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LEE v. CHRISTIAN COALITION OF AMERICA
July 27, 2001
ELIZABETH LEE ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
CHRISTIAN COALITION OF AMERICA, INC. ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Urbina, District Judge.
GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART THE PLAINTIFFS' MOTION
FOR A PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION
Both sides in this racially charged case frame their positions
with incendiary rhetoric. The plaintiffs, ten current and former
African-American employees of the Christian Coalition of America
("the Coalition"), move the court for a preliminary injunction
to prevent their employer from engaging in any retaliatory
conduct toward them. The plaintiffs, all of whom work or worked
in the data-entry or remittance departments of the Coalition's
Washington, D.C. office, filed their complaint on February 23,
2001. They explain that they brought this "lawsuit in 2001
concerning Jim Crow-style racial discrimination." See Pls.'
Reply ("Reply") at 16. The plaintiffs filed a first amended
complaint on May 25, 2001. On July 5, 2001, the plaintiffs moved
this court for a preliminary injunction, arguing that in
retaliation for their lawsuit, the defendants*fn1 have cut
their work hours dramatically, forcing several of them to quit.
Firing back, the Coalition contends that the plaintiffs'
motion for a preliminary injunction "is merely an attempt to
generate negative publicity against the Coalition and to force
wide-ranging discovery prior to a ruling on defendants'
dispositive motions to dismiss and accompanying motions to stay
discovery." See Defs.' Opp'n to Mot. for Prelim. Inj. ("Defs.'
Opp'n") at 1. The defendants argue that because the plaintiffs
have made a relatively weak
showing in their motion for injunctive relief, the court should
deny the plaintiffs' motion.
For the reasons that follow, the court will grant in part and
deny in part the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary
Founded in 1989 by Pat Robertson "to give Christians a voice
in government," the Christian Coalition "represent[s] a growing
group of nearly 2 million people of faith to have a voice in the
conversation we call democracy." See
http://www.cc.org/aboutcca/mission.html, last visited on July
25, 2001. The Coalition, a non-profit corporation under section
501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code, is incorporated under
the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia. See First Am. Compl.
In June 2000, the Coalition moved its headquarters from
Chesapeake, Virginia to Washington, D.C. See Defs.' Opp'n at
7; First Am. Compl. at 3. To help staff its Washington office,
the Coalition hired All-U-Need personnel, an employment agency.
See Defs.' Opp'n at 8. When she was first hired in June 2000,
Elizabeth Lee, an African-American woman, was an hourly employee
of this agency and had no supervisory authority. In mid-November
2000, the Coalition offered her, and she accepted, a promotion
to a salaried supervisory position, Remittance Manager. See
The other nine plaintiffs — Eboni N. Coatley-el, Monica
Hagans, Latasha Lee, Lanae McCollum, Cynthia Moore, Tina M.
Smith, Lisa J. Sutton, Norma Vaughn, and Marion R. Wilson — are
all African-American women. Hired between June 2000 and January
2001, these nine plaintiffs work or worked at an hourly rate of
pay between $6.50 and $8. See First Am. Compl. at 3. Elizabeth
Lee earns a salary of $12 per hour. See E. Lee First Decl. at
3. Every plaintiff works or worked in the Coalition's remittance
and data entry department. See First Am. Compl. at 3.*fn2
According to the defendants, the remittance and data processing
department, which Elizabeth Lee supervises, is divided into two
parts. See Defs.' Opp'n at 8. The department's main function
is to process the mail containing contributions to the
Coalition. See id. As the defendants explain:
The duties of the plaintiffs who are, or were, in the
Remittance division include counting the pieces of
mail, opening them, and tabulating the total amount
of the checks and/or cash received. When Remittance
finished this processing, the mail was forwarded to
Data Processing. The duties of the plaintiffs who
were in the Data Processing division included
entering the name and address of the contributor and
total amount of the contribution into the Coalition
Id. (citing Cardenas Decl. at 2).
