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Bagenstose v. District of Columbia

August 14, 2007

CHARLES M. BAGENSTOSE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John D. Bates United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Charles M. Bagenstose ("plaintiff") is a former teacher who has spent much of the last decade challenging before District of Columbia administrative bodies and courts the allegedly discriminatory and retaliatory actions that preceded the end of his teaching career in the District of Columbia Public School System. After those challenges proved unsuccessful, Bagenstose filed a two-count pro se complaint in this court against the District of Columbia ("the District") and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). Plaintiff's complaint, liberally construed, alleges that the District discriminated against him and retaliated against him in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and that, in handling his allegations of discrimination and retaliation, the District and the EEOC violated his right to due process of law afforded by the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Presently before the Court are the EEOC's motion to dismiss, the District's motion for summary judgment, and plaintiff's motion to schedule a status conference. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant each defendant's motion and deny plaintiff's motion as moot.

BACKGROUND

The facts relevant to plaintiff's claims begin with his original allegations of discrimination and retaliation dating from the mid-1990s, and include the lengthy proceedings that ensued before District of Columbia administrative agencies and courts. These facts are drawn from plaintiff's pro se complaint, from the exhibits attached to the District's memorandum in support of its motion for summary judgment ("D.C. Mem.")*fn1 , and from the exhibits accompanying plaintiff's oppositions to the dispositive motions filed by the District and the EEOC.

Bagenstose, a white male, was a mathematics teacher employed by the District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS") from 1979 until 1996. Compl. at 6 ¶ 12. In the early 1990s, plaintiff was working at the School Without Walls ("SWW"). SWW's principal at the time was Emily Crandall, an African-American female. Id. at 2 ¶ 1. At the start of the 1994-95 school year, there was already discord between plaintiff and Crandall, due in part to declining performance ratings that plaintiff believed were unjustified. D.C. Mem., Exh. F at 3. Plaintiff encountered additional difficulties during that same time period when he was accused of abusing a student and was initially suspended for two weeks without pay. Id. at 1-2 ¶ 1. He was later exonerated and recovered his lost pay. Id. at 2 ¶1. Plaintiff alleges that, in the wake of that incident, Crandall suggested to the parents of the student that they file a written request for a formal investigation into the matter. Id. She did not, however, suggest the same course of action to the parents of another student who had been similarly treated by an African-American teacher. This allegedly disparate treatment prompted plaintiff to file a complaint with the DCPS Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") office in September of 1994, the first of three administrative complaints at issue here. Id. at 1 ¶ 1; D.C. Mem., Exh. F at 4.

Plaintiff's troubles did not end there. His internal complaint, he maintains, triggered a series of discriminatory and retaliatory acts against him, beginning with harassment from students, parents, and other teachers at the SWW. Compl. at 2 ¶ 2. Plaintiff then filed a second complaint in February of 1995, this time with the D.C. Office of Human Rights ("OHR"). After conducting an initial investigation, the OHR found no probable cause to believe that plaintiff had been the victim of either retaliation or discrimination on the basis of age or race. The OHR's decision is not in the record, but plaintiff suggests in his Complaint that OHR based its finding of no racially disparate treatment on the fact that one student's parents complained to higher-ups, while the other student's parents did not. Id. at 8 ¶ 4. Plaintiff sought reconsideration of the administrative ruling, which the OHR denied in May of 1999. D.C. Mem., Exh. F. at 3.

