Mott discussed with Mottet “the abusive conduct that Zacharia and Chen were engaging in every time [the team was] on a phone conversation.” Id. With regard to Fauzia Malik-Zaman, [1]who was head of the Complex contracting group and to whom Mott occasionally provided regulatory advice, Mott also raised “that [he] was being excluded” from phone meetings conducted by Malik-Zaman. Id.

         In May 2015, Zacharia authored Mott's mid-year performance review. ECF No. 123-3 at 44. Mott received the rating of “Met Expectations” for nine of the eleven enumerated categories and “Exceeded Expectations” rating in the remaining two areas identified as “Business Operator Results” and “Develops self and others.” Id. at 49. Among Mott's strengths, Zacharia noted Mott's experience and knowledge in the health-care industry and added that “Mott enjoys legal research and is able to research many topics without outside counsel assistance.” Id. at 51.

         However, this review, which covered Mott's first six months at Accenture, also identified deficiencies in Mott's performance. Under “Areas for development, ” Zacharia noted:

1. When asked questions, Joe should focus the answers on what the person is asking and the reason they are asking the question. There has been a tendency not to really hear the concern or question and to go on tangents, and that then necessitates multiple repetitions of the same question. Answer the question before discussing tangential matters. Make an effort to pause in a conversation and give the other person a chance to express their question(s) and for you to hear what they don't understand. Work on brevity when writing emails and answering questions. Try to get to the point quickly and avoid using abbreviations or acronyms without first defining them. Keep in mind that if it can't be read on one smartphone screen, it may not get read.
2. Stay flexible in analyses and approach. Accenture is a large company with many internal capabilities, practices, and policies. There are often several ways to approach compliance or legal requirements. Accenture may not do things in the same way that former employers or others do things but that does not mean Accenture must change the way it approaches compliance or legal requirements. Accenture can have a valid approach that differs from others for many different reasons, from the size of the organization, to cost, to history of the development of the practices and policies, etc. To avoid causing Accenture folks unnecessary concern, if you think Accenture must approach something differently, first discuss with Abe or Hollis. As Joe learns about Accenture, its resources, and how it operates, I expect this should no longer be an issue.

ECF No. 123-3 at 51, 93-94.

         Mott next received his annual review in November or December of 2015, which largely echoed his mid-year review. Zacharia recommended a “Consistent With Peer Group” rating and reiterated that Mott could “work on being briefer in his emails and answers to questions, and be more focused on answering the questions asked of him before digressing to related topics and information.” Id. at 51.

         Zacharia was not alone in identifying difficulties with Mott's communication style. Mott's teammate, Chen, “found Mott hard to work with because he had trouble focusing. Mott would identify issues and then digress off topic.” ECF NO. 123-2 at 7. Zaman-Malik similarly “found it very difficult to keep Mott focused on calls as he quickly would move from one topic to another.” ECF No. 123-3 at 110. Zaman-Malik added that “Mott's advice was not concise, he would go off on tangents, he was long-winded and he would provide no clear or direct answer to questions raised.” Id.

         C. Mott Requests a Transfer

         Mott continued to confide in Mottet regarding the difficulties he was having with the team. On May 5, 2015, Mott wrote a lengthy email to Mottet recounting a series of events within his team in which he also mentions that he may “have to ask [Guillorit] about a transfer” within the Legal Department. ECF No. 123-3 at 65. Mott's email centered on his conflicts with Zacharia, Chen, and Fauzia Malik-Zaman. Mott noted in particular a conference call where Malik-Zaman, evidently frustrated with Mott, asked Mott to drop the call. Id. at 66. Mott described to Mottet that Chen was “uber OCD” and that he (Mott) had “rebuke[d]” and “chastise[d]” Chen for certain behavior. Id. at 65-66. Mott concluded that Zacharia and Chen's “collective inability to recognize their managerial and collegial shortcomings makes it increasingly obvious that this won't work for me.” Id. at 67.