The African-American remittance/data entry employees also
claimed that the Coalition maintained segregated kitchen and
break facilities. See Compl. at 9. Whereas white employees
were allowed to use the kitchen — which contained a
refrigerator, microwave, dishwasher, bottled water service,
coffeemaker, and television — the black remittance and data
entry employees allegedly had to take breaks in a segregated
break area "consisting of tables shoved against the wall of the
remittance/data entry room." See id. at 9.
The plaintiffs also charged that the Coalition excluded black
employees from the Christmas party and from events revolving
around the inauguration of President George W. Bush, provided no
health-care coverage to any of the black employees, and refused
to pay the black employees overtime. See Compl. at 10-15.
The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants have violated the
D.C. Human Rights Act, D.C.Code § 1-2501 et seq., have
violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2001 et
seq., and have committed intentional infliction of emotional
distress. See Compl. at 16-19. On May 4, 2001, the defendants
responded by filing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) (lack of subject-matter
jurisdiction) and 12(b)(6) (failure to state a claim). See
generally Defs.' Mot. to Dis.
On May 25, 2001, the plaintiffs filed a first amended
complaint. They now contend that after they filed this lawsuit,
the "[d]efendants engaged in a course of conduct intended to
force one or more Plaintiffs to resign." See First Am. Compl.
at 15. Among other things, the plaintiffs charge that before
they filed their original complaint, the Coalition maintained a
policy of paying a minimum of four hours pay when an hourly
employee reported to work, even if there was insufficient work
to perform. See id. at 16. After the employees filed their
suit, however, the Coalition allegedly adopted a policy of
refusing to pay them the four-hour minimum. See id.
The remittance and data-entry employees also assert that the
previous requirement that each employee process a minimum of 300
transactions per day was increased to 2,000 transactions per
day. See id. at 17. Moreover, the defendants' outside
consultants allegedly told Elizabeth Lee that the plaintiffs
would be allowed only one bathroom break per day, and "would be
expected to type continuously from 9 am [sic] until lunchtime at
12:45." See id.
In addition to the counts alleged in the original complaint,
the plaintiffs added two counts in their amended complaint:
intentional racial discrimination in violation of
42 U.S.C. § 1981 on behalf of all the plaintiffs, and constructive discharge
based on a hostile work environment on behalf of the four
plaintiffs who allegedly had been forced to quit by the
defendants' conduct. Through their briefs and the affidavits of
employees, the defendants deny all charges of racial
discrimination and retaliation.
C. Background to the Motion for a Preliminary Injunction
Before they filed their suit, the plaintiffs maintained that
they "regularly worked full days" in the remittance and
data-entry departments. See Mot. for Prelim. Inj. at 2. After
they filed their suit, however, the work in the office began to
decrease and the work conditions allegedly grew more hostile,
forcing some of the plaintiffs to resign. Only five plaintiffs
remain at the Coalition: Elizabeth Lee, Lanae McCollum, Tina
Smith, Lisa Sutton, and Marion Wilson. See id. at 3.
"According to the Coalition, the work originally performed by
ten full-time, hourly employees is now only sufficient to occupy
four hourly employees at less than half-time, an estimated
reduction in workload of 80%." See id. (citing E. Lee Decl. at
On June 14, 2001, a memo from defendant Roberta Combs was
distributed which was "purportedly meant to `clarify'" that the
regular workday for the hourly employees was from 9 a.m. to
12:30 p.m. each weekday. See Mot. for Prelim. Inj. at 3. The
memo explained that there was "not enough work" to maintain a
full-time schedule for the hourly employees. See id. The
employees take issue with the Coalition's assertion that it has
the right to "agree" with the hourly employees to a work
schedule of less than four hours per day under D.C. law. See
id. (citing D.C. Mun. Regs. Tit. 7, § 907.1). The employees
note that at three-and-a-half hours per day, they are grossing
between $26.25 and $28 per workday. If the court accepted the
defendants' logic, they argue, the defendants could continue to
reduce the "assigned" work hours to one or two hours per day.
See id. "Defendants are slowly forcing Plaintiffs['] pay down
to a level where it is less than their commuting and child care
costs." See id. at 3-4.
