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Omogbehin v. Lahood

June 28, 2010

STEPHEN OMOGBEHIN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
RAY LAHOOD, SECRETARY, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joseph E. Irenas, S.U.S.D.J.

OPINION

IRENAS, Senior District Judge

Plaintiff, Stephen Omogbehin, a former civilian IT Operations Manager with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), brings this Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., discrimination / retaliation suit against his former employer, the Department of Transportation ("the government").*fn1 Omogbehin asserts that he suffered discrimination on account of his race / color (African / black) and national origin (Nigerian),*fn2 and retaliation for telling his supervisor that he intended to pursue equal employment opportunity (EEO) remedies on account of her alleged discriminatory treatment of him.

Presently before the Court is the government's Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons stated herein, the motion will be denied.

I.

Omogbehin was still a probationary employee at the FAA "Tech Center" in Atlantic City, New Jersey when he was terminated on April 23, 2004. Viewing Omogbehin's evidence (which consists mainly if his own statements by way of declaration*fn3 ) in the light most favorable to him, Omogbehin completed many projects during his seven-month tenure. (Pl's Ex. 12) Indeed, the undisputed record demonstrates that many people, including his supervisor, Shelley Yak, gave him positive feedback about his work. (Pl's Ex. 11) According to Omogbehin, he "was a stellar performer and achieved extraordinary results that previously had never been imagined." (Compl. ¶ 10)

Thus, Omogbehin asserts, he was blind-sided by his termination, and he believes that unlawful discrimination and retaliation must have been the cause. In support of his claims, Omogbehin relies on the undisputed facts that he is of African descent, and Nigerian-born; and he once told his supervisor that he planned to seek EEO counseling about her alleged discrimination against him. Omogbehin's declaration states,

I specifically requested the [March 25, 2004] meeting [with Shelley Yak] because I wanted to discuss . . . the fact that [Yak] wasn't fully supporting me as a manager, as she was Gary Albert. I informed Mrs. Yak that I felt she was discriminating against me and that, if it continued, I intended to go to the office of the civil right [sic] and Human Resources to file a discrimination claim. (Omogbehin Decl. ¶ 47*fn4 ) It is undisputed that Omogbehin never did make a complaint following the meeting. According to Omogbehin, another employee dissuaded him from doing so. (Id.)

In response to Omogbehin's assertions, the government states that Yak decided to terminate Omogbehin during his probationary period because of (1) his adversarial personality and management style, which was evidenced in his: (a) walking out of business meetings, (b) disobeying his supervisor's instructions by attempting to establish "team leads" within his group when Yak had abolished team leads, and (c) threatening a subordinate employee with insubordination in an email which was carbon copied to the employee's peers; and (2) his dissatisfactory work on one important project.

Omogbehin disputes nearly all of the government's proffered reasons, "categorically denying" that he ever walked out any business meetings, or that he ever disobeyed Yak's instructions. He also asserts that he was not responsible for the undisputedly deficient work product that Yak attributed to him. With regard to the email, Omogbehin states that he inadvertently "replied to all" when emailing his subordinate that failure to follow directions would be "consider[ed] . . . an act of insubordination." (Pl's Ex. 33) Omogebehin also notes that the undisputed documentary evidence shows that he later publicly apologized for the comment. (Id.)

After his termination, Omogbehin fully pursued his EEO remedies. In August, 2006, after a two-day evidentiary hearing, the ALJ found for the government on all of Omogbehin's claims. This suit followed. Omogbehin asserts disparate treatment discrimination and retaliation, in violation of Title VII.*fn5

II.

This Court reviews the discrimination and retaliation claims de novo. See Makky v. Chertoff, 489 F. Supp. 2d 421, 428 (D.N.J. 2007) aff'd by 541 F.3d 205 (3d Cir. 2008).

"[S]ummary judgment is proper 'if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.'" Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court must construe the facts and inferences in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. Pollock v. Am. Tel. & Tel. Long Lines, 794 F.2d 860, 864 (3d Cir. 1986). The role of the Court is not "to weigh the ...


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