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Barreto v. SGT, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 19, 2019

AIMEE BARRETO, Plaintiff,
v.
SGT, Inc., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          PAULA XINIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff Aimee Barreto's motion for sanctions (ECF No. 51) and motion to compel (ECF Nos. 56 & 57), third-party National Aeronautics and Space Administration (“NASA”)'s related motion to quash subpoena (ECF No. 68), Defendant SGT, LLC, formerly SGT, Inc. (“SGT”)'s motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 69), and Barreto's motion to seal exhibits. ECF No. 81. Each motion is fully briefed, except the motion to seal, and no hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6. For the following reasons, the Court denies Barreto's motions for sanctions and to compel, grants NASA's motion to quash, grants SGT's motion for summary judgment and defers ruling on Barreto's motion to seal.

         I. Background

         SGT, an engineering and technology company that staffs federal government contracts, hired Barreto as a human resources specialist in 2007. ECF No. 69-4 ¶ 2-3. Barreto, a woman of Puerto Rican descent who identifies as Hispanic or Latina, earned her Master of Science in government contracts and a Master of Business Administration. ECF No. 83 at 5; ECF No. 82-20 at 1. In 2014, Barreto was promoted to a Group Lead. ECF No. 69-4 ¶ 4. Barreto also received a 10% salary increase in consideration of her promotion, although her supervisor, Nora Bozzolo, advocated for a 17% increase. Id.; ECF No. 69-6 at 2; ECF No. 82-10 at 1.

         Bozzolo, who is from Argentina, had known Barreto since 2005. ECF No. 69-6 at 3. The two women spent time together socially, and Barreto described Bozzolo as her friend. Id. at 5; ECF No. 82-7 at 3. Bozzolo knew that Barreto was of Puerto Rican descent. At some point during the eleven years that Barreto and Bozzolo knew each other, Bozzolo, according to Barreto, had “made general comments about Puerto Ricans, ” such as, “‘That's just Puerto Ricans, '” and, “‘That's the way Puerto Ricans are.'” ECF No. 83 at 31, 34. When pressed as to when, how often, or under what circumstances Bozzolo made such comments, Barreto could not recall any further detail.

         Barreto worked under the Mechanical Systems Engineering Services IIA Bridge (“MSES”) contract, which developed space flight hardware and other support for NASA missions. ECF No. 69-5 ¶ 5. Barreto's group, Materials Engineering, focused on one task, which was comprised of approximately 30-50 subtasks. ECF No. 82-12 at 1; ECF No. 83 at 13. Barreto supervised four SGT employees, as well as twelve subcontractor employees. ECF No. 69-5 ¶ 12. The MSES contract was scheduled to end, with the work transiting to a new contract in December 2015. ECF No. 82-13 at 3. NASA awarded the new contract, known as Mechanical Integrated Services and Technologies (“MIST”), to a different subcontractor, ATA Aerospace (“Aerospace”). ECF No. 69-5 at 25. However, under MIST, SGT was still responsible for approximately 33% of the work. Id. at 33.

         By September 23, 2015, Barreto understood that she, like many others who had been on the MSES contract, would not continue under MIST. ECF No. 69-5 ¶ 22; ECF No. 69-6 at 12- 13. Recognizing the possibility of future unemployment with SGT, Barreto sought guidance from Bozzolo, who provided Barreto with temporary work to extend her time at SGT. ECF No. 69-5 at 40. But in December 2015, Barreto learned that, while SGT still intended to terminate Barreto's employment, SGT decided to retain certain employees from the MSES contract. Barreto, in turn, emailed Bozzolo to complain of “clear discrimination.” Id. at 43. Barreto did not reference in the email either her race or ethnicity, nor could Barreto recall any specific conversation that she ever had with Bozzolo about the nature of the alleged discrimination. Around the same time, Bozzolo told Barreto that the reason why SGT was not keeping Barreto is that she lacked an engineering or science degree. ECF No. 69-6 at 14.

