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District Of Columbia v. King

January 25, 2001

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, PETITIONER,
v.
ROBERT L. KING, RESPONDENT.



Before Schwelb, Reid and Glickman, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reid, Associate Judge

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia Civil Division (Hon. Stephen G. Milliken, Trial Judge)

Argued November 23, 1999

Beginning around 1991, when the District of Columbia was in the midst of a fiscal crisis, the Council of the District of Columbia enacted a series of emergency and temporary acts authorizing a reduction in the District's workforce ("RIF"). *fn1

The emergency and temporary legislation added a new section to the District of Columbia Government Comprehensive Merit Personnel Act of 1978 ("the CMPA"), § 2405, which authorized "the abolishment of excess positions." *fn2 Under § 2405 (a) of the CMPA, "each agency head [was] authorized, within the agency head's discretion, to identify positions, outside existing collective bargaining units, and at grades 11 and above of the District Service Schedule or at equivalent levels of other salary or pay schedules, for abolishment as excess positions," subject to the Mayor's approval, upon recommendation of an Executive Review Committee. Section 2405 (d) of the CMPA also specified that:

An employee affected by the abolishment of an excess position pursuant to this section who, but for this section would be entitled to compete for retention, shall be entitled to 1 round of competition pursuant to Chapter 24 of the District of Columbia Personnel Manual, which shall be limited to positions in the employee's competitive level and shall not include positions in existing collective bargaining units. D.C. Law 9-47 § 2405 (d). *fn3

Mr. King challenged his November 1991 removal from his position as a special assistant to the Director of the Department of Public and Assisted Housing ("the DPAH"). The Chief Administrative Law Judge, Judge Gregory Lattimer, concluded that Mr. King was improperly terminated under the RIF action. The OEA reversed that determination and Mr. King appealed to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, which reversed the OEA's decision. The District of Columbia appealed to this court. We affirm the judgment of the Superior Court, which restored the November 23, 1993 decision of Judge Lattimer and ordered that Mr. King be given the relief provided in that decision.

FACTUAL SUMMARY

The record on review shows the following pertinent factual and procedural background. In 1988/89, Mr. King, who had been a District career employee since 1983, was detailed to the drug policy control office in the DPAH Director's office to help launch a program called, "Not on my Block," designed to eliminate drugs in the District on a block- by-block basis. Apparently as part of the plans for this initiative and a proposed application for federal funding, a position vacancy announcement was issued on June 6, 1990, with a closing date of June 22, 1990, for the position of Special Assistant, DS-301-14, DPAH, Office of the Director. Mr. King applied for the position whose official job description specified, in part:

As Special Assistant to the Administrator, the incumbent provides direction, coordination and advisory services on the widespread, highly complex and sensitive issue of drugs in public housing. The primary focus is on the coordination and management of programs involving the Department's efforts to control and/or eliminate drugs in public.

Keeps abreast of laws, regulations, issues and developments that affect the implementation of a drug strategy; and informs the Administrator of the impact on Departmental decisions and plans. . . .

The incumbent will act as the official liaison and Departmental representative for contacts with public housing communities, the D.C. Drug Control Policy Office; other D.C. agencies and departments; and private and local and national drug control associations for the purpose of obtaining information and resources related to drug enforcement and treatment activities.

Prepares sensitive correspondence which requires in depth knowledge and understanding of the personal policies and views of the Administrator. . . .

Furthermore, the position officially required, in part, the following knowledge and experience:

Knowledge of the purpose, operation, methodologies and techniques utilized in program operations and familiarity with DPAH's organizational structure, missions, functions, processes, objectives and policies to expeditiously and accurately complete assignments. . . .

Knowledge of management practices, theories and techniques to effectively analyze organizational, program and community problems.

Thorough knowledge of federal and District of Columbia drug enforcement laws, regulations and guidelines. . . .

The vacancy announcement for the position identified knowledge of federal and local drug enforcement laws as a selective factor.

Despite the position description for his special assistant position, however, Mr. King maintained that he never really served in the drug position because DPAH's anti-drug initiative was not accepted by the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD"). When the HUD funding did not materialize, and after administrative changes due to the arrival of a new mayor, Mr. King was "reassigned [on January 14, 1991 to the Housing Management Administration] and given the job of being responsible for the trash contracts and the fire contract for the [DPAH]."

On October 1, 1991, Mr. King was notified by the DPAH that his position was deemed "excess" under the RIF law, and that his employment would be terminated, effective November 8, 1991. On November 21, 1991, Mr. King filed an appeal with the TAP claiming that he was improperly terminated from his employment due to DPAH's failure to properly place his position in a competitive level with other Special Assistants to the Director. He maintained that the unique knowledge of drug laws required by his written position description should not have excluded him from other similar special assistant jobs whose position descriptions did not require specific knowledge of drugs. He also asserted that DPAH erred when they denied him his entitled "1 round of competition," and subsequently terminated his employment without allowing him to compete for other special assistant positions within the DPAH.

The TAP Decision

Administrative Judge Robin J. Nash, of the TAP, initially heard testimony in this matter on June 3, 1992, July 6, 1992, and July 29, 1992, but subsequently was replaced by Chief Administrative Judge Gregory Lattimer, without objection from the parties. During the initial hearing before the TAP, Beatrice Smith, Assistant Director of Personnel, District of Columbia Personnel Office ("the DCOP"), testified on behalf of the District. Karen Qawiyy, who was formerly employed with the DPAH as the chief of the Office of Administration and Management, offered testimony for Mr. King who also testified on his own behalf. *fn4

Ms. Smith, who testified as an expert in the field of personnel management and classifications in the District government, maintained that Mr. King's competitive level was properly constructed and explained that when positions are eliminated in a RIF, job descriptions and categorized competitive levels are considered based upon the compatibility of the positions. Therefore, the competitive levels should consist of "all positions in the same pay system . . . series and same grade level with similar duties and responsibilities and qualifications, requirements with the same working conditions except union positions. . . ." Although there were other jobs that had position descriptions that were similar to Mr. King's, Ms. Smith stated that there were no other positions that were established for the singular purpose of eliminating drugs in assisted ...


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