         On May 10, 2015, Mottet informed Mott that Mottet had “an informal discussion with [Guillorit]” regarding “the integration problem that exists” on Mott's team. ECF No. 124-3 at 157. Mottet wrote that Mott was “facing the same problem I faced with Hollis [Chen] 3 years ago” and encouraged Mott to share with Guillorit his “feelings about . . . [his] lack of integration.” Id.

         On June 2, 2015, Mott sent Guillorit an email asking for her “approval and support regarding a potential transfer to a different position.” ECF No. 124-3 at 160. Mott took issue with his mid-year performance review from Zacharia and provided several “example[s] illustrating the challenge[s]” he was having. Id. Guillorit responded that she would “like to set up some time” to have a “follow on discussion as we may have other position [sic] in the Offering team.” Id. at 159. Guillorit added that “everyone in Legal is absolutely free to apply to any existing open position . . . even if I think it would be a much better fit to stay in Offerings.” Id. Mott replied, “one of my many flaws is an unfailing sense of loyalty (no matter how misguided) . . . so of course I will continue to work for you in Offerings.” Id.

         Mott's apparent frustration with his team continued after his exchange with Guillorit. In September 2015, Mott sent another email to Mottet, detailing his recent falling out with Zacharia and Chen. ECF No. 123-3 at 71. Mott concluded, and shared with Mottet, “the ineptitude” of his colleagues, and that he (Mott) had “far greater legal and management skills than both [Zacharia and Chen] combined.” Id. Mott further characterized his interaction with his colleagues as a “farce” which “exemplifies the poor management training and management selection process within ACN.” Id.

         D. Mott Applies for Other Positions with Accenture

         In October 2015, Mott applied to transfer to Accenture's litigation department. ECF No. 123-3 at 136; ECF No. 123-4 at 2-9. The announced “Preferred Qualification” for this position was prior experience as a “[p]artner at [a] law firm.” ECF No. 123-4 at 7. The posting also stated that, “Employees are expected to be in their current position for a minimum of 12 months before applying to a new position.” Id. Over 300 candidates applied for the position, and Mott was not selected for an interview. Id. at 12; ECF No. 123-3 at 158. Accenture ultimately hired a female candidate “from an external law firm with relevant and recent litigation experience” to fill the position. ECF No. 123-3 at 154.

         In the fall of 2015, Mott also applied for a Team Lead position within Offerings. ECF No. 123-2 at 37; ECF No. 123-4 at 27. As part of reorganizing the department, Guillorit announced a position for Legal Director, Offerings and Services, Regulatory Compliance, H&PS Resources. ECF No. 123-4 at 15. The position required knowledge and experience related to three enumerated subjects: (1) healthcare regulatory; (2) public service; and (3) resources. ECF No. 123-3 at 151-52. Both Chen and Mott applied for the position, among others. ECF No. 123-4 at 25. Guillorit interviewed Mott for the position on November 17, 2015. ECF No. 123-4 at 33. In her contemporaneous notes, Guillorit documented that Mott still needed “to learn about Accenture organisation [sic], processes, methodology and approaches, ” and that he was “[too] focused on the scope of the existing role rather than the scope of his new role.” Id. at 34. Guillorit also noted that Mott had a “[h]ard time . . . listen[ing] and responding to questions” and determined Mott was “not ready to take on this role.” 34-35. Guillorit instead selected Catherine Walter[2] for the Team Lead role. ECF No. 123-3 at 153.

         Mott applied for a second litigation position in April 2016. See ECF No. 123-3 at 139- 46. “Partner at [a] law firm, ” as with the prior litigation attorney posting, was listed as a preferred qualification and the position's primary location was listed as Chicago. Id. at 139, 143. Over 100 candidates applied, and Accenture hired an external candidate who was a female attorney at a law firm. Id. at 157, 163-64.

