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Winder v. District of Columbia

May 20, 2008

ALFRED M. WINDER PLAINTIFF,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Alfred M. Winder formerly served as General Manager of the Division of Transportation of the D.C. Public Schools ("DCPS"). After he was terminated from employment in 2003, he brought this action against several DCPS officials and the District of Columbia for alleged violations of his First Amendment and due process rights under the U.S. Constitution, and of various rights under District of Columbia law and the federal and D.C. Family and Medical Leave Acts. See Winder v. Erste, 511 F. Supp. 2d 160 (D.D.C. 2007); Winder v. Erste, No. 03-2623, 2005 WL 736639 (D.D.C. Mar. 31, 2005). All but one of the claims were resolved following motions to dismiss and motions for summary judgment. See Winder, 511 F. Supp. 2d at 170-87. The sole remaining claim is Count IX of the Second Amended Complaint alleging breach of a written employment contract based on the District's alleged denial of benefits due under the contract. The District of Columbia has now moved for summary judgment.*fn1 For the reasons explained below, the Court will grant in part and deny in part defendant's motion, and enter a final judgment in this action.

BACKGROUND

The factual background of this matter is set forth more fully in the Court's opinion on summary judgment, see 511 F. Supp. 2d at 166-70, and is repeated here only as needed. Following the Court's resolution of defendant's initial motions for summary judgment, the Court held a status hearing on October 25, 2007, to address further proceedings on the alleged breach of written employment contract asserted in Count IX. That count alleges that the District breached the contract by denying Winder payment for unused compensatory time ("comp time"), sick and annual leave, and pension contributions:

126. . . . [Louis] Erste, acting on behalf of DCPS, represented that Winder would continue to accrue compensatory time, as he had done prior to the execution of the Written Employment Contract, and that he would retain the right to be compensated for more than 200 hours of compensatory time that he had accumulated prior to the execution of the Written Employment Contract. 127. . . . Defendants breached the Written Employment Contract by denying Winder the sick and annual leave and pension contributions to which he was entitled pursuant to DCPS's policies and guidelines, as incorporated into ¶ 16 of the Written Employment Contract. Defendants breached the Written Employment Contract by denying Winder payment for the compensatory leave he had accumulated prior to his appointment to the position of General Manager of Transportation and for the compensatory leave he accumulated as General Manager of Transportation . . . .

At the status hearing, it became apparent that Winder had not presented the District of Columbia with a statement of the sums allegedly due to him under that contract. Therefore, Winder was ordered to provide the District with a claim letter itemizing all benefits that he contends are due under the contract, and the District was ordered to respond with a decision letter. See Order (filed Oct. 25, 2007).

In his subsequent claim letter, Winder states that he seeks the following sums: -- Compensatory time (total hours unspecified): $45,260.97 -- Annual leave (210 hours): $10,452.00 -- Sick leave (eight day absence for oral surgery prior to termination): $3,185.37 -- Pension: $28,673.46 -- "Shortchanged" paycheck " resulting from DCPS switch in payroll systems: $889.20 See Pl.'s Notice of Filing Itemization of His Claim of Contract Benefits (filed Dec. 5, 2007). He thus requested a monetary payment of $59,787.54, plus his pension, with interest accruing from February 2003 to the present. Id. He later submitted a second letter to the District which made clear that almost all of the comp time claimed (except for 16 hours) pre-dated the one-year period covered by the contract at issue in Count IX. See Letter from John Karl to Steven Anderson, dated Dec. 21, 2007 and accompanying comp time sheets (Exhibit 1 to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J.).

In response, the District conducted an audit of Winder's payroll records, and responded to Winder by letter dated January 11, 2008. See Def.'s Response to Pl.'s Claim Letter at 2 (filed Jan. 11, 2008). The District denied that Winder was entitled to payment for any comp time, based on the rules governing salaried Executive Service employees and the limited period covered by the contract. Id. at 1-2. As to annual leave and sick leave, the District agreed in principle that Winder was entitled to payment for unused annual leave and the sick leave taken prior to Winder's termination. Id. at 2. However, its records showed that Winder already had been paid for an annual leave balance of 234 hours upon his separation, in the amount of $11,647.12 (gross) on May 2, 2003. Id. The District noted that its audit further showed that Winder was still owed a payment for four hours of annual leave. Id. The District's audit also revealed that Winder had not been paid for the period of his employment between March 8, 2003 and his date of termination, April 3, 2003 -- a period encompassing the eight day absence for oral surgery. Id. The District determined that he should be paid for this 176 hour period -- an amount greater than that sought by plaintiff for sick leave. The District thus stated its intent to make a gross payment of $8,958.60 to Winder to cover the 4 hours of remaining annual leave and 176 hours for the last weeks of his employment. Id.

As to Winder's claim for pension benefits, the District represented that Winder was a vested participant in the pension plan, but directed him to go through the pension plan's procedures to claim a refund. Id. at 2. The District did not respond to Winder's claim that a paycheck had been shortchanged during a change to the payroll system.

The District then filed a motion for summary judgment seeking an order consistent with its response to plaintiff's claim letter. Supplemental briefing became necessary when, in its reply brief, the District changed its position on Winder's entitlement to pension benefits, now denying that Winder could obtain any pension benefits because, in fact, he had not become vested.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings and the evidence demonstrate that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial responsibility of demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The moving party may successfully support its motion by identifying those portions of "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits" which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323.

In determining whether there exists a genuine issue of material fact sufficient to preclude summary judgment, the court must regard the non-movant's statements as true and accept all evidence and make all inferences in the non-movant's favor. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). A non-moving party, however, must establish more than the "mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" in support of its position. Id. at 252. By pointing to the absence of evidence proffered by the non-moving party, a moving party may succeed on summary judgment. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. "If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, 477 ...


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