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Bouknight v. District of Columbia

January 15, 2010

ANTHONY BOUKNIGHT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, DEFENDANT.



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

Re Document Nos.: 28, 32

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT;GRANTING THE DEFENDANT'S SUPPLEMENTAL MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the court on the defendant's motion for summary judgment and supplemental motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff, an African-American paramedic employed by the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services ("EMS") Department, alleges that the defendant took unwarranted punitive actions against him and subjected him to a hostile work environment based on his race, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., the District of Columbia Human Rights Act ("DCHRA"), D.C. Code §§ 2-1401 et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("§ 1981"). In its motion for summary judgment, the defendant argues that the court should grant it summary judgment on the plaintiff's disparate treatment claims because the plaintiff has failed to raise an inference of discrimination, did not suffer an adverse employment action and has failed to rebut the defendant's legitimate, non-discriminatory justification for the challenged actions. In its supplemental motion for summary judgment, the defendant argues that the plaintiff has failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact concerning whether he was subjected to a hostile work environment. For the reasons discussed below, the court grants in part and denies in part the defendant's motion for summary judgment and grants the defendant's supplemental motion for summary judgment.

II. FACTUAL & PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The plaintiff has been employed as a paramedic by the D.C. Fire and EMS Department since December 1991. Pl.'s Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. ("Pl.'s Opp'n") at 2. On the evening of August 6, 2005, the plaintiff and his partner, paramedic Matthew Shook, were dispatched to the Marriot Convention Center at Georgetown University in response to an emergency call. Id.; Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. ("Defs.' Mot.") at 4. Shook, who is white, was responsible for providing patient care while the plaintiff drove the ambulance to and from the scene. Pl.'s Opp'n at 2-3. The plaintiff transported the patient and her mother to Georgetown University Hospital. Id. at 3.

On August 22, 2005, EMS received a letter of complaint from the mother of the patient transported on August 6, 2005. Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. D at 1. According to the letter, the patient's mother had made the emergency call on August 6 because her daughter, who suffered from Type 1 diabetes, had inadvertently given herself a potentially fatal dose of insulin. Id. at 1. The letter stated that when the paramedics arrived, they seemed confused as to why they were called, pointing out that the Marriot Convention Center was within walking distance of the hospital. Id. The letter alleged that during the drive to the hospital, one of the paramedics complained that they "had to drive all the way across town for this" and suggested that the patient should have simply walked to the hospital. Id. The letter further alleged that the paramedics chose not to write up an incident report, trivializing the patient's ordeal. Id.

On the day the complaint was received, the plaintiff and Shook were instructed to report to the office of their supervisor, Captain Hattie Tompkins, who is African-American. At that time, they learned of the complaint lodged against them. Pl.'s Opp'n at 3. On August 30, 2005, the plaintiff was again called into Captain Tompkins's office. Id. at 4. The plaintiff was informed that effective September 4, 2005, he and Shook would be transferred from their assignment on the "Medic 1" unit and sent to separate units pending an investigation into the allegations raised in the complaint.*fn1 Id.

The plaintiff states that approximately one week later, Captain Tompkins informed him that although he had done nothing wrong in connection with the August 6, 2005 run, he was being transferred to avoid the appearance of racial discrimination. Id. More specifically, Captain Tompkins allegedly stated that because she and the plaintiff are black while Shook is white, she felt compelled to discipline the plaintiff to avoid the appearance of race-based preferential treatment that could give rise to a discrimination complaint. Id. The plaintiff, who maintained that he did nothing wrong in connection with the August 6, 2005 run, objected to the transfer and requested that no action be taken against him. Id.

On October 1, 2005, Captain Tompkins recommended that the plaintiff and Shook be suspended from work without pay for ten days based on the August 6, 2005 incident. Def.'s Mot., Ex. E. Tompkins concluded that based on her investigation, the plaintiff and Shook violated patient-care protocols by, inter alia, failing to take the patient's vital signs, failing to make a patient assessment, providing false documentation and acting in a discourteous manner to the patient and her mother. Id. Captain Tompkins stated that "[t]he casualness, by which these primary duties and responsibilities were not carried out, [was] unacceptable and inexcusable under any standard of conduct" and compelled her to charge the plaintiff and Shook with failing to perform their duties as paramedics. Id.

