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Lowe v. District of Columbia

November 15, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Colleen Kollar-kotelly United States District Judge


Plaintiff Thyra Lowe brought this action alleging that she was unlawfully terminated by the District of Columbia Department of Health ("DOH") in retaliation for, among other things, speaking out about her supervisors' alleged misconduct and sex discrimination in the workplace. The case was removed to this Court from the Superior Court for the District of Columbia. Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint alleges claims under the D.C. Whistleblower Protection Act, D.C. Code §§ 1-615.51 et seq., the First Amendment (through 42 U.S.C. § 1983), and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq.

Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. In Plaintiff's opposition to Defendants' motion, Plaintiff indicates that she no longer will pursue her First Amendment claim. Accordingly, the Court shall grant Defendant's motion with respect to Count II of the Second Amended Complaint. For the reasons explained below, the Court shall also grant Defendant's motion with respect to Plaintiff's Title VII claim for retaliation. The only remaining cause of action arises under state law, and the Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over that claim. Therefore, the Court shall remand the case to the Superior Court for the District of Columbia for further proceedings.


From November 2002 until her termination in November 2004, Plaintiff Thyra Lowe was an employee in the District of Columbia Department of Health, Emergency Health and Medical Services Administration ("EHMSA").*fn1 Sec. Am. Compl. ¶ 7. In her position as Deputy Administrator, Lowe was responsible for administering federal grants awarded to EHMSA from various federal agencies, many of which related to bioterrorism. Id. ¶¶ 7, 14. Below is an overview of the facts pertinent to this lawsuit.

A. Lowe's Support of Her Supervisor, Sherry Adams

At the time she was hired, Lowe's primary supervisor was the Administrator of EHMSA, Sherry Adams. Sec. Am. Compl. ¶ 8. Lowe believed that Dr. Michael Richardson, who was then the DOH Senior Deputy Director for Medical Affairs, was unhappy with Ms. Adams' performance as administrator. Pl.'s Mem. Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. ("Pl.'s Mem."), Ex. 1 (Sworn Decl. of Thyra Lowe) (hereinafter, "Lowe Decl."), ¶ 2.*fn2 However, Lowe forged a good working relationship with Adams and ultimately believed that Dr. Richardson was misguided in his views. Id. ¶ 3. On March 7, 2003, Richardson removed Adams from her position as EHMSA Administrator and demoted her to a new position unrelated to EHMSA. See Lowe Decl. ¶ 4; Pl.'s Mem., Ex. 2 (Dep. of Sherry Adams) at 9-10. Around March 10, 2003, Lowe wrote a memorandum to the then-Director of DOH, Dr. James Buford, explaining why she believed that Adams should be reinstated. Lowe Decl. ¶ 6.

After several weeks in her new position, Adams filed a lawsuit against DOH. Pl.'s Mem., Ex. 2 (Dep. of Sherry Adams) at 10. Adams claimed that she was unlawfully demoted in retaliation for complaining about improper conduct by Dr. Richardson. Id. at 10-12. This allegedly improper conduct included Richardson's decision to award a lucrative contract to former D.C. mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly. Id. at 12-13; see also Complaint ¶¶ 2, 23, Adams v. Richardson, Civ. Action No. 03-1033 (JDB) (D.D.C. filed May 12, 2003).*fn3 Adams also claimed that Richardson took these actions because she is a woman. Complaint ¶ 24, Adams v. Richardson, Civ. Action No. 03-1033 (JDB) (D.D.C. filed May 12, 2003). In May 2003, Lowe signed two declarations in support of Adams' lawsuit. Lowe Decl. ¶ 17. Her declarations stated, among other things, that she believed that Richardson had illegally awarded the contract to former mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly and that she believed Adams had been discriminated against because of her sex. Id.

Shortly after Adams' demotion, Richardson hired Dr. Feesah Woldu to fill the position of Acting Administrator. Lowe Decl. ¶ 5. Lowe believed that Dr. Woldu was not capable of handling the duties of that job, and in fact Lowe was asked by Woldu to perform several tasks that were not in the official job description of Deputy Administrator. Id. ¶ 15. Sometime after Dr. Woldu was hired, Dr. Richardson hired Dr. Thomas Calhoun to serve as EHMSA's Medical Director. Id. ¶ 21. Lowe initially got along with Dr. Calhoun and confided in him concerning several of her concerns about EHMSA's use of federal grant funds. Id. In February 2004, after Dr. Woldu had left his position, the City Administrator appointed Dr. Calhoun as Acting Administrator. Id. ¶ 22. Around this same time, Mr. Buford was replaced by Herb Tillery as the Interim Director of Health. Id. ¶ 23. Dr. Richardson left the Department of Health prior to March 2004. See Def.'s Mem., Ex. 2 (Decl. of Cheryl Edwards) ¶¶ 2, 4.