         E. Mott's Interaction with Michael Cammarota

         In apparent recognition that his employment at Accenture was off to a rocky start, Mott sought the assistance of Michael Cammarota, an attorney in the Legal Department senior to Guillorit. ECF No. 123-2 at 94 (Mott Dep.) (“[G]iven the dynamic . . . I needed to seek help from somebody higher in the food chain.”). Id. During their first phone call in January 2016, Cammarota, in Mott's characterization, made ageist comments. Id. at 94-99. Mott more particularly recalls Cammarota asking Mott, “what are you doing here” and commenting that Mott did not “appear to want to be general counsel.” Id. at 94. Mott also recalls Cammarota, who is “well into his 50s, ” commenting that they were “both on the back nines of our career.” Id. at 94, 95.

         F. Offerings Team Reorganization

         In the spring of 2016, Accenture restructured the Offerings team, reconfiguring the previous six teams under Guillorit's supervision into five teams. See ECF No. 123-3 at 3; ECF No. 123-4 at 41. Of the five Team Leads Guillorit selected, three were men, three were Americans, all were over the age of forty, and two were over the age of fifty. ECF No. 132-2 at 221. Mott's Health team was dissolved and absorbed into the newly named Health & Public Services, Resources, and Regulatory Compliance team. ECF No. 123-4 at 41; ECF No. 123-2 at 232. Walter, as the Team Lead of Health & Public Services, Resources, now supervised Mott and Chen. Mott's previous supervisor, Zacharia, no longer belonged to the team. ECF No. 123-4 at 42.

         Zacharia had also been Mott's Career Counselor within the organization. Before the new teams were finalized, Mott had repeatedly asked Guillorit by email in late 2015 and early 2016 to provide him a Career Counselor other than Zacharia. ECF No. 123-4 at 37-38. On March 23, 2016, Guillorit informed Mott that she was “finalizing the org chart, ” and would assign him a new Counselor in the coming weeks. Id. at 37. Guillorit also told Mott that his “role . . . can evolve in terms of area of expertise.” Id. On March 25, 2016, Walter confirmed with Mott that she would serve as his new Career Counselor in addition to her role as Team Lead. Id. at 49.

         As part of the reorganization, Walter proposed that Mott assume responsibility for the newly defined area of “Defense & Public Safety and Regulatory Compliance.” See ECF No. 123-4 at 42. Walter testified that because Mott had expressed his dissatisfaction with the dynamic on the Health team, she believed Mott “was in a good position to start something new.” Id. at 68. However, shortly after Mott agreed to this new assignment, Walter encountered difficulty in getting Mott to complete tasks. Mott, for example, refused to take the steps necessary to formalize Walter's role as his Career Counselor, despite having asked Guillorit for her to assign him a new Career Counselor. Accenture's online system requires the counselee to designate a new Career Counselor. ECF No. 123-4 at 66. Mott delayed making the change in the system because he “had reservations about whether the current assignment (or more aptly the changing assignment is a good fit for me.” Id. at 128. As a result, Walter could not access Mott's performance reviews. Id. at 67.

         By April 2016, Guillorit and Walter grew “concern[ed] about Mr. Mott's willingness and/or ability to implement changes.” ECF No. 123-2 at 207. They sought advice from Beth Phelan, Human Resources lead, regarding potential next steps. Id. This consultation was based in part on Mott's now questioning the very changes in his career counselor and job duties to which he had previously agreed. Id. at 207-08.

         By early June 2016, Guillorit requested that Phelan provide severance accrual figures for Mott in the event that Accenture terminated him. ECF No. 123-2 at 189. Guillorit acknowledged that “given the lack of progresses and/or inability to make things - changes with Joe” that his termination was a possibility. Id. at 190. “Things were not progressing at all. So yeah, I was concerned about [terminating Mott] while continuing to try to improve things.” Id. at 190.

         Mott separately asked Phelan for guidance on June 30, 2016. During his hour-long call with Phelan, Mott recalls raising “the subject [of discrimination] . . . and discuss[ing]” the topic “extensively.” ECF No. 123-2 at 105. Phelan's contemporaneous notes of this conversation make no mention of discussing Mott's concerns regarding discrimination. ECF No. 123-4 at 170. Nor does the record reflect that Phelan shared Mott's concerns with anyone else.

