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American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Local 2401, et al v. District of Columbia

July 12, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Henry H. Kennedy, Jr. United States District Judge


Plaintiffs, a group of African-American and Latino employees and former employees of the District of Columbia Department of Health Care Finance ("DHCF"), and the union that represents them, bring this action against the District of Columbia under 42 U.S.C. § 1981; 42 U.S.C. § 1983; the District's municipal personnel regulations, D.C. MUN. REGS. tit. 6, § 2400 et seq.; and the D.C. Human Rights Act, D.C. CODE § 2-1401 et seq. Plaintiffs allege that when the District reorganized DHCF in 2008 and 2009, it selectively terminated older minority employees while it simultaneously protected less senior, less experienced, predominantly White employees from termination. Before the Court is the District's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted [#39]. Upon consideration of the motion, the opposition thereto, and the record of this case, the Court concludes that the motion must be granted in part and denied in part.


On October 1, 2008, the D.C. Department of Health was officially redesignated the Department of Health Care Finance, which the District described as an "entity that would improve health outcomes by providing access to comprehensive, cost-effective, and quality healthcare services for the residents of the District of Columbia." 3d Am. Compl. ¶ 3 (quoting Letter from DHCF Director Julie Hudman to DHCF employees (Aug. 31, 2009)) (internal quotation marks omitted). As part of the reorganization that followed, DHCF conducted a reduction-in-force ("RIF") that resulted in the termination of seventy-eight DHCF employees, the vast majority of whom were African-American. 3d Am. Compl. ¶ 16. Plaintiffs allege that a "specifically identified group of Caucasian employees," predominantly young recent hires, was deliberately excluded from the RIF. 3d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 10, 23--26. DHCF also created a new set of positions with qualifications different from those of the jobs from which plaintiffs were terminated, but which, plaintiffs aver, involve almost identical work.

Plaintiffs allege that DHCF had no legitimate business reason to undertake the RIF. They further assert that DHCF "intentionally and maliciously employed racially biased and aged biased criteria to determine the extent to which then existing long term employees were now qualified for 'new' positions in which they would be doing essentially the same exact work." 3d Am. Compl. ¶ 21. As a result of these criteria, "a number of well-educated and experienced [p]laintiffs were unable to qualify for the newly advertised and rewritten positions . . . . Further, several [p]laintiffs were required to take new jobs in which they earned less pay." 3d Am. Compl. ¶ 22.

Plaintiffs filed this action on September 21, 2009. Their complaint, as amended, includes four counts: (1) race and age discrimination in violation of the Equal Protection Clause, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) race discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981; (3) violations of the D.C. personnel regulations that govern municipal RIFs; and (4) race and age discrimination in violation of the D.C. Human Rights Act. The District now moves to dismiss the complaint on the ground that none of these counts states a claim upon which relief may be granted.


A. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal Govern Here

Before turning to the merits of the District's motion, the Court will briefly address a contention that plaintiffs have repeatedly put forth in this case. Plaintiffs argue that the Supreme Court's decisions in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, -U.S.-, 129 S. Ct. 1937 (2009), are limited to their specific facts or doctrinal contexts and do not provide the pleading standard by which their race and age discrimination claims are to be gauged. Plaintiffs are wrong. Twombly and Iqbal are universally recognized as having modified the basic pleading standard in all federal civil cases. See Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1953 (stating that Twombly construed Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8, which "governs the pleading standard 'in all civil actions'" (quoting FED. R. CIV. P. 1)). Precisely how far Twombly and Iqbal depart from the pre-existing standard, articulated in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45--46 (1957), is open to debate, but courts and commentators alike understand them to have supplanted it.*fn1

Consequently, plaintiffs' ability to state a claim upon which relief may be granted will be judged with reference to the standard articulated in Twombly and Iqbal.*fn2 That standard does not call for detailed factual allegations, but it does require a complaint to recite facts sufficient to at least "raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. A "pleading that offers 'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'" Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders 'naked assertion[s]' devoid of 'further factual enhancement.'"

Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557) (alterations in original). At bottom, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter that, accepted as true, would allow the Court "to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. The Court will now address whether such an inference is possible here.

B. The Merits of the District's Motion

1. Count I: 42 U.S.C. § 1983

"To state a claim for relief in an action brought under § 1983, [plaintiffs] must establish that they were deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and that the alleged deprivation was committed under color of state law." Am. Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 49--50 (1999).*fn3 Here, plaintiffs allege that DHCF's reorganization violated their right to the equal protection of the laws as enshrined in the Fourteenth Amendment, which applies to the District of Columbia via the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause. See Bolling v. Sharpe, 347 U.S. 497, 499 (1954). "The central purpose of the Equal Protection Clause . . . is the prevention of official conduct discriminating on the basis of race," Washington v. Davis, 426 U.S. 229, 239 (1976), but the Clause reaches any government action that treats groups of people differently on the basis of arbitrary or irrational classifications. Engquist v. Or. Dept. of Agr., 553 U.S. 591, 601 (2008). It does not, however, prohibit government action that has a disproportionate effect on a discrete group but lacks a "discriminatory purpose." Davis, 426 U.S. at 240. Thus, to plead a viable equal protection ...

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