United States District Court for the District of Columbia
January 22, 2004.
SAVITRI SINGH, Plaintiff
UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, COMMITTEE ON WAYS AND MEANS, Defendant
The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROSEMARY COLLYER, District Judge
Savitri Singh sues the Committee on Ways and Means of the United
States House of Representatives ("Committee") for race, color, and
national origin discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil
Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e ("Title VII"), and the
Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, 2 U.S.C. § 1301 ("CAA").
She alleges hostile work environment, salary discrimination, and
discriminatory discharge. At the close of discovery, the Committee filed
a motion for summary judgment, which Ms. Singh opposes. For the following
reasons, the Court will grant the motion and dismiss the complaint.
Ms. Singh is of Indian origin. She was born in British Guyana and
emigrated to the United States when she was 18 years old; she is now a
citizen of this country. Ms. Singh has a master's degree in endocrinology
and biochemistry from Howard University and, in 1987, she received her
law degree from Georgetown University Law Center. Thereafter, she worked
practice as a staff attorney at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP and
as an attorney/advisor for the United States Customs Service before
becoming a professional staff member on the Subcommittee on Trade
("Subcommittee") in October 1998.
During the hiring process for the Subcommittee position, Angela
Ellard, Ms. Singh's soon-to-be immediate supervisor, purportedly received
several negative references from Ms. Singh's former employers.*fn1 See
Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. ("Def.'s Mot.") Exh. 3. Notes from Ms. Ellard
indicate that Ms. Singh's last supervisor at the United States Customs
Service reported that Ms. Singh "pisses people off left and right" and
"doesn't want to listen to other people." Id. Exh. 4. In addition, Ms.
Singh's former supervisor at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP apparently
stated that Ms. Singh left that job over a "quality of work issue." Id.
Despite these references, Ms. Singh obtained employment with the
Subcommittee because Congressman Phil Crane (R-IL), chairman of the
Subcommittee, strongly recommended her. See Pl.'s Opp. at 2
(acknowledging that Ms. Singh "was hired on the recommendation of Philip
Crane, a member of Congress and Chair of the Trade Subcommittee, over the
objections of the Staff Director of the Trade Subcommittee, Angela
Ellard, and the Ways and Means Committee's Chief of Staff, Pete
Singleton"). Ms. Singh was the only non-Caucasian on the professional
staff of the Committee during the time of the Republican majority prior
to her discharge. See Pl.'s Opp. Exh. 11. Like all Committee staff, she
was an at-will employee without an employment contract. See Def.'s Mot.
Exh. 1 at 83-84. Ms. Singh's starting salary was $60,000 per year; at the
time of her termination, she earned $62,000 per year.
Ms. Singh alleges that, upon her arrival at the Subcommittee, she
"immediately experienced Ms. Ellard as hostile and unreceptive." Pl.'s
Opp. at 6. She further asserts that Committee staff subjected her to
hostile and discriminatory treatment throughout the course of her
employment, including "mocking her ability to speak English, frequently
abusing, berating and degrading her, excluding her frommeetings, unfair
evaluation of her work, unfair demands, denying travel opportunities, and
a variety of other measures designed to diminish her stature and stifle
her professional growth." Compl. ¶ 6.
In January 2001, the chairmanship of the full Committee changed when
Congressman Bill Archer (R-TX) retired and Congressman Bill Thomas (R-CA)
succeeded him as chairman. Congressman Thomas had been the third-ranking
member in seniority on the Committee, behind Congressman Crane, and some
"political tension" was created on the Committee when the normal seniority
rules were ignored and Congressman Thomas was made chairman. See Def.'s
Mot. Exh. 9 (Kelliher Dep.) at 65. The new chairman hired Allison Giles
as chief of staff and John Kelliher as chief counsel for the Committee in
February 2001. While Ms. Giles was the primary decision-maker for
personnel issues, she was assisted by Mr. Kelliher, Otto Wolff (who had
worked for Congressman Thomas for a number of years), and Bob Winters
(who had worked for Congressman Thomas for approximately 20 years in his
personal office). See id. at 15-18. This group reviewed the personnel
working for the Republican majority on the Committee and its various
subcommittees. According to Mr. Kelliher, "[T]here's a period at the turn
of a Congress, and particularly with a new chairman, where people are
leaving simply for any variety of reasons. . . . So there was some of
that churning that had to be dealt with. And we reviewed the staff and
what they did and made some personnel decisions." Id. at 15. A number of
people who had worked for Congressman Archer
"understood that there was a change in the regime and . . . they
went out and found themselves other employment, and so it never came to
termination." Id. at 29.
