Adam J.Conti, LLC - 404.531.0701

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA

 ATLANTA DIVISION

 

JOAN P. DAVIS,                              

                       Plaintiff,                                             

v.                                                          CIVIL ACTION FILE NO.

 

MICHAEL ESPY, 

SECRETARY OF THE 

UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF 

 OF AGRICULTURE, 

                                              Defendant.

___________________________________

 

EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATION COMPLAINT 

This is an action for compensatory and injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C. Sections 2000e-5(g) and 2000e-16, and for declaratory relief under 28 U.S.C. Section 2201 based on the discriminatory and retaliatory employment practices of the U. S. Department of Agriculture towards Joan P. Davis, a former employee of the Office of General Counsel, Atlanta Regional Office.

 TITLE VII VIOLATION

 PARTIES

 1.

 Plaintiff Joan P. Davis is a black female citizen of the United States, resident of the State of Georgia, and subject to the jurisdiction of this Court. 

2.

 Defendant Michael Espy is Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture, the head of the Department which at all relevant times employed Plaintiff.

 JURISDICTION

 3.

 This action is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. sections 2000e-5 and 2000e-16, which prohibit discrimination in federal employment on the basis of race and proscribe retaliatory acts for filing discrimination complaints or opposing practices made unlawful under this section.

 EXHAUSTION OF ADMINISTRATIVE REMEDIES 

4.

 Plaintiff has exhausted her administrative remedies in accordance with 42 U.S.C. Section 2000e-16(c) in that she filed an Administrative EEO Complaint on April 13, 1992, asserting that her termination was motivated by illegal discrimination against her on the basis of race. The complaint was accepted by letter dated April 23, 1992. More than one hundred and eighty (180) days have passed since the filing of that complaint with no final decision having been issued nor any voluntary resolution achieved. 

FACTS GIVING RISE TO PLAINTIFF'S CAUSE OF ACTION

 5.

 Plaintiff is an attorney licensed to practice law by the states of Pennsylvania (1978), Maine (1983), Hawaii (1985) and Georgia (1990). Plaintiff graduated in 1988 from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She served as a law clerk to Federal District Court Judge Paul A. Simmons of the Western District of Pennsylvania from 1978 until 1981. Thereafter she was an associate attorney with the firm of Baskin and Sears in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. From 1982 through 1985 Plaintiff served as Associate General Counsel and then as General Counsel of the State of Maine Workers' Compensation Board. From 1987 until 1989 Plaintiff served as a Civilian JAG Officer for the Department of the Army, Grade GS-12 at Ft. Leonard Wood in Missouri.

 

6.

 On March 26, 1990, Plaintiff was appointed as an Attorney Advisor-General, GS-905-12, and required to serve a one-year probationary period with the United States Department of Agriculture, Office of General Counsel, Atlanta Regional Office, Suite 1015, West Peachtree Street, Atlanta, Georgia 30365.

 7.

 At all relevant times hereto, Plaintiff performed her duties, as an attorney with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in a fully successful manner. Plaintiff's work was at least comparable in quality to, if not better than, that of her co-workers. 

8.

 At all times during her employment with Defendant, Plaintiff was the only black attorney in an office that employed a total of fifteen attorneys. Plaintiff believes that she was the first black attorney ever employed in the Atlanta Regional Office.

 9.

 In July of 1990, Plaintiff was informed that she was performing her work in such a satisfactory manner that her work assignments would be increased from working only on Georgia rural housing FmHA Agency foreclosures and bankruptcies to include performing work on Farmer Programs Agency foreclosures and bankruptcies from the state of Tennessee.

 10.

 In early December of 1990, Plaintiff was again informed that she was doing so well and reducing the backlog so efficiently that her work assignments would be increased for a second time effective January of 1991, to include work on Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service Agency matters from the state of Georgia.

 11.

 On December 19, 1990, the Regional Counsel, Donald Kronenberger, wrote a probationary or trial period report purporting to appraise Plaintiff for the first 12 months of Plaintiff's employment. A copy of this report is attached hereto as Exhibit A. Item 14 of the report rated Plaintiff's performance and conduct as "satisfactory." Item 15 recommended that Plaintiff be "retained in present position." The narrative provided, inter alia:

 [Plaintiff] has potential for growth and development as demonstrated by her initiative in the management of her work assignment and reduction of the back log of FmHA Georgia RH cases, which were originally assigned to her when she commenced service in this office. She has been fully successful in the production of good quality work and meets deadlines or schedules for completion of work.

