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Chawla v. Lockheed Martin Corp.

United States District Court, D. Colorado

September 22, 2014

MUNEEB CHAWLA, an individual, Plaintiff,
v.
LOCKHEED MARTIN CORPORATION, a Maryland corporation, Defendant

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For Muneeb Chawla, an individual, Plaintiff: John W. McKendree, John W. McKendree, LLC. Law Offices of, Thornton, CO.

For Lockheed Martin Corporation, a Maryland corporation, Defendant: David Daniel Powell, Jr., LEAD ATTORNEY, Austin E. Smith, Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.-Denver, Denver, CO.

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ORDER

PHILIP A. BRIMMER, United States District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket No. 34] filed by defendant Lockheed Martin Corporation (" LMC" ). The Court has subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiff Dr. Muneeb Chawla's Title VII claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and over plaintiff's state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

I. BACKGROUND[1]

LMC designs and manufactures sophisticated technology systems for use in the space and defense industries. Docket No. 34 at 2, ¶ 1. Dr. Chawla began working for LMC as a Level 2 Electrical Engineer upon his graduation from college. Id. at 2, ¶ 2. Dr. Chawla was hired on August 19, 2004. Docket No. 34-2 at 6, p. 62:15-24. He completed his Ph.D. in 2009. Id. at 3, ¶ 12. Dr. Chawla is half Pakistani and half Indian and identifies as a Muslim. Id. at 2, ¶ 3. He did not discuss his religion with his co-workers. Id.

A. LMC HR Procedures

For each of its employees, LMC conducts a Performance Assessment and Development Review (" PADR" ) at the end of each year, in which supervisors provide feedback regarding work performance. Id. at 2, ¶ 4; Docket No. 34-2 at 5, p. 59:15-21. Employees can receive one of five ratings: exceptional contributor, high contributor, successful contributor, basic contributor, or unsatisfactory. Docket No. 34 at 2, ¶ 4; see, e.g., Docket No. 34-6.

Employees assigned to special programs[2] who are rated as basic contributors

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are placed on a performance improvement plan (" PIP" ). Docket No. 37-6 at 4, p. 35:21-23; see, e.g., Docket No. 35-2 at 1 (" Required for all Special Programs-assigned employees rated Basic Contributor" (emphasis in original)). A PIP is created by an employee's manager and contains multiple objectives and goals for the employee to accomplish. See, e.g., Docket No. 37-7. The employee is given a timeframe in which to complete the PIP and must attend regular progress meetings with his or her manager. See, e.g., id. at 2.

A manager seeking to discipline an employee will generally file a complaint with human resources (" HR" ), who will then investigate the complaint. See, e.g., Docket No. 41-14. Once an investigation is complete, disciplinary action is subject to multiple levels of review. The Administrative Review Committee (" ARC" ) reviews " cases involving allegations of misconduct . . . excluding . . . minor infractions of policy such as traffic citations and attendance-related violations for which the discipline is less than a suspension . . . ." Docket No. 36-2 at 5. The ARC has the authority to make final decisions for those infractions where the discipline is verbal or written counseling, but makes recommendations to the Executive Review Committee (" ERC" ) for all those cases where the ARC determines suspension, demotion, or termination of employment is appropriate and for cases involving allegations to be reviewed only by the ERC, as discussed below. Id. The ERC makes the final disciplinary decision with respect to cases involving, as relevant here, " mischarging or miscoding of work time," unlawful discrimination, harassment, or other misconduct involving violation of LMC's equal employment opportunity policies, and any misconduct where suspension, demotion, or termination has been recommended by the ARC. Id. at 5. An employee receiving discipline from the ERC may appeal the decision to the Executive Appeal Committee (" EAC" ), which will review the employee's grounds for appeal and whether:

o The disciplined employee was made aware of the allegations.
o The disciplined employee was afforded an opportunity to provide an answer to the allegations both orally to the investigator, and in writing.
o The appropriate witnesses were interviewed.
o The ARC or ERC had reasonable basis in fact to make the determination.
o The discipline imposed was appropriate for the substantiated allegations.

Id. at 6. Per LMC policy, the ARC must ensure that the accused employee has had the opportunity to provide his or her account of the events to an investigator or in a written statement. Id. at 5. However, the accused employee is not permitted to personally appear before the ARC, ERC, or EAC. Id. at 5-6.