As a result of the review of Committee procedures and staffing, three
staff members were terminated involuntarily: Timothy Hanford, Michael
Superata and Ms. Singh.*fn2 Messrs. Kelliher and Wolff met with each of
these employees and "just simply stated that [they] were reevaluating the
Committee's structure and personnel, and that [they] didn't see a role"
for that individual. Id. at 73-74; see also Def.'s Mot. Exh. 1 (Pl.'s
Dep.) at 205 ("They told me I was being terminated, and it had nothing to
do with my work, that-1 believe they used the words that I didn't fit in
with the new Committee. . . ."). As part of this process, Mr. Kelliher
developed the impression that there were conflicts between Ms. Singh and
Ms. Ellard over work-related issues.*fn3 See Def.'s Mot. Exh. 9 at 102.
However, the group evaluating Committee employees did not consult with
Ms. Ellard about Ms. Singh's performance "because the transition was a
delicate time with respect to all employees and there was no certainty
any one supervisor would continue employment." Def.'s Mot. Exh. 10
(Kelliher Aff.) ¶ 5. Input on Ms. Singh's performance was received
from Mr. Winters and Chris Smith, the Committee's former deputy chief of
staff. Mr. Kelliher explained:
I had been told that [Ms. Singh] had a connection or
allegiance to Congressman Crane. Chairman Thomas had
ascended to the Chairmanship past Congressman Crane .
. . bypassing the traditional emphasis on seniority.
As a result, I believed that [Ms. Singh's] association
with Congressman Crane could negatively affect the
efficient functioning of the Committee.
Another reason for the termination decision was
[Ms. Singh's] poor reputation and unsatisfactory
job performance. Winters had worked with [Ms.
Singh] and indicated that [she] did not have a
good professional reputation, that she had limited
substantive experience, and that she had problems
getting along with others. I was also informed
that several individuals complained about [Ms.
These were the factors I had in my mind when I
concurred in the decision to terminate [Ms. Singh's]
Id. ¶¶ 12-14; see also Def.'s Mot. Exh. 11 (Giles Aff). At the time
Ms. Giles and Mr. Kelliher reached these personnel decisions, each had
been working for the Committee for only about two weeks. See id. ¶
12. Ms. Singh was officially discharged from her position on the
Subcommittee on February 12, 2001.
B. Statutory Framework
Once immune from suit for employment-related claims, Congress adopted
the CAA to put itself voluntarily under the jurisdiction of the federal
courts to resolve employment discrimination (and other) disputes if an
administrative resolution process, which includes counseling and
mediation, fails.*fn4 The CAA incorporates parts of Title VII and
requires that "[a]ll
personnel actions affecting covered employees shall be made free from any
discrimination based on . . . race, color, religion, sex, or national
origin[.]"*fn5 Id. § 1311(a). Due to the inherent political nature
of Capitol Hill, the CAA specifically allows an employing office to
consider an employee's party affiliation, domicile, or political
compatibility in making employment-related decisions.
2 U.S.C. § 1432(a).
It is uncontested that the CAA applies to Ms. Singh as a "covered
employee" in the legislative branch. 2 U.S.C. § 1301(3)(A),
1301(9)(B). Moreover, she appears to have fulfilled her statutory
obligation to exhaust administrative remedies prior to filing suit on
March 18, 2002.*fn6 Remedies under the CAA include, as appropriate, back
pay, reinstatement, and compensatory but not punitive
damages. 2 U.S.C. § 1311(b)(1)(A) and (B).
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine issue as to
any material fact and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a
matter of law. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). This procedural device is not a "disfavored
legal shortcut[;]" rather, it is a reasoned and careful way to resolve
cases fairly and expeditiously. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317,
327 (1986). In determining whether a
genuine issue of material fact exists, the Court must view all facts and
reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving
party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 587
(1986); Tao v. Freeh, 27 F.3d 635, 638 (D.C. Cir. 1994). To be "material"
and "genuine," a factual dispute must be capable of affecting the
substantive outcome of the case. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48; Laningham
v. United States Navy, 813 F.2d 1236, 1242-43 (D.C. Cir. 1987).
