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Cruz v. Mattis

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

December 14, 2017

BEATRICE L. CRUZ, Plaintiff,
JIM MATTIS, Secretary, Department of Defense, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Beatrice L. Cruz (“Cruz”) sues defendant Jim Mattis, Secretary, U.S. Department of Defense (“the Secretary”), to recover under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., based on her demotion from a GS-13 supervisory contract specialist position. She contends that the demotion was based on her race and sex, and was retaliatory. The Secretary moves for summary judgment on these claims, and Cruz moves for partial summary judgment on certain of the Secretary's affirmative defenses. For the reasons that follow, the court grants the Secretary's motion, denies Cruz's motion as moot, and dismisses this action with prejudice by judgment filed today.


         Cruz is a Hispanic employee of the Defense Contracting Management Agency (“DCMA”), a division of the Department of Defense.[1] She began working in a supervisory role at DCMA at the Waco office in September 2012, subject to DCMA's standard one-year supervisory probation period.[2] This role was Cruz's first as a supervisor.

         When Cruz began working at the Waco office, she entered an already dysfunctional work environment plagued by a lack of experience, clear procedures, and trust. Cruz initially received positive reviews. In her January 30, 2013 evaluation, she was given an overall rating of “fully successful” for the first three months of her work.[3] But around the time of this first evaluation, the overall perception of Cruz in the Waco office began to erode. In general, Cruz described herself as “tired and overwhelmed, ” D. App. 295, and, by December, “she felt as though she had lost control” of the people she managed. Id. at 267. “She could clearly see that there were gaps in her team's performance but was unable to close those gaps due to declining relationships.” Id.[4] Cruz's demotion relates primarily to a January 17, 2013 incident involving Marcus Gaines (“Gaines”), an African-American Contract Administrator whom she supervised. During this incident, Cruz directed that security escort Gaines from the office premises because he frightened her.[5] According to Cruz, Gaines spoke to her in “an extremely irritated and belligerent voice” with an attitude of “insubordination, belligerence, and total lack of respect.” Id. at 577.

         In response to this incident, DCMA opened an investigation into the environment at the Waco office. From February to May 2013 Mark Meadows (“Meadows”), Cruz's direct supervisor, began making a 2½ hour commute each way to Waco to provide Cruz with assistance in managing her team, although the physical distance impaired the effectiveness of his mentorship. Cruz asserted that, as part of his guidance, Meadows advised her to “act more like a man” when supervising employees. P. App. 163. The Report of Investigation concluded with advice that Cruz be provided formal mentorship and the opportunity to shadow other supervisors.[6]

         After considering how to improve the tension among Waco team members, Lieutenant Colonel Ronald Tougaw (“Col. Tougaw”), Cruz's second-line supervisor, [7] decided to downgrade Cruz's rank and move her to the Dallas office. He planned to offer that, if she relocated voluntarily, he would mark in her record that this was a “voluntary transfer” rather than a demotion. On September 9, 2013 Col. Tougaw spoke to Cruz by telephone, explaining that she would be required to leave the Waco office.[8] In a follow-up email written the same day, Cruz declined to relocate for two reasons: first, she expected a position in England to be finalized by the end of the week; and, second, she expressed concern about working under a particular Dallas manager who was friends with Meadows. Cruz wrote in her email:

I also see Dennis Hunt as a GS-15 on the Dallas chart. I had heard he was the one that conducted the investigation of [Meadows] for a comment [Meadows] made along the lines of [Meadows] having hired a woman for her “big breasts.” Supposedly [Meadows] received little or no discipline for that, in part because of his friendship with Dennis Hunt. It may turn out all of this about Dennis and [Meadows] is merely untrue rumors, but either way I would want to make sure I don't end up reporting to someone close to [Meadows], so we minimize the risk of EEO retaliation issues distracting us from focusing on the agency mission.

P. App. 171. Cruz also complained to Col. Tougaw about Meadows' potentially discriminatory conduct in the Waco office:

But I think we have a pattern in Waco of female supervisors / management trying to get [Gaines] to do work and [Meadows] always taking his side, resulting in the females giving up and moving on. Only time will tell whether, as I suspect, [Meadows] is so eager to avoid an EEO complaint by an African-American male ([Gaines]) that he ends up not letting female supervisors succeed.


         Col. Tougaw responded the following day via email. He first addressed Cruz's concerns about Hunt's investigation of Meadows:

Also, I can confirm that any allegations about Mark Meadows that may have been investigated by Dennis Hunt were untrue rumors; furthermore, any insinuation that Mr. Hunt did or would act in a prejudiced manner is unprofessional. I am mindful of responding to your concerns but please understand that there are limited options available.

