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Easton v. Snow

June 26, 2006

RITA EASTON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOHN W. SNOW, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Henry H. Kennedy, Jr. United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Rita Easton, proceeding pro se, brings this action against her employer, the Department of Treasury ("DOT"), alleging that DOT discriminated against her on the basis of her race, sex, and religion, subjected her to a hostile work environment, and retaliated against her for expressing opposition to DOT's allegedly discriminatory conduct, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. Before the court is DOT's motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment [#14]. Upon consideration of the motion, the opposition thereto, and the record of this case, the court concludes that the motion must be granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

Easton, a 51-year-old Black female, has been employed by the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS"), an agency within DOT, since September 1987. In 2000, the IRS reviewed certain positions within the IRS, including Easton's position as a Management Analyst, and decided to reorganize and reclassify them from non-bargaining unit positions to bargaining unit positions. However, for more than two years DOT failed to implement this change. The proper designation of her position is "very important" to Easton because it affects "her rights as an employee, particularly employment retention and bumping rights." Defs.' Mot., Ex. A, at 1.

On September 6, 2002, an attorney wrote a letter to Representative Albert Wynn on Easton's behalf, complaining of the delay in reclassifying Easton's position. The letter requested that Representative Wynn try to get the IRS to "look into this matter and take immediate action to properly classify [Easton] as a Bargaining Unit (BU) employee." Id. at 2. In response, on September 20, 2002, Representative Wynn wrote to the commissioner of the IRS. The IRS answered Wynn's letter and acknowledged that Easton's position had been determined to be a bargaining unit position but that conversion had not yet occurred due to pending negotiations with the National Treasury Employees Union. Id., Ex. B. The IRS indicated that they had hoped to have all issues resolved by March 2003. Id. However, by late May 2003, Easton's position was still not converted to a bargaining unit position, prompting Representative Wynn to write yet another letter to the IRS. In early June 2003, the IRS responded, stating that further delay occurred "in order to not disadvantage employees for any potential buyouts," but that conversion would be completed within a month. Id., Ex. C. Easton's classification was officially converted on August 23, 2003. Id., Ex. K.

Almost a year later, on July 20, 2004, Easton initiated counseling with the IRS's equal employment opportunity ("EEO") office, alleging retaliation for contacting Congressman Wynn as well as discrimination on the bases of race and age. Id., Exs. D & E. Easton complained that the IRS had discriminatorily subjected her to multiple audits and that someone had tampered with her computer. Soon thereafter, Easton wrote to her EEO counselor, informing her that she wished to "cancel my EEO case," and "file my case through the District Court." Id., Ex. F. She thereafter sent a letter to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), dated August 11, 2004, notifying them of her "intent to file a civil action."

Almost two months later, Easton initiated another informal EEO counseling session with the IRS, objecting to a disciplinary notice that she had received on September 29, 2004. She again claimed that she was discriminated against on the basis of age and race and retaliated against. Two weeks later, Easton withdrew her EEO complaint and stated that she had "decided to file [her] complaint with EEOC based on age discrimination." Id., Ex. H.

On November 19, 2004, Easton filed her complaint, alleging that defendants "engaged in unlawful discrimination based on race, sex, age, religion and reprisal" in violation of Title VII and the ADEA. Compl. at 1. Specifically, Easton complains of the denial of her bargaining unit classification, id. ¶ 21,the issuance of a letter of reprimand, id. ¶ 23, and the lowering of her performance appraisal. Id. ¶ 24. Her complaint also alleges that she was "subjected to an abusive and hostile work environment" based on race and because she engaged in protected EEO activity. Id. ¶ 17. Easton seeks declaratory relief and $500,000 in compensatory, punitive, and liquidated damages.

II. ANALYSIS

DOT moves to dismiss, or alternatively, for summary judgment, arguing that Easton's Title VII claims are "not properly before the Court because she failed to exhaust her administrative remedies for those claims," that her hostile work environment claims are "legally deficient," and that her ADEA claims fail because Easton cannot establish a prima facie case of age discrimination. Defs.' Mot. at 1. The court agrees in many respects and concludes that DOT is entitled to summary judgment on all of Easton's claims except for her claims of retaliation in violation of the ADEA.*fn1

A. Easton's Title VII Claims

Before filing a Title VII lawsuit, a federal employee must exhaust her administrative remedies. See, e.g, Brown v. Gen. Servs. Admin., 425 U.S. 820, 832--33 (1976). The remedial framework erected by Title VII relies heavily on the administrative component of the process. As such, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(c) requires that a plaintiff file an initial charge of discrimination with the employing agency. See Loe v. Heckler, 768 F.2d 409, 417 (D.C. Cir. 1985); President v. Vance, 627 F.2d 353, 360 (D.C. Cir. 1980). The administrative phase of the process is not merely a procedural hurdle that the plaintiff must overcome. Rather, "it is part and parcel of the congressional design to vest in the federal agencies and officials engaged in hiring and promoting personnel 'primary responsibility' for maintaining nondiscrimination in employment." Kizas v. Webster, 707 F.2d 524, 544 (D.C. Cir. 1983). Moreover, the exhaustion requirements permit an employer to investigate claims of discrimination promptly, before evidence becomes stale. See Delaware State Coll. v. Ricks, 449 U.S. 250, 256--57 (1980).

The relevant regulations require an aggrieved person to "initiate contact with a Counselor within 45 days of the date of the matter alleged to be discriminatory or, in the case of personnel action, within 45 days of the effective date of the action." 29 C.F.R. § 1614.105(a)(1). If the matter is not resolved through informal counseling, the aggrieved person must, within 15 days, file a written complaint with the agency that allegedly discriminated against her. Id. § 1614.106. Thereafter, the agency is obligated to either investigate the matter within 180 days or reject the complaint and issue a final dismissal. Id. §§ 1614.108. A complainant may only seek relief in federal court after receiving an adverse final decision from the agency or after a written complaint has been pending for at least 180 days. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(c); 29 C.F.R. § 1614.407.

Here, Easton never filed a written complaint with the agency. Rather, after submitting to informal EEO counseling twice and withdrawing her EEO claims each time, Easton proceeded directly to file her complaint.*fn2 Easton never disputes that she failed to file a formal complaint of discrimination with the IRS, nor does she dispute that she did not give the IRS an opportunity to investigate her claims and adjudicate them administratively. Accordingly, all of Easton's Title VII ...


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