Czekalski v. Peters

Decision Date02 February 2007
Docket NumberNo. 05-5221.,05-5221.
Citation475 F.3d 360
PartiesLoni CZEKALSKI, Appellant v. Mary E. PETERS, Secretary of Transportation, Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 02cv01403).

Ellen K. Renaud argued the cause for appellant. With her on the briefs was David H. Shapiro.

Darrell C. Valdez, Assistant U.S. Attorney, was on the brief for appellee. With him on the brief were Kenneth L. Wainstein, U.S. Attorney at the time the brief was filed, and R. Craig Lawrence, Assistant U.S. Attorney. Michael J. Ryan, Assistant U.S. Attorney, entered an appearance.

Before: ROGERS and GARLAND, Circuit Judges, and SILBERMAN, Senior Circuit Judge.

Opinion for the Court filed by Circuit Judge GARLAND.

GARLAND, Circuit Judge.

In 1997, the Federal Aviation Administration reassigned appellant Loni Czekalski — then a senior career official — to a new position with different responsibilities. She alleges that the reassignment was effectively a demotion, and that it resulted from gender bias on the part of her immediate supervisor. Because this allegation must be resolved in a jury room rather than in the pages of the Federal Reporter, we reverse the magistrate judge's grant of summary judgment in favor of the government.


Czekalski began working for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 1970, rising through the ranks to become a member of the Senior Executive Service (SES). In November 1994, she became Director of the Office of Communication, Navigation, and Surveillance Systems (known as "AND"), with responsibility for several hundred employees, multiple programs, and an annual budget of approximately $400 million. Czekalski reported directly to George Donohue, the FAA's Associate Administrator for Research and Acquisitions, who had selected her for the position.

On June 12, 1997, Donohue reassigned Czekalski from the position of Director of AND to that of Program Manager of the Year 2000(Y2K) Project, a program within the Office of Information Technology. By memorandum, he advised her that he was making the reassignment because she had "not performed up to the standards I expect from my direct reports, particularly in the area of communications." Donohue Mem. at 1 (June 12, 1997). The memorandum listed four specific areas in which Donohue said Czekalski's performance had been unsatisfactory. Although he stated that this was "a lateral move involving no loss of pay or SES status," id. at 2, there were some undeniable changes in the nature of her job: she now reported to a former peer, supervised fewer than ten employees, managed a single program, and did not have a separate budget.

Shortly after receiving Donohue's memorandum, Czekalski sent her own memorandum to the Secretary of Transportation, rebutting Donohue's stated reasons for the reassignment and asking the Secretary to restore her to the position of AND Director. Czekalski Mem. (June 16, 1997). This prompted an investigation by the Office of Inspector General (OIG), which reviewed the dueling memoranda, interviewed both parties, and prepared a brief report summarizing its findings.

On July 12, 2002, after exhausting her administrative remedies, Czekalski filed suit against then-Secretary Norman Mineta in his official capacity. The complaint alleged that her reassignment was motivated by gender discrimination, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Thereafter, the parties agreed that the district court should refer the case to a magistrate judge for all purposes. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1).

On March 31, 2005, the magistrate judge granted the Secretary's motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. The magistrate found that Czekalski failed to make out a prima facie case of gender discrimination, both because Czekalski's reassignment did "not rise to the level of an actionable adverse employment action," and because she failed to "demonstrate that she and a similarly situated person outside her protected class were treated disparately." Czekalski v. Mineta, No. 02-cv-1403, slip op. at 16 (D.D.C. Apr. 21, 2005). The magistrate also held that, "[e]ven if Plaintiff could make out a prima facie case, she failed to rebut the Defendant's legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for the reassignment." Id. This appeal followed.


We review the magistrate judge's decision to grant summary judgment de novo. Waterhouse v. District of Columbia, 298 F.3d 989, 991 (D.C.Cir.2002); see 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(3). Summary judgment is appropriate only if "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and ... the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). 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, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, and a moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law only if the nonmoving party "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an essential element 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, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). We must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party (here, Czekalski), draw all reasonable inferences in her favor, and eschew making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence. See Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., 530 U.S. 133, 150, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000); Aka v. Washington Hosp. Ctr., 156 F.3d 1284, 1288 (D.C.Cir. 1998) (en banc).

Title VII prohibits federal agencies from discriminating in employment on the basis of sex. The statute requires that "[a]ll personnel actions affecting employees ... in [federal] agencies . . . shall be made free from any discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(a). Although this language differs from that of the provision governing private employers, see 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a), we have held that the two contain identical prohibitions, see, e.g., Singletary v. District of Columbia, 351 F.3d 519, 523-24 (D.C.Cir.2003) (citing, inter alia, Bundy v. Jackson, 641 F.2d 934, 942 (D.C.Cir.1981)).

