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MASON v. AFRICAN DEV'T FOUNDATION & NATHANIEL FIELDS

December 7, 2004.

RENNETTA MASON, Plaintiff,
v.
THE AFRICAN DEVELOPMENT FOUNDATION & NATHANIEL FIELDS, President, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: REGGIE B. WALTON, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter comes before the Court on the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss ("Def.'s Mot.") [D.E. # 11], which is based on the argument that this Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over the dispute in this case. The plaintiff has brought this action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16, alleging various unlawful employment practices, including harassment, the creation of a hostile work environment, discrimination, retaliation, and wrongful discharge. Plaintiff's Complaint ("Compl.") ¶ 11. The plaintiff seeks to recover monetary damages, fees and costs associated with this litigation, and equitable relief. Id. ¶ 36. For the following reasons, this Court will grant the defendants' dismissal motion.

I. Factual Background

  The plaintiff, Rennetta Mason, was employed by the defendants, The African Development Foundation ("ADF") and its President, Nathaniel Fields.*fn1 Id. ¶ 5. The plaintiff was initially hired in October 1998, to perform receptionist functions under a contract the ADF entered into with a temporary services agency, Career Blazers. Defendant's Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Defendant's Motion to Dismiss ("Def.'s Mem.) at 1. "Ten months later, [the] ADF contracted directly with [the p]laintiff for administrative assistance and receptionist work." Id. She "worked directly under the Office of Budget Finance and Administration for approximately four and one half years, beginning October 5, 1998, until her employment was terminated on April 30, 2003." Compl. ¶ 5. The plaintiff alleges that "[d]uring the approximately one-year period preceding her discharge, [she] was harassed, made to work in a hostile work environment, retaliated against, and discriminated against by the [d]efendants, all because of her race, color, sex and/or national origin." Id. The plaintiff also claims that her "supervisor subjected her to a barrage of insults, many of which referred to and were directed at the [p]laintiff's race, color, sex and/or national origin." Id. The plaintiff claims that she "was intentionally given non-meaningful, non-productive, and redundant work to complete" during the one-year period preceding her discharge. Id. Moreover, the plaintiff alleges that she "was intentionally denied assignments relative to her position and/or job description by her then immediate supervisor, Vicky Gentry;" who also "frequently berated and humiliated . . . her in the presence of other employees without justification." Id. The "[p]laintiff originally signed a one year contract with the [ADF] to be renewed annually." Id. After renewing her contract for the fourth time in 2002, the plaintiff alleges that her supervisor "changed her employment contract to be renewed every six months, and eventually changed her employment contract to be renewable every two weeks without [p]laintiff's knowledge or consent. . . ." Id.

  On approximately February 20, 2002, the plaintiff contends that she "made a verbal complaint to her Senior Supervisor, Tom Coogan" ("Coogan") about her working conditions and he immediately corrected the situation by assigning her "meaningful work and assignments that were suitable and within her job description." Id. ¶ 6. However, in January 2003, Coogan was out of the office for several weeks and Vicky Gentry ("Gentry") was re-assigned as the plaintiff's supervisor. Id. The plaintiff claims that she was then again given "tedious work assignments" and "made to work again in a hostile work environment." Id. For example, the plaintiff represents that at that same time she "was taking academic courses to complete a job training program that was provided by the [United States Department of Agriculture] ("USDA") Graduate School and funded through her employer." Id. And she claims that having completed about onehalf of her courses, in January 200[3],*fn2 Gentry refused to approve and renew the plaintiff's application to complete the classes without providing any written or verbal justification for the decision. Id.

  From January 2003 to April 2003, the plaintiff represents that she verbally complained to the President of ADF, Nathaniel Fields, concerning the alleged hostile work environment, harassment, and discrimination she was being subjected to. Id. ¶ 7. The plaintiff alleges that Fields reassigned her to work in his department and "verbally warned her not to file a formal complaint." Id. Nonetheless, the plaintiff filed formal complaints with the District of Columbia Office of Human Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on March 31, 2003. Id. ¶ 8. "On April 21, 2003, [the p]laintiff received the charge of discrimination from the EEOC to confirm the allegations, sign[,] and formally submit said complaint." Id. Subsequently, "[o]n April 30, 2003, after receiving notice of [the] [p]laintiff's formal complaint, . . . [d]efendant Nathaniel Fields discharged [the] [p]laintiff and failed to provide [her] with any written or verbal reason for her termination, except his remark that `there was no place for her in his agency.'" Id. The plaintiff claims that she did not engage in any conduct that violated any policies that justified here termination and she believes that her termination was a "pretext intended to hide the true, unlawful reason for her discharge." Id. Moreover, the plaintiff claims that during her four and a half years at the ADF, she had "an unblemished employment record[,] she was never disciplined[,] and [she] regularly received above average or excellent evaluations." Id. ¶ 9.

