United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division
O' GRADY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter comes before the Court on Defendant Fairfax County
School Board's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 24). The
motion is fully briefed, and the Court dispensed with oral
argument. For the reasons stated below, and for good cause
shown. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 24)
is hereby GRANTED.
Diamond Gooding-Williams was a Human Resources
("HR") employee of Defendant Fairfax County School
Board ("FCSB") for twelve years, until her
termination in January 2017. As a "Human Resource
Specialist, Equity and Compliance Specialist II," Ms.
Gooding-Williams's responsibilities included
investigating discrimination and retaliation complaints filed
by FCSB employees and ensuring FCSB schools complied with
December 2004 until January 2014, Ms. Gooding-Williams
reported to Sherry Braithwaite. While Ms. Gooding-Williams
was generally reviewed as meeting expectations by Ms.
Braithwaite, Ms. Braithwaite did note some problems with Ms.
Gooding-Williams's performance. In particular, Ms.
Braithwaite raised concerns about Ms. Gooding-Williams's
failure to properly monitor her email inbox and ensure that
an adequate number of HIPAA posters were available for
distribution to all Fairfax County public school facilities.
2013, then-Assistant Superintendent of HR, Dr. Phyllis
Pajardo, merged two HR departments into a newly created
Office of Equity & Employee Relations ("EER")
to improve HR's efficiency. Kevin Sills was hired as the
Director of EER and tasked with improving the performance of
all EER Specialists. Mr. Sills became Ms.
Gooding-Williams's supervisor in January 2014.
the restructuring, Ms. Gooding-Williams's job duties
generally remained the same, with two exceptions. First, her
role expanded to also include advising school principals
about day-to-day conduct and performance issues for school
employees. Second, rather than providing support across all
Fairfax County public schools. Ms. Gooding-Williams was
assigned the Region 3 schools as her "clients."
of the effort to improve the EER Specialists'
performance, Mr. Sills began holding regular EER staff
meetings. Ms. Gooding-Williams failed to attend many of these
meetings, and on September 8, 2014, Mr. Sills counseled Ms.
Gooding-Williams for missing the meetings and asked her to
make attending them a priority.
December 10, 2014, Ms. Gooding-Williams reviewed the minutes
of an EER staff meeting she had missed while out sick for
several weeks and learned that Mr. Sills had reassigned some
of her HIPAA duties to Deanna Rodgers, a Senior Specialist
placed in charge of supervising discrimination and HIPAA
related complaints. Ms. Gooding-Williams was upset that some
of her responsibilities had been reassigned without the
"professional courtesy of a face-to-face meeting,"
and accused Mr. Sills of discriminating against her because
of her race (black) and national origin (Liberian) in an
email to Dr. Pajardo. Dr. Pajardo met with Ms. Gooding-
Williams to discuss her complaints on January 9, 2015. Mr.
Sills was aware that Ms. Gooding-Williams was unhappy with
the reassignment, but did not learn of her discrimination
complaint until April or May 2015.
months following her January 9, 2015 meeting with Dr.
Pajardo, Ms. Gooding-Williams's conduct and performance
began to decline. She displayed unprofessional behavior
during a meeting with Mr. Sills and a Region Assistant
Superintendent, refused to sign a final version of a
discrimination letter after receiving feedback from one of
her supervisors, and became combative with another supervisor
when that supervisor asked Ms. Gooding-Williams to recite the
elements of a prima facie discrimination claim
because the supervisor was concerned Ms. Gooding-Williams did
not understand the elements. Around the same time, the EER
Leadership Team also became concerned with Ms.
Gooding-Williams's performance on the two or three days a
week she teleworked because she was routinely unreachable and
unproductive on those days.
numerous informal attempts to address Ms.
Gooding-Williams's conduct and performance issues proved
unsuccessful, Mr. Sills and the EER Leadership Team decided
to place Ms. Gooding-Williams on a performance improvement
plan ("PIP"). Mr. Sills communicated this decision
to Ms. Gooding-Williams on March 9, 2015, and documented
their meeting in a Summary Memo dated March 20, 2015.
Gooding-Williams was officially placed on her PIP on April
15, 2015. From then on, Mr. Sills and the EER Leadership Team
closely monitored her work. Mr. Sills also closely monitored
the work of other EER employees to improve the quality and
performance of the entire office. In addition to Ms.
Gooding-Williams, two other employees were placed on PIPs,
one was demoted with a "last chance" agreement, and
a fourth resigned after being recommended for termination.
None of these other employees had engaged in protected
days after receiving her PIP, Ms. Gooding-Williams filed a
complaint with Dr. Pajardo accusing Mr. Sills of
discrimination and retaliation. Mr. Sills was informed of the
complaint on May 19, 2015. On June 1, 2015, Mr. Sills shared
"The Eagle, The Cat, and The Sow" fable at a staff
meeting. Although Mr. Sills habitually shares quotes or
stories with staff either at staff meetings or posted at his
office, Ms. Gooding-Williams interpreted Mr. Sills's
telling of that particular fable as an attempt to pressure
her to drop her complaint. Ms. Gooding-Williams also alleged
that Mr. Sills pressured her to drop her complaint on June 4,
2015, when he gave her a timed writing exercise based on a
fact pattern that closely mirrored her own complaint. Every
employee was given a writing exercise based on one of three
fact patterns, and the fact pattern Ms. Gooding-Williams
received was fairly general and similar to the majority of
the complaints EER receives.
Larrabee, a staff attorney at Fairfax County Public
Schools' Division Counsel's Office, investigated both
Ms. Gooding-Williams's April 17, 2015 complaint and her
allegations that Mr. Sills pressured her to drop the
complaint. Ms. Larrabee determined that there was no evidence
of discrimination, retaliation, or a hostile work
29, 2015, Mr. Sills informed all EER employees that,
beginning September 1, 2015, each EER employee would need to
designate a start time between 7:00 and 9:00 a.m. as well as
an end time between 3:30 and 5:30 p.m. This change in
work-time policy was ordered by Dr. Ramey, Dr. Pajardo's
successor, because school principals, other clients, and Dr.
Pajardo had all complained that EER employees were often not
reachable during school hours. Ms. Gooding- Williams had
typically worked from 6:00 a.m. until ...