A key point in the dispute is the plaintiffs' contention that
the volume of work has not decreased by 80 percent. See Mot.
for Prelim. Inj. at 4. Rather, the plaintiffs claim, the
defendants "began implementing a scheme" to reassign work
"secretly" from the plaintiffs to the single white employee in
the remittance area, and to other employees who had never done
remittance or data-entry work before. See id. In her
declaration, Elizabeth Lee says that on June 20, 2001, she found
signed documentation showing that "Walter (`Rob') Schmidt, the
single white employee in remittance, Arlynn Gray, and Tracy
Ammons, had been performing data entry work on June 19, after
the black hourly employees who are Plaintiffs left the office."
See E. Lee Decl. at 5. Ms. Lee states that because the
data-entry work was beginning to pile up, she called Ms. Combs
at about 12:20 p.m. on June 20, 2001 to ask her if the black
employees could stay after 12:30 p.m. to finish the work, but
that Ms. Combs refused. See id. Ms. Combs "said she had
somebody else to do the work. I had to stay and show and tell
Tracey [sic] Ammons and Arlynn Gray how to do the work." Id.
The second principal point of contention revolves around the
Coalition's hiring of an outside consultant, Campaign Mail and
Data, Inc. ("CMDI"), to do the data-entry work. On July 2, 2001,
Elizabeth Lee noticed that 12 shelves that had previously been
filled with data-entry work to be performed just a week before
were now empty. See E. Lee Decl. at 7. She learned the next
day that the work had been sent to CMDI for data entry. See
Mot. for Prelim. Inj. at 5.
To further support their motion for a preliminary injunction,
the plaintiffs include declarations from three former Christian
Coalition employees: Trent Barton, Candace Wheeler, and Joel
Garrett.*fn3 Mr. Barton, a white man who worked at the
Coalition from about December 26, 2000 to February 27, 2001,
said he learned that the Coalition prohibited African — American
employees who worked in remittance and data entry from using the
"front door" into the Coalition's reception area. See Barton
Decl. at 1. "When I asked an employee why this policy existed, I
was told that Roberta Combs did not want `important people' to
see the girls from the back." Id. He also learned that the
Coalition prohibited these employees from using the kitchen, and
that Candace Wheeler — a white employee who began working at the
Coalition in December 2000 — was receiving health insurance
benefits, while Elizabeth Lee was not. See id. at 2. Finally,
Mr. Barton says he was fired because he refused to spy on his
co-workers. As he explains:
On or about Thursday, February 22, 2001, Tracy Ammons
asked me to enter the remittance/data entry room and
eavesdrop on the African-American employees. . . . On
Monday, February 26, 2001, I told Tracy Ammons that I
was unwilling to eavesdrop or spy on fellow
employees. On the evening of February 27, 2001, at
approximately 10:30 p.m., Tracy Ammons phoned me and
told me that my services at the Coalition were no
longer needed. Mr. Ammons said to me that he knew I
would not cause trouble for the Coalition, since I
was a good Christian and [a] man of integrity. I took
his statement to mean that any support for the racial
discrimination lawsuit would be contrary to my
religious and ethical beliefs as a Christian.
Candace Wheeler, a white woman who served as Director of
Membership Services at the Coalition from December 12, 2000 to
April 30, 2001, also states that the Coalition had a "back door"
policy for the African-American employees. See Wheeler Decl.
at 1-2. She says she learned that none of the black employees
had been invited to the office's Christmas party in December
2000, and that they were regularly excluded from other office
social events. See id. at 2. Ms. Wheeler explains that "[u]pon
learning these facts, I became very concerned that the
leadership of the Coalition was intentionally discriminating
against the black women who worked for the Coalition. It is
contrary to my beliefs as a Christian to treat persons as lesser
human beings because of their race." See id. at 3. Lastly, Ms.
Wheeler said that at several prayer meetings after the
filed their lawsuit, "Roberta Combs told the group that she and
Pat Robertson were anointed of God. Mrs. Combs stated that she
felt sorry for anyone who crossed them because `God would deal
with them.'" See id.
