United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
BRUCE LEE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
MATTER is before the Court on Defendant ExxonMobil
Corporation ("ExxonMobil")'s Motion for Summary
Judgment (Dkt. 13), pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 56. Plaintiff Iris Bart-Williams filed a Complaint
against ExxonMobil alleging: race discrimination under 42
U.S.C. § 1981 ("Section 1981") (Count I);
retaliation under Section 1981 (Count II); discrimination on
the basis of race, national origin, and sex, under Title VII
of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42
U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (Count III); retaliation
under Title VII (Count IV); age discrimination under the Age
Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29
U.S.C. § 621 et seq. (Count V); and retaliation
under the ADEA (Count VI). There are five issues before the
first issue is whether certain allegations that form the
basis of Plaintiffs Title VII, ADEA, and Section 1981 claims
are statutorily time-barred. The Court GRANTS Defendant's
Motion for Summary Judgment on this issue for two reasons.
First, with respect to her Title VII and ADEA claims,
Plaintiff failed to file EEOC charges within 300 days from
the occurrence of the allegedly discriminatory events.
Second, to the extent that her Section 1981 race
discrimination and retaliation claims are premised on conduct
that occurred before October 24, 2012, they must be dismissed
second issue is whether Plaintiff demonstrated a genuine
dispute of material fact regarding a prima facie
case of discrimination under the familiar burden-shifting
framework of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411
U.S. 792 (1973). The Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment on this issue because Plaintiff has failed
to demonstrate a genuine dispute of material fact as to
whether (1) she suffered an adverse employment action,
excluding her termination, (2) she met ExxonMobil's
legitimate performance expectations, or (3) she was
terminated under circumstances giving rise to an inference of
third issue-assuming arguendo that Plaintiff
established a prima facie case for discrimination-is
whether Plaintiff, when faced with Defendant's legitimate
nondiscriminatory reasons for termination, has demonstrated a
genuine dispute of material fact as to whether
ExxonMobil's actions were a pretext for discrimination.
The Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment
on this issue because Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate a
genuine dispute of material fact as to whether
ExxonMobil's stated reasons for termination were not its
true reasons, but were a pretext for discrimination.
fourth issue is whether Plaintiff has demonstrated a genuine
dispute of fact as to "but for" causation on her
ADEA claim. The Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment on this issue because Plaintiff has not
presented any evidence demonstrating a genuine dispute of
material fact as to age-based discrimination.
fifth and final issue involves Plaintiffs retaliation claims,
and whether she has demonstrated a genuine dispute of
material fact concerning her purported protected activity as
the "but for" cause of her termination. The Court
GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment with
respect to Plaintiffs retaliation claims because Plaintiff
has failed to demonstrate a genuine dispute of fact for trial
concerning her purported protected activity as the "but
for" cause of her termination.
Plaintiffs Experience in Fuels Marketing
is an African female from Sierra Leone, and was 59 years old
at the time the Complaint was filed. (Dkt. 1 ¶ 1).
Plaintiff began her employment with ExxonMobil in March 2006,
and was hired as a paralegal in the company's Fairfax,
Virginia office. (Dkt. 14-25, Deposition of Iris
Bart-Williams ("Bart-Williams Dep.") 25:6-12).
Throughout her employment, Plaintiff was an "at
will" employee. (Id. at 38:13-39:5). During the
first several years of her employment, Plaintiff was assigned
to the Fuels Marketing Section of ExxonMobil's Downstream
Law Department. (Id. at 27:10-16). The Fuels
Marketing Section was responsible for retailing and marketing
fuel and petroleum products, as well as convenience items.
(Dkt. 14-26, Declaration of Doug Neagli ("Neagli
role supporting attorneys within the Fuels Marketing Section,
Plaintiff mainly worked on real estate and asset management
issues concerning ExxonMobil's company-owned gas
stations. (Bart-Williams Dep. at 27:17-28:17). From 2006 to
2011, Plaintiff assisted attorneys who focused on real estate
law and asset management, including Don Fullerton, an outside
counsel who contracted with ExxonMobil to perform certain
legal work in the real estate context. (Id. at
26:11-22; Neagli Dep. 24:12-17).
2007, Doug Neagli-a 54 year white male-joined the Fuels
Marketing Section as Assistant Chief Attorney, and became
Chief Attorney of the Section in 2008. (Neagli Dep. 19:3-20).