Id. at 169. Col. Tougaw then laid out his decision to direct Cruz's immediate demotion:

During our conversation, I did not state that there was “no plan” to have you fail your supervisory probation. When I offered you the DCMA Dallas position and you indicated that you had verbally accepted a position in Europe, in the spirit of being amicable, I stated that if you voluntarily moved to another position, I would allow that decision to be documented as a job offer/acceptance instead of a demotion due to failure of supervisory probation. Although I was willing to do so at that time, I believe it is imperative that we not leave this hanging and I am proceeding with my decision to direct your immediate demotion.


         Cruz received her formal notice of demotion on September 13, 2013. She worked for DCMA Dallas while living in Waco from September 16, 2013 through January 26, 2014. She then worked for DCMA in England for a period of time, and ultimately returned to the Dallas office, where she currently works.

         Cruz filed the instant suit alleging claims of under Title VII for discrimination based on race and sex, and retaliation. The Secretary moves for summary judgment dismissing Cruz's claims. Cruz opposes the motion and moves to dismiss several of the Secretary's affirmative defenses.[9] The Secretary partially opposes the motion and stipulates to the dismissal of certain affirmative defenses.[10]


         The Secretary and Cruz each move for summary judgment on claims and affirmative defenses for which they will not have the burden of proof at trial. Accordingly, they need only point the court to the absence of evidence of any essential element of that claim or defense. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party does so, the opposing party must go beyond the party's pleadings and designate specific facts demonstrating that there is a genuine issue for trial. See id. at 324; Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc) (per curiam). An issue is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable trier of fact could return a verdict in the opposing party's favor. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The opposing party's failure to produce proof as to any essential element of the claim or affirmative defense renders all other facts immaterial. TruGreen Landcare, L.L.C. v. Scott, 512 F.Supp.2d 613, 623 (N.D. Tex. 2007) (Fitzwater, J.). Summary judgment is mandatory where the opposing party fails to meet this burden. Little, 37 F.3d at 1077.


         The court first addresses Cruz's discrimination claim.


         Under Title VII, it is an “unlawful employment practice for an employer . . . to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin[.]” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). To prevail on her discrimination claim, Cruz must present direct or circumstantial evidence that her race and/or sex was a motivating factor for the Secretary's adverse employment action. See, e.g., Siddiqui v. AutoZone W., Inc., 731 F.Supp.2d 639, 648 (N.D. Tex. 2010) (Fitzwater, C.J.) (citing Roberson v. Alltel Info. Servs., 373 F.3d 647, 652 (5th Cir. 2004)) (addressing Title VII claims for race-based harassment, discrimination based on race, ethnicity, national origin, and religion, and retaliation). “Direct evidence is evidence that, if believed, proves the fact of discriminatory animus without inference or presumption.” West v. Nabors Drilling USA, Inc., 330 F.3d 379, 384 n.3 (5th Cir. 2003) (quoting Sandstad v. CB Richard Ellis, Inc., 309 F.3d 893, 897 (5th Cir. 2002)) (age discrimination case). “If an inference is required for the evidence to be probative as to [a defendant's] discriminatory animus in firing [the plaintiff], the evidence is circumstantial, not direct.” Sandstad, 309 F.3d at 897-98. “Direct evidence of an employer's discriminatory intent is rare; therefore, Title VII plaintiffs must ordinarily prove their claims through circumstantial evidence.” Scales v. Slater, 181 F.3d 703, 709 (5th Cir. 1999). Cruz does not specifically reference any direct evidence of discrimination in her motion or in her amended complaint. Thus the court holds that she is relying on circumstantial evidence to prove intentional discrimination.


         Because Cruz relies on circumstantial evidence to support her discrimination claims, they are properly analyzed under the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework. See Smith v. City of St. Martinville, 575 Fed.Appx. 435, 438 (5th Cir. 2014) (per curiam). The McDonnell Douglas framework consists of three stages.

         First, Cruz must establish a prima facie case of discrimination, which “creates a presumption that [the Secretary] unlawfully discriminated against [her].” Tex. Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 254 (1981). To establish a prima facie case of discrimination under the McDonnell Douglas framework, Cruz must show that “(1) [s]he is a member of a protected class, (2) [s]he was qualified for the position at issue, (3) [s]he was the subject of an adverse employment action, and (4) [s]he was treated less favorably . . . than were other similarly situated employees who were not members of the protected class, under nearly ...

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