Jimenez v. McAleenan

Decision Date20 August 2019
Docket NumberCase No. 17-cv-2731 (CRC)
Citation395 F.Supp.3d 22
Parties Rolando JIMENEZ, Plaintiff, v. Kevin MCALEENAN, Acting Secretary, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

Erin Ashley McNamara, Rani V. Rolston, Alan Lescht & Associates, P.C., Washington, DC, for Plaintiff.

April Denise Seabrook, U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia, Washington, DC, for Defendant.


CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER, United States District Judge

Rolando Jimenez alleges that he has been the victim of discrimination during his time as an Immigration Officer with the Department of Homeland Security ("DHS"). He brings an array of claims against the agency under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"). Rather than move to dismiss, DHS answered Jimenez's amended complaint and then moved for judgment on the pleadings or, in the alternative, summary judgment. Jimenez opposes DHS's motion, largely on the ground that it would be unfair to dismiss the case before he has had an opportunity to substantiate his claims through discovery. Having carefully reviewed Jimenez's claims, the Court concludes that most of them can be fully and fairly decided in DHS's favor without discovery. Accordingly, the Court will grant judgment to DHS in large part, as explained below.

I. Background
A. Factual Background

Mr. Jimenez was born in 1963 in the Dominican Republic. Am. Compl., ECF 6, ¶ 18. He began working for the predecessor agency of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS"), a component of DHS, in 1996. Id. ¶ 19. He is currently an Immigration Officer in USCIS's Fraud Detection National Security Headquarters based in Washington, DC. Id. ¶ 20.

Jimenez's federal court complaint, which follows three agency EEO complaints filed in 2012, 2015, and 2017, alleges numerous instances of discrimination, retaliation, and harassment. DHS has helpfully numbered these events one through twenty; Jimenez has adopted this numbering convention for purposes of his opposition, and the Court will follow suit.

In his June 2012 EEO complaint, Jimenez alleged that DHS discriminated against him on the basis of race, national origin, age, and reprisal for prior EEO activity when it: (Event 1) improperly counseled him for misuse of government email; (Event 2) denied him the opportunity to attend training sessions; and (Events 3 through 13) failed to select him for 11 separate positions within the agency for which he applied.2 Id. ¶¶ 1, 21–29; see also Mot. Ex. 9 (2012 EEO Compl.), ECF 31-3, at 1133 (checking boxes for race, national origin, age, and retaliation/reprisal); Mot. Ex. 10 (2012 Agency Acceptance Letter), ECF 31-3, at 125.

In his 2015 EEO complaint, Jimenez alleged that his then first-line supervisor, Shari Golston, who he says was aware of his prior EEO activity, see Am. Compl. ¶¶ 30–35, (Event 14) falsely accused him of failing to turn in weekly reports and a telework agreement, id. ¶¶ 36–47, and lying to her about speaking with an IT employee about a computer problem, id. ¶¶ 48–57. According to Jimenez, roughly a month after he filed the 2015 EEO complaint, Golston and Jimenez's second-line supervisor, Matthew O'Brien, again chastised him for failing to turn in periodic work reports; the EEO counselor on the case contacted Golston to inform her that Jimenez had complained of additional harassment based on these purportedly false accusations. Id. ¶¶ 59, 63–64. (Event 15) A few weeks later, Golston allegedly contacted INTERPOL—where Jimenez was completing a two-year detail—to falsely accuse him of sending "Red Notices"4 to a personal email account contrary to INTERPOL policy. Id. ¶¶ 65–69. This accusation, Jimenez said, led INTERPOL to terminate his detail 16 months early. Id. ¶¶ 71–72. (Event 16) The following month, in July 2015, Golston purportedly denied Jimenez's request to attend a training session that other employees were permitted to attend. Id. ¶¶ 79–81. (Event 17) Finally, Jimenez alleged that he was the only employee in his branch to be denied access to an agency information system—the Homeland Security Data Network ("HSDN")—which is used to share sensitive but not classified information and which he says he needed to complete work assignments. Id. ¶¶ 82–89.5

Although Jimenez had two new supervisors as of Spring 2017, his grievances persisted. He filed another EEO complaint in June 2017,6 alleging three instances of reprisal for his prior EEO activity. (Event 18) First, that he was suspended without pay in March 2017 based on Golston's "false reports" that he had sent Red Notices to his personal email account while on detail at INTERPOL. Id. ¶¶ 90–91. Then, that he was subjected to a hostile work environment from April 2017 to July 2017 because (Event 19) his new "management unfairly scrutinized his work" and (Event 20) imposed new job requirements that were impossible to meet because of that "unfair scrutiny." Id. ¶¶ 96–100. As a result, Jimenez charged, his supervisors downgraded his performance evaluation from "Achieved Excellence" to "Achieved Expectations." Id. ¶ 101.

