Davis v. Dist. of Columbia

Decision Date31 March 2017
Docket NumberCivil Action No.: 10–1564 (RC)
Citation246 F.Supp.3d 367
Parties Ronda L. DAVIS, et al., Plaintiffs, v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

David Louis Rose, Chevy Chase, MD, Karla McKanders, Howard University School of Law, Donald M. Temple, Donald M. Temple, P.C., Joshua N. Rose, Tully Rinckey PLLC, Aderson Bellegarde Francois, Louise E. Ryder, Washington, DC, for Plaintiffs.

Chad Alan Naso, Douglas Stuart Rosenbloom, Eric Uriol Johnson, Grace Graham, Thomas Louis Koger, Chad Wayne Copeland, Robert Joseph Rich, Office of the Attorney General, District of Columbia, Washington, DC, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT; DENYING AS MOOT PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR CLASS CERTIFICATION

RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, United States District Judge

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs in this case are former employees of the District of Columbia Child and Family Services Agency who were terminated in a broad layoff of agency staff. In this putative class action lawsuit, Plaintiffs allege that their termination was the result of a discriminatory downsizing of the agency's workforce. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that the firings, referred to as a reduction in force, were the result of discrimination based on both race and age. Plaintiffs also allege that the agency's imposition of a bachelor's degree requirement for the newly created Family Social Worker position was discriminatory as to both race and age.

After extended litigation, including the Court's resolution of initial dispositive motions and fact and expert discovery by the parties, the Court now considers two pending motions. First, Plaintiffs have renewed their motion for class certification. See Pls.' Mot. Class Certification ("Mot Class Certification"), ECF No. 144. Second, the District of Columbia has moved for summary judgment. See Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. ("Mot. Summ. J."), ECF No. 146. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant the District of Columbia's motion for summary judgment. Because the Court grants summary judgment for the District on all remaining claims, the Court does not need to reach Plaintiffs' motion for class certification. Thus, the Court denies that motion as moot.

II. BACKGROUND

The Court will begin with a description of the facts giving rise to the parties' dispute and then turn to the procedural history of this case.

A. Factual Background
1. The Child and Family Services Agency

The District of Columbia Child and Family Services Agency ("CFSA") is entrusted with protecting the safety, permanence, and well-being of abused and neglected children and with providing services to struggling families. See Def.'s Statement Undisputed Material Facts ("Def.'s Material Facts") ¶ 1, ECF No. 146–2. Although the parties dispute the exact organizational structure of CFSA during the relevant time period, compare id. ¶¶ 2, 5 with Pls.' Statement Disputed Material Facts ("Pls.' Disputed Facts") at 2–3, ECF No. 148–1, it is undisputed that many of CFSA's "frontline functions" are led by the Office of Agency Programs, including investigating reports of child abuse and neglect, temporarily removing children from dangerous situations, and providing direct case management. See Def.'s Material Facts ¶ 3; Pls.' Disputed Facts at 1. District of Columbia law and the consent decree entered in the class action LaShawn v. Bowser mandate the provision of many of these services. See Def.'s Material Facts ¶ 4; Pls.' Disputed Facts at 1; see also LaShawn v. Bowser , No. 89–1754 (D.D.C. Feb. 27, 2007), ECF No. 864 (order approving Amended Implementation Plan).

CFSA experienced significant budgetary pressure in fiscal years 2010 and 2011. In FY 2010 (October 1, 2009 to September 30, 2010), CFSA's budget decreased by $25.3 million from the prior year. See Def.'s Material Facts ¶ 7. The FY 2010 budget reduced the number of full-time employees from 940 to 892. See id. ¶ 8. In FY 2011, CFSA's budget was reduced by $12.1 million and the number of approved full-time employees was reduced further from 892 to 840. See id. ¶ 10. The agency was required to make the required budget and employee cuts before October 1, 2010, the beginning of FY 2011. See id. ¶ 11. CFSA implemented a reduction in force ("RIF") to meet the necessary reduction in personnel costs. See id. ¶ 12. The RIF, which had an effective termination date of June 11, 2010, eliminated a total of 123 positions. See id. ¶¶ 12–13. All told, 115 employees were separated from CFSA as a result of the RIF. See id. ¶ 14.