Adams' lawsuit was settled on June 15, 2004. See Stipulation and Order of Dismissal, Adams v. Richardson, Civ. Action No. 03-1033 (JDB) (D.D.C. June 15, 2004). As a result of the settlement, Adams returned to EHMSA in July 2004 as the Assistant Senior Deputy Administrator. Lowe Decl. ¶ 31; Def.'s Mem., Ex. 5 (Def. Monica Lamboy's Resps. & Objections to Pl.'s First Set of Interrogs.) (hereinafter, "Lamboy Interrogs.") at 4.

B. Lowe's Criticisms of DOH Management

During her tenure at EHMSA, Lowe was a frequent critic of what she perceived to be mismanagement and misconduct by officials at DOH. Shortly after she arrived at DOH, and prior to Sherry Adams' termination in March 2003, Lowe spoke out against Dr. Richardson's proposal to award a $250,000 contract to former mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly, whom she felt was unqualified to perform the contract. Lowe Decl. ¶¶ 10-11. Lowe communicated to Dr. Richardson her belief that such a contract would violate the terms of the federal grants from which the contract would be paid and that Richardson wanted to award the contract to further his political ambitions. Id. ¶¶ 12-13. After speaking out, Lowe claims that Richardson treated her as an insubordinate employee, retaliating against her because of her opposition to the contract and Sherry Adams' demotion by appointing Dr. Woldu to fill the Acting Administrator position instead of promoting her to that position. Id. ¶ 14.

Around June 2003, Drs. Richardson and Woldu indicated that they planned to move several DOH staff members onto the payroll funded by federal bioterrorism grants overseen by Lowe. Id. ¶ 18. Lowe opposed this move because she believed that it would violate federal restrictions on using bioterrorism grant funds to supplant state and local funding. Id. After Richardson and Woldu went ahead with the plan, Lowe voiced her concerns to the officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) who managed the grants at issue. Id. ¶ 20.

Shortly after Dr. Thomas Calhoun was appointed Acting Administrator for EHMSA in February 2004, Calhoun began to harass Lowe by dressing her down in public. Id. ¶ 25. Lowe also claims that Calhoun was hostile to her nearly every day he was Acting Administrator. Id. ¶ 26. Furthermore, Lowe claims that Calhoun began an effort to convince Herb Tillery, the newly-appointed Interim Director of Health, that Lowe was a "problem for the agency because [she] would not acquiesce in former and current managerial decisions to misuse grant monies." Lowe Decl. ¶ 24. In March or April 2004, Calhoun called Lowe into her office and accused her of lying on her resume. Id. ¶ 28.

Lowe claims that after Sherry Adams settled her lawsuit and returned to EHMSA, Dr. Calhoun and Dr. Dan Lucey, Interim Chief Medical Officer at DOH, continued attempts to have Lowe fired "because of [her] unwillingness to acquiesce in the agency's attempts to violate laws and regulations governing disbursement of grant monies." Lowe Decl. ¶ 31. Lowe also claims that they damaged her reputation with other senior managers at DOH, including Interim Director of Health Tillery, Chief of Staff Cheryl Edwards, and Chief Operating Officer Monica Lamboy. Id.

Throughout Lowe's tenure as Deputy Administrator, the District of Columbia Hospital Association (DCHA) pressed DOH for a larger share of money from the federal grants managed by Lowe. Id. ¶ 30. Lowe claims that many of the purposes for which the Association sought funding were not approved by the granting agencies, and she communicated this fact to DOH and EHMSA management. Id. Around late June 2004, DCHA lobbied to obtain $240,000 in grant funds for salary of the DCHA Medical Director, Dr. Jeffrey Elting. Id. ¶ 34. Lowe consulted with the federal granting agencies and determined that Dr. Elting's salary was not a permissible use of federal grant funds. Id. ¶ 35. Lowe informed Drs. Calhoun and Dr. Lucey that they should not agree to pay Dr. Elting's salary until they had received a ruling from the federal agencies on the propriety of the spending. Id. ¶ 36. However, Drs. Calhoun and Lucey had promised DCHA President Bob Malson that the position would be funded through a federal grant. Id. The dispute came to a head in ...

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