Brewer v. Dist. of Columbia

Citation105 F.Supp.3d 74
Decision Date22 May 2015
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 11–cv–1206 KBJ
PartiesWillie Brewer, Plaintiff, v. District of Columbia, et al., Defendants.
CourtUnited States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)

Kerry J. Davidson, Law Offices of Kerry J. Davidson, Silver Spring, MD, for Plaintiff.

Joseph Alfonso Gonzalez, Denise J. Baker, Office of Attorney General, Washington, DC, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

KETANJI BROWN JACKSON, United States District Judge

In the fall of 2009, District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) Chancellor Michelle Rhee decided to fire 233 school teachers pursuant to a purported Reduction in Force (“RIF”) that Rhee maintained was necessary due to budget constraints and poor performance. This DCPS employment action was highly controversial, in no small part because DCPS had just hired 934 new teachers the previous spring and summer, and unlike many of the seasoned, older RIF-separated teachers, the new hires were mostly people in their twenties who were just beginning teaching careers through programs like Teach for America. On October 9, 2009, the Washington Teacher's Union (“WTU”) filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia against Rhee, DCPS, the District of Columbia, and D.C.'s Mayor on behalf of the RIF-separated teachers. WTU alleged that DCPS's assertion of a budget shortfall was a pretext for age discrimination; in the union's view, DCPS had claimed that it was undertaking a RIF in order to discharge older teachers without having to follow the discharge procedures in WTU's Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”) with DCPS. The Superior Court disagreed, granting summary judgment to DCPS on the grounds that the record clearly established that DCPS had implemented the terminations in response to budgetary constraints—i.e.,that the employment action was, in fact, a RIF and not a pretext for age discrimination.

Plaintiff Willie Brewer (Plaintiff or “Brewer”) is a former DCPS music teacher and WTU member who retired after receiving notice that his position was being eliminated due to the 2009 RIF. He now brings suit against the District of Columbia, current DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson in her official capacity, former DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee in her individual capacity, and former DCPS Chief Financial Officer Noah Wepman in his individual capacity (collectively, Defendants). The gravamen of Brewer's complaint is that DCPS's employment action in 2009 was not actually a valid RIF and, instead, was a pretext for age discrimination, and that even if it was a valid RIF, Defendants failed to implement the various procedural protections for RIF-separated teachers that D.C.'s municipal regulations require. As a corollary to his principal claims, Brewer also argues that Defendants unlawfully breached Brewer's own employment contract, and that Defendants fraudulently misrepresented both the reasons why DCPS made the terminations generally and the reasons for Brewer's termination in particular.

Before this Court at present are two motions: a motion to dismiss the complaint or, in the alternative, for summary judgment, that the District of Columbia and Henderson have filed, and a motion to dismiss the complaint that has been submitted by individual defendants Wepman and Rhee. Yesterday, this Court issued an Order announcing that both of these motions are GRANTED(seeOrder, ECF No. 54), and the instant Memorandum Opinion explains the reasoning behind that ruling. In short, this Court concludes that Brewer's complaint must be DISMISSEDfor two reasons: first, because the Superior Court's judgment in the WTU lawsuit precludes Brewer from relitigating whether or not the 2009 DCPS employment action was, in fact, a RIF; and second, because Brewer chose to retire when the RIF announcement was made—that is, Brewer's employment was not actually terminated pursuant to the 2009 RIF—and as a result, Brewer lacks standing to challenge Defendants' alleged failure to implement post-RIF procedural protections for the benefit of RIF-separated teachers.

I. BACKGROUND
A. The 2009 DCPS Employment Action And Brewer's Response1

Plaintiff Willie Brewer worked for DCPS for over 28 years. (Compl.¶ 4.) Most recently, Brewer worked at Thurgood Marshall Elementary School as an “Instrumental Music K–12 Grade Level Professional.” (Id.¶¶ 2, 6.) In the spring and summer of 2009, DCPS hired 934 new teachers for the D.C. public school system–these new teachers were mostly recent college graduates at the beginning of teaching careers who DCPS hired through placements by programs like Teach for America. (SeeCompl. ¶ 13; Suppl. Compl. ¶¶ 7–8, 10.) According to the complaint, the hiring of these new teachers was unsustainable under DCPS's budget, and DCPS knew that at the time. (Suppl.Compl.¶ 9.)

