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Dequan Lin v. Kenneth Salazar

September 18, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: John D. Bates United States District Judge


Plaintiff Dequan Lin brings this action against the Secretary of the Interior in his capacity as head of the U.S. Park Police (hereinafter "defendant"). Lin, a former employee of the Park Police, claims that defendant violated his rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by discriminating against him based on his race, national origin, skin color, and sex. Compl. [Docket Entry 1] ¶¶ 1-13, 26-41. In particular, he claims that defendant subjected him to employment discrimination and a hostile work environment in violation of 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-16 and 2000e-5. Id. Defendant has moved to dismiss plaintiff's complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss or for Summ. J. [Docket Entry 6] ("Def.'s Mot.") at 1. Defendant argues that Lin's claims should be dismissed because he failed to properly exhaust his administrative remedies and has not stated a claim upon which relief can be granted. In the alternative, defendant has moved for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Id. Upon consideration of the record, and for the reasons stated below, the Court finds that plaintiff has properly exhausted his available administrative remedies. However, the Court will grant defendant's motion for summary judgment on both the employment discrimination claim and the hostile work environment claim.

I. Background

Lin was hired as a recruit officer by the Park Police on May 11, 2008, subject to a one-year probationary period due to his lack of federal government or law-enforcement experience. Compl. ¶ 7; Def.'s Stmt. of Mat. Facts [Docket Entry 6] ("Def.'s Stmt.") ¶ 2. He was the only person of Chinese national origin and Asian race and skin tone in his training class. Compl. ¶¶ 3-12. During his initial training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Atlanta, Lin received recognition for scoring near the top of his class in his training exercises. Pl.'s Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. [Docket Entry 7] ("Pl.'s Opp'n"), Ex. 2. However, Lin was also criticized by Officer Kristina Evans for his subpar performance during one of the training exercises. Id. Along with the performance-specific criticism, Officer Evans told Lin that she could tell he did not like working with women.

Lin has given different accounts of exactly what Officer Evans said. In an undated statement made to an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigator, Lin wrote that Officer Evans "brought me to Lt. G. Davis at the end of the scenarios and complained to him that I don't like female officers. She said, 'Why don't you listen? Do you have a problem with females? I think you don't like female officers.'" Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 8; see also Pl.'s Opp'n at 3.

In a 2010 affidavit, Lin made a similar statement: "Officer [K]ristina Evans brought me before Sergeant Davis (currently Lieutenant Davis) and complained to him that I did not want to listen to her and that I have a problem with females and did not think [sic] that I like female officers." Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 9. In a 2012 affidavit signed the same day his opposition to defendant's motion was filed, however, Lin gave a different account of Officer Evans's statement, declaring that she had told him in front of Lt. Davis that "based on who you are, I already know that you don't like working with females." Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 2. Although Officer Evans did not mention Lin's national origin, race, skin color, or sex, Lin believed that this criticism was based on his Chinese national origin, Asian race and skin color, and male sex. Id.

Officer Evans shared her criticisms of Lin with several other Park Police employees, including supervisor Lieutenant Noreen Shirmer and at least three of the officers who were eventually responsible for training Lin: Officer Lynda Freedman, Officer Daniel Berberich, and Officer Brandi Adamchick. Pl.'s Opp'n, Exs. 4, 5, 7; Def.'s Mot., Ex. P. All four claim they either disregarded or did not believe Officer Evans's statements. Id. Lin, however, claims to have heard rumors about his problems working with women at all five of the police districts in which he trained.

After finishing his initial training at the Training Center, Lin underwent mandatory field training in the District of Columbia under the tutelage of Officer Freedman, his assigned Field Training Instructor. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 3. In her weekly reports and in correspondence with her supervisor, Officer Freedman immediately expressed concerns about Lin's ability to complete training successfully. Id. ¶¶ 4-5. Officer Freedman found that although Lin was intelligent, he was unable to apply his knowledge of police procedures to the practical situations that police encounter daily. Id. ¶ 5. She also found that Lin was either unable or unwilling to back up other officers who needed assistance, leading to potentially unsafe situations for Lin, his fellow officers, and the public. Id. Accordingly, Officer Freedman's first evaluation of Lin was largely negative, reflecting several areas where she felt Lin needed to improve before he could become a productive member of the Park Police. Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 11.

