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Williams v. Chertoff

June 27, 2007

HENRY L. WILLIAMS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL CHERTOFF, SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Royce C. Lamberth, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter comes before the court on defendant's motion for summary judgment [26]. The Court has considered defendant's motion [26], plaintiff's opposition thereto [68], defendant's reply [77], the entire record herein, and the applicable law. For the reasons set forth below, defendant's motion will be GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

When he filed his complaint with this Court, plaintiff Henry L. Williams, an African-American male, was forty-nine years old. (Pl.'s Compl. 2.) Williams had served twenty-two years as a United States Secret Service Officer and was then part of the Dignitary Protection Division ("DPD"). (Id.) His duties included patrolling an assigned "sector" in a police cruiser, usually with a partner in the vehicle, and checking security at specific diplomatic locations at appointed times. (Pl.'s Ex. 2 at 17; Pl.'s Ex. 8 at 44, 98.)

On January 28, 2005, Williams filed a complaint [3] in this Court against his employer, then-Secretary of Homeland Security Thomas J. Ridge, in his official capacity, alleging numerous instances of race and age discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16 ("Title VII") and 29 U.S.C. § 633a ("the ADEA"), respectively. (Pl.'s Compl. 1-2, 6-7.) Williams also alleged retaliation for his participation in the EEOC hearing process and asserted a hostile work environment claim under Title VII. (Pl.'s Compl. 7.) Defendant moved to dismiss [3] for failure to state a claim on April 15, 2005.

On November 1, 2005, this Court dismissed [9] plaintiff's race and age discrimination claims as to events prior to October 6, 2002 for failure to bring timely administrative action. Williams v. Chertoff, No. 05-211, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 38847, at *4-5 (D.D.C. Nov. 1, 2005) (Lamberth J.). The Court also dismissed plaintiff's retaliation claim but permitted his hostile work environment claim to proceed. Id. at *8-9.

Two weeks later, defendant filed his answer [10], and on November 15, 2006, a motion for summary judgment [26]. Plaintiff opposed this motion [68] on January 8, 2007, and defendant replied [77] on April 10. The motion reaches both remaining claims: 1) race and age discrimination in suspending plaintiff for nine days on November 14, 2002; and 2) hostile work environment.*fn1 These claims rest on a series of events that began March 3, 2002.

1. Confrontation Between Officer Williams and Sergeant Angerome

On the night of March 2, 2002, plaintiff and Officer Curtis Chappell, who is also African-American, were assigned to conduct patrols in Cruiser 1B1. (Pl.'s Ex. 7 at 1, 2.) Without seeking authorization from their supervisors, Chappell switched vehicles to ride with a different partner. (Id.; Pl.'s Ex. 2 at 69.) Officer Nathan Judd rode with Williams until approximately 2:10 a.m. on March 3, after which Williams patrolled alone. (Pl.'s Ex. 2 at 17; Pl.'s Ex. 3 at 2.)

As occasionally happened, the communications system linking DPD cruisers failed that night, causing Cruiser 1B1's radio to malfunction. (Pl.'s Ex. 3 at 2; Pl.'s Ex. 5 at 54; Pl.'s Ex. 6 at 39-40.) Before Williams dropped Judd at the Control Center ("CC"), he heard CC attempting to locate a cruiser over the radio. (Pl.'s Ex. 3 at 2.) When Williams queried the operator, he learned he was the object of the search. (Id.) Williams' supervisor, Sergeant Anthony Angerome, a White Hispanic male, overheard this exchange. (Id.) Heasked when the search had begun and discovered that CC had been searching for Williams since 1:52 a.m, approximately ten to fifteen minutes earlier. (Id.) Judd advised CC of Cruiser 1B1's radio problems after Williams dropped him off. (Pl.'s Ex. 1 at 2.)

Some minutes later, Angerome learned from Chappell that Chappell had switched vehicles without authorization, and though he called for a meeting at CC to discuss the matter, Williams did not respond. (Pl.'s Ex. 7 at 2.) At CC, Angerome directed Chappell to remove his belongings from the other cruiser and to join him in his cruiser. (Pl.'s Ex. 7 at 2.) According to Chappell, all units were then searching for Cruiser 1B1. (Id.)

Sometime before 3:00 a.m., Williams was on Massachusetts Avenue, outside his assigned patrol sector, when he stopped to give directions to two tourists. (Pl.'s Dep. 38; Pl.'s Ex. 3 at 2.)

