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McWay v. Lahood

August 9, 2010


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

Re Document Nos.: 5, 6, 7



This matter comes before the court on the defendant's motion for summary judgment and the plaintiff's motions for discovery and to strike the defendant's exhibits. The plaintiff is an African-American employee of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration ("FMCSA") in the Department of Transportation. He alleges that the defendant discriminated against him based on his race and retaliated against him when he complained about the discrimination.

Before discovery in this case began, the defendant filed the instant motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff opposes the motion and, in the alternative, asks the court to defer ruling on the motion until he has had an opportunity to obtain discovery. Because summary judgment is ordinarily inappropriate before discovery is complete, and because the court concludes in this case that the plaintiff is entitled to obtain discovery before being required to respond to the defendant's motion for summary judgment, the court denies without prejudice the defendant's motion and grants the plaintiff's motion for discovery. As a consequence, the court denies as moot the plaintiff's motion to strike the exhibits filed in support of the defendant's motion for summary judgment.


The plaintiff has been employed by the FMCSA since early 2001. Compl. ¶¶ 3, 6. He alleges the following facts in his complaint: in October 2005, he was promoted to the position of Division Program Specialist in the Washington, D.C. division of the FMCSA, earning a GS-13 salary. Id. ¶ 6. In October 2006, the plaintiff applied for the position of Supervisory Highway Safety Specialist in the Eastern Service Center of the FMCSA, a GS-14/15 position. Id. ¶ 9. In December 2006, the plaintiff voiced his opposition to what he perceived to be "ongoing racism and a hostile work environment." Id. ¶ 11. The defendant chose not to hire the plaintiff to fill the Supervisory Highway Safety Specialist position, selecting a Caucasian male instead. Id. ¶ 18. Between February 2007 and December 2007, the defendant committed several acts of retaliation against the plaintiff because he had complained about workplace discrimination, including reassigning some of the plaintiff's job responsibilities and giving the plaintiff lower performance ratings than those the plaintiff had received prior to engaging in protected activity. Id. ¶¶ 19-22.

The plaintiff commenced this action on August 14, 2009. See generally Compl. At an initial status hearing held on December 17, 2009, the court ordered that discovery close on October 28, 2010 and that summary judgment motions be filed on or before December 28, 2010. See Minute Entry (Dec. 17, 2009). That same day, however -- before discovery had begun -- the defendant filed this motion for summary judgment. See generally Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. The plaintiff filed an opposition to the defendant's motion, see generally Pl.'s Opp'n, along with a motion for discovery under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(f), see generally Pl.'s Discovery Mot., and a motion to strike all but two of the exhibits filed in support of the defendant's summary judgment motion, see generally Pl.'s Mot. to Strike. As the aforementioned motions are now ripe for adjudication, the court turns to the applicable legal standards and the parties' arguments.


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 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 he "support[s] his 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) ...

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