Carol A. Stepien
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON
|CAROL A. STEPIEN Plaintiff, V. UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCENATIONAL OCEANIC & ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATIONOffice of Oceanic & Atmospheric ResearchPacific Marine Environmental Laboratory7600 Sand Point Way NESeattle, WA 98115 MICHELLE McCLUREAs Director of PMEL,Office of Oceanic & Atmospheric ResearchPacific Marine Environmental Laboratory7600 Sand Point Way NESeattle, WA 98115 JAMES L. GUYTON Jr,As Deputy Director PMEL,Office of Oceanic & Atmospheric ResearchPacific Marine Environmental Laboratory7600 Sand Point Way NESeattle, WA 98115Defendant.||Case No. EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATION and RETALIATION COMPLAINT and DEMAND FOR JURY TRIAL|
COMES NOW Plaintiff, CAROL STEPIEN, by and on her own behalf, and alleges as follows:
1.1 Plaintiff, Carol Stepien, (“Plaintiff” or “Stepien”) brings this action for damages and fees against Defendants for retaliation and discrimination. Defendant’s actions as described in detail violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- Plaintiff Carol Stepien, is an adult female and a citizen of the State of Washington.
- Defendant the United States Department of Commerce is a federal agency within the meaning of the FACA, 5 U.S.C. app. 2 § 3(3), and of the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), 5 U.S.C. § 551(1).
- Defendant MICHELLE McCLURE is an adult female and a citizen of the state of Washington. She is an employee of the United States Department of Commerce and a superior to the Plaintiff prior to the Plaintiff’s dismissal.
- Defendant JAMES L. GUYTON Jr is an adult male and a citizen of the state of Washington. He is an employee of the United States Department of Commerce and a superior to the Plaintiff prior to the Plaintiff’s dismissal.
III. JURISDICTION & VENUE
- Venue and jurisdiction are proper as all alleged acts took place in the Western District of Washington.
- On [insert date], the EEO issued a Final Decision regarding Mrs. Stepien’s appeal for her termination.
- Mrs. Stepien’s Employment with the Department of Commerce.
- On October 17, 2016, Mrs. Stepien began her employment with the NOAA as Division Leader to the Ocean Environment Research Division.
- In her employed Capacity, Mrs. Stepien has been responsible for six research reporting groups, collectively constituting about 80 scientists.
- From 2016 until her termination, Mrs. Stepien has made significant contributions including, founding the Genetics and Genomic Group and obtaining all funding required to sustain the same, including, but not limited to, grants and equipment and graduate students.
- At all relevant times herein, the Plaintiff has maintained a stellar academic and professional record. Sometime in the year 2017, she was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, an accolated considered a significant achievement.
- Mrs. Stepien has published several peer approved research papers, some of which have received stellar reviews.
- Mrs. Stepien Files First EEO Complaint.
- As is expected with any other employer, Plaintiff was subjected to an annual performance review, which since the year 2016 have all been positive. At no time has the Plaintiff’s character or workmanship ever been put to the question.
- Sometimes in the year 2018, the Plaintiff received her annual performance review prepared by Gary Matlock, the Deputy Assistant Director for Science, which review portrayed positive performance by the Plaintiff for that period.
- Sometimes in October 2018, James Guyton disputed and challenged the Plaintiff’s performance review. GUYTON proceeded to distribute via email a false report alleging the same to be the Plaintiff’s publication record. The false report was emailed to all PMEL federal principle investigators for reasons the Plaintiff did not know of.
- Following the distribution of the false report, GUYTON proceeded to call for an “emergency” meeting, which meeting GUYTON indicated was intended to discuss the Plaintiff and her alleged performance.
- The purpose of the meeting was intended to address the Plaintiff’s publication record, which GUYTON described as being non-peer-reviewed and thereby “worthless”.
- The Plaintiff was baffled by this sudden turn of events, as it was clearly indicated on her performance review that she performed very well during the period of the review.
- Nonetheless, GUYTON proceeded to attack the Plaintiffs credibility. As this was going on, the Plaintiff noted that the scrutiny was centered around her and not her counterpart, Mr. Chidong Zhang.
- Sometimes on or about fall of 2018, being frustrated by the sudden attack on her character for reasons not clearly laid out by GUYTON, the Plaintiff proceeded to seek informal relief from the EEO, as it was apparent that GUYTON pursued her and not her male counterpart. Sadly, this avenue for relief did not yield any fruit.