Moments before, Williams had heard Angerome call him over the radio to ask for his mileage and location. (Id.) Williams had responded, providing his mileage and giving his location as "19th and Wyoming," a common meeting point for officers and supervisors. (Id.; Pl.'s Ex. 2 at 33.) Though Williams declares he intended to drive to that location, he was not there when Angerome arrived, and Angerome again contacted him over the radio to request his mileage and location. (Id. at 52; Pl.'s Ex. 3 at 2.) When Williams provided his true location, on Massachusetts Avenue, Angerome instructed Williams to await him there.*fn2 (Id.)

Angerome met Williams on Massachusetts Avenue somewhere between 20th Street and Sheridan Circle. (See Pl.'s Ex. 7 at 2; Pl.'s Ex. 9 at 8; Pl.'s Ex. 24 at 3.) The precise details of the confrontation that followed are unclear. According to Williams, Angerome slammed his cruiser door and approached Williams in "an extremely agitated state." (Pl.'s Ex. 3 at 3; Pl.'s Ex. 13 at 1.) He claims Angerome "started yelling" at him, demanding to know where he had been. (Pl.'s Ex. 2 at 58; Pl.'s Ex. 3 at 2.) Officer Chappell, who was in Angerome's vehicle and who observed the encounter, recalled not hearing what Angerome said to Williams, and he noted only that Williams "was not happy" about it. (Pl.'s Ex. 7 at 2.)

Chappell recalled that Williams then "started to speak loud [sic] with Sgt. Angerome." (Id.) The parties do agree on this aspect of Williams' conduct: in a raised voice, Williams declared Angerome would not have requested his location and mileage over the radio, nor would he have yelled at him, had Williams been one of three white officers, whom he named. (Pl.'s Ex. 3 at 3.) He accused Angerome of being a racist, (id.), and declared that "a black man was always being f***** with," (Pl.'s Ex.13 at 1; Pl.'s Ex. 29 at 1).

According to Angerome, Williams then launched a profanity-laden tirade in which he demanded to know why "people were after him" and insisted he was the victim of race discrimination. (Pl.'s Ex. 31 at 3.) Williams' account implies he continued to speak in a raised voice but does not offer an alternative version of what he said. (Pl.'s Ex. 3 at 3 (Pl.'s Aff.) ("Sgt. Rosa showed up shortly afterward and [] asked me to lower my voice").)

Sergeant Richard Rosa, whose ethnicity is not part of the record, and Lieutenant Joseph McBride, who is white, arrived at the scene some moments later, and both reported hearing Williams make generalized allegations of racial discrimination and harassment.*fn3 (Pl.'s Ex. 6 at 64; Pl.'s Ex. 9 at 63.) Rosa had heard Williams and Angerome's earlier radio exchange and stated that because he "knew [Williams] was somewhat agitated and bothered," he drove to Massachusetts Avenue "to just help diffuse things if possible." (Pl.'s Ex. 9 at 58.) Angerome summoned McBride, who was the watch commander that night and who arrived after Rosa, by radio. (Pl.'s Ex. 3 at 3; Pl.'s Ex. 8 at 82.) When McBride arrived, he spoke with first Angerome and then Williams. (Pl.'s Ex. 2 at 79, 84.) McBride directed Williams to remove his belongings from Cruiser 1B1 and to accompany him back to CC. (Id. at 84.)

2. Management's Response to the Confrontation

a. Anger Management Class

Soon after this incident, Williams' chain-of-command referred him to the Employee Assistance Program ("EAP"), which "provid[es] counseling services to employees and their families."(Pl.'s Ex. 34 at 1.) Counselor Helen Pitts, an African-American female, met with Williams and arranged for him to attend an anger management class in April 2002. (Id. at 1-2.)