Jimenez's federal complaint advances eight counts based on these twenty events: Title VII claims for retaliatory hostile work environment based on prior EEO activity (Count I), retaliation for prior EEO activity (Count II), discrimination based on race (Count III), hostile work environment based on race (Count IV), discrimination based on national origin (Count V), and hostile work environment based on national origin (Count VI); and ADEA claims for discrimination based on age (Count VII) and hostile work environment based on age (Count VIII). Jimenez's complaint does not specify which of the twenty events described above support which of his eight claims and instead incorporates by reference all preceding paragraphs into each claim.

In his briefing, Jimenez clarifies that he "does not claim age, race and national origin as bases" for Events 14 through 20, which comprise the allegations advanced in his 2015 and 2017 EEO complaints. Opp., ECF 27, at 14. Instead, he alleges only reprisal and retaliatory hostile work environment arising out of those events. See id. The Court takes this to mean that Counts III through VIII are based exclusively on the allegations set forth in his 2012 EEO complaint while Count I is based on the events alleged in the 2015 and 2017 complaints, see infra Part III(A)(2)(b), and Count II is based on the events identified in all three EEO complaints. For ease of reference, the following chart summarizes the Court's interpretation of Jimenez's underlying claims and corresponding administrative complaints.

 Count Events EEO Complaint
                  Count I: retaliatory hostile         Events 14 through 20     2015, 2017
                  work environment
                  Count II: retaliation for prior      Events 1 through 20      2012, 2015, 2017
                  EEO activity
                  Count III: racial                    Events 1 through 13      2012
                  Count IV: hostile work               Events 1 through 13      2012
                  environment based on race
                  Count V: national origin             Events 1 through 13      2012
                  Count VI: hostile work               Events 1 through 13      2012
                  environment based on
                  national origin
                  Count VII: age discrimination        Events 1 through 13      2012
                  Count VIII: hostile work             Events 1 through 13      2012
                  environment based on age
B. Procedural Background

Jimenez filed the operative amended complaint in April 2018, see Am. Compl., ECF 6, and the government answered in July 2018, see Answer, ECF 8. Then, before discovery commenced and with leave of the Court, DHS moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), or, in the alternative, for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56(a). See Mem. in Supp. of Mot. for J. Pleadings or Summ. J. ("Mot.), ECF 31-1.7 Jimenez opposes the motion, which he treats exclusively as one for judgment on the pleadings because discovery has not commenced. See Opp. at 1, 11–13.8 After much delay,9 the motion is ripe for this Court's review.

II. Standard of Review

A party may move for judgment on the pleadings after the pleadings are closed but early enough so as not to delay trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c).10 A movant is entitled to judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) if it "demonstrates that no material fact is in dispute and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Schuler v. PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP, 514 F.3d 1365, 1370 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (quoting Peters v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., 966 F.2d 1483, 1485 (D.C. Cir. 1992) ). The parties dispute whether this standard is more like that for a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) or a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56. The answer is that it depends. " Rule 12(h)(2) [ (B) ] expressly authorizes a party to file a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(c)." Saunders-El v. Rohde, 778 F.3d 556, 559 (7th Cir. 2015). In other words, Rule 12(c) may serve as an "auxiliary or supplementary procedural device to determine the sufficiency of the case before proceeding any further." 5C Charles A. Wright & Arthur Miller, Fed. Prac. & Proc. § 1367 (3d ed. 2019). When that's the case—as it is here—the standard of review is "functionally equivalent" to that for a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Rollins v. Wackenhut Servs., Inc., 703 F.3d 122, 130 (D.C. Cir. 2012) (explaining that "the requirements of Iqbal and Twombly ... apply to a Rule 12(c) motion, which here is functionally equivalent to a Rule 12(b)(6) motion"); see also Nichols v. Young, 248 F. Supp. 3d 1, 6 (D.D.C. 2017) (explaining that the "sole difference" between the two rules is that "a Rule 12(c) motion is the proper vehicle to raise such a challenge after the defendant has answered"). Under that standard, the Court must decide whether the complaint contains "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ...

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