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Willie Brewer v. District of Columbia et al

September 20, 2012

WILLIE BREWER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rudolph Contreras United States District Judge

Re Document No.: 4

MEMORANDUM OPINION DENYING THE DEFENDANTS'MOTION TO DISMISS

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the court on the defendants' motion to dismiss. The plaintiff is a teacher who worked for the District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS") before being dismissed from his employment pursuant to a reduction in force ("RIF"). He brings suit against the District of Columbia and the former DCPS Chancellor, Michelle Rhee ("defendant Rhee"),*fn1 alleging age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 631-34. The defendants move to dismiss the plaintiff's claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), asserting that such claims are barred for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, as well as by res judicata, collateral estoppel, and parallel litigation. For the reasons discussed below, the court denies the defendants' motion.

II. FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS & PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND*fn2

The plaintiff is a 53-year-old teacher who worked for DCPS for 28 years before being terminated in October of 2009 under a RIF, pursuant to the D.C. Municipal Regulations, 5-E DCMR §§ 1501, 1503. Compl. ¶ 4. The plaintiff claims that the defendants engaged in age discrimination and used the RIF as a pretext to remove 200 DCPS teachers-the vast majority of whom were over 40 years old-and replace them with younger teachers. Id. ¶¶ 9-10. The defendants cited inadequate budgetary funds or poor performance when terminating the older teachers. Id. ¶ 10. In that vein, the plaintiff was subjected to the RIF after being adversely evaluated in a Competitive Level Documentation Form. Id. ¶ 7. Though he was an instrumental music teacher, his RIF competitive standing was governed by the standards for a vocal music teacher, a position that required a skill set different from his own. Id. ¶¶ 7-8. As a result, the plaintiff was terminated. Id. ¶¶ 5-7.

According to the plaintiff, former Chancellor Rhee "personally planned and directed the implementation of the RIF separations," a "strategy" she chose after unsuccessful attempts to persuade the City Council to allow her to terminate DCPS employees without cause. Id. ¶¶ 14-16. She then publicly commented that many of the RIF separations-an action justified on the basis of budget shortfalls-were necessary because the separated teachers had been low performers, and continued carrying out the separations even after the D.C. Council obtained funds to address the budget shortfalls. Id. ¶¶ 19-20.

Further, under the D.C. Municipal Regulations, an agency must maintain a list of employees who were separated under a RIF for one year after their terminations. Id. ¶ 11. If a qualified person on the list is available for an opening within his or her discipline, that person must have priority in filling the position over a new appointment, transfer, or former employee who is not on the list. Id. ¶ 12. Through the fall of 2010, however, the defendants hired hundreds of new DCPS teachers and employees, "most of whom were much younger than the plaintiff and were just beginning their careers." Id. ¶ 13. Because the plaintiff never received priority appointment before the "new, transferred, or non-listed teachers who were hired for positions of his type," the defendants either failed to maintain the requisite reemployment priority list, did not include the plaintiff on it, or did not use the list. Id. ¶¶ 14-16.

The plaintiff filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after he was terminated ("EEOC"). See Pl.'s Mot., Ex. A, at 1. In March of 2011, the EEOC issued him a right-to-sue letter, id., and he then filed an action in this court in June of 2011. The plaintiff alleges age-based discrimination in contravention of the ADEA. Id. ¶¶ 23-24. In response, the defendants have filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiff's claims for failure to state a claim. The court now turns to the parties' arguments and the applicable legal standards.*fn3

III. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard for a Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss

A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint. Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002). The motion does not test a plaintiff's ultimate likelihood of success on the merits, but rather, whether a plaintiff has properly stated a claim. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). The complaint is only required to set forth a short and plain statement of the claim, in order to give the defendants fair notice of the claim and the grounds upon which it rests. Kingman Park Civic Ass'n v. Williams, 348 F.3d 1033, 1040(D.C. Cir. 2003) (citing FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2) and Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)).

A court considering this type of motion presumes the factual allegations of the complaint to be true and construes them liberally in the plaintiff's favor. See, e.g., United States v. Philip Morris, Inc., 116 F. Supp. 2d 131, 135 (D.D.C. 2000). It is not necessary for the plaintiff to plead all elements of his prima facie case in the complaint, Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 511--14 (2002), nor to plead law or match facts for every element of a legal theory, Krieger v. Fadely, 211 F.3d 134, 136 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (internal citations omitted). Nonetheless, "[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 562 (2007). A claim is facially plausible when the pleaded factual content "allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). "The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

The court need not accept as true inferences unsupported by facts set out in the complaint or legal conclusions cast as factual allegations. Warren v. District of Columbia, 353 F.3d 36, 39 (D.C. Cir. 2004); Browning, 292 F.3d at 242. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory ...


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