In employment discrimination cases under Title VII in the
absence of direct evidence of discrimination courts generally
apply the burden-shifting scheme set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v.
Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). Under that framework, the plaintiff must
first establish by a preponderance of the evidence a prima facie case of
discrimination. If successful, the burden of production shifts to the
employer to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its
conduct. "If the employer meets this burden, the presumption of
intentional discrimination disappears, but the plaintiff can still prove
disparate treatment by, for instance, offering evidence demonstrating
that the employer's explanation is pretextual." Raytheon Co. v.
Hernandez, 124 S.Ct. 513, 517 (2003); see also St. Mary's Honor Ctr. v.
Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 507-08 (1993).
Ms. Singh advances three claims against the Committee for (1) hostile
work environment, (2) discriminatory pay disparity, and (3)
discriminatory termination. The complaint identifies three Committee
employees as essentially responsible for this alleged mistreatment of
Ms. Singh: Ms. Ellard, Mr. Smith, and Mr. Singleton. The Committee moves
for summary judgment in its favor on each claim, analyzed separately
A. Hostile Work Environment
As an initial matter, the Court notes that Ms. Singh did not respond in
her opposition brief to the Committee's arguments with respect to her
claim of hostile work environment. Given the brevity of Ms. Singh's
complaint, the Court is therefore not entirely certain about the exact
nature of this claim, i.e., what specific facts support her allegation
that she was subjected to a hostile work environment. "The court's role
is not to act as an advocate for the plaintiff and construct legal
arguments on [her] behalf in order to counter those in" a motion for
summary judgment. Stephenson v. Cox, 223 F. Supp.2d 119, 122 (D.D.C.
2002). Nonetheless, the Court will not dismiss this claim as conceded, as
the Committee requests. See Burke v. Gould, 286 F.3d 513, 518 (B.C. Cir.
2002) ("[I]n view of the severity of dismissal of a potentially
meritorious claim . . . treating an issue as conceded for failure to
respond fully to a motion for summary judgment `should only be applied to
egregious conduct.'"). The Court instead will use the excerpts from Ms.
Singh's deposition andher affidavit as guidance for determining what
facts underpin her hostile work environment claim. When decided on the
basis of her own statements, this claim must be dismissed.
Ms. Singh's allegations of a hostile work environment center on Ms.
Ellard's purported conduct. Ms. Singh characterizes her immediate
supervisor as "hostile, patronizing and frequently abusive[.]" Pl.'s
Opp. at 2; see also Def.'s Mot. Exh. 1 at 159 ("She just treated me in a
condescending patronizing manner."). According to Ms. Singh, Ms. Ellard
"froze Ms. Singh out of important meetings and humiliated her at those
meetings she did attend." Pl.'s Opp. at 2-3. Furthermore, at a meeting
behind closed doors in Ms. Ellard's office, Ms. Ellard allegedly "started
off about how terrible things were and all the things I was doing wrong"
and, when Ms. Singh asked to be excused to attend a hearing, Ms. Ellard
allegedly told her "to shut up and sit down." Def.'s
Mot. Exh. 1 at 101-02. Ms. Singh also testified about a second event when
Ms. Ellard "called [Ms. Singh] into her office and asked she was
screaming, you know, what was that all about" because Ms. Singh had left
the office due to pain from an out-of-work injury and failed to answer a
phone call from Ms. Ellard. Id. at 124. Ms. Singh's affidavit cites
additional examples of alleged mistreatment, such as not being assigned a
parking space, having difficulty obtaining supplies, being treated "as if
[she] were invisible" by Ms. Ellard, i.e., she was purportedly overlooked
at staff meetings, denied work in areas of her expertise, isolated from
other staff members, excluded from high-level meetings, denied
opportunities for professional growth, and denied the opportunity to
attend the ten-day festivities surrounding her daughter's college
graduation because she was released only for the immediate days
surrounding the graduation itself. See Pl.'s Opp. Exh. 1 ¶ 15. In
summary, Ms. Singh argues that Ms. Ellard was "constantly hostile and
hypercritical, kept [Ms. Singh] out of important meetings, interrupted
the flow of her work to interpose critical editing, credited all
complaints against Ms. Singh, and ignored all praise." Pl.'s Opp. at 6.