Where, as here, the plaintiff's claim of discrimination is principally supported by circumstantial evidence, we analyze the claim under the framework first set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-05, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973). Under that framework, "the plaintiff must [first] establish a prima facie case of discrimination." Reeves, 530 U.S. at 142, 120 S.Ct. 2097. Once she has done that, the burden shifts to the defendant, who must "articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason" for the adverse action. McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802, 93 S.Ct. 1817; see Reeves, 530 U.S. at 142, 120 S.Ct. 2097. If the defendant satisfies that burden, "the McDonnell Douglas framework — with its presumptions and burdens — disappear[s], and the sole remaining issue [is] discrimination vel non." Reeves, 530 U.S. at 142-43, 120 S.Ct. 2097 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). Thereafter, to "survive summary judgment the plaintiff must show that a reasonable jury could conclude from all of the evidence that the adverse employment decision was made for a discriminatory reason." Lathram v. Snow, 336 F.3d 1085, 1088 (D.C.Cir.2003) (citing Aka, 156 F.3d at 1290).

The evidence that must be considered includes: "(1) the plaintiff's prima facie case; (2) any evidence the plaintiff presents to attack the employer's proffered explanations for its actions; and (3) any further evidence of discrimination that may be available to the plaintiff (such as independent evidence of discriminatory statements or attitudes on the part of the employer) or any contrary evidence that may be available to the employer (such as evidence of a strong track record in equal opportunity employment)." Aka, 156 F.3d at 1289. We consider these three evidentiary categories below.


We begin with the plaintiff's prima facie case. Before doing so, however, we note that the defendant has already articulated nondiscriminatory reasons for Czekalski's reassignment, in the form of the reassignment memorandum that Donohue sent her. As the Supreme Court has explained, once a defendant has proffered such a nondiscriminatory explanation, it has "done everything that would be required of [it] if the plaintiff had properly made out a prima facie case." U.S. Postal Serv. Bd. of Governors v. Aikens, 460 U.S. 711, 715, 103 S.Ct. 1478, 75 L.Ed.2d 403 (1983). At that point, "whether the plaintiff really did so is no longer relevant," and the only question is "`whether the defendant intentionally discriminated against the plaintiff.'" Id. (quoting Texas Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253, 101 S.Ct. 1089, 67 L.Ed.2d 207 (1981)); see Morgan v. Fed. Home Loan Mortgage Corp., 328 F.3d 647, 653-54 (D.C.Cir.2003); Waterhouse, 298 F.3d at 993 n. 6. Accordingly, we evaluate Czekalski's prima facie case not to determine whether it was properly established, "but rather because [her] prima facie case is part of the evidence we must consider in addressing th[e] question" of whether she has created a genuine issue of gender discrimination. George v. Leavitt, 407 F.3d 405, 413 (D.C.Cir.2005).

A plaintiff "makes out a prima facie case of disparate-treatment discrimination `by establishing that: (1) she is a member of a protected class; (2) she suffered an adverse employment action; and (3) the unfavorable action gives rise to an inference of discrimination.'" Id. at 412 (quoting Stella v. Mineta, 284 F.3d 135, 145 (D.C.Cir.2002)) (additional ...

To continue reading

Request your trial
669 cases
  • Harris v. Wackenhut Services, Inc., Civil Action No. 04-2132 (RBW).
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • December 9, 2008
    ...constitutes an adverse employment action," as does a "reassignment with significantly different responsibilities." Czekalski v. Peters, 475 F.3d 360, 364 (D.C.Cir.2007) (citation omitted). However, "[m]ere idiosyncracies of personal preference" are "not sufficient to state an injury." Brown......
  • Pinson v. U.S. Dep't of Justice
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • March 30, 2017
    ..., 477 U.S. at 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, and "eschew[s] making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence," Czekalski v. Peters , 475 F.3d 360, 363 (D.C. Cir. 2007). Nonetheless, "conclusory allegations" and "unsubstantiated speculation," by the nonmovant "do not create genuine issues of......
  • Ragsdale v. Holder
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • November 2, 2009
    ...animus in the decision to deny the plaintiff's request for advance annual leave during pay period 13. See Czekalski v. Peters, 475 F.3d 360, 368-69 (D.C.Cir.2007) (discussing what is known as the same-actor inference, noting that the fact that the same person who reassigned the plaintiff fo......
  • Macon v. U.S. Capitol Police Bd.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • June 29, 2017
    ...suffered an adverse employment action; and (3) the unfavorable action gives rise to an inference of discrimination." Czekalski v. Peters, 475 F.3d 360, 364 (D.C.Cir.2007) (quoting George v. Leavitt, 407 F.3d 405, 412 (D.C.Cir.2005) ). "At the motion to dismiss stage, however, a plaintiff ne......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 firm's commentaries
  • Who Is Merrick Garland And What Does His Nomination Mean For Labor And Employment Law?
    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • March 29, 2016
    ...judgment for employers on Title VII claims. However, in both Steele v. Schafer, 535 F.3d 689 (D.C. Cir. 2008), and Czekalski v. Peters, 475 F.3d 360 (D.C. Cir. 2007), Judge Garland reversed the lower court's grant of summary judgment on Title VII claims for employers. Finally, in the notewo......
1 books & journal articles

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT