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Fowler v. District of Columbia

November 20, 2000

ANDREW H. FOWLER,
PLAINTIFF, V.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ET AL.,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina, United States District Judge

Document No. 17

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Denying the Defendants' Renewed Motion to Dismiss

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the court upon the defendants' renewed motion to dismiss. On February 11, 2000, Andrew Fowler initiated this employment discrimination suit, alleging that the defendants retaliated against him by unlawfully discharging him from his teaching position at Roosevelt Senior High School in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"). The defendants are Learie Phillip, Principal of Roosevelt Senior High School, and the District of Columbia, through Arlene Ackerman in her official capacity as Superintendent of the District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS").

In a Memorandum Opinion and Order dated July 26, 2000 ("Mem. Op."), this court granted in part and denied in part the defendants' motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. Thereafter, on August 7, 2000, Mr. Fowler amended his complaint to allege a violation of the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, D.C. Code § 1-2501 et seq. ("DCHRA"). The defendants responded with the instant motion, in which they now urge the court to dismiss the plaintiff's DCHRA claim on the ground that he failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. For the reasons stated herein, the court will deny the defendants' renewed motion to dismiss.

II. BACKGROUND *fn1

Andrew Fowler has worked for the D.C. Public School System for twenty-five years. In 1982, Mr. Fowler began his tenure as a full-time English teacher at Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School. In addition to his primary teaching responsibilities, Mr. Fowler served as chairman of the English Department and coach of the boys' basketball team. Mr. Fowler was, it seems, a veteran member of the Roosevelt faculty when Mr. Learie Phillip assumed the post of principal of Roosevelt High in September 1995.

According to Mr. Fowler, almost immediately after arriving at Roosevelt, Mr. Philip began sexually harassing female faculty members. In late September 1995, Mr. Fowler complained to Mr. Phillip and his superiors, and to then-DCPS Superintendent Franklin K. Smith, that Mr. Phillip was sexually harassing female members of the faculty. In response to Mr. Fowler's accusations, Mr. Phillip allegedly "embarked on a campaign to destroy plaintiff's professional reputation and standing in the Roosevelt community." See Am. Compl. ¶ 12. For example, after Mr. Fowler reported the alleged sexual harassment, he received his lowest performance evaluation ever during his tenure with DCPS. See Pl.'s Statement of Material Facts as to which There is a Genuine Dispute ¶ 4.

As Roosevelt High became immersed in an eddy of accusations and reprisals, the District of Columbia was struggling with a crisis of its own. Operating deficits, cash shortages, management inefficiencies, deficit spending, and an overall "fiscal emergency" led Congress to enact the D.C. Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Act of 1995, Pub. L. No. 104-8, 109 Stat. 97 (1995), and the D.C. Appropriations Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996). By this legislation, Congress authorized the District to implement an emergency reduction in force ("RIF"). Prior to 1996, the District's RIF regulations had operated on the basis of seniority. See D.C. Code § 1-625.1 (1992 Repl.). The effect of the new RIF regulations was to allow the Superintendent of Schools to designate each school as a separate "competitive area," so that teachers at one school would compete for available positions only with other teachers in that school, rather than on a city-wide basis. See D.C. Code § 1-625.1 (1996).

As a result of the new RIF regulations, the Roosevelt English Department learned that in May 1996 it would have to reduce its staff by two. See Mot. to Dis., Ex. 3 at 8 (Office of Employee Appeals Initiation Decision). To effectuate the reduction, the RIF required DCPS principals to fill out "competitive level documentation form[s]" ("CLDF"), by which they would rank teachers in the soon- to-be-eliminated positions. See D.C. Mun. Regs. Tit. 5, §§ 1500, 1503. Mr. Phillip devised the method that Roosevelt High would use to calculate the CLDF. The CDLF determination placed Mr. Fowler seventh out of eight English teachers at Roosevelt High. See Mot. to Dis., Ex. 3 at 4. In June 1996, Mr. Fowler received notice that he would be terminated within thirty days. *fn2 See id.

At length, Mr. Fowler filed a complaint in this court, alleging that his termination was the result of illegal retaliation in violation of Title VII. Specifically, Mr. Fowler alleges that Mr. Phillip retaliated against him with "poor performance evaluations, denial of [Mr. Fowler's] applications to coach interscholastic sports, notification that [Mr. Fowler] was to be transferred to another school, and ultimately, ... [his] inclusion in a DCPS system-wide reduction-in-force." See Compl. ¶ 12. Indeed, with respect to this latter charge, Mr. Fowler alleges that Mr. Phillip manipulated the implementation of the RIF in a manner that guaranteed Mr. Fowler's removal. See id. ¶ 13.

On April 7, 2000, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, for summary judgment. The defendants asserted three grounds for dismissal: (1) the plaintiff could not recover punitive damages against a government agency under Title VII; (2) the plaintiff did not follow the proper procedures and did not exhaust administrative remedies in challenging his dismissal under the RIF regulations; and (3) the plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies under the DCHRA.

By Memorandum Opinion and Order dated July 26, 2000, the court granted in part and denied in part the defendants' motion to dismiss. Specifically, the court agreed with the defendants that Title VII does not permit the plaintiff to recover punitive damages from the District of Columbia or its agents. By contrast, the court rejected the defendants' claim that the plaintiff did not follow the appropriate procedures or exhaust his administrative remedies in challenging his RIF dismissal. Finally, and most relevant for the purposes of the present motion, the court denied without prejudice the defendants' motion to dismiss all causes of action under the DCHRA. In so holding, the court noted that although the plaintiff premised jurisdiction on both Title VII and the DCHRA, his one-count complaint alleged violation only of Title VII. See Mem. Op. at 6 ...


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