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.
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).
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"