Hudson v. Am. Fed'n of Gov't Emps., Civil Action No. 17-2094 (JEB)

CourtUnited States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 17-2094 (JEB)
Decision Date17 March 2020

EUGENE HUDSON, JR., Plaintiff,

Civil Action No. 17-2094 (JEB)


March 17, 2020


This case is but another chapter in the seemingly intractable feud between Plaintiff Eugene Hudson and his union, Defendant American Federation of Government Employees. A long-time official at the Union, Hudson became the first black person elected to serve as National Secretary-Treasurer for AFGE in 2012. He won another three-year term in 2015. Despite his triumphs, Hudson had a tumultuous relationship with several Union leaders, especially its President. In Plaintiff's telling, his tenure was riddled with discrimination, culminating in his removal from office.

With these grievances in mind, Hudson brought this suit against AFGE, alleging race-based discrimination in violation of federal law. After some of his claims survived a motion to dismiss, the case proceeded to discovery on a narrowed Complaint. Both sides have now moved for summary judgment on what remains. Finding that Hudson has submitted enough evidence to keep some of his claims aloft, the Court will grant in part and deny in part the Union's Motion. By contrast, Plaintiff's Motion mainly attempts to resurrect a number of counts that previously foundered on the shoals of dismissal; as such, the Court will deny it.

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I. Background

A. Factual History

The Court has previously recounted the facts underlying Hudson's ongoing battle with AFGE in considerable detail in Opinions in this and other related cases. See, e.g., Hudson v. AFGE, 318 F. Supp. 3d 7, 9-10 (D.D.C. 2018); Hudson v. AFGE, 308 F. Supp. 3d 388, 391-92 (D.D.C. 2018); Hudson v. AFGE, 281 F. Supp. 3d 11, 12-13 (D.D.C. 2017); Hudson v. AFGE, 2017 WL 4325681, at *1 (D.D.C. Sept. 27, 2017). Because the Court assumes the reader's familiarity, it sets out the history of this case only in broad strokes.

Plaintiff's gripe stems from his employment as an officer with AFGE — a national labor organization that represents north of 1000 federal and D.C. government employees. Hudson, 318 F. Supp. 3d at 9. As the structure of the organization is important for purposes of this suit, the Court spends a moment here. At the top of AFGE sits the National Executive Council, which consists of the National President, the National Secretary-Treasurer, the National Vice-President for Women and Fair Practices, and the National Vice-Presidents for the Union's 12 districts. Id. Within this governing body, the President and NST hold the top two positions. Id.

In 2012, Hudson was elected to serve as the NST. Id. He was re-elected three years later. Id. Throughout this time, J. David Cox served as Union President. Hudson, 308 F. Supp. 3d at 391. The relationship between the two, to say the least, was far from amicable. Id. Not only that, Plaintiff also clashed with several other individuals serving on the NEC. Id. According to Hudson, these disputes stemmed, in part, from racial discrimination against him. Id. at 391-92. His embittered tenure as NST culminated in his removal from office in August 2017. Id. at 392.

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B. Procedural History

Hudson's tenure as NST — the details of which will be made clear shortly — is the basis of two of the multiple actions before this Court. In the other lawsuit, filed on September 12, 2017, Hudson alleges that his discharge violated two federal statutes — the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act and the Labor Management Relations Act. See Hudson v. AFGE, No. 17-1867. That suit, which is still pending before this Court, makes no mention of racial discrimination.

The instant suit does. It comes to this Court following a series of administrative proceedings. On July 11, 2017, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued Hudson a right-to-sue letter after he filed a charge of discrimination and retaliation with the District of Columbia Office of Human Rights. See ECF No. 1 (Compl.), ¶ 9; id., Exh. 1 (EEOC Charge); id., Exh. 2 (Right to Sue Letter). About three months later, on October 10, Hudson brought this action, alleging employment discrimination, retaliation, a hostile work environment, and "pretextual discrimination." Compl., ¶¶ 44-51. In February 2018, the Union moved to dismiss all counts. See ECF No. 8 (Def. MTD). Agreeing that Hudson could not split his claims regarding termination between the two suits, the Court granted AFGE's request as to all but five discrete acts of racial discrimination that occurred during his tenure — each asserted under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. See Hudson, 308 F. Supp. 3d at 396. It will lay out the particular claims in more detail in the Analysis, infra.

