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Alexandria Jones v. Janice Quintana

July 3, 2012

ALEXANDRIA JONES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JANICE QUINTANA, AND DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Alexandria Jones, an employee of the District of Columbia's Office of Unified Communications (the "OUC"), brings this action against the District of Columbia (the "District") and Janice Quintana ("Quintana"), the former Director of the OUC.*fn1 Plaintiff alleges that she was retaliated against for voicing concerns about the manner in which the OUC intended to handle emergency "911" calls and non-emergency "311" calls and for filing a disability discrimination complaint with the District's Office of Human Rights (the "OHR").

Currently before the Court is Defendants' [75] Motion for Summary Judgment. Defendants contend that Plaintiff's remaining claims are barred by the terms of a settlement agreement (the "Settlement Agreement") entered into in late April 2009, while this action was pending, arising out of a grievance proceeding brought by the National Association of Government Employees, Local R3-07 (the "Union") on Plaintiff's behalf. Upon careful consideration of the parties' submissions, the relevant authorities, and the record as a whole, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment shall be DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.

I. BACKGROUND

The Court assumes familiarity with its prior opinions in this action, which set forth in detail the history of the case, and confines its discussion here to the background most germane to the instant motion.

A. Plaintiff's Factual Allegations

In briefing the instant motion, the parties dedicate scant attention to the events underlying Plaintiff's claims, focusing instead on the factual circumstances relating to the grievance process and the Settlement Agreement. See infra Part I.B. For background purposes, the Court begins by summarizing Plaintiff's version of the underlying events, relying on the allegations in the Third Amended Complaint without making any assumptions as to their veracity.

Plaintiff began her employment with the District in August 1998. Third. Am. Compl., ECF No. [57], ¶ 2. Six months later, she was promoted to a dispatcher position in the OUC, where her duties involved handling emergency 911 calls and transmitting information to the necessary response teams. Id. ¶ 3.

At some point prior to December 14, 2007, Plaintiff learned that Quintana, then the Director of the OUC, was proposing to change the manner in which emergency 911 calls and non-emergency 311 calls would be routed to dispatchers. Id. ¶ 5. When Plaintiff first started as a dispatcher with the OUC, non-emergency 311 calls were handled by untrained and uncertified operators, allowing trained and certified dispatchers like Plaintiff to focus their attention on emergency 911 calls. Id. ¶ 4. Quintana's proposed changes would adopt a new practice of routing non-emergency 311 calls to the emergency 911 line, something that Plaintiff believed would have the effect of delaying emergency response times. Id. ¶¶ 5-6. According to Plaintiff, the OUC did not employ a sufficient number of trained and certified dispatchers to cover the universe of combined phone calls. Id. ¶ 6.

Beginning in late 2007 and continuing into early 2008, Plaintiff attempted to raise her concerns about the proposed changes with members of the District of Columbia Council (the "Council"), then-Mayor Adrian Fenty (the "Mayor"), and the public at large. For example:

 December 14 and 17, 2007: Plaintiff wrote to Council members, contending that Quintana's proposed changes would "jeopardize the safety of residents in the District of Columbia." Id. ¶¶ 7-8.

 December 28, 2007 and January 1, 2008: Plaintiff wrote the Mayor, raising the same concerns and requesting a meeting. Id. ¶¶ 9-10.

 January 11, 2008: Plaintiff participated in an interview with a local television station, again voicing her concerns about Quintana's proposed changes. Id. ¶ 14.

 January 24, 2008: Plaintiff testified before the Council, addressing what she believed was the "lowered safety level" that would result from Quintana's proposed changes. Id.

An especially significant disclosure occurred on January 7, 2008, when Plaintiff attempted to have an in-person conversation with the Mayor while he was visiting the OUC. Id. ¶ 11. The encounter did not go well. Although Plaintiff maintains that she was neither rude nor disrespectful, she claims that the Mayor raised his voice at her and "screamed" that she should "do whatever Ms. Quintana wanted her to do." Id.

On January 10, 2008, three days after Plaintiff's encounter with the Mayor, Quintana placed Plaintiff on administrative leave without pay. Id. ¶ 12. By that point in time, Quintana was aware of Plaintiff's efforts to "speak out" about the proposed changes to the routing of emergency and non-emergency calls in the OUC, but Quintana justified the decision to place Plaintiff on administrative leave by stating that the Mayor was "not pleased" with Plaintiff and by characterizing Plaintiff as a "disgruntled and disrespectful employee." Id.

On January 18, 2008, Quintana proposed that Plaintiff be suspended for a period of thirty days. Id. ¶ 18. While it is never made clear, it appears that the contemporaneous justification for the proposed suspension coincided with Quintana's stated reasons for placing Plaintiff on administrative leave one week earlier-namely, that the Mayor was "not pleased" with Plaintiff and that Plaintiff was a "disgruntled and disrespectful employee." Id. ¶ 12. However, on February 11, 2008, for reasons that are left unstated, Plaintiff's proposed thirty-day suspension was overruled and the "charges" against her were "dismissed without prejudice." Id. ¶ 23.

During this same time period, Plaintiff began receiving medical treatment in connection with what she claims was job-related anxiety. Id. ¶¶ 13, 16, 24, 31, 35, 38, 41. On January 24, 2008, Plaintiff was "diagnosed with an impairment/disability because of anxiety" and, on this basis, requested an accommodation to work eight-hour shifts instead of her usual ten-hour shifts. Id. ¶¶ 21, 38. It appears that Plaintiff then took leave from work for an unspecified period of time in connection with her condition. Id. ¶¶ 36, 39. On July 22, 2008, Plaintiff filed a formal disability discrimination complaint with the OHR. Id. ¶ 40.

B. Plaintiff's Termination, the Grievance Process, and the Settlement Agreement

On August 14, 2008, the OUC notified Plaintiff that it proposed to terminate her employment for alleged insubordination and absences without official leave. Defs.' Stmt. of Material Facts as to Which There Is No Genuine Dispute ("Defs.' Stmt."), ECF No. [75], ¶ 1; Pl. Jones [sic] Stmt. of Facts Which Dispute Defs.' Affirmative Defense ("Pl.'s Resp. Stmt."), ECF No. [79-1], pt. I, ¶ 1. On September 24, 2008, after Plaintiff submitted a written response, the OUC notified Plaintiff of its final decision to terminate her employment effective September 26, 2008. Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 2; Pl.'s Resp. Stmt. pt. I, ¶ 2. Plaintiff was informed that she had the right to file an appeal with the Office of Employee Appeals or to file a grievance under the Union's Collective Bargaining Agreement (the "CBA"). Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 3; Pl.'s Resp. Stmt. pt. I, ¶ 3.

By letter dated October 1, 2008, Plaintiff elected to file a grievance through her Union. Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 4; Pl.'s Resp. Stmt. pt. I, ¶ 4. In the grievance letter, which is signed by both Plaintiff and her Union representative, Plaintiff alleged that the OUC (i) failed to provide a reasonable accommodation for her alleged disability, (ii) retaliated against her for requesting a reasonable accommodation, (iii) terminated her employment without sufficient cause, and (iv) adopted a penalty disproportionate to the alleged misconduct. See Defs.' Stmt. Ex. C (Ltr. from Sarah E. Suszczyk to J. Quintana dated Oct. 1, 2008) at 2-3. Contemporaneously, Plaintiff executed a statement ...


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