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Madison v. District of Columbia

January 23, 2009

CHRISTINE MADISON PLAINTIFF,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rosemary M. Collyer United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Christine Madison served as a juror on a capital case in federal district court in Washington, D.C. from February 7 through June 6, 2007. When she returned to her job at the District of Columbia State Education Office, she was informed that her 13-month employment contract would not be extended or renewed. Despite the shifting defenses put forth by D.C., the facts show that Ms. Madison was separated from employment because she served as a federal juror, in apparent violation of the Jury System Improvements Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1875 (the "Juror Act"). Notwithstanding this factual conclusion, a legal question remains as to whether, under these particular circumstances, Ms. Madison qualified as a "permanent" employee and thus enjoyed the protections of the Juror Act. The Court holds that she did so qualify.

I. FACTS

Ms. Madison was employed full-time as a Staff Assistant in the Operations Department of the District of Columbia State Education Office ("SEO")*fn1 from May 15, 2006 through June 14, 2007. Tr. I, 12:11-12; 15:11-12; 18:16-20; 43:13-15; Pl.'s Exs. 8, 10 & 11.*fn2 She had previously served for approximately seventeen (17) years as an employee of the District at D.C. General Hospital. Tr. I, 10:23 - 11:7; Pl.'s Ex. 10. At the time of separation from SEO, she was approximately 60 years old. See Tr. I, 66:16-17.

Dr. JoAnn Smoak, then-Director of Operations at SEO, hired Ms. Madison at a Grade 9 salary level, pursuant to a 13-month term appointment. Tr. I, 14:17 - 15:12; 88:1-2; Pl.'s Ex. 10.*fn3 Former Mayor Anthony Williams instituted these "NTE"*fn4 appointments for employees in the Executive Office of the Mayor ("EOM") in order to create "at will" status for EOM employees without civil service protections. See Tr. I, 198:9-24. At Ms. Madison's job interview, Dr. Smoak explained to Ms. Madison that most SEO employees held term appointments and that it was very rare for an employee not to have their term extended, although there was no guarantee. Tr. I, 14:17 -15:2; 71:11-13; 95:6-23. Ms. Madison was hired to replace Staff Assistant Marsha Proctor, who had transferred in April 2006 to Support Services for the EOM. Stip. ¶ 8.c. Like Ms. Madison, Ms. Proctor had been working at SEO at Grade 9 under a 13-month term appointment. Tr. I, 94:7-10; Tr. II, 5:16-17, 24-25; 6:1-13; Stip. ¶ 8.b.

During Ms. Madison's employment with SEO, five other employees (aside from Dr. Smoak) worked in SEO Operations. Tr. I, 19:18 - 21:9; Stip. ¶¶ 3-7. Four of the five were hired generally around the same time as Ms. Madison and pursuant to 13-month term appointments. Stip. ¶¶ 3.a., 4.a., 6.a., 7.a. The fifth person was hired in 2003 pursuant to a four-year term appointment. Tr. I, 97:1-11; Pl.'s Ex. 14A.*fn5 Specifically:

* Bachir Kabbara was a Database Manager who had been appointed to a four-year term appointment, effective May 18, 2003, with an NTE date of May 13, 2007. Tr. I, 97:1-11; Pl.'s Ex. 14A.

* Diane Scroggins was a Program Analyst who had been hired into SEO Operations by Dr. Smoak with a 13-month appointment, effective February 18, 2006 and an NTE date of March 18, 2007. Tr. I, 97:12-19; Stip. ¶ 4.a.; Pl.'s Ex. 13A.

* Anthonisha Felton was a Staff Assistant, hired by Dr. Smoak sometime around May 2006 pursuant to a 13-month term. Tr. I, 97:23-25; 98:1-7; 99:13-19; 101:8-24; Stip. ¶ 6a; Pl.'s Ex. 15A.

* Mutinda Parris was hired by Dr. Smoak into the position of Management Analyst, effective June 12, 2006, with an NTE date of July 11, 2007. Stip. ¶ 3.a.; Pl.'s Ex. 12A.

* Ronald Pitts was hired by Dr. Smoak as an Information Technology Specialist/Data Management, effective October 2, 2006, with an NTE date of November 1, 2007. Tr. I, 103:15-18; Stip. ¶ 7.a.; Pl.'s Ex. 16A.

Dr. Smoak directly supervised this group. Tr. I, 22:1-4; 86:3-4.

Ms. Madison's salary at hire with SEO was at a Grade 9/Step 1 level, or $34,832/year. Tr. I, 19:14-15; Pl.'s Ex. 10. She thereafter received one step increase and one parity-pay increase. Tr. I, 63:25 - 65:4. When separated from employment by Dr. Smoak, her annual salary was $41,901. Tr. I, 65:13-14; Pl.'s Ex. 11. While employed, she received full employment benefits, including life insurance, annual and sick leave, and credit towards D.C. retirement benefits to add to her previous 17 years of D.C. service. Tr. I, 65:15 - 66:23; Pl.'s Exs. 10 & 11.

