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Wooten v. Gruenberg

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

April 1, 2016

James L. Wooten, Jr., Plaintiff,
Martin J. Gruenberg, Chairman, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Defendant.



This matter comes before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. Dkt. 30. The Motion has been fully briefed and the Court held a hearing on the Motion on Friday, April 1, 2016. For the reasons outlined below, the Court finds good cause to GRANT the Motion for Summary Judgment.

I. Background

Plaintiff James L. Wooten, Jr., is a former employee at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation ("FDIC"). Mr. Wooten, an African-American male, claims he was the target of racial discrimination during his time at FDIC and that the FDIC retaliated against him after he lodged an official complaint of racial discrimination with the EEOC.

Wooten worked at FDIC as a Senior Project Manager in the Delivery Management Branch of the Division of Information Technology ("DIT") from August 2009 until he resigned on July 24, 2014. The FDIC hired Wooten as a Senior IT Project Manager. This was a non-supervisory CG-15 position. A Senior IT Project Manager is expected to have both technical expertise and managerial skills. In this position, Wooten was assigned to specific projects or programs and was tasked with maintaining budgets and schedules, producing expense reports, performing risk management activities, and handling contract administrative duties.

Wooten's supervisors evaluated Wooten's work performance throughout his time at the FDIC. The FDIC utilizes a five-tier rating system to evaluate an employee's performance in several key areas. For Wooten, these job standards were "manages relationships, " "manages projects, " "communicates in writing and orally, " and "applies technical and analytical skills." The five tiers used in this system are: 5-role model; 4-performance leader; 3-accomplished practitioner; 2-improvement required; and 1-unacceptable. The FDIC also uses a three-tier rating system to assess an employee's "behavioral standards." The behavioral standards assessed were "judgment, " "flexibility, " "teamwork and collaboration, " and "accountability for performance." An employee's behavioral standards are assessed as: above target, at target, or below target. Finally, the FDIC uses a rating of I to V to assess an employee's "overall performance." If an employee's performance is found to be unacceptable, the FDIC is required to give that individual an opportunity to improve their performance through a Performance Improvement Plan ("PIP").

A. Wooten's Work on IMAC

Wooten worked on three major projects while at the FDIC.[1] First, from 2010 until April of 2013, Wooten was a co-program manager on the Information Management and Compliance ("IMAC") program. IMAC was an initiative aimed at developing policies, processes, and procedures for information governance and eDiscovery best practices. Robert Snow, a lawyer in the FDIC's Litigation Information Technology Unit was Mr. Wooten's co-program manager within IMAC. Mark Brenneman was the "executive project sponsor" for IMAC. Together, Brenneman, Wooten, and Snow were responsible for leading and supervising IMAC subprojects and preparing reports on these projects for FDIC's steering committee and executive board.

When Wooten started at the FDIC until May of 2012, Ronald Pferchy was his first-level supervisor. Wooten's first annual review assessed his performance from January of 2011 until December of 2011. In this review, Pferchy gave Wooten an "overall performance rating" of II. Pferchy also gave Wooten a 2-needs improvement-for "manages relationships" and assessed Wooten's "judgment" and "accountability for performance" as below target. Pferchy contacted FDIC's Human Resources Labor and Employee Relations Section for advice about how to handle Wooten's poor performance.

In March of 2012, Pferchy conducted a mid-year review of Wooten's performance. In 2012, the FDIC shifted the rating period from the calendar year, January through December, to the fiscal year, September through August. On this new schedule, March was the appropriate time to conduct a mid-year review. Pferchy again assigned Wooten's overall performance a II.

In May of 2012, Gregg Aldana became Wooten's first-level supervisor. At this time, Pferchy, Aldana, and Wooten met to discuss Wooten's poor mid-year performance evaluation.

In August of 2012, Aldana conducted an annual review of Wooten's performance. Aldana assigned Wooten's overall performance a III-accomplished practitioner-because he had seen some improvement in Wooten's performance since the March 2012 mid-year review.

Aldana met with Wooten again in April of 2013 for his next mid-year review. Aldana discussed the deficiencies in Wooten's performance and ways to improve. However, according to Aldana, Wooten's performance continued to decline. As a consequence, Aldana issued a "Letter of Warning" to Wooten on June 20, 2013. The letter highlighted the fact that Wooten's performance had dropped from a III-accomplished practitioner-to a II-improvement required-for the "manages relationships" and "manages projects" performance standards. The letter also noted that Wooten's performance was below target for the behavioral standards of "judgment, " "accountability for performance, " and "teamwork." The letter cited specific examples of Wooten's deficient performance including failing to attend planning workshops and failing to actively participate in conversations when he did attend meetings. According to the letter, Wooten also failed to take initiative, failed to communicate with clients and stakeholders, communicated unprofessionally, and took leave without informing the necessary personnel. The letter warned Wooten that a failure to improve would result in him being placed on a PIP.

Wooten disputes the assessment of his performance while he was working as an IMAC Program manager. Wooten worked closely with Robert Snow while he was working on IMAC. Snow has praised Wooten's performance on IMAC on multiple occasions and stated that Wooten was instrumental to the success of IMAC.

B. Wooten's Work on IAMS

Around March/April of 2013 Wooten was removed from IMAC and transferred to the Identity Access Management System (IAMS) project. Wooten was removed from IMAC because an employee at DIT, Christine Larez, filed an allegation of sexual harassment against him. Wooten was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing. IAMS was a project to modernize the security access to the FDIC's office system. Karen Keats was the executive project sponsor for IAMS.

Wooten's 2013 annual review, which evaluated Wooten's performance from September 2012 until August of 2013, was again exceptionally poor. In this review, Aldana gave Wooten's overall performance a I-unacceptable. He also gave him unacceptable ratings in the performance categories of "manages relationships" and "manages projects, " and a below target rating in the behavioral categories of "judgement, " "teamwork and collaboration, " and "accountability for performance." Karen Keats gave Aldana feedback for this annual review and expressed her opinion that Wooten's work was unacceptable overall. According to Keats, Wooten was disengaged, made little effort to gain a foundational understanding of the project, took no initiative on key project management components and relied heavily on others to do his work.

Aldana and Noreen Padilla met with Wooten to discuss the 2013 performance review. Noreen Padilla had become Wooten's second-level supervisor in December of 2011. Padilla normally would not have joined in such a meeting, but did so to communicate to Wooten the seriousness of such a poor review.

Wooten again disputes the assessment of his performance while working on IAMS. In support of this argument he cites the affidavit of Senior IT Specialist Randy Meyers who worked with Wooten on IAMs. Meyers testified that Wooten "effectively coordinated all aspects of the entire project." However, Meyers also stated that had some frustrations with Wooten, noted that some of his presentations did not go very well and recognized ...

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