One of Mr. Neagli's responsibilities was coordinating
feedback for paralegals and attorneys as part of
ExxonMobil's Performance Assessment and Development
Process ("PADP"). Relatedly, paralegal coordinator
Dara Behan also played a role in the professional development
process. (Dkt. 14-28, Deposition of Dara Behan ("Behan
Dep.") 8:14-9:2). Ms. Behan is a 43 year old Filipino
female. (Dkt. 14-2, Declaration of Austyn E. Johnson
("Johnson Decl.") ¶ 5).
the early years of Plaintiffs employment with ExxonMobil, she
received generally positive feedback from attorneys and
supervisors based on her work on real estate matters,
including positive feedback from Mr. Neagli, as expressed on
Plaintiffs early EADS forms. (Dkt. 14-3, 2008 Employment
Assessment and Development Summary ("EADS");
Bart-Williams Dep. 51:17-52:7, 70:3-18, 74:21-75:5; Dkt.
14-4, 2010 EADS; Dkt. 14-5, 2011 EADS).
ExxonMobil's Performance Assessment and Development
PADP is a detailed, multi-step process that seeks to maintain
an environment of continuous performance improvement for
every employee. (Johnson Decl. ¶ 5; Neagli Dep.
60:12-65:1). Each PADP performance period runs from April 1
of one year through March 31 of the next year. (Johnson Decl.
¶ 5). At the beginning of each period, all employees
draft an Employee Assessment and Development Summary
("EADS"), in which they list their contributions
and self-assess their work from the prior year.
addition to an employee's self-assessment, supervisors
solicit information regarding the employee's performance
from other individuals, known as "knowledgeable
others." (Id.) In the Law Department,
paralegals can receive input from business line clients (who
are external to the Law Department) that the paralegal may
identify, but supervisors also receive feedback on a
paralegal's performance from the attorneys whom the
paralegals are supporting. (Id.) Supervisors are
entitled to give different weight to the various feedback
received from the different individuals. (Id.)
Supervisors then take the employee's self - assessment,
their own assessment of the employee, and any feedback from
knowledgeable others to update the EADS. (Johnson Decl.
¶ 5; Neagli Dep. 63:5-65:1).
in addition to EADS feedback, employees are ranked within
their particular rank group. (Johnson Decl. ¶ 6). An
employee's ranking represents how he or she is performing
relative to his or her peers. (Id.)
Plaintiff is Reassigned to the Lubricants and
2008 to 2012, ExxonMobil divested its ownership interests in
company- owned retail and gas stations across the country.
(Bart-Williams Dep. 65:12-20). As a result of the divestment,
the need for paralegal support in the asset management and
real estate context decreased. (Neagli Dep. 42:3-14).
the discussion regarding her 2011 EADS, Plaintiffs
supervisors informed her that it would be necessary to be
"flexible" moving forward because of the divestment
of retail stations (also known as the "Business
Improvement" process), which was causing changes in the
need for legal services in the Fuels Marketing Section. (2011
EADS; Bart-Williams Dep. 65:12-66:21). Plaintiff stated that
she was "indeed flexible and looking forward to any new
opportunities." (2011 EADS).
2011, Plaintiff was reassigned from the Fuels Marketing
Section to the Lubricants & Petroleum Specialties Section
(the "Lubes Section"). (Bart-Williams Dep.
28:21-29:5). The Lubes Section marketed finished lubricants,
basestocks, and specialty products such as waxes. (Neagli
Dep. 34:14-20). ExxonMobil reassigned Plaintiff from the
Fuels Marketing Section to the Lubes Section because of
decreasing workloads in the Fuels Marketing Section related
to ExxonMobil's divestment of retail station properties.
In addition, there was a need for paralegal services in the
Lubes Section, in part because another paralegal was
scheduled to be on maternity leave for approximately six
months. (Bart-Williams Dep. 28:21-29:8).