Ms. Madison's job responsibilities covered general administrative duties, such as ordering supplies, distributing mail, filing, facilities management, petty cash, coordinating approval and payment of employee cell phone bills, and payroll. Tr. I, 15:13 - 18:2. Her payroll responsibilities, characterized by Dr. Smoak as her "biggest" and "most critical" responsibility, Tr. I, 142:10-14, included collecting time and attendance records and related information for all SEO employees and processing them so that employees could be timely paid. Tr. I, 17:19 - 18:4.

Dr. Smoak informally evaluated Ms. Madison's performance in late 2006. Tr. I, 23:7-13. During their discussion, Dr. Smoak noted strengths and areas for improvement. Tr. I, 25:16-17; 26:2-3, 7-10. Ms. Madison recalled that Dr. Smoak told her that she was doing very well with her time and attendance responsibilities; that she was getting along well with co-workers; that her handling of the mail was efficient and timely; and that she did well in taking care of filing. Tr. I, 25:20-24. Dr. Smoak testified that Ms. Madison was "really pretty efficient" with her payroll responsibilities. Tr. I, 194:5; see also Tr. I, 108:17-24. During the evaluation, Dr. Smoak told Ms. Madison that she needed to become more prompt in processing cell phone bills and she suggested that Ms. Madison take some in-service employee training courses offered through the D.C. Center for Workforce Development. Tr. I, 25:25 - 26:10; 74:14-15. Ms. Madison took one course recommended by Dr. Smoak - Managing Multiple Projects, Objectives, and Deadlines - before she was summoned for jury duty. Tr. I, 32:3-11; Pl.'s Ex. 4.*fn6

During her jury service, Ms. Madison sometimes worked late or came in on a Saturday to work. Tr. I, 153:12-19; 154:15-16. Dr. Smoak characterized her willingness to do so, without extra pay, as "above and beyond" and something that Dr. Smoak "really appreciated." Tr. I, 153:17-18.

Nonetheless, Dr. Smoak testified at trial that Ms. Madison's "overall performance other than in the area of time and attendance was not generally good," Tr. I, 110:11-12, and that she would not characterize Ms. Madison as a satisfactory employee. Tr. I, 119:14-16. Dr. Smoak testified that there were "intermittent problems" with Ms. Madison's work performance, Tr. I, 110:8, and that she had difficulty "keeping up with things and getting things in on time," Tr. I, 118:1-2; she asserted that Ms. Madison exhibited a lack of team work, Tr. I, 191:19 - 192:2; and that she had once erred by ordering the wrong kind of paper for SEO. Tr. I, 194:14 - 195:10. Finally, Dr. Smoak noted that the Chief Financial Officer had discovered a positive credit in the petty cash account that might have been attributed to Ms. Madison when she was handling petty cash. Tr. I, 192:23 - 193:9.*fn7 There are no written records of the informal evaluation or any other contemporaneous records concerning Ms. Madison's performance.

During the time of Ms. Madison's jury service, the SEO was preparing for a huge transition in education oversight in the District of Columbia. The new Mayor, Adrian Fenty, was readying to assume responsibility for all public schools on October 1, 2007, with his authority delegated to the SEO and Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. Tr. I, 34:23 - 35:6; 79:16 - 84:5; Tr. II, 43:2 - 44:7.

Ms. Madison received this Court's summons in December 2006 or January 2007, advising that the trial might last as long as six months. She promptly provided a copy to Dr. Smoak. Tr. I, 33:14-18; 123:9-13. While both women agree that they had various conversations about Ms. Madison's jury service, Tr. I, 33:17-19; 35:20 - 36:4; 124:6-9, they remember those conversations differently. Ms. Madison testified that when she first handed the summons to Dr. Smoak, Dr. Smoak mentioned the pending transition and said, "Four to six months? Well, Deborah [Gist, State Superintendent of Education] won't be able to use you." Tr. I, 33:18-19. Ms. Madison testified that she responded by stating that she did not have any control over whether she would be selected. Tr. I, 35:16-19. Although Dr. Smoak remembers that Ms. Madison promptly showed her the jury summons, "nothing sticks out in [her] mind" about their first conversation concerning it. Tr. I, 121:10-18; 123:9-17.

However, Dr. Smoak does remember that at some point she told Ms. Madison how much Dr. Smoak had enjoyed a period serving on a grand jury. Tr. I, 127:5-10. Dr. Smoak "absolutely" does not recall any conversation with Ms. Madison about Ms. Madison's selection as a trial juror. Tr. I, 132:15-16; Tr. I, 23-25. Admitting that losing one of her five staff members at a busy transition time "wouldn't be good news," Tr. I, 125:25, Dr. Smoak testified nonetheless that she had had "no reaction to the fact that [Ms. Madison] was selected" for jury duty. Tr. I, 131:25 -132:1.

Ms. Madison testified that in subsequent conversations Dr. Smoak gave her advice on how to avoid jury service. Tr. I, 36:20-23. She recounted how Dr. Smoak told her to tell the court that Ms. Madison believed the defendant was guilty because he would not be on trial if he were innocent. Tr. I, 36:24 - 37:3. Ms. Madison testified that she responded that being on trial does not mean a person is guilty ...


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