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Torre v. Northrop Grumman Systems Corp.

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

November 4, 2016

PATRICIA A. TORRE, an Individual, Plaintiff,
NORTHROP GRUMMAN SYSTEMS CORP., a Delaware Corporation, Defendant.


          Laurie Smith Camp Chief United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF 76). Also before the Court are the parties' motions to strike certain content in opposing parties' indexes of evidence. Plaintiff Patricia A. Torre (“Torre”) at ECF 86 moves to strike the affidavit of Trent Dalton (“Dalton Affidavit, ” ECF 78-2 to 78-6); and Defendant Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. (“Northrop Grumman”) at ECF 100 moves to strike the declaration of Jody Karmann (“Karmann Declaration, ” ECF 92-15). The Court will deny both motions to strike, but will give no weight to any content in the Dalton Affidavit or Karmann Declaration that lacks proper and sufficient foundation or that constitutes inadmissible hearsay. For the reasons that follow, the Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted.


         Torre filed this action in the District Court of Sarpy County, Nebraska, on September 19, 2013. ECF 1-1. She presented two claims against Northrup Grumman, both grounded in the Nebraska Fair Employment Practice Act (“NFEPA”), Neb. Rev. Stat. § 48-1114 et seq. See id. at Page ID 16-17. Northrup Grumman removed the action to this Court, invoking the Court's diversity jurisdiction, noting that Torre is a citizen of the state of Nebraska and Northrup Grumman is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Virginia, and that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. See ECF 1 at Page ID 2.

         Northrup Grumman moved to dismiss Torre's Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, and the Honorable John M. Gerrard, District Judge, granted the motion; dismissed the Complaint; and gave Torre leave to file an amended complaint. Torre filed an Amended Complaint, and Northrup Grumman again moved to dismiss. Judge Gerrard noted that Torre's Amended Complaint was “a ‘peculiar document' that reads more like a polemic than a pleading, ” leaving “much to be desired, ” and questioned “why the plaintiff has chosen to hide . . . facts among pages of . . . legal conclusions.” ECF 21 at Page ID 166-67. Although Judge Gerrard was “bothered” by Torre's failure to state her claims “with any kind of specificity, ” and the fact that the Amended Complaint was “admittedly conclusory, ” id. at Page ID 167, he nonetheless found “just enough to nudge the plaintiff's claim past the defendant's motion to dismiss.” Id.

         The operative pleading at this juncture is Torre's Third Amended Complaint at ECF 65, which continues to merit the description Judge Gerrard gave the First Amended Complaint. Her factual allegations are buried in legal conclusions, and the pleading lacks the basic “who, what, where, when and how” information needed to draw necessary inferences to support her claims. Her series of Complaints is a work in progress, evolving as her grievances accrue. Adding to the challenge of construing Torre's pleadings is her failure to include attachments referenced. Exhibits E and F referenced in each version of her Complaint are attached only to her Second Amended Complaint at ECF 62. Those right-to-sue letters issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) dismissed certain administrative charges and adopted the findings of the state employment practices agency on May 4, 2016. Id. at Page ID 413 & 414. It is not possible to determine what charges are referenced by the notices, however, other than Torre's own reference in her Complaints to “charges of national origin discrimination and retaliation.” See, e.g., Third Amended Complaint, ECF 65 at Page ID 437.

         Very liberally construed, Torre's Third Amended Complaint alleges that she was subjected to a hostile work environment on the basis of her sex while she was a contract worker at Northrup Grumman from 2004 to 2015, and that she was subjected to retaliation by Northrup Grumman in the form of demotion and/or termination when she complained of the hostile work environment and/or when she filed her charges of national-origin discrimination and retaliation with the Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission (“NEOC”), and/or when she filed this action.

         Northrup Grumman's Motion for Summary Judgment and the related motions to strike became ripe on October 6, 2016, and the case was reassigned to the undersigned on October 13, 2016, in the interest of judicial economy.


         The following facts are those stated in the parties' briefs (ECF 77, 91, 98) and supported by pinpoint citations to evidence in the record (ECF 78 to 84, 92, 99), in compliance with NECivR 56.1[1] and Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, and not resisted by the opposing party in compliance with NECivR 56.1.

         Beginning in 2002, Northrup Grumman administered a government contract known as the Systems Engineering, Management, and Sustainment (“SEMS”) program for the United States Air Force (“USAF”). The primary location for performance of the contract was Offutt Air Force Base (“Offutt”) in Bellevue, Nebraska. The SEMS contract provided for Northrup Grumman to consolidate and sustain information technology infrastructure for the strategic military meteorology center of the USAF, operated by the Air Force Weather Agency (“AFWA”). The AFWA was responsible for receiving weather data from worldwide sources; running models of land surface conditions, atmospheric conditions, and space weather conditions; and delivering the products to customers including the USAF, U.S. Army, and national intelligence community.

         As the prime contractor for SEMS, Northrup Grumman used a team of approximately 90-100 of its own employees, and 70-80 other personnel from 19-20 subcontractor organizations and universities. Northrup Grumman employees worked alongside contract workers to meet SEMS requirements.

         At all relevant times, Torre was employed by Sterling Computers, Inc. (“Sterling”), a Northrup Grumman subcontractor. From 2004 to 2015, she worked under the direction of Northrup Grumman supervisors as a software test engineer, performing manual software testing in support of the SEMS contract at Offutt.

         In 2007, the USAF awarded Northrup Grumman a second SEMS contract (“SEMS II”). Northrop Grumman adjusted its test approaches based on the requirements of each specific task assigned by the AFWA. Test results were not required to be validated by an independent agency and generally no formal documentation of test details was required.

         In August 2012, Northrup Grumman received an anonymous letter detailing workplace complaints, ranging from juvenile activity to personality conflicts, favoritism, and gender bias. The letter complained about the conduct of male employees, and characterized the work environment as a “good old boys club.” Although the letter did not specify any misconduct on the part of any named individuals, Northrup Grumman dispatched a Human Resources team to investigate the allegations. The investigators concluded that several remedial actions were warranted to address personnel communication, management style, and tension between work groups.

         In April 2013, Torre's lawyer wrote to Northrup Grumman's Chief Human Resources Officer to complain of a hostile work environment allegedly fostered directly or indirectly by five male supervisors. Northrup Grumman conducted a second investigation, and, in the summer of 2013, moved two male managers from the SEMS II contract to an off-base work site due to deficient management skills. One of the male managers who was moved off-site had been the SEMS Program Manager. Northrup Grumman also implemented training to improve workplace dynamics on the SEMS II program.

         Beginning in July 2013, Trent Dalton became Northrup Grumman's SEMS Program Manager. Also in July 2013, Northrup Grumman was awarded a third SEMS contract (“SEMS III”), which included incentive and penalty clauses associated with testing functions. Shortly before the commencement of the SEMS III contract, the USAF announced plans to reorganize and eliminate certain field agencies, including the AFWA. As a result, the USAF moved all SEMS funding to an organization known as the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (LCMC), and moved the operations aspects of SEMS to the USAF 557th Weather Wing (“557th WW”). Northrup Grumman perceived that the LCMC required increased oversight of the SEMS contracts, with more accountability for funding; more formal processes for system testing and product evaluation, including testing by independent contractors; and more documentation of testing. The ...

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