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Turner v. Dep't of the Interior

December 6, 2006

MICHAEL L. TURNER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, ET AL.,



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This action is before the court for consideration of defendants' motion for summary judgment. Having reviewed the motion, plaintiff's opposition thereto, and the record of this case, the court concludes that the motion should be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

The United States Park Police ("Park Police") appointed plaintiff, a Black man, as a Park Police officer on October 7, 2001. Compl. at 1 & Ex. 2 (March 5, 2004 Memorandum from B.J. Holmes, Jr., Acting Chief) at 2;*fn1 Plaintiff['s] Opposition to Summar[]y Judgment Motion ("Pl.'s Opp'n") [Dkt. #19], Ex. 1 (Appointment Affidavit). The appointment was subject to completion of a one-year probationary period. Plaintiff['s] Opposition to Summary Judgment Motion ("Pl.'s Surreply") [Dkt. #22], Ex. 3 (Notification of Personnel Action effective October 7, 2001). Park Police recruits must complete basic training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center ("FLETC"), which is operated by the Department of Homeland Security. Compl., Ex. 2 at 2. "Successful completion of the training program was a condition of employment as an Officer with the United States Park Police." Compl., Ex. 2 at 2. "FLETC is an independent federal entity under a different federal agency," and, therefore, the Park Police "plays no role in determining whether its recruits have successfully completed basic police training." Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Reply to Plaintiff's Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment ("Defs.' Reply"), Ex. 12 ("Davis Decl.") ¶ 2.

Plaintiff began training at FLETC in 2001 as a member of integrated recruit class number USPP I-201. Davis Decl. ¶ 12. He left FLETC in January 2002 after sustaining an injury to his right hand, and resumed training in July 2003 as a member of recruit class number USPP I-304. Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment ("Defs.' Mot."), Ex. 3 (January 8, 2002 Memorandum from B.J. Holmes, Jr., Dep. Chief, Park Police, regarding plaintiff's reassignment) & Ex. 4 ( July 24, 2003 letter from T.C. Chambers, Chief, Park Police).

On November 8, 2003, plaintiff was involved in a physical altercation with two White Park Police recruits. Compl. at 1 & Ex. 2 at 2. FLETC officials investigated the incident and determined that plaintiff committed an act of violence (assault) against a fellow recruit, Compl., Ex 2 at 2, and FLETC deemed plaintiff's conduct a violation of Office of Personnel Management regulations and FLETC Directives regarding student misconduct and workplace violence. Defs.' Mot., Ex. 7 (November 13, 2003 letter from B.W. Smith, Dept. Asst. Dir., Office of Training Management, FLETC). Consequently, FLETC removed plaintiff from recruit class USPP I-304 and dismissed him from FLETC training. Id. The Park Police, in turn, took action to remove plaintiff because he failed to complete successfully the required basic police training at FLETC. Defs.' Mot., Ex. 8 (November 17, 2003 Memorandum from B.S. Beam, Dep. Chief, Acting Commander, Serv. Div., Park Police, regarding plaintiff's proposed removal).

After considering plaintiff's oral and written responses to the proposed removal, the Park Police removed plaintiff effective March 13, 2004. Compl., Ex. 2 at 2, 5; Pl.'s Surreply, Ex. 2 (Notification of Personnel Action effective 03/13/04). Plaintiff challenged his removal before the Merit Systems Protection Board ("MSPB"), and the matter was not resolved to his satisfaction. See Compl. at 1 & Ex. 1 (June 20, 2005 Final Order, MSPB Dkt. No. DC-0752-04-0413-I-1).

In this action, plaintiff, proceeding pro se, alleges that the Park Police improperly removed him because of his race.*fn2 Compl. at 1. He demands back pay and damages totaling $25 million. Id. Although plaintiff does not state expressly in his complaint the basis of this court's jurisdiction, it is apparent that this case properly proceeds as an employment discrimination action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, see 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.*fn3

II. ANALYSIS

A. Summary Judgment Standard

A party is entitled to summary judgment only when there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A material fact is one "that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The party opposing a motion for summary judgment "may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but . . . must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; see also Jackson v. Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, 101 F.3d 145, 150 (D.C. Cir. 1996). When evaluating a summary judgment motion, "[c]redibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge." Id. at 255; see Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prod., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000).

B. Analysis Under McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green

1. Plaintiff Fails to Establish a Prima Facie Case of Race Discrimination Absent direct evidence of race discrimination, it is the plaintiff's initial burden in a Title VII action to establish a prima facie case by a preponderance of the evidence. See McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973); Stella v. Mineta, 284 F.3d 135, 144 (D.C. Cir. 2002). A plaintiff constructs a prima facie case of employment discrimination "by establishing that: '(1) [he] is a member of a protected class; (2) [he] suffered an adverse employment action; and (3) the unfavorable action gives rise to an inference of discrimination.'" Stella, 284 F.3d at 145 (quoting Brown v. Brody, 199 F.3d 446, 452 (D.C. Cir. 1999)). In this way, plaintiff shows that "his rejection is not attributable to 'the two most common legitimate reasons on which an employer might rely to reject a job applicant: an absolute or relative lack of qualifications or the absence of a vacancy in the job sought.'" Stella, 284 F. 3d at 145 (quoting Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters v. United States, 431 U.S. 324, 358 n.44 (1977)).

If a plaintiff succeeds in making out a prima facie case of discrimination, the burden shifts to the defendant to rebut the presumption of discrimination by producing "evidence that the adverse employment actions were taken for a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason." Aka v. Washington Hosp. Ctr., 156 F.3d 1284, 1289 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (citation omitted); see Texas Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 254 (1981). At this point, the presumption of discrimination generated by the prima facie showing drops from the case, and the plaintiff has an opportunity to present evidence that race, not defendant's proffered ...


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