As to Ms. Ellard's motivation for allegedly behaving in this manner,
Ms. Singh states, "I believe very firmly in my mind that Angela did not
want an ethnic person in a Subcommittee job of that level." Def.'s Mot.
Exh. 1 at 119; see also id. at 121 ("Q[:] Is it possible that she didn't
want you in that job? A[:] No, I don't no. I don't believe that
at all. . . . I think that it was because she didn't want a minority like
me in that job."). To support this belief, Ms. Singh asserts simply that
she "was treated very differently [from other employees], and [she] was
treated very unfairly." Id. at 122.
In her deposition, Ms. Singh described Mr. Singleton's alleged role in
the hostile work environment:
I had very limited interaction with Pete Singleton,
and . . . all the occasions that I can remember, he
was unfriendly to me.
I remember making gestures toward Pete Singleton,
whether it was in the hallway or cafeteria line and
places like that, and he would not even, you know,
acknowledge me. I remember once when he had a heart
condition and I ran-saw him in the basement near the
cafeteria [and] I ran to catch up with him to tell him
I was sorry, he brushed me off.
Def.'s Mot. Exh. 1 at 174-75. As with Ms. Ellard, Ms. Singh acknowledged
that her only basis for believing that Mr. Singleton's alleged conduct
towards her was based on her race, color, or national origin was that she
was treated differently and that she was the only non-Caucasian
professional staff member on the Committee. Id. at 175.
With respect to Mr. Smith's contribution to the alleged hostile work
environment, Ms. Singh stated during her deposition:
I didn't have that much contact with Chris Smith. I
went to him sometimes for work because I found that he
was very knowledgable [sic] and helpful. . . .
I was at a meeting Angela had asked me to go to. I
sent Chris Smith several e-mails that I would be at
this meeting asking it was in the Capitol.
There were representatives of many agencies there.
There was someone from the Leadership Office there,
and I got there before Chris. When he walked in
and in front of everybody in the office he
looked at me and said what are you doing here. It was
humiliating. Chris Smith is not the kind of person who
goes around humiliating people like that. . . .
Q [D]o you believe that statement was based on
race, color, or national origin?
A I don't know whether that statement was based on
Def.'s Mot. Exh. 1 at 182-83.
In her affidavit, Ms. Singh averred that Ms. Ellard, Mr. Singleton and
Mr. Smith "generally denied" her the opportunity to travel to customs
ports and excluded her from all Congressional Delegation trips. See Pl.'s
Opp. ¶¶ 13-14. These three individuals are also alleged to have refused
Ms. Singh the opportunity to give speeches. See id. ¶ 22.
A hostile work environment exists only "when the workplace is permeated
with `discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult' . . . that is
`sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim's
employment and create an abusive working environment[.]'" Harris v.
Forklift Svs., Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21 (1993) (quoting Meritor Sav. Bank,
FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 65, 67 (1986)). This standard is designed to
be "sufficiently demanding to ensure that Title VII does not become a
`general civility code.'" Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775,
788 (1998) (quoting Oncale v. Sundown Offshore Serv., Inc., 523 U.S. 75,
80 (1998)). "Conduct that is not severe or pervasive enough to create an
objectively hostile or abusive work environment an environment
that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive is beyond
Title VII's purview." Harris, 510 U.S. at 21. In addition, "it must be
clear that the hostile work environment was the result of discrimination
based on a protected status . . . `[o]therwise, the federal courts will
become a court of personnel appeals.'" Lester v. Natsios, No. 01-233,
2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20517, at *18-19 (D.D.C. Oct. 7, 2003) (quoting
Alfano v. Costello, 294 F.3d 365, 377 (2d Cir. 2002)).
