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Gentle v. Booz Allen Hamilton, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

November 4, 2019

THOMAS GENTLE, Plaintiff,
v.
BOOZ ALLEN HAMILTON, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          STEPHANIE A. GALLAGHER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Thomas Gentle filed a Complaint against his former employer, Defendant Booz Allen Hamilton, Inc. (“Booz Allen”), alleging disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. 12101, et seq. ECF 1. Booz Allen has filed a Motion to Dismiss, ECF 14, along with a supporting memorandum of law, ECF 14-1, (collectively, the “Motion”). Gentle filed an opposition (“Opposition”), ECF 16, and Booz Allen filed a reply (“Reply”), ECF 17. I have considered all of the filings, and find that no hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For the reasons set forth below, Booz Allen's Motion will be granted, and the Complaint will be dismissed without prejudice.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND[1]

         Gentle is a military veteran who suffers from disabilities caused or exacerbated by injuries he sustained on duty in the military. ECF 1, ¶ 11. His disabilities include chronic lower back, shoulder, neck, and knee pain, chronic sinusitis, and temporomandibular joint disorder, in addition to headaches, fatigue, and other symptoms. Id.

         In 2006, Booz Allen hired Gentle as an Associate to perform work on a large defense contract. Id. ¶ 12. During his onboarding process, Gentle disclosed his disabilities to Booz Allen, and received accommodations from its disabilities accommodations section, including an ergonomic lumbar chair. Id. ¶ 13. During Gentle's 2017 annual performance evaluation, he discussed the challenges and management of his chronic illness. Id. In addition, “Gentle's former Career Manager and a former fellow Senior Associate provided written support letters for the VA regarding Gentle's disability symptoms and their impact, with the most recent being within weeks of his joining the new team.” Id.

         In or about 2009, Booz Allen promoted Gentle to Senior Associate, and he became responsible for management of up to fifty employees. Id. ¶ 15. In addition, he was named Deputy Program Manager on a contract worth more than $20 million. Id. Gentle received positive performance reviews throughout his lengthy tenure at Booz Allen. Id. ¶ 16.

         The contract on which Gentle served as Deputy Program Manager expired in February, 2018. Id. ¶ 17. On or about March 19, 2018, Gentle was assigned to a new team, working as a Program Management Office (PMO) Lead responsible for two sections, one in Virginia and one in San Antonio, Texas. Id. ¶ 19. Because Gentle worked in Maryland, most of his communications with his two offices occurred remotely, via telephone, email, or text. Id. Beginning on April 1, 2018, Mike Tallent served as Gentle's Career Manager, and Kim Bird became his second-line Manager. Id. ¶ 20. Bird did not ever contact Gentle to discuss his disabilities and any real or perceived impact on his performance. Id. ¶ 14.

         In his new role, Gentle served as Transition Lead, and led a transition of 230 PMO staff from March, 2018 through June, 2018. Id. ¶ 21. None of the staff contacted Gentle, publicly or privately, to complain about his behavior or his communications. Id. ¶ 22. In fact, Government clients and other staff provided positive feedback to Gentle. Id. One member of the San Antonio team, Scedell Kreps, announced that she wanted to leave the PMO office when it was overseen by Gentle. Id. ¶ 25. After consulting with Tallent, Gentle spoke directly with Krepps, who explained that she had decided to leave the PMO months before Gentle joined the team, and was concerned that the larger PMO contract would be run out of Virginia, making the San Antonio office into a satellite office. Id. Krepps also expressed concern with Gentle's “perceived lack of vision for the PMO.” Id.

         On or about May 10, 2018, Gentle participated in a call with Tallent and Amy Valez, a Deputy Program Manager from San Antonio. Id. ¶ 28. Valdez led the meeting, and notified Gentle that she had received negative feedback from team members about Gentle's communication skills. Id. Gentle asked Valdez to provide specific examples of conduct leading to the complaints. Id. About a week later, Gentle and Valdez met in Virginia. Id. When Gentle tried to follow up on the negative feedback, Valdez portrayed it as “not a big deal, ” but said “she owed it to him to get him the feedback.” Id.

         Bird and Valdez allowed other staff members to interact with Government clients in Texas and Colorado, but questioned Gentle's communication with clients, despite his role as PMO and Transition Lead. Id. ¶ 30. Moreover, Jason Vaughn and other staff members were allowed to have in-person meetings with Virginia Government clients, without Gentle's presence. Id. Gentle's attempts to travel and meet in person with his PMO staffs were rebuffed or cancelled by Bird. Id. ¶ 31. However, Bird permitted other staff members to travel for meetings. Id. ¶ 32.

         On or about June 8, 2018, Gentle received a positive performance review at a meeting that included Bird and other Booz Allen officials.[2] Id. ¶ 33. During the evaluation, Gentle was described as having a strength in the area of “Foster Collaboration and Develop Expertise, ” and was further described “as building a team with a very collaborative team culture that was focused on learning and growing.” Id. ¶ 16.

         On June 11, 2018, Valdez finally provided Gentle with an example of “Gentle's contact with clients without knowledge of or approval, ” as he had requested at the meeting in May. Id. ¶ 34. The example Valdez cited consisted of an incomplete email chain, which did not contain an email reflecting Tallent's approval of Gentle's work. Id. Gentle tried to give Valdez the other communications to show more context, but Valdez responded that she “would not be relitigating the issue.” Id.

         On June 13, 2018, Gentle led the final transition call, which announced the successful transition of 230 staff from the VA to the TX contracts. Id. ¶ 35. Most of the team's leadership participated on the call. Id. After the call, several members of the team expressed satisfaction with the success of the transition. Id.

         Bird agreed to meet with Gentle in Maryland on or about June 27, 2018, to discuss his work concerns. Id. ¶ 36. At the beginning of the meeting, Gentle told Bird that “he was not feeling well and was suffering from a very bad headache and other symptoms, ” and that “he took some over the counter sinus medication.” Id. ¶ 37. Gentle continued with the meeting, since Bird had driven from Virginia for the meeting. Id. During the meeting, Gentle discussed his vision for ...


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