Pressing ahead, Defendant has moved for summary judgment as to the entirety of Hudson's narrowed Complaint. See ECF No. 30 (Def. MSJ). Plaintiff, for his part, filed a Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment. See ECF No. 47 (Pl. Opp. and Cross-Mot.). In so doing, he largely attempts to relitigate counts that this Court has already considered and rejected. See,

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e.g., id. at 19, 22, 32, 45, 51, 61 (spilling much ink on previously dismissed hostile-work-environment allegations). The Court, consequently, only examines those claims that have cleared the motion-to-dismiss bar.

II. Legal Standard

Summary judgment must be granted "if the movant shows that there is no dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A fact is "material" if it can affect the substantive outcome of the litigation. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Holcomb v. Powell, 433 F.3d 889, 895 (D.C. Cir. 2006). A dispute is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007); Holcomb, 433 F.3d at 895.

When a motion for summary judgment is under consideration, "[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255 (citing Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 158-59 (1970)). The nonmoving party's opposition, however, must consist of more than mere unsupported allegations. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). "A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion" by "citing to particular parts of materials in the record," such as affidavits, declarations, or other evidence. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1). If the non-movant's evidence is "merely colorable" or "not significantly probative," summary judgment may be granted. See Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 249-50.

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III. Analysis

Before addressing Plaintiff's allegations of discrimination under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981, the Court will first set out the applicable legal framework.

A. Legal Framework

Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer to "discriminate against any individual . . . because of such individual's race." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Section 1981 likewise "prohibits private employers from intentionally discriminating on the basis of race with respect to the 'benefits, privileges, terms, and conditions' of employment." Ayissi-Etoh v. Fannie Mae, 712 F.3d 572, 576 (D.C. Cir. 2013) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1981). Courts apply the same substantive legal standards to analyze race-discrimination claims under both statutes. Id.; Carter v. George Wash. Univ., 387 F.3d 872, 878 (D.C. Cir. 2004).

Specifically, the Court must follow the three-part burden-shifting framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-05 (1973). See Taylor v. Small, 350 F.3d 1286, 1292 (D.C. Cir. 2003). Under this framework, the plaintiff caries the initial burden of establishing a prima facie case of discrimination. See McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802. To pass that hurdle, she need only show 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." Czekalski v. Peters, 475 F.3d 360, 364 (D.C. Cir. 2007) (quoting Stella v. Mineta, 284 F.3d 135, 145 (D.C. 2002)).

Next, the defendant may rebut that prima facie showing with evidence of a "'legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason' for its action." Chappell-Johnson v. Powell, 440 F.3d 484, 487 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802). Finally, if the defendant has produced such evidence, then the plaintiff must show that the "reasons offered by the defendant

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were not its true reasons, but were a pretext for discrimination." Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 143 (2000) (quoting Tex. Dep't of Cmty Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253 (1981)).

One additional point bears mention. This Circuit has emphasized that this framework falls away once an employer has come forward with a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its action. See Brady v. Office of Sergeant at Arms, 520 F.3d 490, 493-94 (D.C. Cir. 2008). At that point, courts "need not—and should not—decide whether the plaintiff actually made out a prima facie case" because it should focus only on the third part of the McDonnell Douglas analysis. Id. at 494. This so-called "Brady shortcut," however, only goes so far: courts should not "rush to the third prong" of the framework without engaging in "serious deliberation at the second prong." Figueroa v. Pompeo, 923 F.3d 1079, 1087 (D.C. Cir. 2019). With that legal backdrop in mind, the Court now moves on to Hudson's claims.

B. Discriminatory Acts

To make out his Title VII and § 1981 claims, Plaintiff must rely only on the five purportedly discriminatory acts that survived AFGE's Motion to Dismiss. See Hudson, 308 F. Supp. 3d at 393-95. These include his allegations that Cox unilaterally: (1) "denied [his] request" to promote a black member of his staff to Special...

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