Fuels Marketing Section and the Lubes Section were both in
the Downstream Law Department and were both located in the
same office area. (Neagli Dep. 43:1-20). Paralegals
frequently moved across the Fuels Marketing Section, the
Lubes Section, and other business lines within the Downstream
Law Department to do tasks. (Id.) All ExxonMobil
paralegals are expected to be able to perform assignments and
provide support throughout the law department, regardless of
their specific assigned sections at any given time. (See
Plaintiffs Work Performance Begins to Decline
after Plaintiff joined the Lubes Section, her co-workers and
supervisors began to recognize deficiencies in her
performance. Plaintiff testified that shortly after her
reassignment, Lubes Section Chief Attorney Jo Anne Murphy, a
59 year old white female, and attorney Sensimone Williams, a
46 year old African-American female, began "commenting
that my performance was not up to par." (Bart-Williams
Dep. 83:3-13; Dkt. 14-6, 2013 Performance Improvement Letter;
Bart-Williams Dep. 39:12-14, 42:12-43:9). For example,
Plaintiff had difficulty with basic tasks in both Microsoft
Excel and Word. (Behan Dep. 53:7-12).
Murphy specifically noted that while Plaintiffs performance
in the Fuels Marketing Section during the first half of the
assessment period had been strong, her work following her
reassignment to the Lubes Section needed to improve. (Dkt.
14-7, 2012 EADS ("[S]he still has a lot of work to do to
proactively climb the learning curve if she is to master her
new [Lubricants & Specialties] portfolio.");
Bart-Williams Dep. 92:16-21). This is notable because
employees of the Law Department regularly transfer between
sections and are expected to have the skills needed to
succeed, even if the subject matter of the new assignment is
different. (Neagli Dep. 43:10-20, 57:9-21). In an effort to
help Plaintiff improve her performance, Ms. Murphy began
meeting with Plaintiff on a regular basis for informal
coaching and counseling sessions. (See Dkt. 14-6,
2013 Performance Improvement Letter).
Plaintiffs Initial "Box Review" Work
2012, Plaintiff was assigned to work on the Lubes Record
Management Guideline Box Review Project. (Bart-Williams Dep.
105:12-106:1). For this project, attorneys performed
substantive reviews of various documents and provided the
information to Plaintiff, who was supposed to pull the Lubes
Section information together for Robert Lee, the records
administrator, who was coordinating the review across the
entire Downstream Law Department. (Behan Dep. 37:4-38:4).
Plaintiff struggled to complete the project in a timely and
organized fashion. Plaintiffs supervisor stated that
Plaintiff "was disorganized and lacked the basic
computer skills to update Excel spreadsheets to efficiently
track the boxes." (Dkt. 14-8, 2013 EADS; Bart-Williams.
Dep. 141:2- 6, 142:2-6). In an email to paralegal coordinator
Dara Behan, Attorney Sensimone Williams requested that an
alternate paralegal be assigned to the project to ensure that
the box review was completed in a timely manner. (Dkt. 14-16,
Declaration of Dara Behan ("Behan Decl.") ¶ 3;
Paralegal Coordinator Sends Plaintiff Performance
Plaintiffs performance continued to decline, on February 26,
2013, Paralegal Coordinator Dara Behan sent Plaintiff a
performance improvement letter. (Dkt. 14-6, 2013 Performance
Improvement Letter; Bart-Williams Dep. 43:2-4). Ms. Behan
informed Plaintiff that her performance level declined during
the previous year. (Dkt. 14-6). Ms. Behan referenced negative
feedback from attorneys and law department staff who had
worked with Plaintiff. (Id.) The letter also
specifically highlighted areas of performance on which
Plaintiff was encouraged to focus as part of the performance
improvement process. (Id.)
time, Kelly Scoffield, a 60 year old white male, had joined
the Downstream Law Department as an Assistant Chief Attorney.
(Johnson Decl. ¶ 16). In this role, Mr. Scoffield served
as Plaintiffs supervisor with respect to performance
evaluations. As the months ensued, Mr. Scoffield and Ms.
Behan met with Plaintiff on numerous occasions for informal
coaching and counseling sessions. (Bart-Williams Dep.
124:16-125:4). Plaintiff did not improve her performance,
however. (Neagli Dep. 20:6-22; Dkt. 14-8, 2013 EADS).
Plaintiff Returns to Asset Management Work But
Continues to Struggle
2013, ExxonMobil assigned Plaintiff to resume supporting
attorneys who worked on asset management. (Bart-Williams Dep.
