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Farris v. Clinton

March 12, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge

Document No. 39



This matter is before the court on the defendant's*fn1 renewed motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff is an Asian-American woman formerly employed by the U.S. Foreign Service, a branch of the U.S. Department of State ("the Department"). She alleges that the defendant unlawfully discriminated against her based on her race and gender and then retaliated against her for complaining about the discrimination. The defendant previously filed a motion for summary judgment, which the court denied in June 2007 after determining that the plaintiff was entitled to discovery to develop the factual record. Following the close of discovery, the defendant filed the instant motion for summary judgment, which the plaintiff has opposed. Because the plaintiff has produced enough evidence to withstand summary judgment on her discrimination claims but not on her retaliation claims, the court grants in part and denies in part the defendant's renewed motion for summary judgment.


A. Factual Background

The plaintiff, a thirty-four year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service, served as a Public Affairs Counselor at the American Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand beginning in 1998. Compl. ¶ 5; Pl.'s Opp'n to Def.'s Renewed Mot. for Summ. J. ("Pl.'s Opp'n"), Ex. 1. In late 1998, following reports that the plaintiff's husband, also a Foreign Service employee, was physically abusing the plaintiff, the U.S. Ambassador to Thailand revoked the husband's diplomatic status, forcing him to leave Thailand. Compl. ¶ 6; Pl.'s Opp'n at 8. In an effort to "keep her family together and work on her marriage," the plaintiff sought alternative positions in the Foreign Service in locations in which both she and her husband could live. Compl. ¶ 10; Pl.'s Opp'n at 9. The defendant did not hire the plaintiff for any of these positions. Compl. ¶ 11; Pl.'s Opp'n at 9. The plaintiff alleges that the decisions not to hire her were impermissibly based on her race and gender because the defendant "viewed her as a subservient Asian-American woman unable to stand up to her husband." Compl. ¶ 14; Pl.'s Opp'n at 9.*fn2 The plaintiff expressed her concerns to the Deputy Chief of Mission and the Department's Chief Equal Employment Opportunity Officer "early in 1999," Compl. ¶ 17, and on September 6, 2000 she filed a formal EEO complaint, id. The plaintiff claims that because she filed the EEO complaint, the defendant retaliated against her by investigating an allegation that the plaintiff was fraudulently receiving a stipend to which she was not entitled. Id. ¶ 18. An Administrative Law Judge rejected the merits of the plaintiff's EEO complaint. Id. ¶ 21.

B. Procedural Background

The plaintiff filed the instant action on October 5, 2005. Id. She filed a motion for a preliminary injunction on September 5, 2006, seeking to prevent the defendant from discharging her from her job. Mot. for Prelim. Inj. The court denied that motion on September 25, 2006. Mem. Op. (Sept. 25, 2006). Immediately thereafter, the defendant filed its motion for summary judgment, which the court denied on June 12, 2007 after determining that the plaintiff was entitled to discovery to develop the factual record. Mem. Op. (June 12, 2007). Following the close of discovery, the defendant filed a renewed motion for summary judgment, asserting that there is no triable issue of material fact with respect to the plaintiff's claims of discrimination and retaliation. See Def.'s Renewed Mot. for Summ. J. ("Def.'s Mot"). The plaintiff opposes the motion. See Pl.'s Opp'n. The court turns now to the parties' arguments.


A. Legal Standard for a Motion for Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate 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); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Diamond v. Atwood, 43 F.3d 1538, 1540 (D.C. Cir. 1995). To determine which facts are "material," a court must look to the substantive law on which each claim rests. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). 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.

The nonmoving party may defeat summary judgment through factual representations made in a sworn affidavit if she "support[s] [her] allegations . . . with facts in the record," Greene v. Dalton, 164 F.3d 671, 675 (D.C. Cir. 1999) (quoting Harding v. Gray, 9 F.3d 150, 154 (D.C. Cir. 1993)), or provides "direct testimonial evidence," Arrington v. United States, 473 F.3d 329, 338 (D.C. Cir. 2006). Indeed, for the court to accept anything less "would defeat the central purpose of the summary judgment device, which is to weed out those cases insufficiently meritorious to warrant the expense of a jury trial." Greene, 164 F.3d at 675.

Finally, the D.C. Circuit has directed that because it is difficult for a plaintiff to establish proof of discrimination, the court should view summary-judgment motions in such cases with special caution. See Aka v. Washington Hosp. Ctr., 116 F.3d 876, 879-80 (D.C. Cir. 1997), overturned on other grounds, 156 F.3d 1284 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (en banc); see also Johnson v. Digital Equip. Corp., 836 F. Supp. 14, 18 (D.D.C. 1993).

B. The Plaintiff's Race and Gender Discrimination Claims

1. Legal Standard for Race and Gender Discrimination

Generally, to prevail on a claim of discrimination under Title VII or the ADEA, a plaintiff must follow a three-part burden-shifting analysis known asthe McDonnell Douglas framework. Lathram v. Snow, 336 F.3d 1085, 1088 (D.C. Cir. 2003). The Supreme Court explained the framework as follows:

First, the plaintiff has the burden of proving by the preponderance of the evidence a prima facie case of discrimination. Second, if the plaintiff succeeds in proving the prima facie case, the burden shifts to the defendant "to articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the employee's rejection" . . . . Third, should the defendant carry this burden, the plaintiff must then have an opportunity to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the legitimate reasons offered by the defendant were not its true reasons, but were a pretext for discrimination . . . . The ultimate burden of persuading the trier of fact that the defendant intentionally discriminated against the plaintiff remains at all times with the plaintiff.

Tex. Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 252-53 (1981) (internal citations omitted) (quoting McDonnell Douglas v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973)).

To establish a prima facie case of gender or race discrimination under Title VII, the 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." Brown v. Brody, 199 F.3d 446, 452 (D.C. Cir. 1999); Stewart v. Ashcroft, 352 F.3d 422, 428 (D.C. Cir. 2003); Carroll v. England, 321 F. Supp. 2d 58, 68 (D.D.C. ...

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