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Kuklinski v. Mnuchin

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

March 4, 2019

STEVEN TERNER MNUCHIN, United States Secretary of the Treasury Defendant


          Rebecca Grady Jennings, United States District Court.

         Plaintiff Anthony Kuklinski brings this action against Defendant Steven Mnuchin, in his capacity as United States Secretary of the Treasury (“Secretary”), [1] alleging that Defendant violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a), when the Secretary retaliated against Kuklinski for opposing workplace sexual harassment. [DE 83, Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 43-49]. Kuklinski further asserts a breach-of-contract claim arising from Defendant's alleged breach of a mediation agreement. Id. at ¶¶ 66-71. Defendant now moves for summary judgment. [DE 108]. The matter is fully briefed and ripe for judgment. [See DE 118, Response; DE 122, Reply]. For the reasons below, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         From 2004 until 2011, Kuklinski worked as a supervisory police inspector at the United States Bullion Depository (the “Depository”) in Fort Knox, Kentucky. [DE 117-3, Anthony Kuklinski Dep. 61:13-14, Nov. 17, 2016; DE 117-5, Ex. 7 at 1374]. In that role, Kuklinski supervised three lieutenants, six sergeants, and about 48 other employees. [DE 108-13, Anthony Kuklinski Dep. 34:20-23, Nov. 17, 2016; DE 117 at 1275].

         When Kuklinski was a supervisor, one of Kuklinski's subordinates-referred to in the record as “Harassed Officer”-was repeatedly harassed by another subordinate, referred to as “Harassing Officer.” [DE 117 at 1275]. Harassing Officer allegedly spied on Harassed Officer at her home and told her that he dreamt he was suffocating her. Id. Harassing Officer also purportedly used the Depository's surveillance equipment to spy on Harassed Officer at work. Id. at 1276.

         Harassed Officer eventually discovered that Harassing Officer was using the Depository's surveillance equipment to spy on her, prompting her to report the harassment. Id. Harassed Officer first informed her superior (and Kuklinski's subordinate) Lieutenant Lee Booth of the situation. Id. Though Booth confirmed Harassing Officer's misconduct by reviewing video footage recorded on the Depository's camera, Booth declined to discipline Harassing Officer. Id. A few months later, Harassing Officer spied on Harassed Officer again. Id. When Harassed Officer learned of Harassing Officer's continued harassment, she reported it to Kuklinski. Id. Booth confirmed Harassing Officer's misconduct and later completed an incident report documenting the events. Id. at 1277.

         With a record of Harassing Officer's improper surveillance on file, upper management- specifically, the Depository's legal counsel, Irwin Ansher-investigated Harassed Officer's claims of sexual harassment. [DE 117-20, Ex. 22 at 1712]. Upper management selected Inspector John Seiple to conduct the investigation. Id.

         At the close of the investigation, Kuklinski reviewed Seiple's findings and determined that Harassing Officer should be removed, and later drafted a proposal to that effect. [DE 117-1, Ex. 2 at 1298, 1314]. The proposal was circulated between human-resources workers, the Depository's attorneys, and other Depository officials. Id. at 1311-14.

         Upper management rejected Kuklinski's proposal to remove Harassing Officer and decided instead to either reprimand or suspend Harassing Officer. [DE 117 at 1280]. When Kuklinski insisted that removal was the only discipline that would end Harassing Officer's misconduct, upper management removed Kuklinski as the officer in charge of disciplining Harassing Officer. Id. Kuklinski's removal came shortly after Trent Keltner, president of the Officers' union, informed Chief of U.S. Mint Police, Dennis O'Connor, and the Depository's Field Chief, Bert Barnes, that Keltner believed Kuklinski was biased against Harassing Officer because Kuklinski had an inappropriate personal relationship with Harassed Officer. Id. at 1280, 1282.

         Meanwhile, Harassing Officer submitted a rebuttal to his proposed discipline. Id. at 1280. He claimed that Harassed Officer perjured herself, that management conducted an unauthorized investigation into Harassing Officer's purported misconduct, that there was a hostile work environment at the Depository, and that Harassed Officer had an improper relationship with Kuklinski. Id. Ultimately, Deputy Chief Bill Bailey issued Harassing Officer a letter of reprimand. [DE 117-8, Ex. 10 at 1414].

         Harassing Officer continued to harass Harassed Officer, so Kuklinski advised Harassed Officer that she should contact the Equal Employment Office (“EEO”) for guidance.[2] [DE 180-13, Anthony Kuklinski Dep. 131:21-132:1, Nov. 17, 2016]. Harassed Officer contacted an EEO counselor and filed a charge against the Depository on September 3, 2010. [DE 117 at 1282]. Harassed Officer subsequently settled her claims. Id. at 1288.

         While Harassed Officer's claims were pending, the Depository contracted Carol Nichols, an independent investigator, to conduct two investigations. Kuklinski claims that both investigations targeted him. Nichols's first investigation began on July 27, 2010 and focused on assessing Harassed Officer's allegations and Harassing Officer's rebuttal allegations, including the rebuttal allegation that Kuklinski had an inappropriate relationship with Harassed Officer.[3] [DE 117-8 at 1407-37]. Nichols's second investigation, initiated on September 23, 2010, focused on uncovering possible management misconduct. [DE 117-12, Ex. 14 at 1465-66]. O'Connor's memorandum appointing Nichols to the investigation stated that O'Connor expected Nichols to investigate a wide range of perceived management misconduct, including misconduct unrelated to Kuklinski or his involvement in Harassed Officer's EEO complaint. Id.

