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Moses v. Howard University Hospital

February 12, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Friedman United States District Judge


This matter is before the Court on defendant Howard University Hospital's motion for summary judgment.*fn1 Plaintiff brings suit alleging retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act ("DCHRA") D.C. Code § 2-1401 et seq. Upon consideration of the motion, opposition, and reply, and the entire record in this case, the Court concludes that there are genuine issues of material fact in dispute with respect to plaintiff's termination and that the defendant therefore is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law on that claim. The Court concludes that defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law with respect to the other adverse employment actions alleged by plaintiff, however, and will enter judgment for defendant as to those claims.


A. Procedural History

Plaintiff Vijaykumar Moses alleges that he was subjected to various adverse employment actions and eventually terminated in retaliation for filing a discrimination case with this Court in February 1999. See Moses v. Howard University Hospital, Civil Action No. 99-0410 (D.D.C. filed Feb. 22, 1999). In that case, plaintiff alleged race and national origin discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII; race discrimination and retaliation in violation of the DCHRA; and age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. On January 30, 2001, Judge Huvelle entered summary judgment for defendant on all the claims except the ADEA claim. Moses v. Howard University Hospital, Memorandum Opinion, Civil Action No. 99-0410 (D.D.C. Jan. 30, 2001). The parties settled the ADEA claim on or about May 17, 2001, and the action was voluntarily dismissed with prejudice.

Plaintiff was terminated in October 2000 while his discrimination case was pending before this Court. Thereafter, he filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the District of Columbia Office of Human Rights, and received a "right to sue" letter from the EEOC on September 14, 2001. Def. Ex. 5, EEOC Charge of Discrimination and Right to Sue Letter. On December 6, 2001, plaintiff filed the instant case alleging retaliation in violation of Title VII and the DCHRA.

B. Facts

Plaintiff Vijaykumar Moses was employed as a senior computer operator at Howard University Hospital from November 1985 until October 2000, when he was terminated. Def. Ex. 1, Plaintiff's Personnel Records. Plaintiff's job responsibilities included supervising the operation of all data processing equipment for the shift, helping staff with "recognition and correction of production problems" and assessing computer problems. Def. Ex. 16, Senior Computer Operator Position Description. Immediately prior to his termination, plaintiff worked the 4 p.m. to midnight shift. Moges Dep. at 37. Mr. Moses' immediate supervisor was Helen Mitchell, Manager of Systems Analysis and Planning and Interim Manager of Computer Operations. Mitchell Dep. at 11-14. From 1999 to 2000, Ms. Mitchell shared supervision of the computer center with Alem Moges, then the manager of Network Services. Hermonstyne Dep. at 27-28. Mr. Moges' schedule overlapped with plaintiff's schedule so that Mr. Moges had more contact with Mr. Moses than Ms. Mitchell did. Moges Dep. at 8, 10-11; Hermonstyne Dep. at 18. Mr. Moses disputes whether Mr. Moges had the authority to supervise him because Mr. Moges was not his direct supervisor. Moses Dep. at 26; Hermonstyne Dep. at 28.

Plaintiff and defendant agree that Mr. Moges, Ms. Mitchell, and Mr. Hermonstyne first became aware of the previous lawsuit upon which the instant retaliation suit is predicated in or around January or very early February of 2000, when Mr. Moges and Mr. Hermonstyne learned that they were to be deposed. See Moges Dep. at 40; Mitchell Dep. at 43; see also Moses Dep. at 42 (plaintiff never spoke to Mr. Moges, Ms. Mitchell or Mr. Hermonstyne about his lawsuit).

1. Events Prior to January 2000

Plaintiff's own handwritten notes indicate that management warned him about sleeping on the job in May of 1999. Def. Ex. 7, Plaintiff's Notes. On Aug. 4, 1999, Mr. Moges reprimanded plaintiff after catching him sleeping for at least ten minutes on the job. Def. Ex. 10, Moges Note. Mr. Moges also told plaintiff that he previously had seen plaintiff sleeping at work, and plaintiff responded that his cholesterol and diabetes medicines make him tired and force him to sleep. Mr. Moges threatened to write up plaintiff for dereliction of duty if he caught him sleeping again. Id. Sleeping in the computer room was specifically prohibited by the Hospital. See Def. Ex.17, 1997 Management Information Systems Memorandum ("Individuals found sleeping in the Computer Room, will be subject to disciplinary action.").

In a July 1999 performance evaluation, Ms. Mitchell gave plaintiff a "superior" rating out of the following categories, in descending order: excellent, superior, average, unsatisfactory. Def. Ex. 15, July 30, 1999 Personnel Evaluation of Moses ("1999 Eval.") at 6. She commented in the evaluation that plaintiff "needs to take a more positive attitude toward his position, responsibilities and leadership expectancies." Id. In response, plaintiff asked for more training, and wrote in the employee comments section: "I do an excellent job all the time so I must get an excellent evaluation." Id. Ms. Mitchell testified in her deposition that she gave plaintiff the benefit of the doubt on the evaluation because she was new to the job, but she said that often he could not perform assigned tasks, troubleshoot and "grasp" new technology. Mitchell Dep. at 31.

On October 1, 1999, Mr. Moges placed plaintiff on administrative leave with pay for two days after an argument over the conditions of plaintiff's dinner breakDef. Ex. 11, Moses Security Department Report, Memo to Moses from Moges. Plaintiff and defendant agree that Mr. Moges told plaintiff to take a dinner break. When plaintiff did not do so, Mr. Moges asked how long plaintiff's current task would take. According to Mr. Moges, plaintiff accused Mr. Moges of harassing him and trying to catch him sleeping, and called security to report Mr. Moges. Id. Plaintiff alleged that Mr. Moges harassed him by calling him crazy and threatening to fire him if he sleeps. Id. On October 4, 1999, plaintiff also alleged that Mr. Moges made a fist in a threatening gesture during the October 1 argument, although plaintiff did not assert this in his initial, same-day complaint to security. Id. After a meeting with management on October 5, 1999, plaintiff agreed to take standard 45-minute breaks instead of the one-hour breaks he had sought, and to follow the hospital's break policy in the future. Def. Ex. 15, October 7, 1999 Hermonstyne Memo and Summary of Meeting. Mr. Hermonstyne recommended the same day that plaintiff be terminated for "distorting the facts" about the incident, as well as for sleeping on the job on August 4, 1999. Id.

On November 2, 1999, Janice Viera reported to Mr. Hermonstyne that plaintiff had been more than an hour late to a computer training class, had been "inattentive" and found the class difficult to follow. Def. Ex. 26, Janice Viera Memo. Mr. Moges sent plaintiff a "final written warning," dated November 22, 1999, that stated: "Further incidents of unprofessional conduct and bouts of insubordination will result in further disciplinary action, ...

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