- subsequently in January 2019, the Plaintiff proceeded to formally lodge a complaint against GUYTON and McCLURE, seeking to undergo mediation to resolve the misunderstanding thereof.
- Again, there was no relief as the aforesaid intended mediation session never took off.
- False allegations against Mrs. Stepien’s Files.
- Following the first EEO complaint filed by the Plaintiff, on various occasions, the Plaintiff has been the subject of not only professional scrutiny, but also personal scrutiny commenced by GUYTON and McCLURE.
- The Plaintiff has been the subject of challenge for her scientific research and publications at the hands of GUYTON and McCLURE.
- Sometimes in the year 2019, GUYTON and McCLURE both questioned, scrutinized and attacked the Plaintiffs, scientific work in an attempt to discredit the Plaintiff and her professional achievements.
- GUYTON and McCLURE, discredited works prepared by the Plaintiff and subjected to a scientific peer review for quality control and approval of content. That the same works have at all times been approved and certified proper by a panel of certified and qualified science professionals.
- In order to stay further scrutiny and unjustified questioning of the Plaintiff’s work and research, the Plaintiff was constrained to approach Dr. Matlock for sanctuary.
- Mrs. Stepien’s Files Second EEO Complaint.
- sometimes in April 2019, GUYTON was promoted and became Plaintiff’s immediate supervisor. As such, GUYTON was in a position to exert a level of authority over the Plaintiff.
- Following the promotion, attempts were made intended to deny the Plaintiff access to lab storage space. This was executed by attempts to minimize the amount of space available for use by the Plaintiff.
- Equally so, the Plaintiff was gradually denied opportunities available to other employees, including, but not limited to, traveling for purpose of speaking at conferences for purposes of promoting and publicizing her work and research.
- Sometimes in May 2019, the Plaintiff communicated to MATLOCK via email, notifying MATLOCK of her intention to file a further complaint owing to the retaliatory conduct by GUYTON and McCLURE.
- True to her word, on or about 29th June 2019, the Plaintiff was constrained to lodge another complaint with the EEO seeking relief from biased actions against her. The complaint was lodged against GUYTON and McCLURE.
- Soon after the Plaintiff had filed her complaint with EEO, on 2nd July 2019, Plaintiff was invited to McCLURE’s office where the Plaintiff received a letter notifying her that she was placed on a 10-day unpaid suspension.
- Furthermore, while still in McCLURE’s office, McCLURE, without justification or reason, accused the Plaintiff of “breaking into labs” at her former place of employment the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Montlake, Seattle.
- Later, on May 18th, 2020, the Plaintiff’s would be placed under administrative leave, which again was not reasonably justified by GUYTON and McCLURE.
- The Plaintiff remained in administrative leave for a period exceeding one year prior to her termination.
- Further retaliatory actions against the Plaintiff.
- During administrative leave period, the Plaintiff was forbidden, via directives, from contacting or attempting to contact any employee from the NOAA, or any of her colleagues or those from Cooperating Institutes.
- The restrictions imposed by the directives not only isolated the Plaintiff as a professional, but also from a social perspective.
- McCLURE, then proceeded to investigate the Plaintiff’s published works, more specifically one titled “Bait Shop Paper” co-authored by the Plaintiff and her students.
- The Plaintiff maintained her position that the research paper is valid and there was no misconduct as alleged, as the same was subject to peer review approval.
- Despite the information offered freely by the Plaintiff, McCLURE continued to allege misconduct on the part of the Plaintiff.
- Further, McCLURE proceeded to review the Plaintiff’s emails spanning a period of over 4 years from when they were sent out by the Plaintiff.
- This entire time, no student had come up to raise a complaint against the Plaintiff for the alleged misconduct stating the Plaintiff had stolen the work from a student.
- It is the Plaintiff’s knowledge and belief that lacking concrete evidence against the Plaintiff through her research papers, McCLURE instead chose to review the Plaintiff’s emails with intention of incriminating the Plaintiff, regardless of content depth.
- McCLURE’s investigation into the Plaintiff demonstrated that the Plaintiff had been in communication with NOAA employees. McCLURE proceeded to proclaim the Plaintiff’s conduct as “unbecoming” and a “failure to follow instructions”.
- McCLURE relied on the items of “unbecoming” and “failure to follow instructions” as grounds for disciplinary action against the Plaintiff, despite not demonstrating any wrong doing on the part of the Plaintiff that resulted in the issuance of a no-contact directive.