  II. Standard of Review

  On a motion to dismiss based on Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), "the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that the court has jurisdiction." Fowler v. District of Columbia, 122 F. Supp. 2d 37, 39-40 (D.D.C. 2000) (citation omitted); Zhengxing v. Nathanson, 215 F. Supp. 2d 114, 116 (D.D.C. 2002). When determining whether subject-matter jurisdiction exists, "the court must accept all the complaint's well-pled factual allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor." Id. (citing Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)). However, the Court need not accept inferences that are unsupported by the facts alleged or legal conclusions that are cast as factual allegations. Id.; Rann v. Chao, 154 F. Supp. 2d 61, 64 (D.D.C. 2001), aff'd, 346 F.3d 192, 197 (D.C. Cir. 2003). Additionally, the Court may consider materials in addition to the complaint and pleadings as it deems necessary in assessing its jurisdiction. Id. III. Legal Analysis

  A. The Proper Defendant in a Title VII Action

  As an initial matter, the defendants claim that the only proper defendant in this action is Nathaniel Fields, the president of the ADF. Def.'s Mot. at 1. The defendants rely on 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(c), which provides that "an employee . . ., if aggrieved by the final disposition of his complaint [in the agency's administrative process], or by the failure to take final action on his complaint, may file a civil action as provided in section 2000e-5 . . ., in which civil action the head of the department, agency, or unit, as appropriate, shall be the defendant." Id. (emphasis added). The plaintiff argues that the defendant's reading of the statute is too narrow and that "the passage [emphasized above in the statute] could not reasonably be read to exclude [the] ADF from being a proper defendant in this action." Plaintiff's Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support Opposition to Motion to Dissmiss [sic] Complaint ("Pl.'s Op.") at 3.

  The Court agrees with the defendant's position. A member of this Court has reiterated that "the only proper defendant in a Title VII suit . . . is the `head of the department, agency, or unit' in which the allegedly discriminatory acts transpired." Nichols v. Agency For Int'l Dev., 18 F. Supp. 2d 1, 3 (D.D.C. 1998) (citing Hackley v. Roudebush, 520 F.2d 108, 115 n. 17 (D.C. Cir. 1975). Therefore, in Nichols, the Court reasoned that because the plaintiff had sued only the agency instead of the agency head, and because "Congress has not waived [the agency's] sovereign immunity under Title VII, the Court [was required to] dismiss [the case] for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction,. . . ." Nichols, 18 F. Supp. 2d at 3; see also Jarrell v. United States Postal Serv., 753 F.2d 1088, 1091 (D.C. Cir. 1985) (stating that "the head of the agency is the only proper defendant in a Title VII action"). In this case, the plaintiff names both the agency and the agency head as defendants in the action. As it is only proper, and necessary, to name the head of an agency acting in his or her official capacity as the defendant in a Title VII action, the agency will be dismissed as a defendant.

  B. Title VII's "Employee" Requirement

  Title VII, which states that "[a]ll personnel actions affecting employees or applicants for employment . . . shall be made free from any discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin," 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(a), extends protection to federal government employees, but not to independent contractors or those not directly employed by the federal government. Spirides v. Reinhardt, 613 F.2d 826, 829 (D.C. Cir. 1979). Whether the plaintiff qualifies as an employee as compared to an independent contractor is the issue presented to the Court in the defendant's motion to dismiss. To answer this question, the Court must conduct an "analysis of the `economic realities' of the work relationship," in order to determine whether an individual is an employee or an independent contractor. Zhengxing, 215 F. Supp. 2d at 117 (quoting Spirides, 613 F.2d at 831). Most important to this analysis, the Court must consider "the extent of the employer's right to control the `means and manner' of the worker's performance." Id.; see also Redd v. Summers, 232 F.3d 933, 938 (D.C. Cir. 2000). Additionally, the Court must weigh the following eleven factual considerations:
(1) the kind of occupation, with reference to whether the work usually is done under the direction of a supervisor or is done by a specialist without supervision; (2) the skill required in the particular occupation; (3) whether the "employer" as the individual in question furnishes the equipment used and the place of work; (4) the length of time during which the individual has worked; (5) the method of payment, whether by time or by the job; (6) the manner in which the work relationship is terminated; i.e. by one or both parties, with or without notice and explanation; (7) whether annual leave is afforded; (8) whether the work is an integral part of the business of the "employer"; (9) whether the worker accumulates retirement benefits; (10) whether the "employer" pays social security taxes; and (11) the intention of the parties.
Spirides, 613 F.2d at 832. Subsequently, the Court in Redd grouped these eleven factors into four separate categories. Redd, 232 F.3d at 939. The first category involves only the last of the eleven Spirides factors — the intent of the parties. Id. The second category considers whether contracting out work is justifiable as a prudent business decision. Id. This second category groups together the first, second, and eighth Spirides considerations, which evaluate the elements of supervision, special skills, and whether the work performed is an integral part of the client's business. Id. The third category addresses the question of the client's control over the work. Id. This category includes the third and sixth Spirides factors — whether the client furnishes the equipment used and the place of work, and the manner in which the work relationship was terminated. Id. The last category groups those factors which asks whether the relationship shares attributes commonly found in arrangements with independent contractors or with employees. Id. at 940. This category incorporates the fourth, fifth, seventh, ninth, and tenth Spirides factors, namely, the duration of the engagement, the method of payment, whether annual leave is afforded, whether the worker accumulates retirements benefits, and whether the client pays social security taxes. Id. Similar to what the Court did in Spirides, 613 F.2d at 832, the Court in Redd first considered "the putative employer's `right to control the means and manner of the worker's performance'" before launching into its analysis of these four categories, even though the Court acknowledged that the eleven factors that comprise the four categories and the underlying question of control should be "evaluated simultaneously." Redd, 232 F.3d at 938. This Court will therefore employ the same approach. Id. at 938. C. The Nature of the Plaintiff's Employment Relationship with the ADF

  The defendant argues that the plaintiff is not entitled to Title VII protection because she is not an "employee" under the statute. Def.'s Mot. at 1. The plaintiff takes the opposite position. Plaintiff's Op. 1. The ...


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