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Young v. Covington & Burling LLP

September 21, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton United States District Judge


The plaintiff, Yolanda Young, initiated this action against the defendant, Covington & Burling LLP ("Covington"), alleging race discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-3(a), 16(a) (2006) ("Title VII"), and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, D.C. Code §§ 2-1401.01, 2-1402.11(a)(1), 2-1402.61(a)--(b) (2006). Currently pending before the Court is the Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on Plaintiff's Remaining Disparate Impact Claim ("Def.'s Mot.").*fn1 Upon consideration of the parties' submissions to the Court and an examination of the record, the Court will grant the defendant's motion and will enter summary judgment for the defendant on the discriminatory job-assignment component of the plaintiff's disparate impact claim.


The evidence viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff is the following. The plaintiff graduated from Georgetown University Law Center in 1995. Plaintiff's Responses and Objections to Defendant's Local Rule 56(a)(1) Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ("Pl.'s Facts") ¶ 1. After graduating from law school, in August 1995, the plaintiff applied for a position as an associate at several law firms but did not receive an offer of employment as an associate. Id. ¶ 2. However, during an eight-year period prior to February 2005, the plaintiff worked as a temporary contract attorney for at least ten different law firms. Id. ¶ 5.

In February 2005, the plaintiff applied for a staff attorney position with Covington, Plaintiff's Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment ("Pl.'s Opp'n") ¶ 1, after being referred by a staffing agency, Legal Placements, Inc., for the staff attorney job at Covington. Pl.'s Facts ¶¶ 7-8. In applying for the position, the plaintiff submitted her resume, law school transcript, proof of bar membership, and employment references. Pl.'s Opp'n ¶ 1. The plaintiff stated on her application that "'I have worked as a contract attorney for several years and I understand the [Covington] job is similar.'" Pl.'s Facts ¶ 9.


Under Rule 56, summary judgment is appropriate where "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)(2). "[A] material fact is 'genuine' . . . if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party" on an element of the claim. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). When ruling on a Rule 56 motion, the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Holcomb v. Powell, 433 F.3d 889, 895 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (citing Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000)). The Court must therefore draw "all justifiable inferences" in favor of the non-moving party and accept the non-moving party's evidence as true. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. The non-moving party, however, cannot rely on "mere allegations or denials," Burke v. Gould, 286 F.3d 513, 517 (D.C. Cir. 2002) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248) (internal quotation marks omitted), because "conclusory allegations unsupported by factual data will not create a triable issue of fact," Pub. Citizen Health Research Grp. v. FDA, 185 F.3d 898, 908 (D.C. Cir. 1999) (internal brackets and quotation marks omitted). Indeed, to withstand a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party "must set out specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2). Finally, "a supporting or opposing affidavit [submitted in connection with a Rule 56(c) motion] must be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant is competent to testify to the matters stated." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(1). If the Court concludes that "the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof," then the moving party is entitled to summary judgment. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

Title VII permits any "person claiming to be aggrieved . . . by an unlawful employment practice," 42 U.S.C. 2000e-5, to file suit seeking redress for the allegedly unlawful employment practice (after, of course, exhausting available administrative requirements). Id. This sweeping language "opens the courts to 'anyone who satisfies the constitutional requirements.'" Fair Emp't Council of Greater Wash., Inc. v. BMC Mktg. Corp., 28 F.3d 1268, 1278 (D.C. Cir. 1994) (citing Gray v. Greyhound Lines, 545 F.2d 169,176 (D.C. Cir. 1976)). Accordingly, a plaintiff who can prove her allegations of Article III standing has a cause of action under Title VII. Fair Emp't Council, 28 F.3d at 1278. "[T]he irreducible constitutional minimum of standing contains three elements." Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560 (1992). First, the plaintiff must have suffered an actual or imminent injury, and this injury must be concrete and particularized. Id. Second, the plaintiff must demonstrate a causal connection between the injury and the protested conduct. Id. Third, it must be likely that the injury will be redressed by a favorable judicial decision. Id. at 561. The party invoking federal jurisdiction bears the burden of establishing these three elements of standing. Id. Moreover, because they are not merely pleading requirements, but "rather an indispensable part of the plaintiff's case," id., each element must be supported in the same manner as any other issue on which the plaintiff bears the burden of proof.*fn3 Id.

