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Atanus v. Perry

March 17, 2008


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 04 C 7512-Mark R. Filip, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ripple, Circuit Judge.


Before RIPPLE, MANION and WOOD, Circuit Judges.

Susanne Atanus filed this action in the district court against her employer, Stephen A. Perry, Administrator of the General Services Administration ("GSA"). Ms. Atanus' complaint alleges that the GSA discriminated against her on the basis of her race, color, religion, gender and national origin, all in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Her complaint also includes a Title VII retaliation claim and a claim of age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. The district court granted the GSA's motion for summary judgment on all claims. Ms. Atanus timely filed a notice of appeal.

For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we affirm the judgment of the district court.



Ms. Atanus has predicated her suit against the GSA on four alleged adverse employment actions: a ten-day suspension in December 2002, a letter of instruction issued on January 13, 2003, verbal harassment that occurred on February 13, 2003 and her reassignment to the position of procurement analyst (GS-11) from her previous position of contract specialist (also GS-11).

Ms. Atanus began working as a contract administrator for the GSA in 1984. According to the GSA, Debra Wauchop, who supervised Ms. Atanus from 1990 through early 2002, began noticing problems with Ms. Atanus' work conduct in 1999. On February 1, 1999, Wauchop issued Ms. Atanus a letter of instruction for her obstinate and quarrelsome behavior toward co-workers and supervisors during a meeting. On July 20, 2000, Wauchop issued Ms. Atanus a warning notice for her disrespectful conduct during a lecture given by GSA employees. Less than a year later, in March 2001, Wauchop issued Ms. Atanus a third warning notice for two public verbal confrontations that Ms. Atanus had with a senior GSA employee; the warning notice explained that Ms. Atanus had taken a harsh and disrespectful tone with the senior employee. The reprimand also referenced an e-mail in which Ms. Atanus had given written instructions akin to an order to a co-worker whom she did not supervise. The GSA claims that Ms. Atanus' behavior was of concern because, as a contract specialist, she was required to have extensive communications with contractor representatives and other parties outside the Government.

On June 11, 2001, Wauchop assigned Ms. Atanus to an "unassembled set of duties."*fn1 The GSA explains that it reassigned her to fill a void left by a recently deceased employee and to maximize Ms. Atanus' contract capabilities while minimizing her contact with others. Ms. Atanus neither complains about this transfer nor questions the GSA's proffered explanation.

In early 2002, Kim Brown, an African-American woman, replaced Wauchop as Ms. Atanus' supervisor. According to the GSA, Brown observed the same problems with Ms. Atanus' conduct as had Wauchop. On July 11, 2002, Brown issued Ms. Atanus a letter of instruction-her fourth agency action-citing Ms. Atanus' failure to follow Federal Acquisition Regulation ("FAR") 4.2,*fn2 which requires a contract modification to be distributed within ten working days of execution by all parties. The letter described two instances when Ms. Atanus had violated this rule and thereby hindered the GSA's ability to monitor contractor performance.

The following month, on August 14, 2002, Brown issued a letter proposing to suspend Ms. Atanus from duty for five days because of Ms. Atanus' disorderly conduct at a meeting on July 16. The suspension letter stated that Ms. Atanus had handled a FOIA request improperly and that she had taken a loud, rude and harsh tone when asked by her team leader to explain her conduct. According to the letter, Ms. Atanus behaved in this fashion until her team leader threatened to contact a federal protective officer for assistance if Ms. Atanus did not return to her desk.

On September 12, 2002, Richard Smith, Brown's superior, telephoned Ms. Atanus and scheduled for 2 p.m. an in-person meeting to discuss the proposed suspension.*fn3 What happened next is the basis for the first of the four adverse employment actions upon which Ms. Atanus has predicated her case.

Ms. Atanus walked into Smith's office two hours prior to the scheduled start of the meeting. She began discussing the proposed suspension and told Smith that the suspension was not fair and that she did not understand the charge. Ms. Atanus continued to talk about the suspension for fifteen minutes until Smith told her to leave or he would call federal protective officers.

At 2 p.m., Smith met with Ms. Atanus; Gregory Flores, another GSA supervisor, was present as a witness. Smith gave Ms. Atanus the final decision letter and other paperwork attendant to her suspension. Ms. Atanus began to discuss the suspension. Smith claims that she was becoming agitated, which Ms. Atanus denies. The parties nevertheless agree that Ms. Atanus told Smith that she did not believe Christians would act in this manner. At this point, Smith tried to end the meeting. The parties further agree that, when Smith stated that the meeting was over, Ms. Atanus told Smith that he was the one who should have been suspended because he was not performing his job properly and that she was going to call Smith's superior to reverse his decision.

The following day, at about 10 a.m., Ms. Atanus saw Smith passing through the office and asked if he would see her. She entered his office and again began discussing her suspension. Ms. Atanus told Smith that she was the smartest person in the building, that she worked very hard and that it had not been fair to suspend her. Ms. Atanus continued speaking for fifteen minutes until Smith dismissed her from his office. According to Smith, Ms. Atanus grew extremely agitated, loud and aggressive.

At 11:15 that same morning, Ms. Atanus called Smith to request another meeting; she indicated that she wanted to smooth things over. In his office, Smith advised Ms. Atanus of her right to grieve the suspension. Ms. Atanus admits that she told Smith that she was a person of God and that he would not suspend her if he too was a person of God. Smith, who felt that Ms. Atanus had become aggressive in approaching his desk, told her that he was offended by her comment and ended the meeting. According to Smith, Ms. Atanus continued the discussion, and she stated that she would not leave the office; he told her that he would call a federal protective officer if she did not return to her work station.

At 2:45 p.m. on the same day, Ms. Atanus returned to Smith's office for a third time. She said that she never had paid attention to the previous letters of reprimand that she had received because nothing had come of them. He told her to return to her work station. Again, Smith told her that he would call a federal protective officer if she did ...

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