 

12.

 Plaintiff was unaware of this probationary trial report and was not provided a copy until March of 1991, some three months later.

 13.

 Starting in January 1991, Plaintiff's work was subjected to a far more intense level of scrutiny than the other attorneys in the office. Thereafter, work prepared by Plaintiff, which previously had been acceptable, was returned by her supervisors with subjective and unjustified criticisms.

 14.

 In late January of 1991, Plaintiff complained to the Regional Counsel, Donald Kronenberger, that she believed she was being subjected to disparate treatment because of her race. Mr. Kronenberger took no corrective action.

 15.

 In late February 1991, Plaintiff complained to Mr. Saul Schultz, one of her supervising attorneys, that he was returning work to her with "corrections" that were subjective and unwarranted and which he had not been returning prior to December 19, 1990.

 16.

 In response to her complaint to Mr. Saul Schultz, on March 5, 1991, the Regional Counsel, Mr. Donald Kronenberger gave Plaintiff a Letter of Caution which was placed in her official performance file. The Letter of Caution directly stated that Plaintiff had been "abusive," for raising the issue of disparate treatment which she was receiving. 

17.

 Although Plaintiff's one year probationary trial period ended March 26, 1991, Plaintiff was not given performance appraisals during this first year as required by OPM regulations. 

18.

 At the end of this first year, Plaintiff was not promoted to GS-13 as was warranted by her actual job performance and work assignments.

 19.

 In the Summer of 1991 in response to a sex discrimination complaint filed by four male attorneys, the Atlanta office was reorganized, and Plaintiff was placed in the Rural Housing Unit, under the supervision of Ms. Eunice Luke, a GS-14 attorney advisor general. Ms. Luke was not experienced in working with FmHA Agency rural housing foreclosures and bankruptcies from the state of Georgia, the areas in which Plaintiff had worked. 

20.

 Ms. Eunice Luke subjected Plaintiff's work to inordinately close scrutiny, while essentially ignoring the work of the others in the Rural Housing Unit. Management approved without criticism work performed by Plaintiff's white co-workers that was essentially similar in quality to Plaintiff's work.

 21.

 The white clerk typist, Ms. Susan Howard, was allowed to sign her work, while Plaintiff, who has a bachelor's degree from Wellesley College and a law degree from Duquesne University School of Law, was not.

 22.

 In July 1991, Plaintiff again informed the Regional Counsel, Donald Kronenberger, that her work was the only work which was being subjected to intensive scrutiny, and that other attorneys routinely made errors in the preparation of their work which were ignored and did not affect their performance appraisal. Mr. Kronenberger again failed to take any action to investigate or rectify Plaintiff's complaint.

 23.

 By letter dated August 2, 1991, Plaintiff was informed for the first time that her job performance did not meet the minimum standards for her position and that she was being placed on a performance improvement plan (PIP). 

24.

 Placement of Plaintiff on this performance improvement plan was unjustified in that it was based on a non-representative sample of Plaintiff's work, citing only thirty-five of the in excess of 555 cases on which she had worked during the period. The alleged "errors" cited to justify the PIP were regularly committed by other, more senior attorneys in Plaintiff's office who were not placed on performance improvement plans or even cited for purported work deficiencies.

 25.

 On January 27, 1992, Plaintiff was given a letter proposing her termination and purporting to enumerate continued "deficiencies," in her work.

 26.

 Even after Plaintiff's termination had been proposed, on February 6, 1992, the Rural Housing Unit chief increased Plaintiff's work load to include performing FmHA Agency rural housing foreclosure for the whole state of Georgia.

 27.

 On February 7, 1992, Plaintiff responded in writing to the proposed termination, again rebutting the alleged "deficiencies" in her work and citing numerous instances of similar conduct on behalf of her white co-workers, which conduct had absolutely no impact upon their performance appraisals or employment status. The Office of General Counsel made no response to Plaintiff's rebuttal. 

28.

 On Thursday, March 19, 1992, Plaintiff was informed in writing that Monday March 23, 1992, was her last day of work with the Office of General Counsel, Atlanta Regional Office. Plaintiff was only given two (2) working days notice of her termination, although the Agency expected employees to give at least two (2) weeks notice of any intended departure.