Rosa, however, directly contradicted this detail in his deposition. (Pl.'s Ex. 9 at 64.) Instead, he remembers encountering Williams "between the passenger and the trunk . . . on the driver's side" of Cruiser 1B1, and though Rosa "motioned him to get on the sidewalk," Williams returned to the roadway, "pacing back and forth." (Pl.'s Ex. 9 at 61, 63.) Chappell, who watched from Angerome's cruiser, noted that "[w]hen [] Williams was talking he was standing in between both cars" but that after approaching Angerome's vehicle at one point to speak with Chappell, Williams "returned to the sidewalk." (Pl.'s Ex. 7 at 2.) In a written statement given March 4, 2002, Angerome stated that Williams "ranted and raved walking in and out of Massachusetts Ave." (Pl.'s Ex. 31 at 3.) McBride recalled that when he arrived at the scene, "Williams was in the middle of the street" and was "waving his arms about." (Pl.'s Ex. 6 at 57; Pl.'s Ex. 10 at 1.)

Plaintiff admits to raising his voice and cursing to his supervisor while on duty, in uniform, in or near a public street. (Pl.'s Ex. 3 at 3; Pl.'s Ex. 13 at 1; Pl.'s Ex. 29 at 1.) His establishment of his precise location and arm movements during this speech would in no way raise an inference that the Secret Service unlawfully discriminated in disciplining him for it. Hence, the inconsistencies he identifies are not material issues.

b. Proposed Suspension

The U.S. Secret Service's discipline policy is set out in its Human Resources and Training Manual. (Pl.'s Ex. 12 at 2.) Typically, an employee's superiors provide information concerning incidents of misconduct to the Employee Relations Branch ("ERB"), which assigns an investigator to "research[] the case" and determine whether any regulations have been violated. (Id. at 2-3; Pl.'s Ex. 29 at 9, 28-29.) If the investigator concludes a violation has occurred, he then reviews the employee's past disciplinary record, weighs "similarly situated cases," and drafts a letter for the employee's supervisor's signature detailing the proposed discipline.*fn4 (Id. at 9, 31.)

On March 4, 2002, Carey sent a memorandum summarizing the previous night's events to ERB and requested they recommend appropriate disciplinary action. (Pl.'s Ex. 31 at 1-2.) Specialist Jack Kinnear reviewed Carey's submission, which included statements from Angerome and McBride, as well as Williams' own statement and Williams' prior disciplinary record. (Pl.'s Ex. 29 at 25, 29-30.) Williams' record included one prior disciplinary action: in October 1997, Williams "engaged in an argument" with another Secret Service employee, resulting in five-day suspensions for both men. (Pl.'s Ex. 30 at 2-3.) Secret Service policy prescribes progressively severe disciplinary action. (See, e.g., Pl.'s Ex. 27 at 74.) When an officer's misconduct occurs publicly, so as to tarnish the Secret Service's image, this serves as an aggravating factor. (Pl.'s Ex. 29 at 11-12.)

Specialist Kinnear determined Williams had violated one section of the Human Resources and Training Manual and two sections of the Uniformed Division Manual, each of which mandates courteousness, decorum, and otherwise professional behavior at all times, particularly toward other officers.*fn5 (Pl.'s Ex. 28 at 2.) In late April, he recommended to Carey that Williams be suspended for ten days. (Pl.'s Ex. 13 at 7; Pl.'s Ex. 28 at 1.)

In a May 7 email, Carey observed that Williams had seemed calmer since completing the anger management course and characterized a ten-day suspension as too severe. (Pl.'s Ex. 13 at 7.) That same day, Carey presented the proposed ten-day suspension to Williams. (See Pl.'s Ex. 28 at 1-4.) McBride and Angerome joined Williams and Carey at this meeting. (Pl.'s Ex. 2 at 102.) Carey indicated he would hold the suspension in abeyance if Williams attended further anger management courses. (Id. at 104, 106; Pl.'s Ex. 10 at 2.)

At this point, the participants' account diverge. Williams claims McBride and Angerome threatened to retaliate against him if he were to file an EEO complaint. (Pl.'s Ex. 3 at 3.) The evidence before the Court does not include Angerome's recollection of this meeting. (See Pl.'s Exs. 8, 26.) McBride, however, denies making any such threat. (Pl.'s Ex. 10 at 2.) He recalls, instead, that Williams "stated that he wanted the suspension" and then used hand motions to indicate his skin color, observing "it would always be white against black." (Id.) Carey described a similar meeting in his deposition, although it is unclear from the excerpts provided when this meeting occurred.*fn6 Carey described the May 7 meeting using strikingly similar language in a May 8 email to ERB. (Pl.'s Ex. 13 at 6.) In the email, Carey declared that his "initial assessment of Officer Williams was wrong[;]" that he believed Williams was "paranoid and easily agitated[;]" and that he believed Williams had not "learned anything from the anger management classes thus far." (Id.) Carey further stated that he now agreed with the proposed ten-day suspension. (Id.)

