Earlier versions of this story incorrectly identified Mary T. Majano's attorney as David Jones. The attorney's name is David C. Gray. This version has been corrected.
Suit Against Smithsonian Executive Dismissed
Judge Finds Janitor Was Assaulted, but Immunity Laws Prevail
Friday, April 25, 2008; Page C01
A federal judge has found that a key Smithsonian business executive pushed a door into a janitor, slamming her against a wall, and jerked on her lanyard forcefully in an altercation five years ago, but the judge dismissed a lawsuit over the fight.
The suit by former custodian Mary T. Majano against Smithsonian Business Ventures Vice President Jeanny Kim was tossed out late Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer, who found that Kim was covered by a law that protects some federal employees from injury lawsuits.
Collyer determined that Majano had exaggerated the violence of the encounter, but she also said that "neither was the incident as tame as Ms. Kim would like to portray; she was definitely angry and rude to Ms. Majano." Witnesses saw scratches and red marks afterward, but the judge ruled she could not determine whether the fight caused Majano to require surgery for a herniated disk.
Majano, of Silver Spring, filed the lawsuit to recover damages from injuries she said she sustained in the encounter. Initially filed in D.C. Superior Court, the case was later moved to federal court. It was dismissed previously by Collyer but an appeals court told her to hold a hearing in the matter, which she did in January.
Majano's attorney, David C. Gray, said he is considering an appeal. He said the judge's findings prove that Kim's denials were "fabricated" and that Kim violated workplace policies and should be disciplined. "This matter continues to reflect poorly upon the Smithsonian Institution as a whole," Gray said.
Kim, who according to depositions in the case has never been disciplined regarding the incident, was the subject of a letter Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) sent to the Smithsonian last summer asking whether Kim had been the subject of undue favoritism. Spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas declined to say whether the judge's findings would result in discipline. "We are pleased that this case was dismissed," she said.
The trouble began when Majano and Kim reported for work in June 2003 at the downtown Victor Building, which the Smithsonian then owned. Kim, who did not have her security key card, followed Majano through an unmonitored locked door in the parking structure and the janitor attempted to stop her from entering without permission.
Kim testified that she hurriedly walked past Majano and the women's shoulders collided with a "jolt," but the judge determined that, instead, "Ms. Kim pushed the secured door open forcefully, causing Ms. Majano to be slammed against the wall."
The judge said that as a senior manager in the Smithsonian business unit, Kim "undoubtedly felt superior to Ms. Majano. She assuredly jerked Ms. Majano's lanyard very hard, at least once, leaving red marks on Ms. Majano's neck and visibly upsetting her. She said no word and made no apology as they rode up in the elevator."
The judge said Kim was acting within the scope of her employment -- because she was going to work when the incident occurred -- and therefore entitled to federal lawsuit immunity. "The contretemps between them was a direct outgrowth of their jobs and thus was within the scope of employment of each of them," Collyer said.
Starting as executive assistant to the business unit's then-chief executive, Gary M. Beer, Kim rose rapidly through the ranks to become one of the highest-paid employees in the unit, earning more than $153,000 last year, receiving repeated bonuses and gaining eligibility for vesting in pension programs earlier than ordinarily allowed. Beer said Kim's promotions were based on merit. Kim currently oversees the Smithsonian's controversial relationship with Showtime Networks.