As it turned out, the 1994-1995 school year was to be plaintiff's last at the SWW. On September 1, 1995, plaintiff was unofficially transferred to teach at another DCPS school, the Jefferson Junior High School. Compl. at 2 ¶ 2. DCPS provided conflicting reasons for the transfer. Whereas Crandall claimed that plaintiff had been reassigned to Jefferson after he was accused of harassing an exchange student, Jefferson's principal, Vera White, reported to the OHR that the reassignment had taken place for administrative reasons. D.C. Mem., Exh. F. at 4. Then, on June 19, 1996, plaintiff received a Reduction-in-Force ("RIF") notification informing him that he would be discharged effective July 19, 1996. Compl. at 2 ¶ 2; D.C. Mem., Exh. C at 1-2. The notification letter informed plaintiff of his right to appeal any failure by the DCPS to follow certain procedures for the proposed RIF and stated that plaintiff could retire if he was eligible. Id.; see also Bagenstose v. D.C. Office of Employee Appeals, 888 A.2d 1155, 1157 (D.C. 2005). At the same time, the letter did not inform plaintiff that he would be unable to challenge the proposed discharge if he chose to retire. Plaintiff further claims that, soon after receiving the discharge notice, he received a telephone call from the DCPS personnel office telling him that if he did not complete the relevant retirement application, he might not receive the maximum pension available to him. Id. at 1158. On July 24, 1996, plaintiff applied for retirement to take effect on June 30, 1996. Id. He signed the required form, but scrawled at the bottom: "RETIRING UNDER PROTEST. I really do not wish to retire but am forced to do so, because I have been RIF'ed." Pl.'s D.C. Opp'n, Attach. 3.

What plaintiff calls his "forced" retirement led to two subsequent administrative complaints. Plaintiff filed the first one, which challenged his selection for termination, with the D.C. Office of Employee Appeals ("OEA") on July 19, 1996. See Bagenstose, 888 A.2d at 1157. A hearing on the complaint was held before an OEA administrative law judge ("ALJ") in July of 2001. Plaintiff testified, as did three other teachers affected by the RIF and Principal White of the Jefferson School. D.C. Mem., Exh. E at 2. In October of 2001, the ALJ issued a written decision finding that plaintiff had failed to meet his burden of showing that his retirement was involuntary. Id. at 5. And because plaintiff had retired voluntarily, he had never been discharged as part of the RIF and could not contest the legality thereof. Plaintiff then challenged the OEA's determination in the District of Columbia Superior Court. After that court found that the OEA's administrative decision was based on substantial evidence and was not clearly erroneous, Pl.'s D.C. Opp'n, Attach. 4, plaintiff appealed to the District's highest court. Bagenstose, 888 A.2d at 1155. The D.C. Court of Appeals affirmed the administrative ruling in a published decision. Acknowledging that the RIF notice and the subsequent "phone message may have presented a difficult situation" for plaintiff, the court found no evidence that plaintiff had been misled or that his decision to retire had been made under such duress that it was involuntary. Id. at 1158.

Plaintiff filed his second complaint with the OHR on July 25, 1996. See D.C. Mem., Exh. B. As is relevant here, plaintiff claimed that DCPS discriminated and retaliated against him first by transferring him to the Jefferson School and subsequently by slating him for dismissal as part of the RIF. Id. The OHR conducted an investigation, during which it sought sworn statements from plaintiff and DCPS, requested documents from DCPS, required DCPS to respond to interrogatories, and received affidavits from certain individuals. D.C. Mem., Exh. F at 2. These submissions formed the basis for the OHR's findings of fact. In June of 2003, the OHR issued a "Letter of Determination" in which it found no probable cause to support plaintiff's discrimination claims, but that probable cause did exist to support his retaliation claims. Id. at 13. Specifically, the OHR found that plaintiff had engaged in protected activities when he wrote a letter to Principal Crandall in April of 1994 and, most critically, when he filed a complaint with the OHR in February of 1995. Id. at 11. No mention was made of plaintiff's September 1994 EEO complaint serving as the basis for either the retaliatory transfer or the RIF decision.