- It is the Plaintiff’s knowledge and belief that the issues of “unbecoming” behavior and “failure to follow instructions” were not the reason the Plaintiff was suspended for ten (10) days without pay.
- It is the Plaintiff’s knowledge and belief that the issues of “unbecoming” behavior and “failure to follow instructions” were not the reason the Plaintiff was placed under administrative leave for a period in excess of a year.
- It is the Plaintiff’s knowledge and belief that McCLURE entirely abandoned the earlier contentions against the Plaintiff for lack of substance and instead latched onto the issues of “unbecoming” behavior and “failure to follow instructions” as grounds for terminating the Plaintiff’s employment.
- On January 2021, the Plaintiff was issued with a proposed removal letter. Subsequently an investigation was conducted and the same concluded against the Plaintiff for displaying “unbecoming” behavior and “failure to follow instructions”.
- Sometimes in February 2021, the Plaintiff received a copy of the investigation report prepared against her. The Plaintiff had mere days to consume, digest and rebut the investigation report and the conclusion thereof.
- It is the plaintiff’s knowledge and belief that delayed service of the investigation report potentially affected and restricted the Plaintiff from fully responding to the issues raised therein. Nonetheless, Plaintiff endeavored to submit a response in the little time granted to her.
- It is the Plaintiff’s knowledge and belief that the investigation did not provided the necessary evidence to satisfy the threshold to dismiss the Plaintiff from employment.
- Plaintiff remained under administrative leave until April 11th, 2021, when the Plaintiff was issued with a termination letter.
- That the Plaintiff continues to be baffled by the actions of the Defendants as no other employee has been subjected to such unreasonable scrutiny as the Plaintiff has been the subject of.
- Third EEO Complaint
- Upon issuance of the termination notice on April 11th, 2021, the Plaintiff sought to appeal the decision McCLURE’s decision and filed another Complaint before the EEO for hearing and determination as to the fairness and integrity of the decision to terminate the Plaintiff.
- CAUSES OF ACTION
FIRST CAUSE OF ACTION – Violation of Title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Disparate Treatment and Hostile Environment)
- Plaintiff incorporates and alleges paragraphs 1.1 through 4.53 as if fully set forth herein.
- Through Defendant’s actions and failures to act, as described above and incorporated here, Defendant violated Title VII. Defendants violated Title VII in multiple ways, including but not limited to: failing to address Mrs. Stepien’s complaints of sex-based and age-based discrimination; discriminating against Plaintiff on the basis of sex by targeting her workplace behavior for scrutiny while restricting and isolating access to the Plaintiff.
- The disparate treatment has resulted in damages both economic and non-economic to be proven at trial.
SECOND CAUSE OF ACTION – Retaliation for Engaging in a Protected Activity under Title VII (Retaliation)
- Plaintiff incorporates and alleges paragraphs 1.1 through 5.3 as if fully set forth herein.
- In order to establish a prima facie case of retaliation, Plaintiff must show that (1) she or he engaged in a protected activity, (2) the employer engaged in an adverse employment action, and (3) the employer had knowledge of the action.
- Mrs. Stepien engaged in a protected activity under Title VII when she made numerous complaints of discrimination to MATLOCK and later filed complaints with the EEO. Indeed, Mrs. Stepien made complaints about discrimination and harassment from fall of 2018 through May 2021 to a person who is a superior/supervisor.
- After Mrs. Stepien made her complaints, the EEO took steps to scrutinize her work activity and ultimately terminate her employment.
- The disparate treatment has resulted in damages both economic and non-economic to be proven at trial.
PRAYER FOR RELIEF
WHEREFORE Plaintiff prays for relief as follows:
6.1 A declaration that Defendant violated Plaintiff’s civil rights.
6.2 Removal of any record of Plaintiff’s discipline from all personnel files and records.
6.3 Reinstatement of Plaintiff to her position.
6.4 Damages for lost wages, back pay, front pay, lost benefits, medical expenses, and all other economic losses proximately caused by Defendant.
6.5 Damages for loss of enjoyment of life, pain and suffering, mental anguish, emotional distress, and humiliation.
6.6 Pre-judgment and post-judgment interest.
6.7 Compensation for any tax penalty associated with a recovery.
6.8 Reasonable attorney’s fees and costs as authorized by Title VII.
6.9 Whatever further and additional relief the court shall deem just and equitable.
Pro Se Plaintiff
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