Jones v. Castro, Civil Action No. 15-310 (CKK)

CourtUnited States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
Writing for the CourtCOLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY, United States District Judge
Citation168 F.Supp.3d 169
Parties Jerry W. Jones, Plaintiff v. Julian Castro, Defendant
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 15-310 (CKK)
Decision Date29 February 2016

168 F.Supp.3d 169

Jerry W. Jones, Plaintiff
v.
Julian Castro, Defendant

Civil Action No. 15-310 (CKK)

United States District Court, District of Columbia.

Signed February 29, 2016


168 F.Supp.3d 173

Molly E. Buie, Robert C. Seldon, Seldon Bofinger & Associates, P.C., Washington, DC, for Plaintiff.

Peter C. Pfaffenroth, U.S. Attorney's Office, Washington, DC, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION and ORDER

COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY, United States District Judge

Plaintiff Jerry Jones is an employee of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) and was formerly the Director of Alternative Dispute Resolution in the Office of Departmental Equal Employment Opportunity at HUD. He is an African-American man. In this case under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, he claims that the agency discriminated against him on the basis of his race, his gender, and on the basis of the combination of his race and gender; he also claims that he agency retaliated against him as a result of his engaging in protected equal employment opportunity (“EEO”) activities. Presently before this Court is Defendant's [10] Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.1 Defendant argues that several of the purported bases for Plaintiff's claims are not adverse actions that can serve as the basis for a discrimination or retaliation claim; that Plaintiff did not properly exhaust his administrative remedies in full with respect to all claims; and that, with respect to the remaining claims, the Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

Upon consideration of the pleadings,2 the relevant legal authorities, and the record for purposes of this motion, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Defendant's motion, for the reasons stated below. The Court grants the motion with respect to the retaliation claim and dismisses that claim. The Court also grants the motion with respect to the discrimination

168 F.Supp.3d 174

claims insofar as they are based on adverse actions other than Plaintiff's five-day suspension and reassignment. The Court otherwise denies the motion.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Statutory and Regulatory Background

As Plaintiff brings claims under both the antidiscrimination and the antiretaliation provisions of Title VII, the Court reviews the law applicable to claims under each provision.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act makes it unlawful for any employer to “fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e–2(a)(1). “This statutory text establishes two elements for an employment discrimination case: (i) the plaintiff suffered an adverse employment action (ii) because of the employee's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” Brady v. Office of Sergeant at Arms , 520 F.3d 490, 493 (D.C.Cir.2008). An adverse employment action is “a significant change in employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing significant change in benefits.” Douglas v. Donovan, 559 F.3d 549, 552 (D.C.Cir.2009) ; see also Aliotta v. Bair , 614 F.3d 556, 566 (D.C.Cir.2010).

“Title VII's antiretaliation provision forbids employer actions that 'discriminate against' an employee (or job applicant) because he has 'opposed' a practice that Title VII forbids or has 'made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in' a Title VII 'investigation, proceeding, or hearing.' ” Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White , 548 U.S. 53, 59, 126 S.Ct. 2405, 165 L.Ed.2d 345 (2006) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 2000e–3(a) ). “To prove unlawful retaliation, a plaintiff must show: (1) that he opposed a practice made unlawful by Title VII; (2) that the employer took a materially adverse action against him; and (3) that the employer took the action 'because' the employee opposed the practice.” McGrath v. Clinton, 666 F.3d 1377, 1380 (D.C.Cir.2012) ; accord Bridgeforth v. Jewell , 721 F.3d 661, 663 (D.C.Cir.2013). “Materially adverse action would 'dissuade[ ] a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination.' ” Id. (quoting Burlington N., 548 U.S. at 68, 126 S.Ct. 2405 ). “To be materially adverse, the employer's action must be more than 'those petty slights or minor annoyances that often take place at work and that all employees experience.' ” Id. (quoting Burlington N., 548 U.S. at 68, 126 S.Ct. 2405 ).

Before filing a claim for discrimination or retaliation under Title VII, an individual must “must seek administrative adjudication of the claim.” Scott v. Johanns , 409 F.3d 466, 468 (D.C.Cir.2005) ; see also Hamilton v. Geithner , 666 F.3d 1344, 1349 (D.C.Cir.2012) (exhaustion required for retaliation claim under Title VII). The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has summarized the process as follows:

Under regulations promulgated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) pursuant to Title VII, the employee must do so by filing a complaint with her agency. 29 C.F.R. § 1614.106(a). The employing agency then conducts an investigation and, if the employee so requests, refers the matter to an EEOC administrative judge for a hearing. Id. §§ 1614.106(e)(2), 1614.108–09. After the employing agency investigates, or the administrative judge issues a decision, the employing agency must take “final
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action.” Id. § 1614.110. If the employee never requests a hearing, the agency's final action must “consist of findings ... on the merits of each issue ... and, when discrimination is found, appropriate remedies and relief.” Id. § 1614.110(b). If the employee requests a hearing, the employing agency's “final order shall notify the complainant whether or not the agency will fully implement the administrative judge's decision.” Id. § 1614.110(a). An employee who is aggrieved by the agency's final disposition of her complaint may then either appeal to the EEOC or file suit in federal court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000e–16(c). Id. § 1614.110.

Payne v. Salazar , 619 F.3d 56, 58 (D.C.Cir.2010). “A Title VII lawsuit following the EEOC charge is limited in scope to claims that are 'like or reasonably related to the allegations of the charge and growing out of such allegations.' ” Park v. Howard Univ. , 71 F.3d 904, 907 (D.C.Cir.1995) (quoting Cheek v. Western and Southern Life Ins. Co., 31 F.3d 497, 500 (7th Cir.1994) ).

B. Factual Background

The Court provides an overview of the factual background of this case, reserving additional presentation of the facts for the issues discussed below. For the purposes of the motion before the Court, the Court accepts as true the well-pleaded allegations in Plaintiff's Complaint. The Court does “not accept as true, however, the plaintiff's legal conclusions or inferences that are unsupported by the facts alleged.” Ralls Corp. v. Comm. on Foreign Inv. in U.S. , 758 F.3d 296, 315 (D.C.Cir.2014).

Plaintiff Jones began his service as the director of the Alternative Dispute Resolution (“ADR”) program of HUD in February 2005. Compl. ¶ 19. On June 10 or 11, 2010, a HUD employee informed Michelle Cottom, then the deputy director of the Office of Departmental Equal Employment Opportunity (“ODEEO”) at HUD, that Jones had raped her in July 2009. Id. ¶ 42. (Plaintiff disputes that allegation. Id. ) That alleged incident occurred before that employee joined HUD as an employee. See id. ¶ 39.

On June 16, 2010, Cottom placed Jones on paid administrative leave prior to being given notice of the charges against him. Id. ¶ 50. He was immediately escorted out of the HUD facility. Id. He was initially placed on paid administrative leave for a period of two weeks, and at that time, Cottom and/or other senior management officials asked HUD's Office of Inspector General to investigate him. Id. ¶ 51. Jones' paid administrative leave was renewed periodically through January 24, 2012. Id. ¶ 52.

Jones was interviewed by Office of Inspector General investigators on August 26, 2010. Id. ¶ 54. Jones responded orally to the wide ranging questions posed to him. Id. Cottom proposed to terminate Jones' employment with HUD in a written notice dated January 6, 2011. The notice charged Jones with several instances of misconduct; those instances did not include the original allegation of rape. Id. ¶¶ 55-56. The charges included claims that Jones had acted inappropriately to four other women (including harassment) and that he lacked candor in denying those allegations to the Office of Inspector General. Id. ¶¶ 63, 68. On January 31, 2011, Jones filed his written reply to the notice of proposed removal. Id. ¶ 58. In his written reply, in addition to denying the allegations that were the basis of the charges in the notice of proposed removal, Plaintiff argued that he was a victim of disparate treatment in light of the charges against him and the inadequate investigation conducted. Id. ¶ 66. Plaintiff subsequently supplemented his written reply on February 4 and February 15, 2011. Id. n.1.

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