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Howard v. Evans

March 29, 2002

JANET HOWARD, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DONALD L. EVANS, SECRETARY OF THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE, DEFENDANT.



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

Document Nos.: 2, 3, 14

MEMORANDUM OPINION DENYING THE PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR A PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION AND DISMISSING THE PLAINTIFF'S COMPLAINT

I. INTRODUCTION

An employee of the U.S. Department of Commerce brings this Title VII action seeking an injunction to prevent that agency from assigning her to an office space which she considers detrimental to her health. In her complaint and motion for injunctive relief, the pro se plaintiff, Janet Howard ("the plaintiff"), claims that a change in her work environment will cause irreparable damage to her mental and physical health, and could lead to her premature death. After consideration of the parties' submissions and the relevant law, the court concludes that the plaintiff has not exhausted her administrative remedies before initiating the current action and thereby fails to sufficiently demonstrate that she has a substantial likelihood of success on the merits, a necessary element for injunctive relief. Accordingly, the court does not have jurisdiction over the case and denies the plaintiff's motion for injunctive relief and dismisses the complaint.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

The plaintiff seeks to enjoin her employer, the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Export Analysis, Office of Enforcement Analysis, from assigning the plaintiff to an office space which she considers unsuitable, and to have her computer, telephone, and cabinets installed and reconnected in order that she may resume her assigned duties and responsibilities at work. See Compl. at 7-8. The defendant is Donald L. Evans, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce ("the defendant"), *fn1 named in his official capacity.

The plaintiff alleges that her office reassignment from "room 4066 on the fourth floor," which she describes as a "bright, airy, and tranquil space," would cause irreparable damage to her mental and physical health, as she claims to suffer from a systemic occupational illness. See id. at 2; Pl.'s T.R.O. Mot. at 1. The plaintiff has occupied room 4066 for more than five years and argues that a change in her work environment could lead to further health injuries or premature death. See Compl. at 2.

In support of the plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction, the plaintiff submits a letter written by her treating psychiatrist to the U.S. Department of Commerce Director of Enforcement Analysis, Mr. Thomas Andrukonis, dated June 28, 2001, which states that the plaintiff is suffering from "acute and post traumatic stress induced by discord at her job." See Pl.'s T.R.O. Mot., Ex. 1. The letter also states that the plaintiff's recovery must involve the cooperation of her supervisors not to impose "sudden deliberate changes" on the plaintiff. See id. The letter further explains that her employer's disruption of the plaintiff's "office, telephone access, and proximity to amicable co-workers . . . constitutes unnecessary and deliberately imposed stress . . . result[ing] in re-injury." See id. In its conclusion, the letter causally links the plaintiff's heart condition to the aforementioned changes in her work environment. See id.

Aside from various disparaging remarks allegedly directed at the plaintiff by Mr. Andrukonis, and allegedly being the subject of her co-workers' jokes, the plaintiff also asserts that Mr. Andrukonis and the "top level managers" in the plaintiff's office have failed to provide her with assistance to deter Mr. Andrukonis's actions. See Compl. at 2; Pl.'s T.R.O. Mot. at 2-3. The plaintiff further alleges that she has "filed 10 EEO complaints" against Mr. Andrukonis in addition to other EEO complaints. See Compl. at 1. Before pursuing the current action with this court, however, the plaintiff did not file a complaint with the EEOC because she believes that "among African Americans, there is a stigma associated with anyone who sees a psychiatrist, there is also a name for such people (crazed)." Id. at 9. As the lead agent in a class action suit involving thousands of African Americans employed by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the plaintiff insinuates that her employer is intentionally trying to cause the plaintiff premature death so that she would not survive to represent herself and other members of the class. See id. at 10; Pl.'s T.R.O. Mot. at 2. Incidentally, the plaintiff claims that one of the defendants in that class action suit is Mr. Andrukonis. See Compl. at 1.

The defendant counters that the changes complained of by the plaintiff are all part of the U.S. Department of Commerce's plan to renovate its office space. See Def.'s Statement of Material Facts in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. at 2-3. In a meeting held on May 10, 2000, Mr. Andrukonis allegedly explained that the location of the employees in the office would be arranged around the organization of the three divisions so that employees may be functionally located. See id. at 3-4. Mr. Andrukonis also stated that the plaintiff's division would be located in rooms 4061 through 4073. See id. at 3. In a subsequent staff meeting held on May 31, 2001, Mr. Andrukonis discussed the plaintiff's move across the hall to be with the rest of the staff in her division. See id. at 4., Ex. 1, Attach. 5.

On June 18, 2001, Mr. Andrukonis informed employees located in rooms 4066/4068, including the plaintiff, that they should move out of those offices because construction would soon commence. See id. The plaintiff objected to being moved out of her office. See Pl.'s T.R.O. Mot. at 1; Compl. at 5; Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. at 5. In response to her objection, Mr. Andrukonis met with the plaintiff on June 21, 2001, to discuss the various options at their disposal regarding the plaintiff's workspace and proposed several options for her consideration. See Def.'s Statement of Material Facts in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. at 5; Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. at 6. All of the proposed options were rejected by the plaintiff. See id. Mr. Andrukonis then asked the plaintiff to suggest an office location for the plaintiff to occupy. See Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. at 6. The plaintiff did not provide any suggestions in response. See id.

Over the course of the next two weeks, Mr. Andrukonis indicates that he made repeated attempts to secure the plaintiff an alternative workspace desirable to the plaintiff. See id. at 6-9. Just as before, the plaintiff apparently declined to accept any of these proposed alternative office locations. See id. On July 6, 2001, the plaintiff was shown the work space in room 4620, which was a semi-private location with two offices in one work bay, one employee in each office space. See Def.'s Statement of Material Facts in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. at 5-6. The plaintiff supposedly indicated that she would not move there either. See id. at 6.

The defendant alleges that no one in the plaintiff's position is located in an office space similar to room 4620, with the exception of one employee for documented medical reasons. See Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. at 9. The defendant also claims that room 4620 offers the plaintiff a better workstation than the one she had because it would provide the plaintiff with the privacy she has requested and keep her separated from the rest of her division. See id. The office also allows the plaintiff to keep her telephone access just as the plaintiff had before. See id. Furthermore, because construction has already commenced, the plaintiff's old workstation no ...


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