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Cruz v. McAleenan

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

July 30, 2019

Elisa R. Cruz, Appellant
v.
Kevin K. McAleenan, Acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Appellee

          Argued December 10, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 1:16-cv-00039)

          Tamara L. Miller argued the cause and filed the briefs for appellant.

          Joshua L. Rogers, Assistant U.S. Attorney, argued the cause for appellee. With him on the brief were Jessie K. Liu, U.S. Attorney, and R. Craig Lawrence, Assistant U.S. Attorney.

          Before: Griffith and Wilkins, Circuit Judges, and Williams, Senior Circuit Judge.

          OPINION

          WILKINS, CIRCUIT JUDGE

         Elisa Cruz alleges that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) engaged in discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (Title VII). DHS filed a motion for summary judgment, which the District Court granted over Cruz's objection and request to take discovery. Cruz appeals the District Court's order granting summary judgment to DHS and denying Cruz's motion to stay proceedings to allow for discovery under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d). For the reasons set forth below, we reverse the order in large part and remand for further proceedings.

         I.

         Because we are reviewing the District Court's grant of summary judgment, we take the following facts from the evidence and read them in the light most favorable to Cruz, the non-moving party, drawing all reasonable inferences in her favor. See, e.g., Ortiz-Diaz v. Dep't of Hous. & Urban Dev., Office of Inspector Gen., 867 F.3d 70, 72 (D.C. Cir. 2017).

         Cruz, an African-American female of Hispanic national origin, was employed from 2007 to 2012 within DHS as the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) at the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO). The head of OCIO and Cruz's second-level supervisor was Jeanne Etzel, a white woman. The Deputy Chief Information Officer for Administration and Cruz's direct supervisor was Maria Roat, also a white woman.

         In early January 2012, Don Buskard, one of Cruz's colleagues and a white man, sent Etzel an email reporting that Cruz had behaved inappropriately during three meetings. Etzel forwarded the email to Roat and asked her to investigate Buskard's allegations. Roat enlisted Human Resources to discuss the allegation and "requested assistance in determining if a reassignment would be warranted." J.A. 216. Reassignment would serve the purpose of limiting Cruz's supervisory duties without changing her salary grade. Human Resource Specialist Kirsten Gunsolus advised Roat on how to proceed. In an email to Roat dated January 4, 2012, Gunsolus wrote:

[G]iven the fact that there are conduct issues regarding Ms. Cruz, I would suggest that I conduct a fact finding session and gather all the documentation surrounding her conduct issues during the past year that you have gathered, and then I would make a recommendation for the reassignment to you from the [Labor and Employee Relations] office. That way, if Ms. Cruz decides to pursue any legal avenues, you'd have that documentation and recommendation as backup for the reassignment.

J.A. 104.

         Over the next few weeks, Gunsolus began a "limited administrative inquiry" into allegations of Cruz's workplace conduct. J.A. 216. In addition to interviewing several of Cruz's colleagues, Gunsolus reviewed emails from Cruz to various people, meeting notes, and the report of a previous investigation concerning Cruz. Gunsolus's report notes that "none of [Cruz's] employees, except one that [did not] have much interaction with her" wanted to participate in the ...


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