 29.

 On Tuesday, March 24, 1992, the locks to the doors at the Office of General Counsel, Suite 1015, were changed, something that was not done for the three (3) white employees leaving the office of General Counsel prior to Plaintiff's termination, nor was it done for the white attorney who left after Plaintiff's termination.

 30.

 Also on Tuesday, March 24, 1992, the work remaining on Plaintiff's desk, which consisted of bankruptcies and foreclosures, was dispatched as acceptable from the office without further revision or scrutiny by Ms. Luke, an occurrence which had not happened while Plaintiff was employed.

 31.

 On January 15, 1993, Plaintiff applied for the position of entry level attorney with the County Attorney's Office in Cobb County Georgia. 

32.

 On or about January 15, 1993, the Regional Counsel, Donald Kronenberger spoke by telephone with a representative of the Cobb County Attorney's office. During that conversation Mr. Kronenberger stated that as a black person Plaintiff did not have the mental ability to do the job.

 33.

 As a direct result of Mr. Kronenberger's comments Plaintiff was not hired for the position of assistant county attorney.

 34.

 As a result of the foregoing conduct Plaintiff has lost income and been unable to secure comparable employment. Plaintiff has further suffered future pecuniary losses, emotional pain, suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, loss of employment of life and other non-pecuniary losses.

 COUNT ONE

 RACIAL DISCRIMINATION

 35.

 Plaintiff was unjustifiably criticized, not promoted to a GS-13, placed on a performance improvement plan, separated from her position and otherwise treated disparately as set forth above because of her race in violation of 42 U.S.C. 2000e-Sections 2(a) and 16(a). 

REPRISAL

 36.

 Plaintiff realleges the allegations of paragraphs one through thirty-five.

 37.

 From the time the criticisms of Plaintiff commenced, Plaintiff orally advised the Regional Counsel on several occasions that she believed she was being treated disparately on the basis of her race.

 

38.

 By letter dated August 13, 1991, Plaintiff responded to the August 2, 1991, letter placing her on a PIP, by alleging the action was motivated by racial discrimination and by requesting a formal grievance hearing on the matter.

 39.

 By letter dated September 16, 1993, Plaintiff filed a formal grievance concerning her appraisal and the discriminatory treatment she was receiving.

 40.

 Defendant unjustifiably criticized Plaintiff's job performance, placed her on a performance improvement plan, terminated her employment, gave Plaintiff a poor job reference and undertook each of the acts adversely affecting Plaintiff as alleged above in reprisal for Plaintiff's opposition of practices made illegal by Title VII and because Plaintiff filed complaints of discrimination. This conduct violated 42 U.S.C. 2000e-3(a). 

PRAYER FOR RELIEF

 To cure the conduct alleged in this action, Plaintiff respectfully requests the Court to:

  1.  a. Declare that the actions of the Defendant alleged in this complaint constitute discriminatory and retaliatory practices taken against Plaintiff because of her race and exercise of rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. Section 2000e;
  2.  b. Reinstate Plaintiff to employment with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the position of Senior Attorney Advisor GS-13, the position to which she would have advanced but for the illegal conduct alleged in this complaint;
  3.  c. Immediately remove the Regional Counsel, Donald Kronenberger and any other agency official found responsible for discriminatory and retaliatory treatment of Plaintiff from any position which enables them to discriminate and retaliate against any employee;
  4.  d. Pay Plaintiff full back pay including compensation for the value of benefits she lost, from the date of her discharge until the date of her reinstatement with pre and post judgment interest;
  5.  e. Enjoin Defendant from taking personnel actions, evaluating employee's performance, placing employees on performance improvement plans, separating employees from employment, criticizing their performance, providing false adverse employment references and otherwise taking adverse employment actions against employees because of their race and exercise of protected activities. 
  6. f. Order that all criticisms of Plaintiff's job performance and work conduct issued since March 5, 1992, be stricken from all records.
  7.  g. Award Plaintiff $300,000.00 in compensatory damages.
  8.  h. Award Plaintiff the full and reasonable attorney fees and the costs of this action and related administrative proceedings, and
  9.  i. Grant such other and appropriate relief as the court deems just.

 Respectfully submitted this day of        , 1993.

 WAGNER & JOHNSTON, P.C.

 

                                                  BY:  ADAM J. CONTI

 ATTORNEY FOR PLAINTIFF