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Pritchard v. Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority

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

November 4, 2019




         On February 7, 2017, Plaintiff Kenneth Pritchard was terminated from his employment with Defendant Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority ("MWAA"). At the time of his termination, he was the Manager, HR Policy, Strategy & Compensation Programs, reporting directly to Anthony Vegliante, Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Administrative Services. Following that termination, he filed this action in which he alleges (1) termination of his employment in retaliation for his protected Title VII disclosures concerning MWAA's unlawful employment practices (Count I); (2) creation of a retaliatory hostile work environment in violation of Title VII (Count III)[1]; (3) termination in retaliation for Plaintiffs protected disclosures as a "whistleblower" in violation of National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 ("NDAA") and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act ("ARRA") (Count IV); and (4) creation of a retaliatory hostile work environment in violation of NDAA and ARRA (Count V). [Doc. No. 31], First Amended Complaint ("Am. Compl."), 20-26. He seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, equitable relief, compensatory damages, back pay, and fees and costs. Id.

         MWAA has moved for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. [Doc. No. 44], Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment will be GRANTED.[2]

         I. BACKGROUND

         Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are undisputed:

         Plaintiff, a white male, was employed by MWAA from 1988 until his termination on February 7, 2017, working primarily in the Office of Human Resources and Administrative Services ("OHR"). At the time of his termination, his title was Manager, HR Policy, Strategy & Compensation Programs in OHR, a position he had held since 2002.

         Arl Williams served as Vice President of Human Resources and was Plaintiffs direct supervisor until Williams' resignation in November 2011.

         John E. Potter has served as President and Chief Executive Officer of MWAA since July 2011 and supervised Plaintiff on an interim basis following Williams' resignation until May 2013.

         Anthony Vegliante was hired by MWAA on May 20, 2013 to serve in his present role as Sr. Vice President of OHR and since that date has served as Plaintiffs direct supervisor. Vegliante proposed Plaintiffs termination on January 19, 2017 and terminated Plaintiff on February 7, 2017.

         Gail Endicott, a white female, began working for MWAA in Plaintiffs department in 2006 and worked under Plaintiffs supervision from 2006 until Plaintiff was put on administrative leave on November 28, 2016.

         On November 2, 2016, Endicott made a complaint against Pritchard to Robin Wade, the manager of Employee and Labor Relations within the Office of Human Relations. At that time, Endicott told Wade that Plaintiff "routinely yelled," "often used profane language," asked her to investigate other Airport Authority employees, and threatened to fire her and others in her work group if they cooperated or helped Vegliante or others in executive management and that she "finally couldn't take it anymore," claiming that Pritchard's conduct had caused her significant emotional and physical distress, resulting in weight gain, stomach and intestinal issues and headaches.

         That same day, November 2, 2016, Wade told Vegliante of Endicott's complaint and recommended that an investigation be done. Wade also spoke to Bruce Heppen, the MWAA's Associate General Counsel for employment matters, regarding Ms. Endicott's complaint, and Heppen and Wade agreed that outside counsel should be brought in to conduct the investigation. Heppen made that recommendation to Vegliante, who agreed. On November 4, 2016, Heppen then contacted Morris Kletzkin, Esq., an attorney with Friedlander, Misler, one of two firms that MWAA had pre-qualified for employment matters. Kletzkin was subsequently retained to conduct the investigation and received a Statement of Work on November 14, 2016.

         During his investigation into Endicott's complaint, Kletzkin interviewed fourteen (14) people, including, among others, Endicott and Plaintiff, and reviewed numerous documents and e-mails. Following the conclusion of his investigation, Kletzkin submitted to MWAA a written report dated January 17, 2017. [Doc. No. 45-8]. In the report's Executive Summary, he stated:

It seems clear from the evidence adduced to date that Mr. Pritchard is, and has been, very angry and frustrated with most, if not all, of the managers at the Airports Authority. His anger and frustration stem from his belief that things are not being done correctly, and that the executive management is violating federal and state law, as well as Airports Authority rules and regulations. Mr. Pritchard's anger is expressed not only to those in the Compensation Group, but to anyone who is willing to listen. Indeed, Mr. Pritchard seems to take pleasure in pointing out mistakes and shortcomings of his fellow managers on a regular and routine basis. Mr. Pritchard's anger and outbursts have caused his follow employees discomfort and they avoid him when possible.
Mr. Prichard's obsession and hatred of the executive management of the Airports Authority is no secret. Two of the five Compensation Specialists report that Mr. Prichard's behavior makes them uncomfortable and is unprofessional. The other Compensation Specialists confirm Mr. Pritchard is loud and sometimes demonstrates aggressive behavior, but either claim it is not disruptive or that they ignore it. Two of Mr. Pritchard's direct reports have asked him to calm down, have closed their doors at times to avoid listening to him, or have asked him to stop the behavior.
While Mr. Pritchard has manifested this behavior for many years, the level of his opprobrium seems to have increased in the past year with respect to at least one Airports Authority employee, which resulted not only in emotional distress, but caused physical symptoms.
The evidence obtained, both from interviews and documents, supports the conclusion that Mr. Pritchard has repeatedly engaged in conduct that can be described as offensive, intimidating and disruptive. Witnesses confirm that he routinely yells at his subordinates; curses; aggressively gesticulates; and derides, denigrates, and disrespects his fellow managers and the Airports Authority executive leadership. His behavior has caused his subordinates discomfort, illness and emotional distress. Moreover, he has no respect for Mr. Vegliante or Mr. Potter. It is the conclusion of the investigator that Mr. Pritchard has violated Sections 2.3(a)(1), 2.3(a)(10), 2.3(a)(11), 2.3(a)(8), and 2.3(a)(15) of the Conduct and Discipline Directive.

         Kletzkin also stated that "[t]he charge of insubordination and abuse of his position developed during the course of the investigation as a result of multiple reports that Mr. Pritchard had repeatedly disparaged his supervisors and had engaged in conduct that abused his position as a Manager of the Airports authority." [Doc. No. 45-8].

         The report also summarized the information Kletzkin had received from the fourteen individuals he had interviewed and stated the following overall Findings:

The evidence obtained during this investigation demonstrates that Mr. Pritchard has been angry and frustrated with the Airports Authority for many years. That anger has in recent times been directed more and more to his direct reports and follow managers. His hatred and disdain for executive management at the Airports Authority is repeatedly articulated.
While there are at least two of Mr. Pritchard's direct reports that do not find his behavior objectionable, in some respects they confirm it has occurred. Mr. Pritchard's behavior toward the Complaining Witness has, however, been corroborated by others and partially confirmed by Mr. Pritchard.
Mr. Pritchard's insolence, aggressive and intemperate behavior has negatively affected the workforce and the unit which he supervises, the HR Department at large, and the larger Airports Authority institution.
Mr. Pritchard's behavior has adversely affected the complaining witness as corroborated by another direct report. The Complaining Witness [Endicott] has reported emotional distress as well as physical distress all as a result of Mr. Pritchard's intemperance and hostility. Mr. Pritchard's behavior has adversely affected others in the HR Department, who not only object to his rants, but actively avoid him because he has made it difficult for them to work with him. Mr. Pritchard's insolence and disparagement of his managers and the executive leadership adversely affects the institution for which he works. As a result of this anger and hatred, Mr. Pritchard has created a workplace atmosphere that can be described as hostile. Lastly, Mr. Pritchard has abused his position as a Manager of the Airports Authority. He has asked his subordinates to check up on other Airports Authority employees, specifically what time they arrived at work and where and for how long they park their cars. Moreover, Mr. Pritchard continued an initiative regarding Reservists and National Guard members when he was told by his Manager that the Airports Authority would not go forward with such an initiative. He continued to work on the initiative as a 'private citizen,' continued to develop the same using Airports Authority resources and presented the initiative to a board member. In doing so, Mr. Prichard abused the office entrusted to him by clearly disregarding a policy decision that had been dictated by his managers. Mr. Pritchard's behavior in this regard clearly shows his disdain for his employer. As such, this investigator finds as follows:
1. Mr. Pritchard has behaved in ways that are offensive to his coworkers and others by yelling, screaming, grunting, gesticulating, slamming doors, and making threatening faces all in violation of Section 2.3(a)(1) of the Conduct and Discipline Directive;
2. Mr. Pritchard has repeatedly used profane language in the workplace and has employed obscene gestures in violation of Section 2.3(a)(10) of the Conduct and Discipline Directive;
3. Mr. Pritchard has attempted to bully and intimidate his direct reports by instructing them not to speak with the Vice President of Human Resources and others, and by being intemperate with, and yelling at them, in violation of Section 2.3(a)(11) of the Conduct and Discipline Directive;
4. Mr. Pritchard's repeated reference to the President and Vice President of the Airports Authority as "idiots and incompetents," constitutes such insolence that he is in violation of Section 2.3(a)(8) of the Conduct and Discipline Directive;
5. Mr. Pritchard's employment of his subordinates to report on other Airports Authority employees and his continued use of Airports Authority resources including the recruitment of Airports Authority employees to assist him in his private submission of an HR initiative that was not sponsored by the Airports Authority is a fundamental abuse of his duty of loyalty and his position as a manager; and
6. Mr. Pritchard's behavior towards the Complaining Witness is also violation of the Workplace Violence Directive since the Complaining Witness informed Mr. Pritchard that his conduct was making her sick, and Mr. Pritchard failed to moderate his objectionable conduct.