The Court finds that Ms. Singh's allegations fail to rise to the level
of a hostile work environment. On this record, it appears without doubt
that Ms. Singh had a rocky working relationship with Ms. Ellard. Neither
the frequency nor the content of the interactions that Ms. Singh
describes with Ms. Ellard, Mr. Singleton, or Mr. Smith, however, amounts
to severe and pervasive treatment sufficient to alter the conditions of
her employment. Mr. Singleton's and Mr. Smith's alleged conduct clearly
falls well below this standard, especially in light of Ms. Singh's
admittedly limited interaction with these men. Failing to acknowledge
someone in the hallway and simply asking someone why she is attending a
meeting in front of others (although perhaps embarrassing) hardly give
rise to an abusive working environment for purposes of Title VII. See
Barbour v. Browner, 181 F.3d 1342, 1348 (D.C. Cir. 1999).
Ms. Singh's allegations against Ms. Ellard, although more numerous, are
similarly deficient and do not establish a hostile work environment, even
when combined with her colleagues' alleged actions. These allegations
generally fall into three categories: (1) Ms. Ellard's criticism of her
work; (2) Ms. Ellard's manner of addressing her; and (3) the nature of
the work assignments and opportunities afforded to Ms. Singh. Criticisms
of a subordinate's work and expressions of disapproval (even loud
expressions of disapproval) are the kinds of normal strains that can
occur in any office setting, especially where, as here, the work
environment is particularly pressurized and employees are operating
within severe time constraints on matters of national import. Assuming
that events transpired as described by Ms. Singh, they do not demonstrate
a work environment that was pervaded by discrimination. See Richard v.
Bell Atlantic Corp., 209 F. Supp.2d 23, 35 (D.D.C. 2002) ("`[T]he type of
conduct that [Ms.] Walton complains of, i.e., rude comments, unjust
criticism, and stressful working conditions, amount to `ordinary
tribulations of the workplace' that
[is] insufficient as a matter of law for a hostile environment case.'");
see also Brodetski v. Duffey, 141 F. Supp.2d 35, 48-49 (D.D.C. 2001).
Working for a Congressional committee, especially the high-profile
Committee on Ways and Means, can be very demanding and stressful; some
staff members accordingly may be curt or even rude to others. The fact
that Ms. Singh may have been shut out of certain meetings, denied travel
opportunities and other perks, and spoken to in a condescending manner,
although perhaps disrespectful and unfair, also does not mean that Ms.
Singh was subjected to an illegal hostile work environment.
In addition, there is insufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to
conclude that any unpleasantness between Ms. Singh and her fellow
Committee members stemmed from Ms. Singh's race, national origin, or
color. None of the actions allegedly committed by Ms. Ellard, Mr.
Singleton, or Mr. Smith had any racial overtones, exceptperhaps for Ms.
Singh's contention that Ms. Ellard spoke to her as if she did not
understand English well. Ms. Singh concedes that no one on the Committee
ever made any negative statements relating to her, or anyone else's,
race, color, or national origin. See Def.'s Mot. Exh. 1 at 158-59. She
also never heard anything that she would consider a racial slur. See id.
at 160. The mere fact that Ms. Singh was the sole non-Caucasian on the
Committee staff does not, without something more, suffice to make the
necessary causal connection between Ms. Singh's race, color, and national
origin and the alleged mistreatment. See Bryant v. Brownlee,
265 F. Supp.2d 52, 65-66 (D.D.C. 2003) ("In the absence of some greater
indicator of race or age bias, the uniqueness of plaintiff's race and age
in her workplace cannot substantiate a claim that plaintiffs workplace
was `permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult.'")
(citing Neilley v. State Farm Ins. Cos., 202 F.3d 269, 1999 WL 1281717,
at *5-6 (6th Cir. Dec. 29, 1999) (unpublished)).
Because Ms. Singh has not advanced facts that are severe or pervasive
enough to alter the conditions of her employment and create an abusive
working environment, and she has not produced the requisite evidence
connecting the alleged mistreatment to her race, national origin, or
color, summary judgment will be granted to the Committee on this count
and this hostile work environment claim will be dismissed.