B. 2004-2011 PADRs

Dr. Chawla's 2004 PADR was completed by Gary Gardner. Docket No. 34-5 at 1. Mr. Gardner rated Dr. Chawla as a basic contributor. Id. In 2005, Dr. Chawla's supervisor, Mark Evans, rated Dr. Chawla as a successful contributor. Docket No. 34-6 at 1. In 2006, the work area Dr. Chawla was involved in was subcontracted out, which resulted in Dr. Chawla being placed in LMC's layoff pool. Docket No. 34 at 2, ¶ 7. Rodger Nichols selected Dr. Chawla to work in Military Support Programs

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(" MSP" ) in an analysis group and, between 2006 and June or July of 2009, Mr. Nichols was Dr. Chawla's direct supervisor and remained a functional manager[3] of Dr. Chawla until Dr. Chawla's termination. Docket No. 34-2 at 9, p. 75:4-10; Docket No. 34-7 at 2, pp. 9:25-11:3. In 2006 and 2007, Mr. Nichols rated Dr. Chawla a successful contributor and listed areas in which Dr. Chawla could improve. See Docket No. 34-8 at 1; Docket No. 34-9 at 1. In a 2008 PADR, Scott Perry rated Dr. Chawla a successful contributor. Docket No. 34-10. Mr. Nichols recalled that, toward the end of his tenure as Dr. Chawla's direct supervisor, some of Dr. Chawla's co-workers complained that Dr. Chawla was disrespecting them, but Mr. Nichols did not remember the exact details of such complaints. Docket No. 34-7 at 2-3, p. 12:19-13:24.

In June or July of 2009, Bradley Hooker became Dr. Chawla's direct supervisor and promoted Dr. Chawla to Systems Engineer Staff, a Level 4 position that resulted in a pay raise. Docket No. 34 at 3, ¶ 12; Docket No. 34-2 at 12, p. 86:3-4. In Dr. Chawla's 2009 and 2010 PADRs, Mr. Hooker rated Dr. Chawla as a successful contributor and also listed areas in which Dr. Chawla could improve. Docket No. 35; Docket No. 35-1 at 1. Mr. Hooker testified that, at the end of 2010, Dr. Chawla's performance deteriorated in such a way that Mr. Hooker contacted HR asking to retroactively change Dr. Chawla's PADR rating to " basic contributor," but was unsuccessful. Docket No. 34-12 at 9, pp. 174:20-175:15. On April 26, 2011, Mr. Hooker placed Dr. Chawla on a PIP (the " 2011 PIP" ) because of dissatisfaction with Dr. Chawla's performance, including a customer complaint that Dr. Chawla failed to attend an off-site customer meeting and a customer complaint about " verification reports." Id. at 1, pp. 119:20-120:11. Mr. Nichols signed the 2011 PIP, along with Mr. Hooker, Dr. Chawla, and Jennifer Kaplan from HR. Mr. Nichols testified that Dr. Chawla was placed on the 2011 PIP because of work-related errors and " relationship problems with a large percentage of the people he worked with." Docket No. 35-2 at 2; Docket No. 34-7 at 8, pp. 59:25-60:4. The 2011 PIP contained five separate objectives, all of which Dr. Chawla was required under the PIP to complete by July 26, 2011. Docket No. 35-2 at 1-2. Mr. Hooker and Dr. Chawla regularly discussed Dr. Chawla's progress. Docket No. 34 at 4, ¶ 18. Dr. Chawla was rated unsuccessful on one objective, successful on one objective, and marginal on three objectives, Docket No. 41-12; however, the parties dispute whether this constitutes a successful completion of the 2011 PIP. Dr. Chawla stated, " I believe I successfully completed the [2011 PIP] based on my efforts." Docket No. 41-2 at 3, ¶ 24. Mr. Nichols and Mr. Hooker testified that, in order to be removed from a PIP, an employee must complete all objectives, which Dr. Chawla failed to do. Docket No. 34-7 at 9, p. 66:3-18; Docket No. 34-12, at 4, pp. 133:18-134:8. Mr. Hooker testified that Mr. Hooker did not formally close the 2011 PIP with Dr. Chawla. Docket No. 37-8 at 6.