         After Barreto learned of SGT's planned termination, her relationship with Bozzolo grew tense. Bozzolo became concerned that the two suffered from communication breakdowns and so Bozzolo arranged for her and Barreto to attend together counseling offered by the employee assistance program. ECF No. 89 at 113. According to Bozzolo, the two women attended four counseling sessions together. Bozzolo testified that she would not have gone to such lengths to help any other employees as she did Barreto. Id. at 121-22.

         In December 2015 and January 2016, Barreto requested from SGT a “charge number” so that she could bill work she was doing to the MIST contract. Barreto explains that a charge number is essential to properly billing her time under the various contracts. ECF No. 83 at 17. She was not awarded such a number. ECF No. 69-5 at 58.

         Approximately two months after Barreto's email complaining of discrimination, Bozzolo informed Barreto that her separation from SGT would be effective March 31, 2016. ECF No. 69-5 ¶ 41, p. 61. Barreto continued asking Bozzolo for work within SGT. ECF No. 69-5 at 51. Although SGT discussed an internal corporate position with Barreto, Barreto was not offered the job. Compare Id. at 61 (stating that Barreto declined the position because of the compensation); ECF No. 83 at 25 (Barreto denying that she disapproved of the compensation).

         Barreto's employment with SGT ended on March 31, 2016. In Barreto's termination memo, Bozzolo writes that Barreto was terminated because the role that she occupied as a supervisor now fell under the responsibility of Aerospace rather than SGT. ECF No. 69-5 at 61. Additionally, Bozzolo noted that Barreto's job skills were confined to financial and administrative matters, and so SGT could not use her in a technical capacity. Id.

         Although SGT terminated Barreto, it kept two other employees who had been working under the MSES contract. Bita Khoshvaghti, who had a doctorate in applied mathematics, was retained to supervise 17 employees under the MIST contract to execute twenty tasks. ECF No. 69-7 at 3; ECF No. 69-5 ¶ 50; 82-7 at 10. Cheryl Jackson, a Caucasian woman with a bachelor's degree in business management (ECF No. 69-5 at 13; ECF No. 82-21 at 1), worked on the winddown of the MSES contract and a separate contract, OMES. ECF No. 69-8 at 3. Under MSES, Jackson occupied the position of task lead within a group, rather than a group lead. ECF No. 82-16 at 4. During the transition from the MSES contract to the MIST contract, Jackson kept only a third of her previous workload. Id. at 5. Beginning in November 2016, Jackson returned to the OMES contract full-time to perform document verification and stayed on in that capacity until March 2017. Id. at 6; ECF No. 69-8 at 3.

         On June 6, 2016, Barreto contacted the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights to complain of a discriminatory and retaliatory discharge. ECF No. 69-9 at 5-6. Barreto filed the charge of discrimination, again only referencing her termination. Id. at 2. Barreto then filed this action, alleging “racial/ethnic” and retaliatory discrimination in contravention of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.; the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act (“MFEPA”), Md. Code, State Gov't 20-601 et seq.; retaliation under the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. § 3729 et seq.; and retaliation under Maryland common law. ECF No. 2. Barreto now moves to compel discovery, for sanctions for spoliation of evidence, and to seal exhibits; third-party NASA moves to quash a subpoena; and SGT moves for summary judgment.

         II. Discovery Motions

         A. Sanctions

         Barreto sought sanctions for SGT's spoliation of monthly meeting minutes. ECF No. 51. Although all meeting minutes besides two-January 2015 and April 2016-have now been produced, Barreto asks this Court (or the eventual fact finder) to draw a negative inference from the missing meeting notes, and to reopen discovery so that she may to depose the witnesses to the meetings at SGT's expense. ECF No. 65 at 1, 4. The Court retains inherent authority, as well as the discretion as circumscribed by Rule 37 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, to sanction discovery violations. Victory Stanley, Inc. v. Creative Pipe, Inc., 269 F.R.D. 497, 517 (D. Md. 2010). Before imposing sanctions for spoliation of evidence, the movant must demonstrate that:

(1) [T]he party having control over the evidence had an obligation to preserve it when it was destroyed or altered; (2) the destruction or loss was accompanied by a “culpable state of mind;” and (3) the evidence that was destroyed or altered was “relevant” to the claims or defenses of the party that sought the discovery of the spoliated evidence, to the extent that a reasonable factfinder ...

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