Hostile Work Environment Claim Survives Summary Judgment; Alleged Abusive Treatment Followed Accommodation Request

In Degefu v. Department of Veterans Affairs et al, Civil Action No. 20-cv-3548 (BAH), 2023 WL 2707494 (D.D.C. March 30, 2023), the court, inter alia, denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim.

From the decision:

The record before this Court suffices to meet the standard that a reasonable juror could find that plaintiff suffered pervasive abuse that goes beyond “ordinary tribulations of the workplace.” Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775, 788 (1998) (citation omitted). Plaintiff has provided evidence that, in the wake of her request for an accommodation, Adisu “became … a different person” and began subjecting her to increasingly abusive treatment. Pl.’s Excerpted Hr’g Tr. (Degefu) at 7. The abusive incidents occurred over a short period of time—from approximately April to September 2012—and degraded plaintiff’s psychological well-being, resulting in her frequent trips to the employee health center and the aggravation of her anxiety. In at least one instance, the abuse was so severe that plaintiff was excused by Moore to take the remainder of the day off. Id. at 17.

Defendants contend that plaintiff’s negative performance review and transfer to the Primary Care Clinic reflect her strained relationship with a number of other co-workers in the pharmacy—not just Adisu. Defs.’ Mem. at 28–29. This explanation is supported by the performance review itself, see Defs.’ Mot., Ex. 2, Performance Appraisal Program at 13, ECF No. 19-2, as well as plaintiff’s testimony that she asked Adisu to avoid scheduling her with at least one other coworker. Defs.’ Mot., Ex. 5, Excerpted Testimony of Sehin Degefu at EEOC Hr’g on Merits (Aug. 7, 2017) (“Defs.’ Excerpted Hr’g Tr. (Degefu)”) at 5, ECF No. 19-5. In his testimony in the same administrative hearing, Moore named approximately eight additional co-workers about whom he testified plaintiff complained. Id. at 14. Plaintiff, for her part, confirms her difficult relationship with co-workers but she contends that she only experienced problems with a single other employee besides Adisu. Id. at 4–5. Her perception or recollection of her own complaints to Moore may be incorrect. Nonetheless, the parties’ vastly different narratives of plaintiff’s work environment—based on contradicting testimony by plaintiff and Moore—underscore the presence of genuine issues of material fact on the record. “[T]hese are precisely the sort of credibility determinations that must be left to a jury.” Leach v. Nat’l R.R. Passenger Corp., 128 F. Supp. 3d 146, 155 (D.D.C. 2015); see also Hall v. Washington Metro. Area Transit Auth., Case No. 19-cv-1800 (BAH), 2020 WL 5878032, at *15–16 (D.D.C. Oct 2, 2020) (denying summary judgment as to hostile work environment claim where plaintiff alleged her supervisor made frequent and disparaging remarks, resulting in a negative performance review and placement on a performance improvement plan).

Based on this, the court held that summary judgment was not warranted.

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