The events preceding Brewer's separation from DCPS are largely undisputed. On October 2, 2009, Brewer received a letter that stated that his position with DCPS would be eliminated pursuant to a Reduction in Force. (SeeCompl. ¶ 4.) The letter informed Brewer that employees subject to the RIF “may receive a severance payment” and that Brewer “may be eligible to retire in lieu of being separated from service[,] which would mean Brewer would be eligible for a retirement annuity. (SeeLtr. From Michelle Rhee to Willie Brewer Jr. (Oct. 2, 2009) (“RIF Notice”), ECF No. 24–1 at 2.)2The letter directed Brewer to consult the DCPS webpage for further information, and to contact the DCPS Office of Human Resources with any questions. (Id.at 3.) Brewer ultimately opted to retire from his position as a music teacher. (SeeNotification of Personnel Action, ECF No. 24–2 at 2; see alsoSuppl. Compl. ¶ 27 (contending that Brewer was “forced into involuntary retirement”); but seeCompl. ¶ 4 (Plaintiff was terminated by Defendants as a teacher “due to a ‘Reduction-in-Force’).)

B. The Union Litigation

Brewer was one of approximately 200 teachers who were notified that their positions were being eliminated pursuant to the 2009 RIF. (SeeCompl. ¶ 10.) According to the complaint, a vast majority of the RIF-separated teachers were over forty years of age (see id.), and few if any of the younger teachers were fired as a result of the purported RIF (seeSuppl. Compl. ¶ 13). This Court takes judicial notice of the fact that, approximately one week after Rhee sent out the letter announcing the RIF in 2009, the Washington Teachers' Union Local # 6 (“WTU”), filed a lawsuit in Superior Court to challenge DCPS's conduct on behalf of their members, including Brewer and other veteran teachers. See Wash. Teachers' Union Local # 6 v. Rhee,Case No.2009 CA 007482 B (D.C. Super Ct. filed Oct. 9, 2009) (“Union Litigation”). As explained infra,WTU generally contended that the terminations were not really a RIF but a mass discharge, and it sought to enjoin the terminations pending arbitration pursuant to the teachers' collective bargaining agreement, which required arbitration of discharges. (SeeUnion Litig. Am. Compl., ECF No. 24–3, ¶¶ 22, 30, 41.) In addition, WTU brought a statutory claim under the Public Education Reform Amendment Act, contending that the terminations violated DCPS's statutory duty to “endeavor to keep teachers in place after the start of the school year and transfer teachers, if necessary, during summer break.” (Id.¶ 46 (quotation marks omitted).)

The specifics of WTU's substantive challenge to the RIF are pertinent to this Court's analysis of the claims Brewer makes in the instant action. In its complaint, WTU specifically alleged that the purported RIF was an “attempt to disguise [a] mass discharge[.] (Id. at 3.) The complaint stated that, despite DCPS's assertions to the contrary, there was no “budget shortfall” that necessitated a RIF, and that this explanation was merely a “pretextual attempt” to “discharge a substantial number of veteran teachers[.] (Id.at 3–4; see also id.at 3 (“DCPS' claim that a ‘budget shortfall’ made a [RIF] necessary is belied by the facts.”); id.at ¶ 8 (“DCPS labeled the terminations ... as a RIF due to an alleged ‘budget shortfall,’ but in actuality, it was a mass discharge[.]).) Moreover, WTU alleged that, even if it turned out that there was a budget shortfall, DCPS had caused the budgetary problems on purpose, by hiring a large number of new young teachers knowing that the budget could not accommodate those hires, so that DCPS could remove older teachers. (See id.at 3; id.¶ 15.)

The Superior Court denied WTU's request for a preliminary injunction. (SeeSuper. Ct. Order in Union Litig. (“Union Litig. Op.”), ECF No. 24–4, at 2.) Then, on September 7, 2012, after a limited discovery period, the Superior Court granted summary judgment to the District, finding that “the undisputed facts establish that the RIF was implemented in response to a shortfall that had been created in the DCPS budget[.] (Id.at 4; see also id.at 5 ([B]ased on the undisputed material facts in the record, the RIF was undertaken in the fall of 2009 in response to a budget shortfall, and it was indeed a RIF.”).) Moreover, the Superior Court emphatically rejected the allegation in WTU's complaint that the RIF was “a pretext for terminating more senior teachers who otherwise could not have been discharged[,] finding that [t]he undisputed facts in the record in no way support that claim.” (Id.at 5 n.3.) WTU appealed the Superior Court's decision (seeNotice of Appeal, ECF No. 24–5), and that appeal is currently pending before the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.

Notably, Brewer was on the WTU Executive Board and remained a member of WTU until the Union Litigation ended. (SeeAff. of Pl. Willie Brewer (“Brewer Aff.”), ECF No. 47, ¶ 1.) However, according to an affidavit that Brewer filed in the instant case, Brewer was dissatisfied with the way WTU handled the case in Superior Court. (See id.¶¶ 1–2; see alsoExs. 1–4 to Brewer Aff., ECF Nos. 47–1–47–4 (letters expressing disagreement with Union litigation strategy).) Brewer claims that WTU “refused to...

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