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Robinson-Reeder v. Am. Council on Educ.

January 29, 2008


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


Plaintiff Jacqueline T. Robinson-Reeder, proceeding pro se, brings this action against her former employer the American Council on Education ("ACE") asserting racial discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and a common law defamation claim. Currently before the Court is ACE's motion for judgment on the pleadings. Upon careful consideration of the motion and the parties' memoranda, the applicable law, and the entire record, the Court will grant ACE's motion.


I. Factual History

Plaintiff, an African-American female, first began working for ACE on a temporary basis in June 2006 as an Executive Assistant. See Dec. 15, 2006 Charge of Discrimination ("EEOC Charge"). Three months later, in September 2006, plaintiff was hired to fill the position on a permanent basis. See id. All of the events at issue in plaintiff's Complaint occurred after she was employed in a permanent capacity. In September and October 2006, plaintiff requested a new software program for her computer, and she had difficulty in obtaining technical assistance for the installation. Compl. ¶ 2.*fn1 According to plaintiff, this was nothing new because "ACE had neglected to provide technical assistance in the past to (2) two Caucasian employees who had similar technical problems." Id. Plaintiff contends that these two Caucasian employees were subsequently transferred and promoted after they voiced their complaints about the technical assistance process. Plaintiff, on the other hand, indicates that she never complained about the technical assistance or lack thereof. Id.

Although plaintiff never complained about her problems with the technical assistance department, she made several complaints regarding an office assistant who was hired on October 16, 2006. Id. ¶ 3. Plaintiff contends that the office assistant was hired due to "favoritism" because she was related to or was friends with an associate in Human Resources. Id. ¶ 5. When the new office assistant started at ACE, she reported to plaintiff and shared a similar working area in the front office of the organization. Plaintiff contends that the office assistant was insubordinate, "refused to complete assignments and disrespected the plaintiff" from October 17, 2006, through November 6, 2006. According to plaintiff, the situation with the office assistant was "intolerable." Id. ¶ 3. On November 2, 2006, plaintiff met with the Executive Director to discuss her complaints about the new office assistant. Id. ¶ 4.

Four days later, on November 6, 2006, plaintiff received a letter from the Executive Director, which acknowledged plaintiff's concerns about the office assistant and indicated the office assistant's performance would be addressed. Id.; see also Probation Notice at 1. The letter also informed plaintiff that she herself was being placed on probation for thirty days because the Executive Director had received complaints about her "rude" behavior from four different departments. See Probation Notice at 1. According to the notice, the Executive Director planned to discuss these issues with plaintiff before the notice was issued, but plaintiff "did not come to work." Id. The letter stated: "My expectation is that you will change your behavior immediately. . . . If at any point during the 30 days, I receive a complaint that I confirm, I will have no choice but to terminate your employment." Id. Ending on a positive note, the Executive Director wrote: "Jackie, I think you have tremendous potential as an employee of ACE and HED. Please let me know if I can do anything to assist you as you address these concerns." Id. at 2.

Plaintiff was understandably upset upon receipt of the probation notice and claims that the allegations of her "rude" behavior are false. Compl. ¶ 2. Based upon the probation notice, the strained relationship with the new office assistant, and the problems receiving technical support, plaintiff claims to have "suffered mental anguish" in an "unhealthy workplace environment." Id. ¶ 6. Plaintiff, therefore, immediately submitted a notice of resignation on the very same day that she received the probation notice. See Letter of Resignation.*fn2

After plaintiff resigned from ACE, she attempted to secure a permanent position elsewhere at a salary to which she was accustomed. Plaintiff alleges that she has been unable to secure such employment because ACE has given negative references to some potential employers and has refused to provide any references to other potential employers. Compl. ¶¶ 7-9.

II. Procedural History

On December 15, 2006 -- less than six weeks after she received the probation notice -- plaintiff filed her first Charge of Discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). See EEOC Charge. On the form, plaintiff checked the box which indicated she had been discriminated against on account of her race. In describing the particulars of her charge, plaintiff stated that she had been "unjustly placed on probation for 30 days based upon complaints that [she] had been rude to individuals" and that she had subsequently resigned "due to this intolerable treatment." Id. On February 12, 2007, the EEOC issued plaintiff a "right to sue" notice regarding this charge. See Dismissal and Notice of Rights.

Plaintiff filed a second Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC on March 1, 2007. See Mar. 1, 2007 Charge of Discrimination ("Second EEOC Charge"). In this charge, plaintiff selected the retaliation box and alleged that ACE was providing negative references to potential employers in retaliation for her EEOC activity. Id. Plaintiff has neither argued nor demonstrated that she received a "right to sue" letter regarding her second charge.

Based upon a liberal reading of plaintiff's filings, it appears that she is now raising five claims before this Court: (I) a disparate treatment claim regarding her request for technical assistance; (II) a disparate treatment claim regarding the probation notice; (III) a retaliation claim related to her complaints about the office assistant; (IV) a retaliation claim related to her EEOC activity; and (V) a defamation claim regarding the negative references that ACE has allegedly provided to potential employers.*fn3 ACE has moved for judgment on the pleadings arguing that plaintiff has failed to exhaust her administrative remedies, that neither the probation notice nor plaintiff's resignation constitutes an adverse action, and that plaintiff has failed to allege that she engaged in a statutorily protected activity to support a retaliation claim. ACE therefore argues that the Court should dismiss all of plaintiff's Title VII claims and should subsequently decline to exercise supplement jurisdiction over plaintiff's common law defamation claim.


Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c), a motion for judgment on the pleadings shall be granted if the moving party demonstrates that "no material fact is in dispute and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Peters v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., 966 F.2d 1483, 1485 (D.C. Cir. 1992) (internal quotation omitted). The appropriate standard for reviewing a motion for judgment on the pleadings is the same as that applied to a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Dale v. Exec. Office of the President, 164 F. Supp. 2d 22, 24 (D.D.C. 2001). All that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require of a complaint is that it contain "'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon ...

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