B. Discriminatory Discharge
Ms. Singh challenges the Committee's termination of her employment,
arguing that she was fired because of her race, national origin, and/or
color. Under the first step of the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting
scheme, Ms. Singh must demonstrate that her termination occurred "under
circumstances which give rise to an inference of discrimination." Harding
v. Gray, 9 F.3d 150, 153 (D.C. Cir. 1993) (quoting Texas Dept. of
Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253 (1981)) (internal
quotation marks omitted) (emphasis omitted). Ordinarily, a plaintiff may
establish a prima facie case of discriminatory discharge by showing "(1)
membership in a protected class, i.e., that she is [an ethnic minority],
(2) performance at or near the employer's legitimate expectations, (3)
discharge, and (4) replacement by a person of equal or lesser ability who
is not a member of a protected class or, alternatively, the position
remains open after termination." Neuren v. Adduci, Mastriani, Meeks
& Schill, 43 F.3d 1507, 1512 (D.C. Cir. 1995); see also Dang v. Inn
at Foggy Bottom, 85 F. Supp.2d 39, 43 (D.D.C. 2000). The Committee
concedes that Ms. Singh is a member of a protected class and that she was
discharged, but disputes that she "performed [her] duties to [her]
employer's satisfaction" and that she was "replaced by someone with
similar qualifications but who falls outside of the protected class."
Kalekiristos v. CTF Hotel Mgmt. Corp., 958 F. Supp. 641, 668 (D.D.C.
With respect to the issue of Ms. Singh's job performance, the Court
finds that there is sufficient evidence to satisfy the second element of
the prima facie case. A genuine dispute exists over whether Ms. Singh
performed her duties at or near the Committee's legitimate expectations.
Although the Committee presents solid evidence Ms. Singh's written work
was "poorly drafted" and required heavy editing, see Def.'s Reply at 9,
Ms. Singh has cast sufficient doubt on that assertion for purposes of
summary judgment. She attached to her affidavit several "thank you"
letters from lobbyists with whom she came in contact while working with
the Subcommittee, as well as letters of recommendation from Members of
Congress, which were written after she had been terminated. See Pl.'s
Opp. Exh. 1. Other individuals submitted affidavits attesting to Ms.
Singh's writing ability and good demeanor. See Def.'s Reply at 9
("Plaintiff supports her `evidence' of being competent, reliable, an
excellent writer, and easy to get along with,' [sic] through the
affidavits of Phillip Crane, Arlene Crane, Stuart Seidel, Clint Tarkoe,
Timothy Wineland, and Susan Wassell."). From this, a reasonable jury
could conclude that Ms. Singh did in fact perform at a level that at
least met the Committee's standards. See Carney v. American Univ.,
151 F.3d 1090, 1093 (D.C. Cir. 1998) ("[T]o survive summary judgment the
plaintiff need only raise a genuine issue of material fact with respect to
each element of the McDonnell Douglas framework.").
Ms. Singh has also adduced enough evidence to fulfill the fourth
element of the prima facie case. The Committee argues that David
Kavanaugh, a Caucasian, did not "replace" Ms. Singh. According to the
Committee, although both persons have held the same title (along with
other Subcommittee staff), Ms. Singh's job duties were almost exclusively
directed toward customs issues while Mr. Kavanaugh also works "on
agriculture, World Trade Organization negotiations, Africa issues,
textile matters, European Union trade issues, China trade issues,
appropriations, Japan trade
issues, and services issues." Def.'s Mot. Exh. 3 ¶ 23; see also id.
¶¶ 24, 34. The Committee further contends that Mr. Kavanaugh has
superior qualifications to Ms. Singh. Mr. Kavanaugh had worked directly
with the new chairman of the Committee, Congressman Thomas, from 1997 to
2001, allowing him to reflect better the new leadership priorities.
Nonetheless, Mr. Kavanaugh's job includes many of Ms. Singh's
responsibilities for customs issues. The Court finds that this comparison
is too fact-driven and contested to be determined on a motion for summary
Fatal to Ms. Singh's allegations of discriminatory discharge, however,
is the fact that the decision to terminate her was made by Ms. Giles and
Mr. Kelliher, who had known Ms. Singh for only two weeks and whose
affidavits provide, as Ms. Singh acknowledges, legitimate,
nondiscriminatory reasons for her termination. See Pl.'s Opp. at 9
(conceding that "[the Committee] has met its burden of adducing evidence
in support of non-discriminatory reasons for its decision to terminate
[Ms. Singh]."). The major explanation for Ms. Singh's discharge, her
political incompatibility, is recognized as a sound basis for employment
decisions under the CAA. 2 U.S.C. § 1432. Once the defendant
demonstrates a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the termination,
the presumption of discrimination created by the establishment of a prima
facie case "simply drops out of the picture." St. Mary's Honor Ctr. v.
Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 511 (1993).
Despite Ms. Singh's acknowledgment that the Committee has met its
burden of production in this regard, she now argues that the assertion of
political incompatibility was a pretext for discrimination. See Texas
Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 256 (1981) ("[Plaintiff]
may succeed in [convincing the court that she was the victim of
intentional discrimination] either directly by persuading the court that
a discriminatory reason more likely motivated the employer or indirectly
by showing that the employer's proffered explanation is
unworthy of credence."). Ms. Singh contends that two other members of the
Subcommittee's professional staff, Meredith Broadbent and Donna
Thiessen, were "more closely aligned with [Congressman] Crane[,]" were
Caucasian, and were not discharged. Pl.'s Opp. at 10. The premise of this
argument, however, is faulty. Ms. Broadbent never worked for Congressman
Crane personally, but she did have sixteen years of service with the
Committee before Ms. Singh arrived. See Def.'s Reply at 7; Def.'s Mot.
Exh. 16. While Mrs. Crane may have developed a close relationship with
Ms. Broadbent, as argued by Ms. Singh, this does not demonstrate any
meaningful connection between Ms. Broadbent and the Congressman. Ms.
Singh also argues that Ms. Thiessen, who had previously worked in
Congressman Crane's personal office, was not terminated. Ms. Thiessen
resigned from the Committee and is not comparable. Ms. Thiessen had
forecast her impending resignation to Ms. Giles in February so that Ms.
Giles knew that Ms. Thiessen would not be working under the new Committee
leadership and that she would soon be leaving voluntarily. See Def.'s
Reply Exh. 2 (2nd Giles Aff.) ¶¶ 3-4. For this reason, there was no
need to discharge Ms. Thiessen involuntarily. The comparisons used by
Ms. Singh therefore do not refute the Committee's evidence that it relied
upon Ms. Singh's political incompatibility a legitimate,
nondiscriminatory reason as a major factor in making its
Ms. Singh also challenges Ms. Giles and Mr. Kelliher's belief that Ms.
Singh had a poor reputation and unsatisfactory job performance. See
Def.'s Mot. Exhs. 9, 10, 11. Ms. Singh disputes these conclusions with
her own affidavit and affidavits from individuals, including Congressman
and Mrs. Crane, who did not supervise Ms. Singh or work closely enough
with her to review her unedited written work at the Committee. These
differences of opinion are neither surprising nor pertinent; Ms. Singh's
response to the Committee's evidence is insufficient to show
pretext or to defeat summary judgment. The critical issue here is
not whether Ms. Singh's work product was actually deficient, but whether
Ms. Giles and Mr. Kelliher, the Committee's decision-makers on personnel
issues, were of that opinion when they terminated her. There is no
evidence that they were not. Notably, Mr. Kelliher attested that he and
Ms. Giles did not consult with Ms. Singh's immediate supervisor, Ms.
Ellard, the person whom Ms. Singh asserts harbored "hostility toward
her[,]" in reaching their decision. Pl.'s Opp. at 13.
To prevail on her claim of discriminatory discharge, Ms. Singh "must
show both that the [Committee's reasons were] false, and that
discrimination was the real reason. . . . [I]t is not enough to
disbelieve the employer . . . there must be a finding of discrimination."
St. Mary's Honor Ctr., 509 U.S. at 511 n.4 (internal quotation marks
omitted) (emphasis in original). With no basis to discredit the
Committee's legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for terminating Ms.
Singh's employment, much less a basis to infer that discrimination was a
motivating factor, the Court concludes that no reasonable jury could
render judgment in favor of her on this count. Accordingly, Ms. Singh's
allegations concerning discriminatory discharge will be dismissed.
C. Salary Discrimination
"To establish aprima facie case [of salary discrimination], [Ms. Singh]
must show by a preponderance of the evidence membership in a protected
class . . . and `that [she was] performing work substantially equal to
that of [Caucasian employees] who were compensated at  higher rates
than [she was.]'" Coward v. ADT Sec. Sys., Inc., 140 F.3d 271 (D.C. Cir.
