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Thomas v. District of Columbia

June 1, 2006

GLADYS GRAYE THOMAS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, DEFENDANT.



MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter comes before the Court on defendant the District of Columbia's Motion for Summary Judgment. Having considered the defendant's motion, the plaintiff's opposition, and the defendant's reply, the Court denies the District of Columbia's motion. The District of Columbia fails to convince the Court that plaintiff Thomas presents no genuine issues of material fact in her claim under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C.A. §§ 621-634. (West 1999 & Supp. 2005).

BACKGROUND

On June 4, 2001, Gladys Graye Thomas, age 58, began working as a Lead Housing Inspector with the District of Columbia's Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs ("DCRA"). In the course of her employment at DCRA, Thomas alleges that she was subjected to derisive remarks about her age, made by her immediate supervisor Bernard Ferguson (e.g., "Ms. Thomas, are you sure you want to work at this job? You should be rocking in sunny Florida.") (Pl.'s Opp'n 4.)

Thomas' job required that she attend community meetings in Ward 7, where she was assigned to work. In the context of these community meetings, friction developed between Thomas and another meeting attendee, Neighborhood Stabilization Coordinator Rose Money. Money believed that Thomas' behavior at these meetings suggested that Thomas needed to be retrained in the scope of DCRA's responsibilities. (Money Dep. 20:14-17, Jan.14, 2004.) Money further alleges that Thomas was not a "team player," citing her refusal to participate in discussions with representatives from different agencies during a "drive-through" to ascertain a community's problems. (Money Dep. 28:14-29:14.)

David Clark, the Director of DCRA, terminated Thomas' employment on September 21, 2001. This suit followed in January of 2003. Thomas claims that her termination was a result of age discrimination, inferred from Ferguson's remarks during her employment, and her subsequent replacement by a substantially younger individual. The identity of the replacement seems to be the source of some confusion between the parties. Defendant alleges that Thomas' termination was a result of Thomas' behavior, as exemplified by complaints received from Money and others. Notably, Clark claims never to have observed the problematic behaviors himself, but to have acted solely on the advice of others in his decision to terminate Thomas. (Clark Dep. 7:16-12:10, Jan. 13, 2004.) The Court directed that dispositive motions in this matter be filed by February 3, 2006, and the District of Columbia's motion for summary judgment followed.

DISCUSSION

Legal Standard

I. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment will be granted when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show 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. A movant for summary judgment need not foreclose the possibility that a genuine issue of material fact might exist; rather, the movant need only show that the non-movant fails to establish an issue necessary to her case. The issue must be one for which the non-movant would have the burden of proof at trial. See Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-324 (1986). At its base, a motion for summary judgment is an assertion that, given the submissions of both parties, with the benefit of the doubt given to the non-movant, no reasonable factfinder could find in favor of the non-movant.

II. Discrimination Claims under the ADEA

A plaintiff bringing suit under the ADEA traditionally makes a prima facie case for age discrimination by claiming: (1) to be a member of the ADEA's protected class of persons over forty years of age; (2) to have been qualified for her position; (3) to have suffered an adverse employment action despite her qualifications and performance; and (4) to have been disadvantaged in favor of a substantially younger employee. Threadgill v. Spellings, 377 F. Supp. 2d. 158, 161 (D.D.C. 2005) (Lamberth, J.). It is worth noting, however, that it is not always necessary that plaintiffs meet the fourth prong of this standard: a plaintiff may be able to make out a case for discrimination against herself without showing that she was replaced by someone outside the disfavored group. See Stella v. Mineta, 284 F.3d 135, 146 (D.C. Cir. 2002).

If the plaintiff offers only indirect evidence of discrimination, the defendant may offer a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its action. See McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973). On the defendant's production of some evidence for such a reason, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff to show that the defendant's reason is a mere pretext for its discriminatory action. St. Mary's Honor Ctr v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 511 (1993).

In opposing the defendant's proffered non-discriminatory reason for its action, the plaintiff must show that a factfinder could infer discrimination from: (1) the plaintiff's prima facie case; (2) evidence the plaintiff presents attacking the employer's proffered reason for its action; and (3) and any further evidence presented by the plaintiff, or contrary evidence presented by the defendant. Threadgill, 377 F. Supp. 2d at 162. If the plaintiff's evidence, in its full context, would allow a reasonable jury to conclude that the plaintiff was a ...


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