         By letter dated January 19, 2017, Vegliante advised Pritchard of the results of the investigation and Kletzkin's finding of improper conduct, together with his decision to propose that Plaintiff be terminated for his various violations of the Conduct and Discipline Directive. [Doc. No. 61-8]. In that regard, he advised Plaintiff that he "had completely lost confidence in [him] and in [his] ability to effectively manage other personnel and to further the mission of the Airports Authority." Id. He invited Plaintiff to respond to the proposed termination, "personally or in writing, or both," together with affidavits or other documentary evidence in support of his reply. Id. By letter dated February 2, 2017, Plaintiff responded, through counsel, without additional submissions. [Doc. No. 61-10]. In that response, Plaintiff contended that he had been denied due process and that the termination was based on "specious and unsupported allegations" and was in retaliation for his "whistleblowing" over the years. Id. By letter dated February 7, 2017 to Plaintiff, Vegliante responded to the substance of that letter and advised that, "[i]n my opinion, the letter does not rebut the charges contained in my letter of January 19, 2017" and that "I have therefore determined to terminate your employment with the Airports Authority effective February 7, 2017," with his letter serving as notice of Plaintiff s termination. [Doc. No. 61-11]. He was also advised concerning the review process and procedures available to him with respect to his termination. Plaintiff did not use those procedures, see [Doc. No. 45], at 2, ¶ 37, but rather filed his Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC on August 2, 2017, Am. Compl. ¶14.

         Plaintiffs claims, and his termination, take place against the backdrop of Plaintiff s long history of complaints and statements about MWAA's practices and policies.[3] In that connection, Plaintiff alleges that during the period from 2010 to 2017, he engaged in "protected activities" pertaining to (1) MWAA's Title VII and other anti-discrimination law violations; (2) the hiring of friends and relatives "for quid pro quo reasons" and as favors to MWAA Board members, executives and managers; (3) procurement contracting violations, including improper use of Federal funds, awarding contracts to Board members and friends of Board members; (4) abusive travel by Board members; (5) theft of MWAA property; (6) the improper use of funds in exchange for political contributions; (7) preferential treatment in pay grades to African American employees; (8) discrimination against female employees relative to men with respect to pay increases; (9) the adverse impact on minorities of certain certification requirements that exceeded job requirements; (10) prejudicial remarks by Vegliante concerning white applicants and employees in certain MWAA jobs; (11) delays by police officers in responding to vehicles and people that were stopped in the arrival and departure areas of the terminals; (12) Defendant's early and restricted recruitment for ...

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