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Watt v. Mabus

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

June 4, 2014

MICHAEL A. WATT, Plaintiff,
v.
RAY MABUS, Secretary of the Navy, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

LIAM O'GRADY, District Judge.

This employment discrimination dispute arises from the Plaintiffs former role as a Navy Supervisory Logistics Management specialist at Quantico, Virginia. Before the Court is the Defendant's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the Defendant's motion is GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

The Plaintiff, Michael A. Watt, is a former Supervisory Logistics Management specialist in the Motor Transport Branch at the Marine Corps in Quantico. Virginia ("the Navy"). Watt. who is an Alrican-American Army veteran, served in this capacity from approximately mid-2005 until January, 2008. The complex background to this case can be broken into four parts. The first regards Watt's allegations of disturbing racially-motivated animus. The second concerns the Navy's claims of Watt's improper professional conduct. The third involves the administrative proceedings arising from both parties' allegations. Finally, the fourth deals with the procedural history of the matter before this Court. Each part of the relevant background is discussed in turn.

Watt makes disturbing allegations concerning the conditions of his working environment at Quantico, According to Watt, within months of starting work he began to have issues with a few of his subordinates. The record reflects a particularly frigid relationship between Watt and three employees: Lloyd Aucoin Connie Dorsey, and Art Foss. Watt claims that early during his tenure, Dorsey filed a false and racially-motivated sexual harassment claim which she later admitted was "a joke." Later, the word "Nigger" was written on Watt's personal vehicle. Watt asserts that shortly after this incident, Aucoin admitted to hanging a poster in the department's common space which depicted a picture of a caveman and stated "So easy a caveman can do it - U.S. Army Mr, Watt." Watt was also informed that a picture of his face was used as a dartboard in a similar area and that racially-charged graffiti using the n-word had been found in a bathroom which he used. In addition, Watt states that he received messages from a website entitled "willselfdestruct.com" stating that he would "come to the end of his time like Hitler and Napoleon." Capping off these troubling claims is Watt's assertion that when he attempted to bring these incidents to the attention of his supervisor, Captain Amy Cahoon (now Amy LaRose), she scolded him for using the n-word and did nothing to investigate the allegations.

Towards the end of 2007, Dorsey and Foss circulated a petition alleging that it was Watt who was creating a hostile work environment. Watt brought this petition to the attention of his supervisors, and was led to believe that Colonel Kathy Velez had initiated an internal investigation to determine whether Dorsey and Foss's petition represented a misuse of time. The record demonstrates that on January 15. 2008, Velez appointed Monte' Selbe to "inquire into allegations that Ms. Connie Dorsey, and possibly others within [the Department I are circulating a petition on duty time to have Mr. Watt removed from his position." See Dkt. No. 79, Exh, E. Selbe was also directed to "look into an allegation that Ms, Dorsey, and possibly others within [the Department are making derogatory remarks about Mr. Watt." Id.

From the Navy's perspective, the dispositive events relevant to this controversy began in 2008 and share a common theme: Watt's failure to adequately and professionally carry out his responsibilities. On January 11, 2008, the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1786 ("the Union") filed a charge with the Federal Labor Relations Authority claiming that Watt had violated the collective bargaining agreement. Under the Navy's view, this charge preceded the petition against Watt. In any event, the parties agree that on January 25, 2008-shortly after Watt raised his concerns to LaRose regarding the hostile environment-the Union submitted a second collective bargaining agreement violation charge against Watt. The Union further alleged Watt had "displayed inappropriate and unacceptable behavior" in the department. That same day LaRose placed Watt on paid administrative leave pending an investigation into allegations of "serious misconduct." LaRose then appointed Captain Susan Craig to conduct an official administrative inquiry regarding those accusations. See Dkt. No. 79, Exh. 1.