36:13-15). During this period, Noreen Tama, a 56 year old
white female and an attorney with ExxonMobil, was in charge
of ExxonMobil's asset management portfolio. (Johnson
Decl. ¶ 17; Dkt. 14-27, Deposition of Noreen Tama
("Tama Dep.") 47:21-48:1). Ms. Tama oversaw all
company asset management work, including work done by outside
counsel such as Don Fullerton. (Tama Dep. 48:2-14).
Tama also observed several performance deficiencies in
Plaintiff. For example, in feedback for the April 1, 2013
through March 31, 2014 assessment period, Ms. Tama stated
that Plaintiff "makes more obvious mistakes and
errors" than other paralegals. (Johnson Decl. ¶ 45;
Dkt. 14-9, 2013-2014 Client Input Form). Ms. Tama further
stated that Plaintiff "is not self-motivated and does
not look for ways to make herself helpful, " and further
that she did not seem "particularly knowledgeable about
the company despite having been here for 8 years." (Dkt.
September 16, 2013 as part of the Performance Assessment and
Development Process ("PADP"), Mr. Scoffield and Ms.
Behan met with Plaintiff to discuss her 2013 EADS evaluation.
(Dkt. 14-8). In Mr. Scoffield's written summary of the
September 16, 2013 meeting, he stated:
On September 16, 2013, Dara Behan and I reviewed with Iris
her client feedback and EADS comments. One client gave her a
low rating and the others chose not to provide any
comments/comparison. We told Iris that compared to other
paralegals, her feedback was weak. As we had several times
during the ranking cycle, we told her that the overall trend
in her performance is not good and was not improving. We told
her that she had fallen in the rank group, and was now in the
bottom third. We emphasized that she needed better client
feedback, but more importantly she needed to improve the
input she gets from the attorneys she supports. We indicated
that without a material change in her performance, it may be
in her interests to think about employment elsewhere. She
said she understood.
Plaintiff is Placed on a Performance Improvement
was placed on a performance improvement plan
("PIP") on March 28, 2014, because her performance
had continued to fall below expectations. (Bart-Williams Dep.
208:7-11). The purpose of a PIP is to improve an
employee's performance. (Johnson Decl. ¶ 7). At this
point in time, the Fuels Marketing Section and Lubes Section
had merged to form one section, led by Chief Attorney Doug
Neagli (Neagli Dep. 10:18-11:10). Mr. Neagli provided
Plaintiff with a written letter detailing the reasons for her
placement on the PIP and also provided structured feedback
regarding areas for improvement. (Dkt. 14-10, 2014 PIP;
Bart-Williams Dep. 43:12-15, 49:18-50:4).
written PIP informed Plaintiff that her performance would be
monitored over a six-month period, and that she would receive
bi-weekly coaching and counseling sessions. (Id.)
The PIP further advised Plaintiff that if, at the conclusion
of the six-month period, her performance continued to fall
below the expected performance level, then "additional
actions will be considered, which may include
termination." (Id.) Plaintiff was aware that a
failure to improve her performance might result in
termination. (PI. Dep. 201:9-13).
of the PIP, Plaintiff was assigned to coordinate and manage
the Downstream Legacy Box Review Project. (Dkt. 14-10). This
project again involved attorneys reviewing documents for
compliance with the company's record retention
requirements and Plaintiff working with records administrator
Robert Lee, a 69 year old Filipino male, to coordinate the
responses. (Neagli Dep. 143:8-144:8). Once again, Plaintiffs
supervisors and co-workers stated that Plaintiff s
performance on this second box review project was deficient.
(Dkt. 14-11, 2014 EADS; Bart-Williams Dep. 248:10-13,
251:15-252:1). Mr. Lee commented that Plaintiff
"demonstrated her lack of skills in planning,
implementing and managing a project." (Dkt. 14-9,
2013-2014 Client Input Form). Likewise, Mr. Neagli, who
directly supervised Plaintiffs performance on the project,
testified that "her performance on the box review
project was deficient." (Neagli Dep. 148:9-10).
also struggled in other areas. For example, in a June 11,
2014 email to Dara Behan, attorney Linda Fannin, a 61 year
old African-American female, stated as follows: "During
my discussion with Iris, it became clear that independent
work is a challenge for her. Iris needs close supervision
with hard deadlines; otherwise, her assignments may not get
done." (Dkt. 14-18, June 11, 2014 email; Behan Decl.
Plaintiffs Performance Improvement ...