2. The Reduction in Force

The parties view the RIF in drastically different light. Plaintiffs posit that the RIF was a simple across-the-board cut with discriminatory intentions and effects. Plaintiffs point to a memorandum dated April 29, 2010 from CFSA Director Roque Gerald to City Administrator Neil Albert that asked for "approval to conduct a Reduction–in–Force ... to abolish one hundred and twenty-three ... positions within the Child and Family Services Agency." Pls.' Mem. P. & A. Opp'n Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. ("Opp'n Summ. J.") at 5, ECF No. 148 (quoting Mot. Summ. J., Ex. F at 1, ECF No. 146–3). The memorandum explained that CFSA "must conduct a realignment to consolidate functions in accordance with the FY'2011 budget and internal re-engineering," and that "[t]he deficit resulting from the realignment will precipitate a reduction in force." Id. Plaintiffs note that the memorandum provided an "agency-wide" list of positions, which purportedly affected virtually every office of CFSA. See Opp'n Summ. J. at 6.

CFSA's Director sent a letter dated May 6, 2010 that informed the 115 CFSA employees who would be terminated by the RIF. See Opp'n Summ. J., Ex. 2 at 1, ECF No. 148–2. The letter did not provide a reason for the RIF, but stated that employees would "be separated from District government service effective 6/11/10" and that the RIF was conducted in "accordance with Chapter 24 of the District's Personnel Regulations and in no way reflects adversely on your performance of your official duties." Id.

In contrast, the District contends that the RIF was the result of a series of separate decisions. The District claims that "CFSA did not utilize a single uniform criteria, test or requirement for determining which employees" would be included in the RIF. Def.'s Mem. P. & A. Supp. Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. ("Mem. Supp. Summ. J.") at 4, ECF No. 146. Instead, relying on the declaration of Raymond Davidson, CFSA's Chief Administrative Officer at the time of the RIF, the District contends that the decisions to eliminate certain positions were the result of multiple individual choices by the Director, working in consultation with numerous managers and senior leaders in the agency. See Def.'s Material Facts ¶ 15; see also generally Mot. Summ. J., Ex. E ("Davidson Decl."), ECF No. 146–3. But see Pls.' Disputed Facts at 3. Mr. Davidson's declaration also focused on CFSA's attempts to create new service models for providing services in the District. See Davidson Decl. ¶¶ 6–7, 10–12, 14.

3. The Newly Created Family Support Worker Position

The parties also apply their competing narratives to discrete components of the RIF, particularly the elimination of the Social Service Assistant ("SSA") and Social Worker Associate ("SWA") positions and the creation of a new Family Support Worker ("FSW") position.

According to Mr. Davidson, CFSA determined that it should adopt a model where Social Workers "are ‘teamed’ with a set of skilled partners in order to more effectively serve the needs of the Agency's children and family clients." ' Davidson Decl. ¶ 6; see also Def.'s Material Facts ¶ 18. To advance that model, CFSA eliminated the SSA and SWA positions through the RIF in favor of a newly created FSW position. See Davidson Decl. ¶ 7; see also Def.'s Material Facts ¶ 19. The elimination of the SSA and SSW positions accounted for the majority of the 115 employees terminated in the RIF.1 Def.'s Material Facts ¶ 20; Pls.' Disputed Facts at 6.

CFSA posted openings for the new FSW positions at the same time it informed employees of the RIF. See Opp'n Summ. J., Ex. 3 at 7, ECF No. 148–2. The FSW position required a bachelor's degree in a social service field. Def.'s Material Facts ¶ 32; see also Pls.' Disputed Facts at 8 (acknowledging the degree requirement). Debra Porchia–Usher, CFSA Deputy Director for Agency Programs, stated that FSWs would be "able to perform casework activities that support investigative social workers to obtain the information necessary to complete investigations of abuse and neglect, including interviewing family members, children, and caretakers[;] assessing the safety of a home and the well-being of children[;] conducting home visits; documenting information into the case record; coordinating with other team members for meetings; and coordinating needed services for families and children."See Mot. Summ. J., Ex. B ("Porchia–Usher Decl.") ¶ 12, ECF No. 146–3.

Plaintiffs contend that the SSA and FSW positions involved the same responsibilities, and that the only difference between the positions was the FSW's degree requirement. Opp'n Summ. J. at 8–11. Plaintiffs present CFSA's job descriptions of the relevant positions, and suggest that the descriptions are largely identical. See Opp'n Summ. J. at 8–10; Porchia–Usher Decl., Exs. A–B. For, instance, the SSA responsibilities included:

"[P]roviding direct support to social work staff and the social work function." Porchia–Usher Decl., Ex. A.
"Conduct[ing] non-clinical home visits accompanying a Social Worker or a Social Service Assistant, as needed, for reasons of safety ...." Id.
"Provid[ing] transportation assistance for clients ...." Id.
"Support[ing] social workers and supervisory social workers in implementing service plans by supervising/facilitating visits, making referrals or scheduling service with providers ...." Id.
"Participat[ing] in case and supervisory conferences as needed; bring[ing]
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