C. Mischarging Investigation

In 2011, Dr. Chawla was the subject of a LMC investigation for mischarging his time. In general, LMC employees' time is charged directly to LMC's customers. Docket No. 34 at 5, ¶ 23. MSP employees had classified computers at their workstations,

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which were used to perform work related to MSP. Docket No. 34 at 5, ¶ 22. Unclassified computers were also available in certain areas of the building where MSP employees worked and were shared among MSP employees. Docket No. 34-11 at 5, p. 34:15-17; Docket No. 34-3 at 1, p. 103:5-25. Unclassified computers were used, for example, to enter time, to complete training, or to check personal email. Docket No. 34-3 at 1, p. 104:1-6. On July 28, 2008, LMC issued a memorandum warning employees that there was " zero tolerance for improper use of Lockheed Martin assets, including its network." Docket No. 36 at 1. The Personal Use of Lockheed Martin Assets policy stated that personal use of LMC property " must take place during nonwork time, be of reasonable duration and frequency, and must not interfere with or adversely affect the employee's performance or other organization requirements." Docket No. 36-1 at 1, ¶ 3.1. The policy further admitted that, although " reasonable" use was difficult to quantify, the final determination of appropriate use under the policy " is reserved to cognizant management." Id. at 2, ¶ 3.2.

The timing of the mischarging allegations and corresponding investigation is in dispute. Dr. Chawla argues that Mr. Hooker initiated the mischarging investigation " in response to and in retaliation for my travel plans to visit family in Qatar and Pakistan." Docket No. 41-2 at 3, ¶ 22. On March 24, 2011, Dr. Chawla submitted to LMC security his Qatar and Pakistan vacation plans. Docket No. 41-26; Docket No. 41-8 at 4, p. 139:7-25. It is undisputed that, on March 24, 2011, Mr. Hooker submitted to HR a formal Employee Complaint Intake Questionnaire, where Mr. Hooker stated:

On Feb 3, 2011, I had a discussion with the HRBP, who recommended I ask the employee to account for his time. I had that discussion on Feb 7, 2011 and did not receive a specific answer to my question. Since that time, Muneeb has been at his desk noticeably more and I've not had further concerns.

Docket No. 41-14. Although LMC managers are generally sent an email notifying them of pending requests for travel, Dr. Chawla does not identify any evidence indicating how quickly a manager receives such notification after an employee submits a travel request. Docket No. 41-8 at 4-5, p. 139:14-140:5 (" Q. When does the manager receive the e-mail after the Fast Track? Right away? A. I don't know." ). LMC disputes that Mr. Hooker's formal complaint was the first instance in which Mr. Hooker raised mischarging allegations with HR. Mr. Hooker testified that, prior to February 2011, he observed Dr. Chawla using unclassified computers in other parts of the building and received complaints that Dr. Chawla was wasting time by socializing with co-workers. Docket No. 34-11 at 5, pp. 33:21-34:21. Mr. Hooker testified that these things caused him to be concerned that Dr. Chawla might be mischarging his time, concerns which he reported to HR. Id. at 5, p. 35:13-24. LMC argues that Mr. Hooker first took his concerns to HR in February 2011 and cites Mr. Hooker's deposition testimony in support of its claim. Docket No. 42 at 6, ¶ 98 (citing Docket No. 42-2 at 3, p. 40:2-5 (Q: Okay. And when did you speak with Ms. Graves? What date, approximately? A: It would have been triggered by that same February 3rd, 2011 e-mail . . . ." )).[4]