         A few months later, Nichols issued the results of her investigations. While Nichols found that no inappropriate relationship existed between Kuklinski and Harassed Officer, [DE 108-16, Def.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 17, 1026-33], she concluded that management misconduct-including misconduct committed by Kuklinski-was pervasive at the Depository. [DE 108-12, Ex. 12 at 903-74]. Nichols also concluded that Kuklinski's aggressive management style contributed to the poor morale and performance of his subordinates. Id. at 964-67.

         Based on Nichols's negative findings regarding Kuklinski's management style, Field Chief Connie Stringer[4] spoke with Kuklinski about relieving him of his supervisory duties “pending a management inquiry.” [DE 117 at 1284]. The record is unclear about whether Stringer suspended Kuklinski's supervisor duties; but even if she did, she decided to allow Kuklinski to resume performing his supervisory duties on February 25, 2011, about one month after she originally met with him about revoking his supervisory duties. Id. at 1285.

         On April 5, 2011, upper management began to investigate Kuklinski's responses to his security clearance questionnaire, which ultimately caused the suspension of his clearance.[5] [DE 108-1 at 806]. The investigation concerned whether Kuklinski failed to file federal income tax returns in 2008 and 2009, and whether he failed to disclose outside employment activities. [DE 108-13, Anthony Kuklinski Dep. 114:19-23, Nov. 17, 2016; DE 117-3, Anthony Kuklinski Dep. 159:15-20, Nov. 17, 2016]. Initially, at O'Connor's request, the Office of the Inspector General (“OIG”) investigated Kuklinski's questionnaire. The OIG concluded its investigation on May 17, 2011 and found evidence that substantiated the allegations against Kuklinski. [DE 117-11, Ex. 13 at 1457-63]. Bailey then directed Commander Paul Constable to review the OIG's findings. [DE 117 at 1286]. Constable recommended that Stringer review the report and determine whether Kuklinski's security clearance should be suspended. Id. at 1287. Months later, management informed Kuklinski that his security clearance was suspended. [DE 117-5, Ex. 7].

         While Kuklinski's security clearance was under review, he was relieved of his law enforcement authority and relegated to working in a maintenance building. [DE 117-6, Bill Bailey Dep. 51:7-52:4, Dec. 6, 2016]. Kuklinski could not enter the building he usually worked in while his clearance was in jeopardy. Id. at 52:5-9.

         Two important events occurred on March 1, 2012. First, management informed Kuklinski that his security clearance was reinstated but that he still could not enter the main security building without Stringer's permission. [DE 117-5, Ex. 7 at 1375]. Bailey explained that Kuklinski remained relegated to the maintenance building because of his aggressive management style. [DE 117-6, Bill Bailey Dep. 48:5-9, Dec. 6, 2016]. Second, management notified Kuklinski that he was being assigned to the Investigations and Intelligence Branch, Operations and Training Division, at the United States Mint Headquarters in Washington, D.C. [DE 117-5, Ex. 7 at 1376- 77]. Management explained that Kuklinski was reassigned due to his “history of intimidating and aggressive behavior towards his subordinates.” [DE 108-28, Ex. 29].

         Based on these events, Kuklinski contacted an EEO counselor on March 21, 2012. [DE 117 at 1291]. He alleged that management relegated him to the maintenance building and reassigned him to work in Washington, D.C. because of his involvement in Harassed Officer's harassment claim. Id. at 1286, 1290.

         Kuklinski attempted to settle his EEO charge through mediation. Id. at 1292. During Kuklinski's first mediation, held May 1, 2012, Kuklinski's counsel produced photographs of Kuklinski's workplace and asserted that an employee who is subjected to a demeaning work environment can be entitled to monetary damages.[6] Id. Because federal regulations prohibit photography at the Depository, Stringer drafted an incident report documenting Kuklinski's misconduct and opened an administrative investigation into the matter.[7] [DE 117-21, Ex. 23]. At some point during settlement discussions, Kuklinski provided his medical records to Ansher who, in turn, submitted them to a medical expert, Dr. Neil Presant. [DE 117 at 1293]. Ansher also provided Dr. Presant with a copy of Kuklinski's job description and asked Dr. Presant to conduct a fitness-for-duty assessment. [DE 117-4, Ex. 6 at 1345-1364]. After reviewing Kuklinski's records, Dr. Presant issued a report concluding that Kuklinski was physically and mentally unfit to work as a police officer. [DE 117-4 at 1366]. Upon receiving that report, Ansher-despite Kuklinski's counsel's insistence that it remain confidential-submitted it to Bailey and Stringer. Id. at 1365-66. Stringer assessed the report and informed Kuklinski that he would need to complete a fitness-for-duty exam.[8] Id. at 1368-69.

         B. Procedural History

         Kuklinski initiated this action on September 27, 2013, and later submitted an Amended Complaint on January 24, 2017. [DE 83]. Considering the Amended Complaint and Kuklinski's other filings collectively, Kuklinski's retaliation claims are:

• Defendant revoked Kuklinski's authority to discipline Harassing Officer on March 16, 2010 because, on February 1, 2010, he proposed that Harassing Officer be removed from his position at the Depository.
• Because Kuklinski informed Harassed Officer on June 7, 2010 that she could seek guidance from the EEO regarding Harassing Officer's misconduct, Defendant:
o Contracted Nichols to initiate an administrative investigation into Harassed Officer's allegations and Harassing Officer's rebuttal allegations on July 27, 2010;
o Contracted Nichols to initiate an administrative investigation into possible management misconduct at the Depository on September 23, 2010; o Stripped Kuklinski of his supervisory duties in January 2011;
o Forced Kuklinski to perform administrative tasks and to work in the break room of the maintenance building in March 2011;
o Reassigned Kuklinski to a position in Washington, D.C. in March 2011.
• Because Kuklinski filed a charge with the EEO on March 21, ...

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