ABDUL K. KALLON, District Judge.
Shelly O. DeVillo filed this action alleging that her former employer, Vision Centric, Inc., violated the Defense Contractor Whistleblower Protection Act, 10 U.S.C. § 2409 ("WPA"), by discharging her in retaliation for reporting potential violations of the Federal Acquisitions Regulations ("FAR"). See generally doc. 1. Presently before the court is Vision Centric's motion for summary judgment, doc. 22, which is fully briefed, docs. 22; 27; 30, and ripe for review. For the reasons stated below, the motion is due to be granted.
I. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), summary judgment is proper "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." "Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (alteration in original). The moving party bears the initial burden of proving the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Id. at 323. The burden then shifts to the non-moving party, who is required to go "beyond the pleadings" to establish that there is a "genuine issue for trial." Id. at 324 (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). A dispute about a material fact is "genuine" if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).
The court must construe the evidence and all reasonable inferences arising from it in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970); see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 244 (all justifiable inferences must be drawn in the non-moving party's favor). Any factual dispute will be resolved in the non-moving party's favor when sufficient competent evidence supports that party's version of the disputed facts. But see Pace v. Capobianco, 238 F.3d 1275, 1276-78 (11th Cir. 2002) (a court is not required to resolve disputes in the non-moving party's favor when that party's version of events is supported by insufficient evidence). However, "mere conclusions and unsupported factual allegations are legally insufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion." Ellis v. England, 432 F.3d 1321, 1326 (11th Cir. 2005) (citing Bald Mountain Park, Ltd. v. Oliver, 863 F.2d 1560, 1563 (11th Cir. 1989)). Moreover, "[a] mere `scintilla' of evidence supporting the opposing party's position will not suffice; there must be enough of a showing that a jury could reasonably find for that party." Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1577 (11th Cir. 1990) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252).
II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
DeVillo worked as a project coordinator for Vision Centric, a defense contractor. During the relevant period, Vision Centric worked on a project known as the "Fuel Depot Contract" with the United States Army Corps of Engineers. See doc. 23-1 at 5. DeVillo reported directly to Cynthia Cotton, Vision Centric's Task Order Lead at the "DLA [Defense Logistic Agency] Fuel Group." Id. at 6.
At some point after DeVillo started her employment, Bridget Knatt, an administrative assistant with the Army Corps of Engineers, began working with the DLA Fuel Group as the government's onsite representative. See id. at 11. Knatt engaged in "hands on" supervision of DeVillo's team. See doc. 23-1 at 7 ("Bridget's position was as a direct supervisor for our group."). DeVillo and Knatt undisputedly engaged in some degree of verbal conflict
Before DeVillo could meet with Curry, DeVillo and Knatt engaged in further disagreements. The final one involved a shouting match that led to Cotton asking DeVillo to meet with her. See doc. 23-1 at 22-23. After DeVillo told Cotton, "We cannot work like this . . . I feel I have no other option but to file a complaint," Cotton immediately asked for DeVillo's badges, directed DeVillo to clean out her desk, and instructed DeVillo to meet her at Curry's office. See doc. 23-1 at 23-24. During the meeting, DeVillo told Curry that she believed Knatt's supervision of her team violated the FAR and the subcontract.
The WPA prohibits retaliation against employees of defense contractors who report certain types of misconduct. See 10 U.S.C. § 2409(a)(1). As Vision Centric correctly notes, "there is little judicial gloss regarding the proper framework to adjudicate claims under the WPA." Doc. 22 at 18. Indeed, it appears the Eleventh Circuit has not addressed the issue.
A. DeVillo Cannot Establish a
Prima Facie Case.
Vision Centric contends that DeVillo cannot establish a prima facie case because Virgil Curry did not know that DeVillo had complained of possible violations of the FAR prior to his decision to separate her from employment with Vision Centric. See doc. 22 at 18-19.
Perhaps because DeVillo recognizes that she cannot establish a prima facie case if Curry is the decision maker, DeVillo contends instead that Curry was a mere "cat's paw" for Cotton's decision, acting under "apparent authority," to discharge DeVillo. See doc. 27 at 27.
