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Fields v. Johnson

October 10, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: James Robertson United States District Judge


Plaintiff is an African-American female and former chief of staff for Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson. She accuses Congresswoman Johnson -- the first African-American female to represent Dallas, Texas, in Congress -- of race and gender discrimination. She asserts claims of unequal pay, disparate treatment, and retaliation for her opposition to the firing of another African-American female. Before the Court is defendant's motion for summary judgment.

A motion for summary judgment will be granted where the papers on file show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). While "all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in the [non-movant's] favor," id. at 255, the opposition must consist of more than mere unsupported allegations or denials. What is required is specific evidence showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986). In addition, the non-movant must provide evidence that would permit a reasonable jury to find in her favor. Laningham v. United States Navy, 813 F.2d 1236, 1241 (D.C. Cir. 1987). "If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 249-50 (citations omitted).

For the reasons set forth below, I have concluded that the uncorroborated and self-serving statements of plaintiff herself, upon which she chiefly relies, do not raise genuine issues of material fact, and that plaintiff has not met the challenge presented by defendant's motion for summary judgment. The motion will accordingly be granted.

A. Unequal Pay Claim

Plaintiff was the highest paid employee in Rep. Johnson's office at all times during her employment. She nevertheless alleges that, when her pay is compared to that of the legislative director, it was unequal. Even if that allegation is well-founded, however, her claim must be dismissed, because it is untimely.

The congressional equivalent of the Equal Pay Act is found at 2 U.S.C. §§ 1401 et seq. The jurisdiction of the district courts over such actions is expressly premised on the employee's having completed counseling and mediation. Id.

§ 1408(a). The statute further requires that counseling be requested within 180 days after the date on which the alleged discriminatory conduct occurred. Id. § 1402(a). Plaintiff did not file a timely request for counseling.

The factual basis of plaintiff's pay claim is the allegedly disparate raises she and the legislative director received in 2003. The defense asserts that these raises happened in May of 2003.*fn1 The plaintiff obliquely responds that the raises were "effective" in the "Summer" of 2003, and that she "contacted" the Office of Compliance in "October-November 2003 about filing her claims," but that "the paperwork was not completed until the early part of December 2003." Plaintiff's representations about the relevant dates are vague and self-serving. The record establishes that the date of the pay raises was no later than the end of May 2003, and that counseling was requested no earlier than mid-December 2003 -- when more than 180 days had elapsed.

B. Disparate Treatment Claim

Plaintiff appears to allege disparate treatment with respect to her termination and the conditions of her employment before she was fired. These disparate treatment claims fail, however, because plaintiff has neither adduced direct evidence of discriminatory intent, see Holbrook v. Reno, 196 F.3d 255, 260 (D.C. Cir. 1999), nor shown that she could prevail under the burden shifting framework of McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). Plaintiff alleges that Rep. Johnson made derogatory statements about black employees and laudatory statements about Asian and white employees.*fn2 See Fields Deposition [Dkt. 53, Exhibit 6] at 79-84, 281-83. She offers no evidence to support these charges except her own testimony, and she has produced no corroboration of her story, notwithstanding her assertion that these alleged statements were overheard by others, directed towards others, and complained about by others. Id. at 79-84. Self-serving testimony does not create genuine issues of material fact, especially where that very testimony suggests that corroborating evidence should be readily available.*fn3

Plaintiff's claim that she alone was made to do the congresswoman's chores, even if it is a claim of race and gender discrimination by disparate treatment, is wholly uncorroborated.

There is a statement from another person to the effect that he witnessed her cleaning on one occasion, but that very same statement suggests that others were made to do chores as well, such as having the congresswoman's car serviced and filled with gas. Stewart Declaration [Dkt. 56, Exhibit 5] at ¶¶ 15-16.

If plaintiff is to proceed without direct evidence to support a claim of discrimination, she must establish a prima facie case and then, if the defendant proffers nondiscriminatory reasons for the ...

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