United States District Court, D. Delaware
VALERIE O. SAUNDERS, Plaintiff,
E.I. DUPONT DE NEMOURS AND COMPANY, Defendant.
Valerie O. Saunders, Smyrna, Delaware. Pro Se Plaintiff.
Kathleen Furey McDonough, Esquire, and Lauren E.M. Russell,
Esquire. Potter Anderson & Corroon, LLP, Wilmington,
Delaware. Counsel for Defendant.
ANDREWS, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.
Valerie O. Saunders appears pro se and has been
granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. She
commenced this employment discrimination action against
Defendant E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Company on March 13,
2014. (D.I. 2). The amended complaint alleges employment
discrimination pursuant 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and raises a
supplemental state law claim. (D.I. 18). The Court has
jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 &
1367(a). Defendant moves for summary judgment. (D.I. 82).
Plaintiff opposes. Briefing has been completed. (D.I. 83, 84,
alleges employment discrimination by reason of race in the
forms of a hostile work environment, termination, and failure
to hire. The original complaint raised claims under several
theories, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of
1964, 422000e, etseq., and 42 U.S.C. §§
1981, 1983, and 1988. It was dismissed upon Defendant's
motion and Saunders was given leave to amend. The amended
complaint is the operative pleading and consists of Count I,
race discrimination pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981,
Count V, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and
fair dealing pursuant to Delaware law.
was hired by Taryn Albert, manager of operations and
facilities, to begin work in July 2011 as a senior laboratory
technician at DuPont's formulations group located at the
Stine-Haskell Laboratory in Newark, Delaware. (D.I. 84 at
¶ 25, A495-99). Her duties included assisting in the
production of chemical formulations that were to be
administered to test systems. (Id. at A500-01). The
position requires "attention to detail and
precision." (Id. at A502).
worked in the formulation lab with Patti Bennett, a
formulations chemist. (Id. at A175). Bennett's
duties included training Saunders. (Id. at A177).
When Saunders questioned Bennett during Bennett's
deposition, Saunders acknowledged that Bennett was a
"good trainer." (Id. at A339). Bennett
testified that she trained Saunders exactly as she had
trained other technicians who came to work in the lab.
(Id. at A340). Accordingly to Bennett, specific
tasks for the formulations lab should be mastered within
three months at the outside, and some employees mastered the
tasks in a much shorter time. (Id. at 342-43).
did not supervise Saunders. (Id. at A332). Both
Saunders and Bennett were supervised by, and reported to,
Albert. (Id. at A174-76, A332). Albert explained
that Bennett was generally responsible for creating the
formulation sheet, which is the "recipe" for any
particular formula, and that Saunders was tasked to follow
the formulation sheet instructions and "assemble the
recipe." (Id. at A223-24). Saunders'
position was to support Bennett. (Id. at A177).
During the relevant time, only Saunders and Bennett worked in
the formulations lab. (Id. at A175).
September 21, 2011, DuPont's regulatory analytical group
discovered that a formula of Saunders' was made with a
dosage concentration lower than what should have been
prepared. (Id. at A211-12). Saunders explained to
Albert that she had made a simple math error and apologized
for the mistake. (Id. at A213-14). When Bennett was
on vacation, Saunders committed a second quality infraction
on October 26, 2011. (Id. at A216, A309, A478-79).
Bennett had left a list for Saunders for things she needed to
do while Bennett was on vacation. (Id. at A308).
Bennett does not recall if Saunders would have been
specifically able to handle everything on the list, but she
made sure that Saunders had help if she needed it.
(Id. at A309). Animal resource group employees
discovered that Saunders created a reduced-strength diet for
the test rodents, instead of the full-strength diet called
for by the formulation sheet. (Id. at A216-19,
A478). Saunders met with Albert, told Albert that she had
pulled the wrong formulation sheet for the study, and
apologized. (Id. at A221-23).
the second incident, to ensure that Bennett was properly
training Saunders, Albert would stop in the formulation lab,
observe, and have conversations with Bennett and Saunders
"as to the progress." (Id. at A227).
Bennett testified that Albert did not come into the lab very
often. (Id. at A420). Bennett told Albert that
Saunders seemed to have difficulty absorbing some of the
training. (Id.) Albert met with Saunders and asked
if she had concerns or if there was anything she could do to
help her, and Saunders replied that "everything was
fine." (Id. at A230).
committed a third error on December 1, 2011, when a
third-party analytics laboratory discovered that a serial
dilution she had prepared was 30% lower than the targeted
concentration level. (Id. at A478-79, A231-35).
