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Scott v. Alexander

December 3, 2007

ELIZABETH SCOTT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
OFFICE OF RODNEY ALEXANDER, MEMBER, U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Colleen Kollar-kotelly United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This is an employment case brought pursuant to the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 by Elizabeth Scott, who was employed in the Office of Congressman Rodney Alexander. Currently before the Court is Defendant's [27] Motion to Dismiss Count III of Plaintiff's Supplemental Complaint ("Complaint") and Defendant's [26] Motion for Summary Judgment as to Counts I and IV of the Complaint. After a thorough review of the Parties' submissions and exhibits attached thereto, applicable case law, statutory authority, and the record as a whole, the Court shall grant Defendant's [27] Motion to Dismiss, and deny without prejudice Defendant's

[26] Motion for Summary Judgment, for the reasons set forth below.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

Plaintiff began working as an intern in the Office of Congressman Rodney Alexander (the "Office") in the fall of 2005.*fn1 See Pl.'s Suppl. Compl. ¶ 5. In November 2005, Plaintiff was hired into a full-time paid position in the Office as a Scheduler for Congressman Alexander ("the Congressman"). Id. ¶ 6. Plaintiff alleges that the Office's Chief of Staff, Royal Alexander (the "Chief of Staff"), "engaged in a course of misconduct with respect to Plaintiff that included, among other things, inappropriate sex-based comments, ogling and touching." Id. ¶ 7. According to Plaintiff, Defendant removed her as Scheduler and transferred her to a lesser position "at least in part because she resisted the misconduct referenced above and complained of possible sex discrimination." Id. ¶ 10. Thereafter, Plaintiff claims the working conditions became so intolerable that she felt compelled to quit her job at the Office. Id. ¶ 11.

Plaintiff filed a four-count Complaint against the Office on September 27, 2006: Count I, sexual harassment (alleging the Chief of Staff sexually harassed her); Count II, discrimination (alleging male and female employees were paid differently because of their sex); Count III, retaliation (alleging her removal as Scheduler was retaliation against her); and Count IV, constructive discharge (alleging working conditions became so intolerable Plaintiff felt compelled to quit her job). Id. ¶¶ 15-24. Plaintiff filed a "supplemental" Complaint on December 28, 2006, adding a fifth Count for post-employment retaliation (alleging the Office retaliated against her when the House of Representatives's Office of the Chief Administrative Officer recouped an overpayment it had inadvertently made to Plaintiff in her final paycheck).

Id. ¶¶ 25-32. Plaintiff asserted these claims under the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, 2 U.S.C. §§ 1301-1438 ("CAA"), which confers on certain legislative employees the rights and remedies drawn from various labor and employment statutes, including the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-219, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to 2000e-17. See Fields v. Office of Eddie Bernice Johnson, 459 F.3d 1, 4-5 (D.C. Cir. 2006), cert. denied and appeal dismissed, -- U.S. --, 127 S.Ct. 2018 (2007). The CAA also includes an anti-retaliation provision prohibiting an employing office from retaliating against an employee because the employee opposed or reported a practice made unlawful by the CAA. Id.

B. Procedural Background

The Court held an Initial Scheduling Conference with the Parties on March 16, 2007. Defendant advised the Court that the Supreme Court was expected to hear arguments in Office of Senator Mark Dayton v. Hanson, an appeal of the D.C. Circuit's en banc decision discussing the Speech or Debate Clause of the United States Constitution, Art. I § 6 ("Speech or Debate Clause" or "Clause") in the context of CAA claims.*fn2 See Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss and for Summ. J. at 5. Defendant further advised the Court that Hanson could have a direct impact on the present case. Id. The Court instructed the Parties to notify the Court after the Supreme Court issued its decision in Hanson, and if necessary, the Court would order the Parties to brief issues related to the Speech or Debate Clause at that time. See Pl.'s Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. 1 at 2-3 (March 16, 2007 hearing transcript). In the interim, the Court ordered discovery to begin but declined Defendant's request to set a briefing schedule for Summary Judgment Motions. Id. at 2 ("I would ask that you not just simply file motions [prior to the end of discovery]. You need to contact the court . . . what happens is, especially motions for summary judgment, is the other side usually [files a Motion under Fed. R. Civ. P.] 56(f) . . . So I would ask that you not file something before discovery is done.").

The Parties exchanged interrogatories and discovery requests immediately following the hearing. See Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss and for Summ. J. at 5 n.7. Defendant indicates that the Parties have provided some (but not all) of their interrogatory responses, document productions, and requests for admission. Id. On May 21, 2007, Defendant took Plaintiff's deposition, wherein Plaintiff was questioned about the conduct underlying the allegations in her Complaint. Plaintiff apparently had a difficult time answering Defendant's questions, reportedly using the expression "I don't recall at this time" (or some variation thereof) approximately five hundred and three (503) times.*fn3 See [32] Def.'s Reply to Pl.'s Opp'n at 3-6. According to Defendant, Plaintiff's testimony establishes that she cannot prove certain elements of her sexual harassment (Count I) and constructive discharge (Count IV) claims. See Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss and for Summ. J. at 28 & n. 26.

The Supreme Court issued its decision in Hanson on May 21, 2007, dismissing the appeal for lack of jurisdiction under the CAA and, after construing the appeal as a petition for a writ of certiorari, denying the petition. See Office of Senator Mark Dayton v. Hanson, -- U.S. --, 127 S.Ct. 2018, 2020 (2007). The Supreme Court's dismissal of the case confirmed that the D.C. Circuit's Fields decision set forth the governing principles in this Circuit with respect to the Speech or Debate Clause in the context of CAA claims. Accordingly, Defendant notified the Court that the Congressman "expressly asserts the Speech or Debate Clause privilege to its fullest extent as to bar further litigation" of the present suit. Def.'s [24] Mot. for Status Conf. at 2. The Court ordered the Parties to brief the impact of the Speech or Debate Clause on the instant case. See Minute Order dated May 31, 2007. After conferring with this Court, Magistrate Judge Alan Kay, to whom all discovery-related matters had been assigned, ordered a stay of discovery pending a ruling on the Speech or Debate Clause motions. See Minute Order dated June 8, 2007.

On July 12, 2007, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss Count III of Plaintiff's Complaint based on the Speech or Debate Clause. Defendant also filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on Counts I and IV of the Complaint based on Plaintiff's deposition testimony. Plaintiff filed an Opposition to each Motion on August 24, 2007, and requested relief from the Court pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(f), arguing that Plaintiff did not have the opportunity to complete necessary discovery. Defendant filed Replies to each Opposition on September 18, 2007, and claimed for the first time in the Reply that the Speech or Debate Clause applied to Counts I and IV (the claims on which Defendant had brought its Motion for Summary Judgment).

II. DISCUSSION

A. Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Retaliation ...


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