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James T. Moore v. Eric K. Shinseki

October 25, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: McLaughlin, J.


This lawsuit arises from the plaintiff, James T. Moore's employment with the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center ("VAMC"). In November 2007, Moore's co-worker, Holly Leahy, filed a sexual harassment complaint against him. After an administrative board investigation, Moore was issued a notice of proposed removal, which was later reduced to a 14-day suspension from his job. Moore, an African-American male, alleges that the defendant's adverse employment actions against him were motivated by race or gender, and that the defendant retaliated against him for filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII").

The defendant moves for summary judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Court will grant the defendant's motion.

I. Factual Background

The facts presented here are undisputed unless otherwise noted. Disputed facts are read in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the nonmoving party. See Sheridan v. NGK Metals Corp., 609 F.3d 239, 251 n.12 (3d Cir. 2010).

A. Moore's Employment at the VA

James T. Moore is an African-American male who has been employed by the VAMC since September 1990. He started as a mail clerk and rose through the ranks to become lead mail clerk, and then supervisory mail clerk. Moore assumed his current position as a program support assistant in 2002, following an overall management reorganization. His responsibilities include coordinating the daily operations in the mail room, ordering supplies, giving advice and instruction, and identifying development and training needs of mail room employees. See Pl.'s Opp. to Mem. in Supp. of Summ. J. ("Opp."), Decl. of James T. Moore ¶ 1, Ex. A ("Moore Decl."); Mem. in Supp. of Summ. J. ("MSJ"), Moore Dep. 21, 24, 32, Ex. A ("Moore Dep."); id., Hatsis Dep. 6-7, Ex. C ("Hatsis Dep."); Compl. ¶ 8.

Moore is the most senior employee in the mail room. He reports to Earl Dozier, an African-American male who supervises the mail room and the warehouse. Earl Dozier, in turn, reports to Phillip Hatsis, the Vice President of Facilities Management. Moore Dep. 32; Hatsis Dep. 9.

B. Holly Leahy's Sexual Harassment Complaint Against Moore On October 21, 2006, Holly Leahy, a Caucasian female, transferred into the mail room. Moore Decl. ¶ 4; MSJ, Leahy Dep. 13-14, Ex. F ("Leahy Dep."). During the next year, Leahy made numerous racial and sexual remarks, including describing an African-American co-worker's hair as "Buckwheat," describing young minority girls in the hallway as "acting like sluts," talking about lap dances for her boyfriend's birthday party, saying that "Barack" means "terrorist," and referring to Moore as "Jamesie Poo." See Opp., Admin. Bd. of Investig. Rept. 4, Ex. 25 ("Admin. Bd. Rept."); id., Stmt. of Clifford Pearsall, Ex. 27; id., Stmt. of Harry L. Maxwell, Ex. 28; Moore Decl. ¶¶ 5-6.

On November 19, 2007, Leahy complained to her direct supervisor, Earl Dozier, that Clifford Pearsall, another African-American male employee in the mail room, had created a hostile work environment for her. MSJ, Dep't of VA Rept. of Contact at VA00138, Ex. B.

The following day, Leahy approached Earl Dozier again, this time to complain about Moore. According to Dozier, Leahy was "hysterical" as she described the incidents with Moore. MSJ, Dozier Dep. 10-13, Ex. G ("Dozier Dep."). Leahy gave Dozier a written statement claiming that Moore called her "my little white girl," implied that he was going to hit her, squeezed the back of her neck, put her in a headlock, and told her he wanted to "bend [her] over and ram it in."*fn1 Id., Ltr. from Holly Leahy to Earl Dozier at VA000139, Ex. B.

Dozier brought Leahy to the Department of Veterans Affairs ("VA") police. After Leahy repeated her allegations about Moore to the police, she was temporarily removed from the mail room and reassigned to the warehouse. The VA police conducted follow-up interviews with various mail room employees, then referred the case to the Administrative Board of Investigation (the "Board") for further review. The VA police report also recommended that all mail room employees, including Leahy, be given sensitivity training. See Opp., Uniform Offense Rept. 7, Ex. 1.

Leahy's complaints against Pearsall and Moore prompted Richard Citron, Director of the Philadelphia VAMC, to order the Board to investigate. Reply Mem. in Supp. of MSJ ("Reply"), Citron Aff. ¶¶ 2, 5, Ex. 7 ("Citron Aff.").

C. The Board's Feb. 8, 2008 Findings, Conclusions, and Recommendations From November 2007 to February 2008, the Board

interviewed 14 witnesses and reviewed documents. In his testimony before the Board on December 18, 2007 and January 18, 2008, Moore denied all of Leahy's allegations against him. See Admin Bd. Rept., Exhibit Listings; see id. at 3. Leahy admitted to the Board investigators that she participated in discussions of a racial or sexual nature. In particular, she admitted to discussing lap dancing, calling Moore "Jamesie Poo," and making the "Buckwheat" comment. Id. at 4.

On February 8, 2008, the Board issued a report containing findings, conclusions, and recommendations regarding Leahy's allegations. As to the allegations that Clifford Pearsall created a hostile work environment, the Board found that Leahy's allegations were unsubstantiated.

As to Leahy's allegations of sexual harassment and hostile work environment against Moore, however, the Board found the following: (1) Moore's testimony was dishonest; (2) Leahy was a credible witness, who openly admitted her own participation in discussions of a sexual and racial nature; (3) Moore made degrading comments to Leahy by calling her "my little white girl" and "Elly May Clampett"*fn2 ; (4) Moore made unwanted sexual advances toward Leahy by telling her that he wanted to bend her over and "ram it in"; and (5) Moore told Leahy he would punish her and told others to leave the room so he could take his belt off. The Board could not substantiate Leahy's allegations that Moore made physical contact with Leahy, but it stated that "this behavior was consistent with other behaviors that were substantiated." Admin. Bd. Rept. 1-4.

Based on these findings, the Board concluded that there was sufficient evidence that Moore's conduct was inappropriate, violated the VA sexual harassment policy, and created a hostile work environment for Leahy, who perceived him as the "lead" or supervisor in the mail room. Further, the Board found that Moore had made "intentional misstatements in sworn testimony to an investigative body."*fn3 Id. at 8-9.

The Board referred its report to the VA Human Resources department ("HR") for appropriate administrative action against Moore. In addition, the Board recommended training for all mail room employees regarding hostile work environments, workplace violence, sexual harassment, and cultural sensitivity. Id. at 9-10. Holly Leahy was not disciplined.

D. Actions of VA Management Following the February 2, 2008 Report On February 19, 2008, Richard Citron, Director of the

Philadelphia VAMC, sent a memo to the director of HR, outlining the Board's recommendations and requesting that HR prepare an action plan and time line within 30 days. Similarly, on February 26, 2008, Ahmed Hassan, who supervises Earl Dozier, contacted the HR department and requested a recommendation on corrective action against James Moore and Earl Dozier. Opp., Memo from Richard Citron to Director of Human Resources, Ex. 46; MSJ, Memo from Ahmed Hassan at VA00162, Ex. B.

In addition, pursuant to the Board's recommendations, Hassan set up a training for everyone in the mail room and the warehouse. Moore refused to attend the training. Thus, on April 1, 2008, Hassan emailed Moore individually, directing him to attend the training. MSJ, Hassan Dep. 8, Ex. D; Opp., Ex. 3.

E. Moore's EEO Activity

Moore became upset when Hassan instructed him to attend

the sexual harassment training. Thus, on April 9, 2008, Moore contacted an EEO counselor. Moore claimed that he was discriminated against when he was informed he needed to attend the training. See ...

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