1998) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Ms. Singh, a
lawyer of Indian descent, was hired by the Committee at a salary of
$60,000 per year and was making $62,000 when she left the Committee
approximately two years later. She asserts that the disparity between her
pay and that
of others on the Committee "is nothing short of shocking." Pl.'s
Opp. at 18. Ms. Singh identifies the "most logical comparators" to
herself as Chris Carey, Jeffrey McMillen, Payson Peabody, Kimberly Reed,
and Brigen Winters. Id. at 19. According to Ms. Singh, Mr. Carey
was hired in 1999 at an annual salary of $78,000 as a professional staff
member on the Subcommittee on Health; Mr. McMillen was hired in 1998 at
an annual salary of $75,000 as a professional staff member on the
Subcommittee on Oversight; Mr. Peabody was hired in 2001 at an annual
salary of $90,000 as a professional staff member on the Subcommittee on
Oversight; Ms. Reed was hired in 2001 at an annual salary of $90,000 as a
professional staff member on the Subcommittee on Oversight; and Ms.
Winters was hired in 1999 at an annual salary of $76,000 as tax counsel.
The Committee objects to these comparisons on the grounds that these
individuals have different backgrounds and expertise, and that they all
work for different subcommittees with the exception of Ms. Winters, who
is tax counsel and not even a member of the professional staff. It argues
that Ms. Singh was similarly situated only to the two other professional
staff members on her own subcommittee, Mses. Broadbent and Thiessen.
The Court agrees with the Committee that the individuals identified by
Ms. Singh were not similarly situated to her for the purpose of equating
salaries; the Committee offers permissible grounds for treating them
differently.*fn7 Mr. Carey had nearly seven years of prior Capitol Hill
experience in three different legislative offices, had a different
expertise (health care), and was hired to work on a different
subcommittee. Unlike Ms. Singh, Mr. McMillen, Mr. Peabody, and Ms.
Winters possess advanced degrees in taxation and therefore must be paid
more to compete
with the private sector.*fn8 See Def.'s Mot. Exh. 9 at 43. Ms. Winters,
moreover, is a certified public accountant. Mr. Peabody and Ms. Reed were
hired after Ms. Singh had left the Committee and different people
determined their salaries based on the criteria and priorities of the
Subcommittee on Oversight. See generally Forman v. Small, 271 F.3d 285,
293 (D.C. Cir. 2001). Ms. Reed also had approximately four years of prior
Capitol Hill experience.
Ms. Singh does not present viable evidence to rebut these
distinctions. She primarily focuses on one difference in background, her
lack of Capitol Hill experience, arguing that Caucasians with no such
experience "were hired by the Committee at salaries $15,000 higher than
Ms. Singh." Pl.'s Opp. at 20. However, the three individuals with no
prior legislative experience Mr. McMillen, Mr. Peabody, and Ms.
Winters commanded higher pay due to their specialization in tax
law, a point that Ms. Singh does not refute.
With respect to Ms. Singh's fellow professional staff members on the
Subcommittee on Trade the individuals who are comparable to Ms.
Singh for salary purposes the Court finds that there was no
meaningful disparity in pay under the circumstances, certainly not enough
from which to infer discriminatory animus on the part of the Committee.
Ms. Thiessen, hired by the Committee in August 1999, had eight years of
prior legislative experience while Ms. Singh, hired in October 1999, had
none. Even so, Ms. Thiessen's starting salary was $62,500, just $2,500
more than Ms. Singh's annual wages. Ms. Broadbent also had prior
legislative experience when she began working for the Subcommittee in
1995; she had worked for the Committee since 1982. Her
salary upon joining the Subcommittee was $60,000 per year, the same as
Ms. Singh's starting pay. These comparisons do not support a claim of
discrimination in wages; therefore, Ms. Singh's claim of salary
discrimination based on race, national origin, and color will be
The Committee's motion for summary judgment will be granted and the
complaint will be dismissed. A separate order accompanies this memorandum
For the reasons stated in the Memorandum Opinion that accompanies this
Order, it is hereby
ORDERED that Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED. It is
FURTHER ORDERED that the Complaint is DISMISSED.