Lastly, Joel Garrett — who describes himself as "a Christian
who generally agrees with the Coalition's political goals" —
worked for the Coalition around the time of the Republican
National Convention in the summer of 2000. See Garrett Decl.
at 1. During his time with the Coalition, he does not recall
"ever observing the black employees from remittance using the
front door through the reception area. The only places I would
see these black employees was in the remittance room or the
storage room." See id. at 3.
In response, the Coalition and Ms. Combs vigorously refute the
allegations of unlawful retaliation. They note that the decline
in the Coalition's contributor mail since December 2000 (about
73 percent) "was probably the result of several factors,
including the end of the presidential election cycle and
plaintiffs' incompetence in entering data, which resulted in
numerous complaints from contributors due to too frequent
solicitation." See Defs.' Opp'n at 9 (citing Decl. of CMDI
President John Simms at 5-6).
Moreover, in seeking to support their assertion that the court
should deny the plaintiffs' motion because the plaintiffs have
unclean hands, the defendants charge that plaintiff Elizabeth
Lee engaged in mismanagement, misconduct, and nepotism. They
state that after she assumed the supervisory position in
November 2000, Ms. Lee hired plaintiffs Monica Hagans and Tina
Marie Smith. See Defs.' Opp'n at 9. Moreover, although the
Coalition suffered a 16 percent decline in incoming mail between
December 2000 and January 2001, after all the discriminatory
events alleged in the initial complaint had supposedly occurred,
Ms. Lee hired three new employees in late January 2001:
"plaintiff Latasha Whitfield-Lee (apparently her sister-in-law),
plaintiff Lanae McCollum (plaintiff Monica Hagens' roommate),
and plaintiff Norma Vaughn." See id. (citing Cardenas Decl. at
3). Seeking to cast doubt on the plaintiffs' overall case, the
defendants note that "[w]ithin three weeks, each of these new
employees joined the lawsuit, each claiming she was the victim
of widespread discrimination. These same employees are now
claiming retaliation because their work hours have declined."
See Defs.' Opp'n at 9.
In terms of its use of the outside vendor, the Coalition
explains that from June to September 2000, CMDI provided on-line
data services to the Coalition. Although it ceased its
relationship with CMDI in September 2000, the Coalition resumed
its business relationship with CMDI in March 2001. At that
point, the Coalition gave copies of all the data previously
entered to CMDI, which attempted to integrate it with its
existing Coalition database. See id. at 10. According to the
defendants, "CMDI discovered that the data was incomplete,
severely corrupted, and rife with duplicative entries. . . .
CMDI discovered that the poor quality of the work done by the
Coalition's data processing staff was the primary source of the
data problems." Id.; see also Decl. of Coalition employee
Susan Floyd at 2-3 (stating that the data processing staff
performed well below industry standards, that many were poor
typists who use the "hunt and peck" typing system, and that they
were not willing to complete even the most basic tasks). In
addition, CMDI President John Simms says the remittance staffs
work product was "as deficient as the work product of the data
entry staff." See Simms Decl. at 5. He adds that the data
failure to properly maintain the development database may be
partially responsible for the decrease in the mail volume
experienced by the Coalition since December 2000. See id. at
In the defendants' view, the Coalition made a legitimate
business decision to farm out the data entry work to an outside
vendor since the Coalition's data entry staff could not handle
it in a satisfactory manner. Accordingly, starting on June 25,
2001, "in light of the resignations, no shows, and incompetence
of the Coalition's data processing personnel, the Coalition
stopped using its personnel to do data entry." See Defs.'
Opp'n at 11. The vendor now enters all data on its own directly
from the remittance data prepared by the Coalition. See id.
In terms of some of the other allegations by the plaintiffs,
the defendants offer their version of the facts. For example,
Cecelia Cardenas, Mrs. Combs's personal assistant, explains that
Ms. Lee's supervisors refused to allow the African-American
employees to work past 12:30 p.m. because the Coalition felt the
employees should have been able to complete the processing of
the day's mail during regular work hours. See Cardenas Decl.
at 5. "On those occasions when the Remittance and Data
Processing employees dragged their feet and ...