Lin claims that Officer Freedman had an immediate negative reaction to him and failed to treat him collegially or respectfully. Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 9. He attributes this negative treatment to the rumors spread by Officer Evans about his inability to work with women. Id. Officer Freedman acknowledges that she had heard these rumors, but states that she disregarded them and gave Lin "the benefit of the doubt." Id., Ex. 5. Lin also claims that Officer Freedman engaged in "pranks" to irritate him, citing an instance when she drove 103 miles per hour on a damp highway. Id., Ex. 9. Officer Freedman acknowledges that the speeding incident occurred, but denies that it was meant to irritate Lin. Id., Ex. 5.

Around the same time, several officers informed Lieutenant Schirmer, who helped supervise the field training program, that Lin was sleeping in his van. Def.'s Mot., Ex. J.b. When Lieutenant Schirmer confronted Lin about this, Lin supplied Schirmer with a false address.

Def.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 15-16. Lin's living arrangements also came up when Officer Freedman, on orders from her supervisor, confronted Lin about several complaints about his body odor. Def.'s Mot., Ex. GG. Lin explained that he had not taken a shower in two days due to his living situation. Id. Because of this incident, and because of his perceived negative treatment by Officer Freedman, Lin contacted Officer Freedman's supervisor and requested a different instructor. Def.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 6-7. When this request was denied, Lin reported sick for three days. Id. ¶¶ 7-8. Lin's superiors suspected that he had reported sick to avoid working with Officer Freedman. Id. ¶¶ 8-9.

After his stint with Officer Freedman, Lin trained under a succession of other Field Training Instructors, all of whom gave Lin more positive evaluations than Officer Freedman. Id.

¶¶ 11-14; Pl.'s Opp'n, Exs. 15-17. All of his instructors, however, noted that Lin's performance had deficiencies. Def.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 11-14. For instance, Officer Jason Omo observed several situations where Lin failed to properly control suspects as they exited their vehicles and "fumbled with his handcuffs and released control of the suspects as he was attempting to handcuff them." Def.s Mot., Ex. H. Officer Omo believed that Lin's deficiencies could pose "serious safety issues" if left uncorrected, and recommended that Lin continue in the training program instead of being allowed to work on his own. Id.; Def.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 11-14. Based on this recommendation and the feedback from all of Lin's instructors, Sergeant Shain Melott, who helped supervise the field training program, recommended that Lin not be released from field training. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 20. Instead, Lin would receive further training; if improvement was not shown, he would be terminated. Id.

Lin initially was reassigned to Officer Freedman for further training, and he claims that he again experienced her alleged negative reaction to him. Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex 8. According to Lin, Officer Freedman "continually told [him] he should look for another job and that he was not suited for the work of being a police officer." Id. For her part, Officer Freedman found several deficiencies in Lin's performance. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 22. The most critical deficiency was his lack of safety skills. For example, Lin did not properly restrain a female prisoner inside the police station, allowing her to swing her arms from side to side. Def.'s Mot., Ex. M. Lin also failed to listen to the radio for situations where an officer might potentially be in distress. Id. Officer Freedman recommended that Lin be given further remedial training before continuing with the training program. Id.

Lin's next Field Training Instructor, Officer C. Whiteman, also found his performance to be poor, observing that he "[did] not see the desire from Officer Lin to do police work." Id. ¶¶ 23-24. Officer Whitman noted that Lin did not follow Park Police protocol in many situations, refusing to stop motorists for tinted windows "because he did not believe it should be illegal" and failing to interview one of the motorists involved in a three-car accident. Def.'s Mot., Ex. N. Officer Whiteman recommended that Lin be terminated. Id.

Lin was then referred to remedial training, which gives a recruit officer an additional opportunity to improve performance during the probationary period. Def.'s Mot., Ex. P. According to Lin, he was the only member of his training class assigned to receive this additional training. Compl. ¶ 12. His Field Training Instructor for remedial training, Officer Daniel Berberich, gave Lin better performance evaluations than he had received from Officer Freedman, but still noted several areas where Lin needed to improve. Def.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 27-28. Officer Berberich noted that Lin needed "to greatly improve his suspect/prisoner safety," having "twice allowed an arrestee in a cruiser be physically contacted by an unfrisked suspect." Def.'s Mot, Ex. Q. In the hope that Lin would improve if the training were less formal, Officer Berberich requested that the remedial training period be extended one week so he could accompany Lin in plainclothes as an observer ...

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