To establish a prima facie case of retaliation, an employee must show that "what he said . . . put [the employer] on notice that he was protesting an illegal employment practice." EEOC v. Shoney's, Inc., 536 F.Supp. 875, 877 (N.D. Ala. 1982). See also Saridakis v. S. Broward Hosp. Dist., 681 F.Supp.2d 1338, 1353 (S.D. Fla. 2009) ("[A]n employee's complaint cannot be so vague that an employer is unaware the complaint concerns illegal [conduct] . . . ."). Although DeVillo undisputedly complained to Cotton about her personal issues with Knatt, DeVillo does not explicitly state in her deposition testimony or the declaration she submitted in opposition to summary judgment that she told Cotton that Knatt's supervision of her team violated the FAR or any other law.
B. DeVillo Cannot Rebut Vision Centric's Legitimate, Nonretaliatory Reason for her Discharge.
Alternatively, DeVillo's claim fails because of Curry's legitimate, nonretaliatory reasons for discharging DeVillo, including his belief that DeVillo had behaved unprofessionally or confrontationally toward Vision Centric's customer (the Army Corps of Engineers) through her disputes with Knatt.
Because these are reasons that might motivate a reasonable employer, see Kilgore v. Trussville Dev., L.L.C., 646 F. App'x 765, 774-75 (11th Cir. 2016) ("[B]eing rude or discourteous towards guests `might motivate a reasonable employer' engaged primarily in customer service to discharge an employee, even if she does dispute whether she was in fact rude or discourteous toward guests."), to survive summary judgment, DeVillo must demonstrate "such weaknesses, implausibilities, inconsistencies, incoherencies, or contradictions in [Vision Centric's] proffered legitimate reasons for its action that a reasonable factfinder could find them unworthy of credence," see Combs v. Plantation Patterns, Meadowcraft, Inc., 106 F.3d 1519, 1538 (11th Cir. 1997). DeVillo attempts to do so here by "den[ying] telling Curry" that "Knatt couldn't tell her what to do `because she was a GS-5,'" doc. 27 at 30, and insisting that she was not "aggressive, hostile, insubordinate, or inappropriate to Knatt in any way," id. Unfortunately, these contentions are insufficient to prove that Curry did not reasonably believe that DeVillo had behaved inappropriately toward Knatt. Moreover, based on the record, Curry formed this belief based on what Cotton told him — i.e., that DeVillo and Knatt had engaged "in an altercation," doc. 23-2 at 16, and from DeVillo's statements to Curry, including that Knatt "had no right to speak to [her] in that manner," doc. 23-1 at 24. Regardless of whether DeVillo's underlying points had merit, Curry believed that Knatt, "as a customer, [had] the right to say what is acceptable and isn't acceptable on a product that [she] asked for." Doc. 23-2 at 12. See also id. at 13 ("[I]f we have a problem with that customer, we work it — we don't get aggressive and become almost confrontational with the customer. That's not the protocol we take."). Based on this evidence, DeVillo cannot prove that Curry had no reasonable basis for concluding that DeVillo's continuing to work on the Fuel Depot Contract would prove detrimental to his relationship with his client.
Ultimately, even if Curry or Cotton knew specifically about DeVillo's FAR complaints prior to DeVillo's separation, DeVillo has failed to present evidence that the alleged retaliatory intent was the but-for cause of her separation. See Univ. of Tex. Southwestern Med. Ct. v. Nassar, 133 S.Ct. 2517, 2528 (2013) ("Title VII retaliation claims require proof that the desire to retaliate was the but-for cause of the challenged employment action."); id. at 2533 ("This requires proof that the unlawful retaliation would not have occurred in the absence of the alleged wrongful action or actions of the employer.") (emphasis added). DeVillo admits that one of the three options Curry offered was "administrative leave" until Curry could find another position for DeVillo (i.e., one where she would not have to work alongside Knatt), doc. 23-1 at 27, and Curry testified that he presented DeVillo with this option because he "really didn't want to lose [her]," doc. 23-2 at 13-14. The only reasonable inference, based on this record, is that Curry believed it was necessary to separate DeVillo and Knatt due to the undisputed personality conflict, and, because he had no control over Knatt,