On May 17, 2002, Williams responded in writing. (See Pl.'s Ex. 13.) He disputed how the proposal characterized his confrontation with Angerome, alleging that Angerome's "unprofessional and confrontational behavior . . . was racially motivated," but he admitted he had been upset, raised his voice, and used profanity. (Id. at 1.)

c. Fitness For Duty Examination

Four days later, Williams "was relieved of [his] weapon and given limited duties,"(Pl.'s Ex. 3 at 3), "based on a pattern of unacceptable behavior displayed . . . over the course of the past few years," (Pl.'s Ex. 15).Though plaintiff consistently refers to his status as "limited duty," (see, e.g., Pl.'s Ex. 3 at 2; Pl.'s Compl. at 4, 5), the receipt he received for his weapon reads "restricted duty," (Pl.'s Ex. 14). According to Robert Knight, DPD's Deputy Special Agent in Charge ("DSAIC"), "an individual is placed on limited duty for a medical reason, while an individual is placed on restricted duty for conduct issues." (Pl.'s Ex. 11 at 9.)

Soon thereafter, Knight became DSAIC and decided to order Williams to undergo a fitness for duty examination ("FFD"). (Id.) Knight relied on Angerome's description of Williams' March 3, 2002 conduct as well as the suspension proposal's recounting of that night's events, but he also reviewed Williams initial written statement and his response to the proposed suspension. (Pl.'s Ex. 27 at 22, 23, 47.) Further, Knight knew about Williams' 1997 suspension and that a Maryland National Capital Park Police officer had complained to the Secret Service about an encounter with Williams.*fn7 (Pl.'s Ex. 11 at 4-5.)

Knight determined that Williams' "history appeared to suggest that [he] might be subject to outbreaks of anger which did not seem to be under control, and that could impact upon his duties as a Secret Service Uniformed Division officer." (Pl.'s Ex. 11 at 3.) Knight states he was particularly concerned about Williams' fitness for duty because Williams' job requires him to carry a firearm, provides him with access to high-level domestic and foreign government officials, and empowers him to make arrests. (Id. at 5.)

On June 5, 2002, Knight ordered Williams in writing to complete the FFD. (See Pl.'s Ex.15.) An FFD is a medical examination that includes both physical and psychological components. (See id.) Williams visited three physicians, and on July 19, 2002, the reviewing physician at the Department of Health & Human Services drafted his final report. (See Pl.'s Ex. 16.) The reviewing physician concluded that Williams was medically fit for duty, "without restriction or accommodation," and that he "should be encouraged to continue in counseling . . . and to participate in anger management classes/therapy for the next six months." (Id. at 3.) Williams returned to full duty on July 23, 2002. (See Pl.'s Ex. 18.)

In his complaint and deposition, Williams describes events he alleges occurred after Knight ordered him to undergo the FFD. Williams claims "everybody" mocked him, "calling [him] a crazy man" and asking if he was "taking [his] meds today." (Pl.'s Ex. 2 at 108.) In his deposition, Williams listed three officers, including McBride, who asked him if he was "on [his] meds." (Id. at 126.) He also alleges someone placed "a picture drawn of [him] with a cap and gown saying hey, congratulations, you graduated from Psych[] 101" on his locker, which was (Pl.'s Ex. 30 at 4-5.) The stop occurred in April 2001, and the Park Police complained to the Secret Service that same month. (Id.) visible from the locker room entrance. (Id. at 124, 126.) Williams further contends he felt isolated because his fellow officers no longer wanted to be near him.*fn8 (Id. at 128.)

d. Suspension

In late July 2002, when Williams returned to active duty, DSAIC Knight had not yet decided to issue the proposed suspension, having held it in abeyance pending the FFD results. (Pl.'s Ex. 11 at 3.) Knight recalls learning these results in July or August 2002. (Pl's Ex. 11 at 5.) In August, ERB reissued the suspension proposal "with [Knight] as the deciding official," which reset "the clock" for processing the suspension. (Pl.'s Ex. 27 at 83.) Although Williams did not respond verbally to the proposed suspension within the allotted time, on or about August 22, 2002, Knight claims he sought ...


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