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Howie v. Johnson

August 14, 2008

ELISABETH HOWIE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
OFFICE OF EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Royce C. Lamberth Chief Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter comes before the Court on defendant's motion [40] for summary judgment. Upon full consideration of the motion, plaintiff's opposition [47] thereto, defendant's reply [48] brief, the entire record herein, and applicable law, the Court finds that defendant's motion will be GRANTED for the reasons set forth below.

I. BACKGROUND

Defendant, the Office of Eddie Bernice Johnson, comes before this Court seeking summary judgment. In the underlying case before the Court, plaintiff, Ms. Howie, alleges violations of the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 ("CAA"), which incorporates § 703 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, on the basis that she was unlawfully terminated as a result of race and age discrimination. 2 U.S.C. § 1301; 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2.

Plaintiff, an African American woman over the age of forty, worked as an Executive Assistant and Scheduler for defendant from February 2003 until June 2003. (Compl. ¶¶ 7, 14.) Representative Johnson, the first African American Congresswoman to ever be elected from Dallas, personally hired plaintiff for the position. (Id.) Before her employment with defendant, plaintiff worked as an Office Scheduler in the Office of Representative William Coyne for sixteen years. (Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. at 2.) Plaintiff's primary duties included "scheduling the Congresswoman's committee meetings, office meetings, staff meetings, and constituent meetings; prioritizing the Congresswoman's scheduling requests in order to set her schedule; managing the Congresswoman's calendar; and coordinating the Congresswoman's activities throughout the day." (Id. at 5.) Though plaintiff asserts that she "always performed her duties . . . in a satisfactory manner," defendant contends that "problems with plaintiff's performance surfaced almost immediately" (Compl. ¶ 9; Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. at 6.) However, plaintiff claims that she "never received any written performance review" or "communication . . . that [she] was performing her job in an unsatisfactory manner." (Compl. ¶¶ 9--10.)

The Congresswoman's district is "racially, ethnically, and economically diverse," and Rep. Johnson prefers to maintain a diverse office to reflect her constituency. (Id. at 4; Johnson Dep., Ex. 2 to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. at 139.) Rep. Johnson admits to being "an Affirmative Action person" when there is "an opportunity, [] enough applications and [] a certain minority." (Johnson Dep., Ex. 2 to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. at 43, 139.) After losing an Asian American member of her staff in August 2002, Rep. Johnson told her former Chief of Staff that "when [there is] an opening and . . . applications come in, if [there] happens to be one that is an Asian . . . then [she would] like that [application] to be considered." (Id. at 44--45.) Plaintiff was terminated in June 2003, nearly ten months after the Congresswoman's statement, and was replaced by an Asian American woman under the age of forty.

II. DISCUSSION

A. LEGAL STANDARD

i. Summary Judgment

Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment will be granted when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Diamond v. Atwood, 43 F.3d 1538, 1540 (D.C. Cir. 1995). Moreover, summary judgment is properly granted against a party that "after adequate time for discovery and upon motion . . . fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. To determine which facts are "material," a court must look to the substantive law on which each claim rests. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. A "genuine issue" is one whose resolution could establish an element of a claim or defense and, therefore, affect the outcome of the action. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must draw all justifiable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor and accept the nonmoving party's evidence as true. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. A nonmoving party, however, must establish more than "the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" in support of its position. Id. at 252. To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the moving party must show that the nonmoving party "fail[ed] to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. By pointing to the absence of evidence proffered by the nonmoving party, a moving party may succeed on summary judgment. Id. In addition, the nonmoving party may not rely solely on allegations or conclusory statements. Greene v. Dalton, 164 F.3d 671, 675 (D.C. Cir. 1999); Harding v. Gray, 9 F.3d 150, 154 (D.C. Cir. 1993). Rather, the nonmoving party must present specific facts that would enable a reasonable jury to find in its favor. Greene, 164 F.3d at 675. If the evidence "is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249--50 (citations omitted).

ii. Congressional Accountability Act

Under the CAA, employees of the House of Representatives are to be free from any discrimination based on race or age. 2 U.S.C. §§ 1301(3)(A), 1311(a)(1--2). When summary judgment is sought by a defendant on a discrimination claim filed under the CAA, the Court is required to assess the challenge utilizing the test announced in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). See Fields v. Office of Johnson, 459 F.3d 1, 15 n. 24 (D.C. Cir. 2006) ("[The plaintiff] alleges racial and gender discrimination in violation of 2 U.S.C. § 1311, which incorporates § 703 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2, to which the McDonnell Douglas framework applies....").

Under McDonnell Douglas, a plaintiff has the initial burden of proving a prima facie case of discrimination by a preponderance of the evidence. McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802. To establish a prima facie case in the absence of direct evidence of discrimination, a plaintiff must show "that: '(1) she is a member of a protected class; (2) she suffered an adverse employment action; and (3) the unfavorable action gives rise to an inference of discrimination.'" Stella v. Mineta, 284 F.3d 135, 145 (D.C. Cir. 2002) (quoting Brown v. Brody, 199 F.3d 446, 452 (D.C. Cir. 1999)). Once the plaintiff has established a prima facie case, the burden then shifts to the defendant "to articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the [the defendant's actions]." McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802. If ...


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