719 F.3d 693 (D.C. Cir. 2013), 12-7078, Primas v. District of Columbia

Docket Nº:12-7078.
Citation:719 F.3d 693
Opinion Judge:TATEL, Circuit Judge:
Party Name:Evelyn PRIMAS, Appellant v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA and Cathy L. Lanier, Chief of Police, in both her Official and Individual Capacities, Appellees.
Attorney:Leslie Deak argued the cause for appellant. With her on the briefs was Ted J. Williams. Stacy L. Anderson, Assistant Attorney General, Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, argued the cause for appellees. With her on the brief were Irvin B. Nathan, Attorney General, Todd S....
Judge Panel:Before: TATEL and KAVANAUGH, Circuit Judges, and SENTELLE, Senior Circuit Judge.
Case Date:June 21, 2013
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
 
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Page 693

719 F.3d 693 (D.C. Cir. 2013)

Evelyn PRIMAS, Appellant

v.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA and Cathy L. Lanier, Chief of Police, in both her Official and Individual Capacities, Appellees.

No. 12-7078.

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit.

June 21, 2013

Argued April 11, 2013.

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 1:09-cv-02317).

Leslie Deak argued the cause for appellant. With her on the briefs was Ted J. Williams.

Stacy L. Anderson, Assistant Attorney General, Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, argued the cause for appellees. With her on the brief were Irvin B. Nathan, Attorney General, Todd S. Kim, Solicitor General, and Donna M. Murasky, Deputy Solicitor General.

Before: TATEL and KAVANAUGH, Circuit Judges, and SENTELLE, Senior Circuit Judge.

OPINION

TATEL, Circuit Judge:

Evelyn Primas, an African-American woman, served for years as a Commander in the District of Columbia's Metropolitan Police Department (" MPD" ). But soon after taking office, Chief of Police Cathy Lanier, allegedly in connection with a Department-wide reorganization, informed Primas that, though her responsibilities would remain the same, she would be demoted two ranks. When Primas opted to retire instead of accepting the demotion, Lanier hired a white man to serve in Primas's position at one rank higher than the rank Lanier had offered Primas. Primas

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then sued the District of Columbia and Chief Lanier, charging them with race and sex discrimination. The district court granted summary judgment in Defendants' favor. On appeal, Primas challenges that decision, as well as the district court's denial of her motion to unseal certain records designated " confidential" during discovery. Because Primas produced sufficient evidence of race and sex discrimination to get to a jury and because the district court failed to state its reasons for keeping the records sealed, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.

I.

Appellant Evelyn Primas joined the Metropolitan Police Department in 1978 and, after working her way up through the ranks, was appointed to serve as Director of the Court Liaison Division at the rank of Commander. In that position, she was responsible for overseeing interactions between the MPD and the courts, the U.S. Marshals, and the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Primas's case traces its roots to September of 2007, when newly appointed Chief of Police Cathy Lanier, a white woman, undertook a major reorganization of the MPD. Seeking to " streamline[ ] the [Department] to better serve the District," Lanier overhauled the MPD's organizational structure and, after reviewing the resumes of all high-ranking officials and conducting several interviews, made numerous personnel changes. Some officials were demoted, others were transferred, and a few received promotions. Neither Primas's division nor her position emerged from the reorganization unscathed: Lanier decided to relocate the Court Liaison Division into a new bureau and to reduce the rank of Primas's Director position. According to Lanier, the rank of Commander was no longer appropriate " given the size of the Court Liaison Division and the responsibilities thereunder."

On September 13, 2007, Lanier called Primas into a meeting and informed her that her position was to be downgraded two ranks— from Commander to Captain. Primas, who intended to spend another two years at the MPD, maintains that Lanier also asked her how long she planned to stay on with the Department, advising her to speak with her family about whether she was ready to retire. Lanier gave Primas a week to decide: stay on as Director of the Court Liaison Division at the lower rank of Captain or retire early. Five days later, on September 18, Primas informed Lanier that she had decided to retire effective September 29 because she could not afford the reduction in salary and pension benefits that would accompany the change in rank and because she believed explaining the change to judges, court personnel, and attorneys who addressed her as " Commander" would be humiliating.

Just a few days later, on September 21 or 22, Lanier selected Captain Marcus Westover, a slightly younger white man, to fill the position Primas was leaving vacant. Critically for our purposes, however, Lanier offered Westover the position at the rank of Inspector— one rank higher than the Captain rank that she had offered Primas. Lanier testified that she chose Westover, the most senior MPD Captain, because she believed him to be the most qualified candidate for the job. In particular, Lanier pointed to Westover's experience in reforming practices regarding " papering" — the process of presenting a case to a prosecuting attorney for a charging decision. As for why she offered him the position at the rank of Inspector, Lanier explained that she had realized " at the last minute" that the Director of the Court Liaison Division needed the authority that

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accompanies the higher rank to deal effectively with judges, attorneys, and agencies who might be reluctant to go along with reforms.

On September 25, having learned of Westover's selection at a higher rank, Primas delivered a letter to Chief Lanier claiming that she had been unlawfully discriminated against and was retiring under duress. Although Lanier maintains that she was taken aback at the accusation, she nonetheless declined to offer Primas her old position at the rank of Inspector because she had already given it to Westover and thought him the best person to implement papering reforms. Instead, Lanier directed one of her Assistant Chiefs to offer Primas a different Inspector-level position— as commanding officer of the Sixth District substation. Primas emphasizes, however, that the Sixth District position was not vacant at the time the offer was made. In any event, Primas declined to accept it on the ground that the proffered position amounted to an unjustified one-level demotion in rank from her old Commander position.

Primas filed a timely complaint of discrimination with the EEOC and then filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. She claims that the District and Lanier discriminated against her based on her race, sex, and age, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights...

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