On November 15, 2005, the Fire and EMS Department issued a notice advising the plaintiff of its intention to suspend him for at least fifteen days without pay based on the August 6, 2005 run. Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. F. ("Advance Notice") at 1. The Advance Notice stated that the plaintiff violated the General Patient Care Protocols ("the Protocols") by failing to take the patient's vital signs, test the patient's blood to determine whether her blood sugar was normal, perform a patient assessment, complete a patient care report or provide the triage nurse at the hospital emergency room with a copy of the patient care report. Id. at 2. Failure to complete the patient care report and provide the report to the triage nurse constituted specific violations of General Patient Care Protocol A1.7 No. XI ("Transfer of Care and Documentation"). Def.'s Mot. at 5. That protocol provides that "upon arrival at the medical facility[,] transfer of care will be conducted and the run sheet must be completed. The patient care report is not considered complete until both the patient care sheet and the data entry sheet are filled out in their entirety." Id.

The Advance Notice addressed the plaintiff's assertion that he was the driver and not directly responsible for administering patient care, noting that "[t]he fact that you were the driver does not alleviate you from your responsibilities." Advance Notice at 2. The Advance Notice cited General Patient Care Protocol A1.5, which provided that "the provider with the highest level of pre-hospital training and seniority" -- in this case, the plaintiff -- "will be in charge of patient care." Id.

On January 18, 2006, the Fire and EMS Department issued a Final Agency Decision. Pl.'s Opp'n at 4-5 & Ex. E ("Final Agency Decision") at 1-3; Def.'s Mot. at 5. The decision ordered that the plaintiff be suspended for nine calendar days without pay for failing to follow patient-care protocols, as set forth in the Advance Notice. Final Agency Decision at 1-3; Def.'s Mot. at 5.

In December 2005, the plaintiff filed a complaint of racial discrimination with the District of Columbia Office of Human Rights ("OHR"), which was cross-filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). Pl.'s Opp'n at 5. On June 13, 2006, the OHR issued a letter of determination, finding probable cause to believe that the defendant had discriminated against the plaintiff on the basis of his race by placing him on the nine-day suspension, but concluding that the plaintiff's transfer from the Medic 1 unit did not constitute a sufficiently adverse employment action. Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. G ("OHR Decision") at 5-7. The OHR further determined that the plaintiff had failed to establish that he had suffered an adverse employment action when one of his lieutenants allegedly directed a racially derogatory remark at him.*fn2 Id. at 9.

The plaintiff commenced this action on December 13, 2006. See generally Compl. On January 26, 2007, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint, alleging that he was subjected to disparate treatment and a hostile work environment on the basis of his race in violation of Title VII, Section 1981 and the DCHRA.*fn3 See generally Am. Compl. The defendant moved to dismiss the amended complaint on March 5, 2007. See generally Am. Compl.; Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss. The court denied the defendant's motion without prejudice and ordered the plaintiff to provide greater factual specificity in support of his claims. See generally Mem. Op. (Mar. 10, 2008). On March 24, 2008, the plaintiff filed a second amended complaint asserting a single count of racial discrimination. See generally 2d Am. Compl. The defendant, interpreting the plaintiff's complaint as asserting a single count of disparate treatment, filed a motion for summary judgment on that claim. See generally Def.'s Mot.

On October 20, 2009, the parties held a conference call with the court, in which plaintiff's counsel indicated that the plaintiff had intended for his second amended complaint to encompass a hostile work environment claim. See Minute Order (Oct. 20, 2009). In addition, plaintiff's counsel indicated that the plaintiff intended to withdraw certain allegations in the second amended complaint related to his hostile work environment claim because he had not yet exhausted his administrative remedies with respect to those claims. See id. Accordingly, the court directed the plaintiff to file a notice specifying which allegations in the second amended complaint he intended to withdraw. Id. The court also ordered the defendant to file any supplemental motion for summary judgment pertaining solely to the plaintiff's hostile work environment claim on or before November 13, 2009. Id.

On October 23, 2009, the plaintiff withdrew the allegations contained in paragraphs twenty-nine through thirty-one, thirty-six through forty and forty-two through forty-six of the second amended complaint. See Notice of Withdrawal of Allegations ¶ 4. On November 12, 2009, the defendant filed a supplemental motion for summary judgment, requesting that the court enter summary judgment against the plaintiff on his hostile work environment claim. See generally Defs.' Supp. Mot. for Summ. J. ("Def.'s Supp. Mot."). Both that motion and the defendant's earlier motion for summary judgment are now ripe. The court now turns to the applicable legal standards and the parties' arguments.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard for a Motion for Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show 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); 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 ...


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