Plaintiff's retaliation claims did not, however, proceed directly to a trial-type proceeding before the D.C. Human Rights Commission. Instead, in early 2004, the Director of the OHR decided that further investigation was warranted on the question of whether anyone at the SWW knew about plaintiff's 1995 OHR complaint and whether that complaint could have prompted the allegedly retaliatory actions. D.C. Mem., Exh. A. at 2. The OHR thus scheduled a limited formal hearing dedicated to that issue on July 13, 2004. A few months after the hearing, the OHR reversed its probable-cause determination regarding the retaliation claim, concluding that Principal Crandall had no knowledge of the February 1995 complaint and that, without such knowledge, there could be no causal connection between plaintiff's protected activity and the adverse actions he suffered. Id. at 3. On June 30, 2005, the OHR denied plaintiff's request for reconsideration. Id. at 4. Plaintiff then sought judicial review in D.C. Superior Court. D.C. Mem., Exh. H at 1. On July 5, 2006, Judge Alprin of the Superior Court affirmed the OHR's ruling. Id. at 8. Especially significant in his view was the fact that an impartial hearing examiner had seen first hand Principal Crandall testify on the record that she had no knowledge of plaintiff's February 1995 complaint. Id. at 7-8. The judge also addressed plaintiff's repeated assertion that it was his September 1994 EEO complaint -- not the 1995 OHR complaint -- that prompted retaliatory actions by Crandall. This earlier complaint, the judge explained, "was too far removed in time from the transfer to raise a suspicion of retaliation," a finding that the judge believed to be implicit in the OHR's various decisions. Id. at 7.

While these proceedings were ongoing, plaintiff also sought relief from the Washington, D.C. field office of the EEOC. Plaintiff asked the EEOC to review the OHR's June 30, 2005 denial of his request for reconsideration. Compl. at 4 ¶ 6. David Gonzalez ("Gonzalez"), the EEOC's State and Local Coordinator in that field office, allegedly responded to plaintiff's petition by stating that the EEOC "would not investigate any charges against the OHR, because to do so would impair his [Gonzalez's] working relationship with the OHR." Id. In April of 2006, Gonzalez sent plaintiff a letter announcing that the EEOC was administratively closing his case and was issuing him a right-to-sue letter. Pl.'s EEOC Opp'n, Exh. 1. The right-to-sue letter informed plaintiff that he had ninety days from receipt to file a suit against the D.C. government in federal court. Id. Undeterred, plaintiff questioned the propriety of Gonzalez's actions with his supervisors. Dana R. Hutter, Director of the EEOC's Washingto, D.C. field office, responded to plaintiff with a letter in June of 2006 reiterating the EEOC's position that the OHR had "appropriately handled" the charges lodged and that plaintiff's only recourse at that point was to file suit in federal court. Pl.'s EEOC Opp'n, Exh. 2.

Heeding that advice, plaintiff filed the present Complaint in July of 2006.*fn2 Count I alleges that the OHR committed a series of "retaliatory acts to obstruct the Plaintiff's right to due process under the civil rights laws." Compl. at 7. In Count II, plaintiff alleges that the EEOC "aids and abets the OHR's efforts to thwart the civil rights laws" in a number of ways. Id. at 10. Plaintiff seeks an award of back pay, lost benefits, and court costs, as well as punitive and compensatory damages for his pain and suffering. Compl. at 13. He also asks to be reinstated as a teacher at the SWW and for an injunction that orders the OHR and the OEA to refrain from committing "the egregious acts discussed in []his complaint," and that requires the "EEOC to enforce the civil rights laws irrespective of who violates them." Id.

STANDARDS OF REVIEW

The EEOC moves to dismiss plaintiff's claim against it for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction or, in the alternative, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. "[I]n passing on a motion to dismiss, whether on the ground of lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter or for failure to state a cause of action, the allegations of the complaint should be construed favorably to the pleader." Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974); see Leatherman v. Tarrant Cty. Narcotics and Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164 (1993); Phillips v. Bureau of Prisons, 591 F.2d 966, 968 (D.C. Cir. 1979). Therefore, the factual allegations must be presumed true, and plaintiff must be given every favorable inference that may be drawn from the allegations of fact. Scheuer, 416 U.S. at 236; Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000). The Court need not, however, accept as true "a legal ...


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