It is worth pausing at this point to highlight what is perhaps the most significant factual disagreement between the parties. Watt asserts that LaRose hijacked the Velez and Selbe investigations into other employees' misuse of time and transformed them into a racially-motivated review of Watt's activity. The Navy maintains that LaRose's management of Cahoon's administrative inquiry was nothing more than a well-executed internal investigation into serious allegations of Watt's workplace misconduct. As will become clear in the discussion below, this factual disagreement is not material in light of Watt's legal claims and the record as a whole.

After conducting the Velez-directed investigation, Selbe ultimately concluded that "All allegations listed in [the Union's] report of hostile work conditions [are] confirmed and verified accurate." See Dkt. No. 78, Exh. E. The LaRose-directed investigation by Craig reached a similar conclusion, substantiating the allegations of serious misconduct by Watt. See id., Exh. J. Captain Craig found that Watt should not hold a supervisory position because (1) he failed to keep personnel records on individuals he supervised, (2) he did not complete Marine Fitness reports properly or on time, (3) he lacked "correspondence proficiency, " (4) he "displayed unprofessional and childish behavior, " (5) neglected his supervisory responsibilities, and (6) was unable to handle the stress of his role. See id. Watt has never questioned the factual basis of these conclusions.

Following these investigations Larose expressed her intent to terminate Watt's employment. Watt resigned in response. See Dkt. No. 79, Exh. K. In his official resignation submission, Watt noted that "I am resigning because I have been subjected to severe and pervasive harassment, retaliation, [and discrimination because of my race (black)." Id.

Shortly after submitting his resignation Watt filed an informal complaint with the Marine Corps Office of Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO"). See Dkt. No. 79. Exh. L. In this informal complaint Watt alleged that he had been discriminated against because of his race and subjected to reprisal. Watt cited his placement on administrative leave, Dorsey's false allegation of sexual harassment, and "a vast amount ()Collier ongoing issues" involving Dorsey and Foss's attempts to have him removed from his "supervisor position" as the factual bases of this charge. Id. On March 4, 2008, Watt formalized his EEO complaint. In this formal complaint Watt repeated the allegations from the informal complaint, and added the claims regarding the caveman poster, the hate mail, and additional incidents of Foss and Dorsey making false allegations against him. See Dkt. No. 79, Exh. M. On April 16, 2008, following yet another internal investigation, the Navy issued Watt a Notice of Proposed Removal for Conduct Unbecoming, Careless or Negligent Performance of Duties, and Lack of Candor.

Watt's EEO complaint was adjudicated between 2008 and 2011. After filing an amended complaint with the assistance of counsel, Watt's claim was eventually dismissed without a hearing.

Although not as tortuous as the history of his employment at Quantico the procedural history of Watt's case before this Court is also intricate. Watt filed his initial complaint pro se on February 8, 2012. See Dkt, No. 1. Four months later the Navy filed its first motion for summary judgment. See Dkt. No. 5. After a hearing was held on the motion, the Court treated the Navy's motion as a motion to dismiss, dismissed Watt's complaint without prejudice, and granted him ninety days to amend his complaint. See Dkt. No. 14. The Court then granted Watt an extension to draft his amended complaint, which he finally did file on January 4, 2013. See Dkt. Nos. 21 and 22. Watt's Amended Complaint contained five counts: hostile work environment (Count 11. constructive discharge (Count II), disparate treatment (Count III), retaliation (Count IV), and denial of right to counsel (Count V).

The Navy again moved for summary judgment on February 25, 2013. See Dkt. No. 23. A week later, Stephen Barkai Pershing entered his notice of appearance on behalf of watt. See Dkt. No. 27. Upon entering the case Pershing filed numerous motions to continue and for extensions of time, and eventually the Court granted Watt an extension to respond to the Navy's motion. See Dkt. No. 36. After additional delays, and with the Navy's motion still pendintz. Pershing moved to withdraw as Watt's attorney. See Dkt, No. 64. On March 14, 2014, Thomas Hennessy-the lawyer who had assisted Watt during his EEO proceeding-entered an appearance on Watt's behalf. See Dkt. No. 68. ...


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