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Billingsley v. Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp.

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

October 11, 2019

Michael Billingsley, Plaintiff/Counter-Defendant
Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation Defendant/Counter-Plaintiff.


          Liam O'Grady, United States District Judge.

         This matter came before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment on All Claims. Dkt. 74. Having reviewed the pleadings, the Court concluded summary judgment for Defendant was appropriate. In recognition of the pending trial date, the Court issued a short order to this effect on June 10, 2019, with a memorandum opinion to follow. See Dkt. 94. Plaintiffs time for appeal will run from the date of this Memorandum Opinion and Order.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Michael Billingsley, an African-American man, applied for employment as a Senior Producer with Defendant Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation ("Freddie Mac"). He was interviewed for that position by hiring manager Ms. Annie Gong and her supervisor Director David Cardwell, despite having just five months of relevant experience. Freddie Mac contacted Plaintiffs former manager while considering him for employment.

         Freddie Mac pursued another individual for the Senior Producer position, not Plaintiff. Ms. Gong recommended to Director Cardwell that Freddie Mac hire Plaintiff as a Producer, a position lower than Senior Producer. Freddie Mac made him an offer of employment and Plaintiff accepted the Producer position. He began work at Freddie Mac on September 5, 2017.

         Freddie Mac also offered Plaintiff a $4, 000 cash sign on payment. That payment was subject to a number of terms set out in the Cash Sign-On Payment Letter Agreement. Plaintiff agreed to those terms and received the money.

         The terms provided for repayment of the full payment amount upon Plaintiffs termination or resignation within one year of starting employment. They further provided that, if Plaintiff failed to reimburse the company under the terms agreed upon, Plaintiff would be liable for Freddie Mac's reasonable expenses incurred in obtaining repayment.

         After Plaintiff began work, Director Cardwell, Ms. Gong, and a Freddie Mac Vice President named Stephen Johnson, each received customer complaints regarding Plaintiff s job performance. Director Cardwell and Ms. Gong also received complaints from coworkers about Plaintiffs attitude and behavior towards them in the workplace. These interpersonal conflicts and Plaintiffs poor performance prompted management to counsel Plaintiff, and on January 23, 2018-less than five months after Plaintiff started work at Freddie Mac-Ms. Gong and Director Cardwell together counseled him.

         Following the joint counseling session, Ms. Gong received an email from Plaintiff which she perceived as insubordinate, and she thereafter met with the human resources department. She was told that Plaintiff could either be placed on a performance improvement plan or terminated. A short time later, Ms. Gong learned that Plaintiff was not regularly attending the weekly, multi-region conference calls of Producers and Senior Producers.

         Immediately after sending Ms. Gong the insubordinate email, Plaintiff emailed Director Cardwell and asked for a private meeting. At this February 1 meeting, Plaintiff complained about Ms. Gong. The same day or the next day, Director Cardwell, Ms. Gong, and Vice President Johnson determined that Plaintiffs varied issues-in job performance, customer and coworker interactions, and apparent unreceptiveness to counseling-were not well suited to being addressed by a performance improvement plan.

         On February 6, Ms. Gong and Director Cardwell sent human resources a memorandum which described the reasons for Plaintiffs termination. On February 19, Plaintiff filed a "Misconduct Report" with Freddie Mac, complaining of "a hostile work environment" created by Ms. Gong (an Asian American woman) and Mr. Claudell Ellis (an African-American man). The complaint did not raise an issue of race-based discrimination. Ms. Gong and a human resources employee met with Plaintiff on February 20, 2018, and they notified Plaintiff of his termination.

         A Freddie Mac Ethics Investigator subsequently investigated the "Misconduct Report." The investigator has no record of Plaintiff raising an issue of race or racial discrimination. The investigator ultimately upheld Plaintiffs termination.

         Plaintiff has failed to reimburse the sign-on payment. He filed a Complaint on June 20, 2018, alleging intentional race-based discrimination (Count I) and retaliation (Count II), both in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Dkt 1. Defendant moved for summary judgment on all of Plaintiffs claims. Dkt. 74.

         II. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A party moving for summary judgment has the initial burden of establishing the basis for its motion and identifying the evidence which demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. Once the moving party satisfies its initial burden, the opposing party may show, by means of affidavits or other verified evidence, that there exists a genuine dispute of material fact. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986). "[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original).

         In reviewing a summary judgment motion, the court must "draw all justifiable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party." United States v. Carolina Transformer Co., 978 F.2d 832, 835 (4th Cir. 1992). "But there must be 'sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party. If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted.'" Holland v. Washington Homes, Inc., 487 F.3d 208, 213 (4th Cir. 2007) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50). "[A] party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest upon mere allegation or denials of his pleading, but must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. "A genuine question of material fact exists where, after reviewing the record as a whole, a court finds that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Dulaney v. Packaging Corp. of Am., 673 F.3d 323, 330 (4th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted).

         III. ...

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