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Christina Conyers Williams v. Robert Johnson

May 23, 2010

CHRISTINA CONYERS WILLIAMS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ROBERT JOHNSON, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

(May 23, 2011)

Plaintiff Christina Conyers Williams ("Williams") was once employed by the Addiction Prevention and Recovery Administration of the District of Columbia Department of Health. In December 2006, she commenced this civil action against the District of Columbia and two of her former supervisors.*fn1 Over the years, the claims at issue have been progressively winnowed down through motions practice and by the decisions of this Court. Today, the exclusive focus of the dispute is Williams's contention that she was retaliated against in violation of the District of Columbia Whistleblower Protection Act, D.C. Code §§ 1-615.01 et seq., for testimony that she gave before the District of Columbia Council. She claims that she was subjected to a concerted campaign of harassment in reprisal for her protected testimony, a campaign which she contends ultimately compelled her to resign her employment to accept a less lucrative position elsewhere. In connection with these allegations, she seeks to recover back pay and front pay representing the difference in her lower earnings in her new position and the earnings that she would have received had she remained employed with the District of Columbia.

Presently pending before the Court is the District of Columbia's [111] Supplemental Motion for Summary Judgment, in which the District of Columbia contends that Williams is precluded from securing the aforementioned back pay and front pay for a single reason-namely, because she purportedly failed to provide adequate pre-suit notice of her claims following her resignation. Williams does not dispute that she did not provide pre-suit notice after she resigned her position. Instead, she counters that, in the time since she commenced this action, the District of Columbia Council has enacted the Whistleblower Protection Act of 2009, D.C. Act 18-265, which amended the underlying statute to eliminate the pre-suit notice requirement altogether, and she argues that the amended version of the statute should be applied in this case.*fn2 The Court agrees. Therefore, based upon a searching review of the parties' submissions, the relevant authorities, and the record as a whole, the shall deny the District of Columbia's motion in its entirety.*fn3

I. BACKGROUND

The Court assumes familiarity with its prior opinions in this action, which together set forth in detail the factual and procedural background of this case. See Williams v. Johnson, 537 F. Supp. 2d 141 (D.D.C. 2008); Williams v. Johnson, 701 F. Supp. 2d 1 (D.D.C. 2010); Williams v. Johnson, 747 F. Supp. 2d 10 (D.D.C. 2010). The Court shall therefore limit its discussion here to those facts that are most germane to the instant motion. In addition, while the pending motion is contested, there is surprisingly little disagreement as to the underlying facts, obviating in large part the need to make specific references to the record. The Court will therefore reference the record primarily when highlighting points of disagreement and contention.

Williams was formerly employed as Chief of the Center of Research Evaluation and Grants for the Addiction Prevention and Recovery Administration (the "APRA") of the District of Columbia Department of Health. Beginning in or about April 2005, she was assigned responsibility for the implementation of the APRA's Client Information System ("ACIS") software, which was intended to allow staff members to access information collected from the APRA's clients. On February 14, 2006, Williams and her supervisor attended a routine oversight hearing before the District of Columbia Council Committee on Health, which was headed by Councilmember David Catania. During the course of the hearing, Councilmember Catania asked several questions concerning the ACIS software. Her supervisor beckoned Williams to approach the witness table and respond to the Councilmember's questions. Williams did so, providing approximately ten minutes of testimony. According to Williams, her statements revealed that the ACIS software was, despite significant monetary expenditures, a major failure.

By Williams's account, a concerted campaign of harassment and retaliation against her began immediately on the heels of her testimony before the District of Columbia Council. She contends that her supervisors reprimanded her, repeatedly threatened to terminate her employment, removed her responsibilities and staff, and moved her office to a less desirable location. Williams alleges that her supervisors eventually attempted to terminate her employment on the pretext that she failed to comply with residency preference requirements- namely, a statutory requirement that she remain a resident of the District of Columbia for a certain length of time.

On August 18, 2006, Williams, through counsel, sent the first of what would be four letters to the District of Columbia's Office of Risk Management setting forth in considerable detail her allegations that she had been the target of harassment and efforts to wrongfully terminate her employment as a result of her testimony before the District of Columbia Council. See Def.'s Ex. C (Aug. 18, 2006 Ltr. from J. Karl, Jr.). The letter was expressly styled as a pre-suit notice of claims under D.C. Code § 12-309. See id.

Williams asserts that she began looking for alternative employment in October 2006. See Def.'s Ex. B (Decl. of Christina Conyers Williams), ¶ 1. While her search was allegedly ongoing, Williams sent three more pre-suit notice letters to the District of Columbia's Office of Risk Management-one on October 13, 2006, a second on November 29, 2006, and a third on March 19, 2007. See Def.'s Ex. D (Oct. 13, 2006 Ltr. from J. Karl, Jr.), Ex. E (Nov. 29, 2006 Ltr. from J. Karl., Jr.), & Ex. F (Mar. 19, 2007 Ltr. from J. Karl, Jr.). Each letter added to Williams's allegations that she had been the target of harassment and efforts to wrongfully terminate her employment. When Williams sent the last of her letters, she was still employed.

Williams resigned her employment in June 2007 to accept a less lucrative position with the U.S. Public Health Service. Williams did not send another pre-suit notice letter to the District of Columbia's Office of Risk Management at any time following her resignation in order to supplement her allegations. Nonetheless, in this action, Williams seeks back pay and front pay representing the difference in her earnings in her new position with the federal government and the earnings that she would have received had she remained employed with the APRA.*fn4

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate where "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and [that it] . . . is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). The mere existence of some factual dispute is insufficient on its own to bar summary judgment; the dispute must pertain to a "material" fact, and therefore "[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). Nor may summary judgment be avoided based on just any disagreement as to the relevant facts; the dispute must be "genuine," meaning that there must be sufficient admissible evidence for a reasonable trier of fact to find for the non-movant. Id.

In order to establish that a fact is or cannot be genuinely disputed, a party must (a) cite to specific parts of the record-including deposition testimony, documentary evidence, affidavits or declarations, or other competent evidence-in support of its position, or (b) demonstrate that the materials relied upon by the opposing party do not actually establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1). Conclusory assertions offered without any factual basis in the record cannot create a genuine dispute sufficient to survive summary judgment. Ass'n of Flight Attendants-CWA v. U.S. Dep't of Transp., 564 F.3d 462, 465-66 (D.C. Cir. 2009). Moreover, where "a party fails to properly support an ...


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