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FOWLER v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

November 9, 2005.

ANDREW H. FOWLER, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICHARD LEON, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Andrew Fowler, the plaintiff, initiated this proceeding against Learie Phillip, Principal of Roosevelt Senior High School, and the District of Columbia, through Arlene Ackerman in her official capacity as Superintendent of the District of Columbia Public Schools*fn1 ("DCPS") (collectively "defendants"). Plaintiff alleges violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII") and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, D.C. Code § 2-1401 et seq. ("DCHRA"). The matter comes before the Court on the parties' "cross motions"*fn2 for summary judgment. Upon due consideration of the parties' submissions, the relevant law, and the entire record herein, the Court GRANTS defendants' motion, DENIES plaintiff's motion, and dismisses the action in its entirety.

BACKGROUND FACTS

  The relevant facts and circumstances surrounding this case are well documented.*fn3 To summarize, Andrew Fowler ("Fowler") began teaching at Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School ("Roosevelt High") in 1982. Amended Complaint ("Am. Compl.") ¶ 7. Approximately thirteen years later, in September 1995, defendant Learie Phillip ("Phillip") became principal of Roosevelt High. Id. ¶ 9. Shortly after assuming the post as principal, Phillip issued a written reprimand to Fowler. Defs.' Mot. For Summ. Judg. (filed on 11/7/02), Exh. 3 at 1.*fn4 The reprimand charged Fowler with "unprofessional conduct" for alleged "sexual innuendos" that Fowler made to a female student in his classroom on September 14, 1995. Id.

  Fowler responded to the reprimand with a six page written memorandum to Phillip. Id., Ex. 4 (Memorandum from Fowler to Phillip). While the memorandum primarily explains and defends Fowler's own conduct vis a vis the female student, in the last paragraph Fowler accuses Phillip of sexually harassing a female faculty member during a faculty meeting.*fn5 Id., Ex. 4 at 6. Fowler copied several other school and administration officials on this letter, including the former superintendent of schools and chief of labor relations. Id.

  In June 1996, several months after the official reprimand and Fowler's response, Fowler's teaching position was among those positions terminated pursuant to a DCPS system-wide reduction-in-force ("RIF").*fn6 Am. Compl. ¶ 13; Pl.'s Mot. For Summ. Judg., Exh. 3 (Letter from the Director of the DCPS Office of Fiscal and Personnel Service to Fowler notifying him of the RIF). In March 1997, Fowler filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC" or "Commission"), in which he argued that he was terminated in retaliation for opposing Phillip's sexual harassment of a female faculty member in the response to the official reprimand. Pls.'s Statement of Material Facts To Which There is No Genuine Dispute ("SMF") ¶ 10.*fn7 According to Fowler, Phillip "began a practice of sexually harassing female faculty members" almost "immediately" after starting as principal of Roosevelt High. Am. Compl. ¶ 9. Fowler further contended that Phillip "embarked on a campaign of retaliation" once Fowler began opposing Phillip's sexual harassment of others. Id. ¶ 11. Although this retaliation culminated in his termination, Fowler also alleged that it included "poor performance evaluations" and "denial of his applications to coach interscholastic sports." Id. ¶ 12.

  On February 11, 1999, the EEOC issued a Determination, finding that Fowler was in fact terminated in violation of Title VII. Pl.'s Mot. For Summ. Judg., Ex. 1 at 2. Notwithstanding the EEOC's determination, the Commission was unable to "conciliate" the case and Fowler received a Right to Sue letter from the Department of Justice.*fn8 Id., Ex. 2 (Right to Sue Letter). This action followed.

  ANALYSIS

  I. Standard of Review

  Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings and the record demonstrate that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(C). The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). In this case, where cross motions for summary judgment are at issue, the Court draws all reasonable inferences regarding the assertions made in a light favorable to the non-moving party. Flynn v. Dick Corp., 2005 WL 1904018, *2 (July 29, 2005 D.D.C.). The Court will "grant summary judgment only if one of the moving parties is entitled to judgment as a matter of law upon material facts that are not genuinely disputed." Consumer Fed'n of Am. v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., 2005 WL 1773851, *2 (July 28, 2005 D.D.C.).

  II. Fowler has Failed to Demonstrate a Prima Facie Case of Retaliation

  Fowler contends that he was terminated from teaching at Roosevelt High in violation of Title VII and the DCHRA. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 14-29. More precisely, he argues that defendants retaliated against him for opposing Phillip's sexual harassment of a female faculty member. Pl.'s Mot. For Summ. Judg. at 2.

  Courts look to Title VII jurisprudence when analyzing employment discrimination claims under the DCHRA. E.g., Goos v. Nat'l Ass'n of Realtors, 715 F. Supp. 2, 3 (D.D.C. 1989). To establish a prima facie case for retaliation under Title VII, the plaintiff must demonstrate: "1) that [he] engaged in a statutorily protected activity; 2) that the employer took an adverse personnel action; and 3) that a causal connection existed between the two." McKenna v. Weinberger, 79 F.2d 783, 790 (D.C. Cir. 1984). The plaintiff bears the initial burden of proving each element of the prima facie case. See McDonnell Douglas v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973) (concluding that the complainant carries the burden of demonstrating a prima facie case of racial discrimination).

  The central issue before the Court is whether Fowler has demonstrated that he engaged in "statutorily protected activity" under the first prong of the prima facie case of retaliation. Fowler argues that his response to the official reprimand is a "protected activity" under § 704(a) of Title VII because the response contains a paragraph in which he protests Phillip's alleged ...


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