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Milladge v. Oto Development, LLC

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

October 1, 2014



CLAUDE M. HILTON, District Judge.

THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Defendant OTO Development's ("OTO" or "Defendant") Motion for Summary Judgment. Defendant develops and manages hotel properties, and Plaintiff Demetra Milladge ("Milladge" or "Plaintiff"), an African American, was an employee of OTO until her termination in August 2013. Plaintiff alleges she was subjected to a racially hostile work environment and her termination was the result of racial discrimination and retaliation in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981.

OTO develops and manages hotel properties, including nine hotels in the D.C. metro area. Plaintiff was hired by OTO in December 2009, and promoted to Director of Sales in April 2011. In this position, Milladge was responsible for managing the Sales Department for the Sheraton Herndon Dulles Airport Hotel ("Sheraton") and the Hyatt Place Herndon-Dulles Airport East Hotel ("Hyatt"). She was in charge of a sales team tasked with attracting business into the hotels to increase revenue. She reported directly to the General Managers of these two hotels, and had a "dotted line" relationship to the Regional Director of Sales for the Mid-Atlantic Region.

Milladge's two hotels continually struggled. When compared to other area hotels within their "competitive set, " the Sheraton was generally ranked fourth or fifth out of seven hotels, and the Hyatt was generally ranked fifth of seven, sometimes ranking seventh. Similarly, the RevPAR Index (revenue per available room) was continually below goal. The poor performance on the RevPAR Index led to the hotels not meeting their budget goals, with neither hotel meeting the budget goals for 2011, 2012, and the first half of 2013. Finally, the August 11, 2013 Smith Travel Report (a report that provides market information on hotel revenue performance versus a pre-established competitor set of other hotels in the marketplace) showed the two hotels were ranked each last in their competitive sets, with the Sheraton ranked seven of seven and the Hyatt ranked ten of ten for the week.

In February 2013, Defendant hired Jason Poynter, a Caucasian, as the new Regional Director of Sales for the Mid-Atlantic Region. In this position, Poynter had supervisory powers over all Directors of Sales within his region. Poynter and Plaintiff immediately conflicted, with Plaintiff disagreeing with Poynter's negative assessment of her hotels and determining within two weeks of meeting him that he was "arrogant, " "cocky, " and "dismissive." Poynter was often condescending and rude to Milladge, both privately and publicly, and would often demand answers from her or interrupt her. Specifically, Poynter told Milladge on different occasions "You need to be on top of this, " "You have to put your big girl panties on, " and "You have to have a backbone." Additionally, Poynter told Milladge to be more like Waneko Devo, the only other African American Director of Sales, telling Milladge, "[Waneko] always gets on board. She does everything I ask her to do."

As a result of this treatment, Milladge raised concerns to Sheraton General Manager, Patrick Campbell. Milladge told Campbell that she "just didn't like the way that he talked to me. I didn't like the way that he approached me. I didn't like some of his comments... that he was just kind of - I mean, his tone. He cut me off. That was condescending, and I just felt that there was some tension between us."

A Harassment and Discrimination Policy was contained in OTO's employee handbook, which Milladge received. The policy stated:

If a team member believes someone has violated this policy (whether or not that person is a co-worker or a superior), the team member should bring the matter to the immediate attention of his or her supervisor or, where this is inappropriate or not practical, to the attention of the Vice President of Human Resources or the Regional Director of Operations.

Milladge did not make any complaints regarding violations of the OTO's policy.

In April 2013, Milladge met with Poynter and Regional Director of Operations Rob Osuler to discuss her team and how her hotels' performance could be improved. Poynter and Osuler told Milladge a change in strategy was needed because the current strategy was not satisfactory. On May 31, 2013, Campbell and Poynter met with Milladge to deliver a performance evaluation prepared by Campbell for the 2012 calendar year. She was rated "2" overall, meaning she "needs improvement, " and she received a "2" in five key categories.

Following the August 11, 2013 Smith Travel Report, in which both of Milladge's hotels ranked last in revenue for the week, John Anderson, OTO's Chief Operating Officer, decided OTO could no longer continue with the poor revenue performance. On August 16, Milladge was informed of her termination. She was presented with a "Performance Management Form" which stated the reasons for her termination: "Revenue vs. Budget below goal[;] RevPAR Index below goal[;] Sales Activities below goal[;] No improvement in key metrics since performance appraisal[;] Significant managerial issues and breach of confidentiality[;] STR report performance through 8/11/13 ranked both hotels last in competitor sets."

Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is appropriate if the pleadings and evidence before the Court show no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). While the court will view the facts and inferences drawn in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, the party opposing the motion for summary judgment must put forth specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). "Mere unsupported speculation is not sufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion if the undisputed evidence indicates that the other party should win as a matter of law." Francis v. Booz, Allen & Hamilton, Inc., 452 F.3d 299, 308 (4th Cir. 2006).

In Count I of her Complaint, Milladge asserts a racially hostile work environment in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. To demonstrate a racially hostile work environment, Milladge must show that she was subjected to conduct that was (1) unwelcome; (2) based on race; (3) sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of employment and create an abusive atmosphere; and that (4) there is some basis for imposing liability on the employer. Spriggs v. Diamond Auto Glass, 242 F.3d 179, 183-84 (4th Cir.2001). The claim fails for several reasons.

First, the alleged conduct was not based on Plaintiff's race. In order to prove that harassment was based on race, Milladge must show that "but for" her race, she would have been treated differently. Gilliam v. S. Carolina Dep't of Juvenile Justice, 474 F.3d 134, 142 (4th Cir. 2007). A conclusory statement without specific evidentiary support will be insufficient to support a claim of racially motivated harassment. Id. at 142-43; Causey v. Balog, 162 F.3d 795, 801 ...

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