In the context of Title VII litigation, the constitutional requirement of an "injury in fact," Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560, is construed as an adverse employment action. See Douglas v. Donovan, 559 F.3d 549, 551-52 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (holding that "[i]n order to present a viable claim of employment discrimination under Title VII, a plaintiff must show he suffered an adverse employment action"); Bacon v. Honda of Am. Mfg., 370 F.3d 565, 577 (6th Cir. 2004) (explaining that the "basic principles" of standing require "an individual plaintiff arguing a disparate impact theory [to] show that the challenged policy directly disadvantaged [her] in some fashion"); Chaplin v. Du Pont Advance Fiber Syss., 293 F. Supp. 2d 622, 627 (E.D. Va. 2003) (noting that "whether the claim is discrimination based on race, religion, or national origin, to qualify as an actionable injury [under Title VII], a plaintiff must allege that his employment status suffered"). An adverse employment action is "a significant change in employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing a significant change in benefits." Douglas, 559 F.3d at 552 (internal quotations and citations omitted); cf. Worth v. Jackson, 451 F.3d 854, 858 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (noting that the plaintiff's asserted intention to apply for new positions and promotions with the defendant on a regular basis in the future "is just the kind of speculative intention normally insufficient for standing purposes").


A. The Defendant's Motion For Partial Summary Judgment and the Plaintiff's Opposition

In its Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, Covington seeks summary judgment on the job-assignment and initial hiring decision components of the plaintiff's disparate impact claim (Count II of the Amended Complaint).*fn4 Defendant's Memorandum in Support of its Motion for Partial Summary Judgment ("Def.'s Mem.") at 2. Covington advances two arguments in support of its position. First, Covington contends that the undisputed evidence indicates that the plaintiff lacks standing to assert the job-assignment component of the claim because she was herself never injured by the policy through which Covington allegedly assigns a disproportionate number of African-Americans to the position of staff attorney. Id. at 8. Second, Covington argues, the plaintiff's hiring claim is untimely because no criteria considered by the defendant when she was hired (e.g., law school grades or clerkship experience) were subsequently again considered during the applicable statutes of limitations periods. Id. at 10-11.

It is difficult to discern exactly what the plaintiff's response is to the defendant's first argument from the context of her Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. For example, the plaintiff argues in her opposition that "[g]enuine issues of material fact exist regarding Covington's promotion policy, its application to [the] [p]laintiff, and the evaluations that caused [the] [p]laintiff not to be promoted." Pl.'s Opp'n at 3. This position appears to implicate the non-promotion component of the disparate impact claim, which is not being challenged in the defendant's motion. The plaintiff further responds that "[Covington's motion] argues that [the] [p]laintiff was not affected by [Covington's] discriminatory job-selection policy at hire because she did not apply for an associate position and only applied for a staff attorney position." Id. This seems to be a correct assessment of Covington's standing argument asserted in its motion. Interestingly, however, the plaintiff next states that although "she was affected by the [job-assignment] policy at hire . . . that is not what she is suing for. Rather, she challenges Covington's use of the job-assignment policy to deny black staff attorneys promotion to associate." Id. at 3-4. Despite the fact that the claim she is asserting is personal to her, the plaintiff has apparently conflated the job-assignment and the non-promotion components of the claim in her Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. Further, because the plaintiff has failed to cite any legal authority in her opposition, the Court cannot look to any such authority to clarify the plaintiff's position. It is, however, the arguments advanced in Covington's motion that are currently before the Court, and the motion makes clear that the challenge at issue relates solely to the job-assignment component of the disparate impact claim. Def.'s Mem. at 2; see Am. Compl. ¶ 125 (asserting that "[the d]efendant's policies and practices and the criteria it uses in assigning attorneys to positions within the firm have an adverse impact on black attorneys in violation of Title VII").

As explained below, because the Court finds that the undisputed facts show that the plaintiff's application for employment at Covington was limited to the position of staff attorney, the Court agrees that the plaintiff could not have been injured, and indeed was not injured, by the purportedly discriminatory job-assignment policy and, therefore, she lacks standing to challenge any such policy. Accordingly, the Court ...

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