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On April 12, 2011, Mr. Mauro began investigating allegations that Dr. Chawla was mischarging his time and misusing company assets. Docket No. 35-5 at 1, 3. A forensic analysis of Dr. Chawla's internet proxy data revealed that Dr. Chawla " visited . . . non-work related sites during normal business hours and accrued a total of fifty-three (53) hours and one (1) minute of non-work related computer activity during the months of November and December 2010, and in January 2011." Id. at 5 (emphasis in original). More specifically, Dr. Chawla was found to have spent over an hour a day on non-business related websites on twenty-three occasions during the subject three month time period, including 23 hours in January 2011 alone. Id. at 9. Dr. Chawla does not dispute the accuracy of the forensic analysis, Docket No. 34-3 at 3, pp. 109:20-110:3, and admitted that he had conducted trading and financial transactions during the subject time period. Id. at 2, p. 108:14-24. During the investigation, Dr. Chawla admitted to Mr. Mauro that he did not make up any of the time he spent on nonwork related websites. Docket No. 35-5 at 15. After his initial interview with Mr. Mauro, Dr. Chawla sent Mr. Mauro a written statement, which stated, in part, " I do not accept nor do I reject the allegations brought up against me. . . . Visiting of financial websites . . . are common practice across the MSP program." Docket No. 35-6 at 2. Dr. Chawla testified that he told Mr. Mauro of another employee, Brooke Mitchell, who had been reported for mischarging, but " nothing had come of it." Docket No. 34-3 at 3, p. 111:2-22. Dr. Chawla asserts that LMC does a forensic analysis of an employee's computer use only when a complaint is being investigated such that Dr. Chawla was unable to compare his own non-work related use of computers with that of his co-workers. Docket No. 41 at 8, ¶ 39. Mr. Nichols testified that employees under his supervision use the computer for personal reasons during business hours and that, in general, such behavior is not inappropriate provided that such computer use is done on the employee's own time. Docket No. 34-7 at 5, pp. 39:3-40:5 (" You're supposed to do it on your own time. You cannot charge the government for doing personal things on computers." ). Dr. Chawla testified that he did not complain to anyone regarding the fairness of Mr. Mauro's investigation and did not have any knowledge that Mr. Mauro was discriminating against him for any reason. Docket No. 34-3 at 4, p. 113:5-13.

Mr. Mauro's investigation findings were referred to the ARC, which was composed of Robin Valore, HR director, June Taylor, senior manager of the equal opportunities program, and Mr. Nichols, the manager representing the MSP. Docket No. 34 at 6. Because Mr. Hooker was the complaining party, per LMC policy, he was not permitted to participate in the ARC's decision. Docket No. 34-11 at 7, pp. 50:23-51:6 (" the reason we do that is to ensure that it's fair and it's not based on, for instance, a bias of mine" ). The ARC substantiated the allegations and recommended termination. Docket No. 36-3 at 1.[5] The ERC reviewed the ARC's recommendation.

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Docket No. 34 at 7, ¶ 35. The ERC was composed of Monty Pierce, HR director, and Marshall Case, vice president of infrastructure, neither of whom had ever met Dr. Chawla or were aware of his ethnicity, religion, or whether he had complained of discrimination or harassment. Id. at 7, ¶ ¶ 36-37. The ERC " determined the allegations of charging practices to be inconclusive and the allegations of misuse of assets to be substantiated" and suspended Dr. Chawla for two weeks. Docket No. 36-3. Dr. Chawla served his suspension from August 18, 2011 through September 6, 2011. Docket No. 34 at 8, ¶ 43. On September 16, 2011, Dr. Chawla appealed his suspension to the EAC, claiming that his " struggling work relationship" with Mr. Hooker was due to " my Pakistani and Muslim background, where demeaning comments have been made to me with regards [sic] to this." Docket No. 41-18. The EAC, composed of Armando Castorena, vice president of HR, and Paul Regan, vice president of business and finance, Docket No. 34 at 7, ¶ 40, reviewed Dr. Chawla's appeal and the investigation report and supporting documentation and denied Dr. Chawla's appeal. Docket No. 34 at 8, ¶ 42; Docket No. 36-11.[6]

D. 2011 PADR and 2012 PIP

On December 16, 2011, Dr. Chawla was rated as a basic contributor on his 2011 PADR. Docket No. 37-5 at 1-2. Mr. Hooker testified that he and Mr. Nichols provided the rating. Docket No. 34-12 at 10-11, pp. 196:25-197:3. T he PADR stated, in part,

Muneeb has struggled to deliver acceptable performance this year.

. . . [He] received unsatisfactory feedback from the customer. The feedback resulted from poor attention to detail, not ensuring the delivery of quality analysis reports, and ineffective discussions with the customer consultant to address concerns.
. . . He missed a mandatory team offsite in preparation for an important exercise to prepare for PI, and it turns out he had not supported meetings in a previous exercise. As a result, the customer consultant, customer, and an audit team all expressed concerns about Muneeb's poor performance and he was removed as a test case lead . . . .
Muneeb was assigned to work across the team to compile a data review. He did not follow-up and other team members were pulled from other tasks to work overtime to pull the review together at the last minute. Several team members communicated their feedback on Muneeb's poor performance to his manager.
* * *
Muneeb can be productive, but he often produces poor quality work and relies on others to review, for example, not changing the ...

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