         Mott continued to resist changes arising from the department reorganization, including the new collaborative priorities process. As part of the corporate restructuring, Accenture rolled out its new “Performance Achievement” program, a “collaborative process” where Career Counselors and counselees together were to define job objectives and priorities. ECF No. 123-4 at 64-65. While other employees generally completed the drafting and uploading of their priorities in about an hour and a half, Mott's process stretched over several months. ECF No. 123-2 at 211.

         In particular, Walter's “many discussions” with Mott about defining employment priorities resulted in Mott uploading only two priorities into the online system that, unbeknownst to Walter, “had nothing to do with what [they] had discussed.” ECF No. 123-4 at 65. When Walter learned of the uploaded priorities, she told Mott that because they were “completely different from the ones that we discussed, ” Mott should also upload the previously agreed-upon priorities. Id. at 136. Mott refused, and instead became increasingly hostile and disrespectful toward Walter. On July 6, 2016, Mott writes, “I have great difficulty with our interaction, and frankly I am exasperated.” Id. at 135. He continues,

I don't know why this item is a priority since you recently advised me that you believe my colleague Hollis has more regulatory expertise than I do (which of course, is categorically incorrect and indicative of the core problem - i.e. you have little familiarity with my background and experience and you have shown no inclination toward wanting to rectify that shortcoming).

ECF No. 123-4 at 137. Mott describes Walter's suggestions as “suffer[ing] from a myopic approach.” Id. at 138. Mott criticized Walter's guidance, saying, “even the manner in which you have dictated that I approach the issue denotes a lack of professional regard that is affronting . . . .” Id. Mott further conveyed his reluctance to work with Walter going forward:

As I told you in my last email on this subject, I was willing to try to make the career counselor relationship work with you. However, your subsequent actions, words and the tenor of our exchanges clearly indicates that our situation is not working. I am not sure what it is that we could discuss at this point to alter the dynamic . . . .

Id. at 136.

         The same day, Walter forwarded this correspondence to Guillorit who, in turn, forwarded it to Phelan, noting,

The situation is just becoming worse as you can see below. . . . Each time it seems to be better (which was the case when Catherine was in Washington), it appears afterwards that he is still doing only what he wants to do and coming back on topics previously discussed. No. one else in this team, at this SM level (even M level), requires so much time for explanations, discussions coaching . . . . Catherine is starting to have hard time talking to him given the way he is interpreting what has been discussed and coming back always on same things.

ECF No. 123-4 at 145.

         Five days later, on July 13, Walter sent Phelan a summary of her ongoing difficult interactions with Mott. Id. at 151-53. In the summary, Walter chronicled the difficulties she experienced with keeping Mott on task regarding his priorities, his increasing insistence that Walter not act as his career counselor, and his repeated discussions about his “difficult relationship with his colleague Hollis, ” his “unmerited ‘bad' rating (3) since he has joined Accenture, ” and “his experience prior to joining Accenture, ” among other related topics. Id. at 152. “When Joe starts talking about these topics (i.e. absolutely every discussion), it becomes impossible to stop him and one is in front of a never ending monologue.” Id.

         G. Mott's Termination and Discrimination Complaint

         By the end of July or early August, Guillorit had decided to terminate Mott. ECF No. 123-2 at 175. Prior to making this decision, Guillorit had sought and received input from Zacharia, Zaman-Malik, and Walter. Guillorit also alerted her supervisor, Deputy General Counsel for CORE, Patrick Rowe, who did not object to her decision. Id. at 186-87. After returning from paid leave in August 2016, Guillorit scheduled a Skype meeting with Mott “in view of upcoming Talent discussions.” ECF No. 123-4 at 184. The call occurred on September 14, 2016, during which Guillorit told Mott he was fired. ECF No. 123-2 at 219. As grounds for termination, Guillorit cited Mott's “communication skills, ” “resistance to changes, ” and “unacceptable email[s] sent to ...

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