During the quality investigation, Saunders was questioned and
stated that she "felt that it was a pipette error on her
part." (Id. at A233-34).
became concerned after learning of the third infraction
because there appeared to be a pattern of a number of
mistakes occurring in a short period of time. (Id.
at A235). Albert consulted human resources generalist Judy
Hrivnak and, rather than "a verbal, " together they
drafted a document for written corrective action to hand to
Saunders. (Id. at A235-41.) The written corrective
action was approved by human resources but, before Albert
could give it to her, Saunders informed Albert that a fourth
quality incident had occurred on December 8, 2011 when she
incorrectly prepared a formulation. (Id. at A242,
A246-47, A478-79). During her deposition, Bennett testified
that the "quality infractions" made by Saunders
"demonstrated a lack of basic understanding of the
processes in the lab, " they were "frequent, "
and they "should not have happened to anyone with a
Bachelor's degree in chemistry and some background in
laboratory work." (Id. at A422). Bennett
further testified that, had "Saunders paid attention to
the training, she would have known where" materials were
located. (Id. at A423).
December 1, but before December 8, 2011, Albert spoke to
Bennett about Saunders' training. (Id. at A245).
Bennett stated that she had made several offers to Saunders
about additional training, that Saunders insisted she was
comfortable, and that she understood the tasks that were
presented to her. (Id. at A246). Albert testified
that after the fourth infraction, the lab had lost confidence
in Saunders' performance and formulations, and a decision
was made among Hrivnak, director Mark Thompson, and Albert to
turn the written corrective action into a notice of special
action. (Id. at A249-50). The group felt that the
"lack of attention to detail was a predominant theme and
that the lab had lost confidence in [Saunders], " so
Saunders needed to be pulled out of the formulations lab.
(Id. at A250). Bennett had no input in the notice of
special action. (Id. at A297-98).
was given the notice of special action on December 15, 2011.
(Id. at A478-479). The notice of special action
served as a termination. (Id. at A258). It gave
Saunders two months to find another job, within DuPont or
outside of DuPont, and during that time she was allowed to
prepare labels, do paperwork and other things in the lab, but
she was not allowed to assemble a formulation. (Id.
at A40, A258-59). Saunders' termination date was February
29, 2012. (Id. at A41).
applied for a number of jobs between December 15, 2011 and
February 29, 2012, including positions as a senior lab
technician for engineering coatings and an associate
analytical chemist, but she was not selected for any of
them. (Id. at A40, A111-12, A122).
Saunders testified that she was not hired for the positions
based upon her race. (Id. at A20-24, A114, A122,
A129-31). Saunders explained that one position was filled by
a white male and that the majority of the group was composed
of white men. (Id. at A115). Saunders did not know
the qualifications of the persons hired. (Id.). She
became aware that she was not hired for the analytical
position by November 2011 and the senior lab technician
position by early January 2012. (Id. at A114, A125).
She testified that with these two positions, her performance
and how she worked were known; 'with that knowledge, race
definitely entered into their perspective."
testified that she believed that DuPont used the
"quality incidents to overinflate the detriment to the
business or the problem of these incidents to terminate [her]
because of race." (Id. at A57). She testified
that her team was also to blame for the infractions.
(Id. at A61). Saunders was unaware of any other
DuPont employee who had committed four or more quality
infractions. (Id. at A81). She testified that white
employees Melissa Fullers, Bennett, "someone in Andy
Logue's group, " her replacement, and anonymous
employees on a PowerPoint slide also committed quality
incidents, but were not terminated, or were given less severe
punishments. (Id. at A64-75, A484; see also
D.I. 88 at 22-41).
asserts that she was subjected to a hostile work environment
and that DuPont discriminated against her between 2011 and
2012 in her role as a senior laboratory technician in the
formulations group. (Id. at A17, A42). Saunders
testified that Bennett "has some negative energy around
black people." (Id. at A27). Saunders clarified
that she did not "want to say black people. Maybe
it's just black me." (Id.). She testified
that Bennett did not communicate well with her, chose not to
put together training documents for her, and gave her menial
tasks. (Id. at A27-28). Bennett told Saunders that
she did not want to give her more than Saunders could handle,
but Saunders believed that Bennett thought her incapable of
handling the information because Saunders is
African-American. (Id. at A32). Saunders
acknowledged that the jobs Bennett asked her to do were not
outside the expected job duties for a lab technician, but
Saunders felt it was racist for Bennett to give her menial
jobs that she could do and not "the meat of what she
needed to learn." (Id. at A32-33). Saunders
testified that Bennett had a hostile attitude towards her
that "may have manifested its way in lack of
training." (Id. at A36). Saunders testified
that Bennett was hostile towards other individuals, both of
whom were white. (Id. at A37).
testified that her evidence of alleged mistreatment by
Bennett on the basis of race consisted of a black voodoo doll
that Bennett kept on her desk. (Id. at A27-29).
Saunders never told Albert about the doll. (Id.
atA31). Saunders was not sure, or did not know, what a voodoo
doll was, but found it racially offensive because the doll
was black and not white, yellow, or orange. (Id. at
testified that Bennett never made any remarks about
Saunders' race, never used offensive racial language
towards Saunders, and never used offensive language towards
others. (Id. at A42-43). Saunders referred to an
incident prior to the time that she was employed as a senior
lab technician when a co-worker made racially offensive
comments during the 2008 presidential election. (Id.
at A43-46). Saunders reported ...