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Jean-Baptiste v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

July 19, 2013

CARMEN JEAN-BAPTISTE, Plaintiffs,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendants

Page 38

For CARMEN JEAN-BAPTISTE, Plaintiff: Abby Morrow Richardson, LEAD ATTORNEY, WIGGINS CHILDS QUINN & PANTAZIS, PLLC, Washington, DC; Timothy B. Fleming, LEAD ATTORNEY, WIGGINS, CHILDS, QUINN PANTAZIS, PLLC, Washington, DC; Daniel E. Arciniegas, Herman N. Johnson , Jr., Jon C. Goldfarb, Robert F. Childs, PRO HAC VICE, WIGGINS, CHILDS, QUINN & PANTAZIS, LLC, Birmingham, AL; Gary T. Brown, GARY T. BROWN & ASSOCIATES, Washington, DC.

For DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant: Alex Karpinski, LEAD ATTORNEY, Denise J. Baker, OFFICE OF ATTORNEY GENERAL, Washington, DC.

OPINION

Page 39

Royce C. Lamberth, United States District Court Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

A jury found for plaintiff Carmen Jean-Baptiste on her Title VII and D.C. Human Rights Act (DCHRA) sexual harassment claims, her Title VII and DCHRA retaliation claims, and her D.C. Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) claims. Jean-Baptiste now moves [187] for equitable relief pursuant to those three statutes.

I. BACKGROUND

The facts of this case are outlined in detail in the Court's April 2013 Memorandum Opinion denying the District's motion for a new trial and granting a motion for remittitur. See Jean-Baptiste v. Dist. of Columbia , __ F.Supp.2d __, 2013 WL 1092896 (D.D.C. Apr. 24, 2013). Thus, only a brief summary follows here.

In 2006, Jean-Baptiste was hired as a lifeguard by the District of Columbia Department of Parks and Recreation (" DPR" ). The parties disputed whether she was hired as a seasonal or year-round employee. Jean-Baptiste reported to Assistant Pool Manager Rodney Weaver and alleged that Weaver sexually harassed her. After she reported Weaver's conduct, she alleges that Weaver and the District retaliated against her and ultimately terminated her employment in mid-October 2006. Jean-Baptiste immediately reapplied for a lifeguard position. She failed two parts of the lifeguard assessment that the Department administered, but complained about the way the assessment had been conducted. She was not rehired. The District argued that she was terminated because her employment was only seasonal and that she was not rehired because she failed the lifeguard assessment.

A jury found for Jean-Baptiste on her hostile work environment and retaliation claims under Title VII and the DCHRA, as

Page 40

well as her WPA claim. The $3.5 million verdict was limited to compensatory damages and did not distinguish between the damages awarded under each statute. The jury also took the unusual step of making policy recommendations to the District of Columbia. Specifically, it recommended that the District " begin an EEO training program for all DPR managers," " rewrite DPR personnel policies to remove ambiguities about the EEO complaint and investigation processes," and " initiate a review of the actions, or lack of action, taken by all DPR employees and managers at the Takoma Pool and Aquatic Program" over the period during and immediately following Jean-Baptiste's employment. Verdict Form at 4, ECF No. 185.

This Court denied the District's post-trial motion for new trial or new trial on damages, but granted the District's motion for remittitur. Order, ECF No. 200. Jean-Baptiste subsequently accepted a reduced compensatory award of $350,000. Notice of Acceptance of Remittitur, ECF No. 202.

Jean-Baptiste now seeks equitable relief in the form of (1) back pay, plus pre-judgment interest, fro the date of her discharge to the date of final judgment in this case; (2) reinstatement into the position she would occupy absent the retaliation she suffered (including any training and re-certification required for that position, and front pay during any such training or re-certification); (3) a permanent injunction ordering the District to refrain from any further sexual harassment of or retaliation against her; and (4) an order requiring the District to take affirmative steps suggested by the jury in its attachment to the jury verdict. Pl.'s Mot. Equitable Relief 1-2, ECF No. 187 [hereinafter Pl.'s Mot.]; see also Pl.'s Mem. P. & A. in Support of Mot. Equitable Relief 7, ECF No. 187 [hereinafter Pl.'s Mem.].

II. LEGAL STANDARD GENERALLY

Title VII provides:

If the court finds that the [employer] has intentionally engaged in . . . an unlawful employment practice charged in the complaint, the court may enjoin the respondent from engaging in such unlawful employment practice, and order such affirmative action as may be appropriate, which may include, but is not limited to, reinstatement . . . with or without back pay . . . , or any other equitable relief as the court deems appropriate.

42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(g)(1).

Title VII gives district courts " wide discretion to award equitable relief. The district court should fashion this relief so as to provide a victim of employment discrimination the most complete make-whole relief possible." Barbour v. Merrill , 48 F.3d 1270, 1278, 310 U.S. App. D.C. 419 (D.C. Cir. 1995) (internal citations omitted).

The DCHRA also provides for equitable relief including " hiring, reinstatement or upgrading of employees, with or without back pay," " admission to or participation in a program, apprenticeship training program, on-the-job training program or other occupational training or retraining program," D.C. Code § § 2-1403.13(a), 16(b), and, where necessary to " prevent irreparable harm," temporary restraining orders and preliminary injunctions, D.C. Code § 2-1403.07.

Finally, the WPA identifies available relief as reinstatement to the same position held before the prohibited personnel action or to an equivalent position, restoration of lost benefits, back pay and interest on back pay, and injunctions. D.C. Code § 1-615.54(a)(1)(A)-(E).

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III. DISCUSSION

A. Reinstatement

Jean-Baptiste seeks reinstatement into either a year-round lifeguard position or a higher level CS-11 aquatics facility management position. Pl.'s Mem. 9. She argues that a CS-11 position would offer her union protections and that she is qualified to serve in such a position. Id. She suggests that progression from lifeguard to a facility management position in the seven years since her termination would represent a career trajectory similar to that of Sean Link, who served as the " Aquatics Program Manager," or " Aquatics Director." Trial Tr. 58, Aug. 8, 2012. Should Jean-Baptiste require additional certifications, she seeks front pay until she can receive the certifications and reimbursement for the cost associated with the certifications. Id. at 9-10.

The District opposes reinstatement, promotion, or front pay, arguing that Jean-Baptiste lacks the qualifications to hold a lifeguard position. Def.'s Opp'n to Pl.'s Mot. Equitable Relief 4, ECF No. 211 (citing Franks v. Bowman Transp. Co., Inc. , 424 U.S. 747, 773 n.31, 96 S.Ct. 1251, 47 L.Ed.2d 444 (1976)). [1] Moreover, the District argues that promotion would be unduly speculative, suggesting that plaintiff is unlike former Aquatics Director Sean Link who " ultimately served a supervisor at the end of his eighteen year period with DPR." Def.'s Opp'n 5. Finally, because the District avers that plaintiff lacks the qualifications to hold the lower ranked position of lifeguard, the District argues that Jean-Baptiste should not be promoted to any higher position.

The District also opposes any award of front pay, suggesting that this is only appropriate where reinstatement is not feasible. Id. at 5. The District cites McKennon v. Nashville Banner Publishing Company , 513 U.S. 352, 115 S.Ct. 879, 130 L.Ed.2d 852 (1995), for the proposition that neither reinstatement nor front pay are appropriate where the employer has alternative, lawful grounds for terminating the employee. Id. at 5-6. Again, because the plaintiff is allegedly unqualified to work as a lifeguard, the District seeks to avoid a front pay award.

1. Legal Standard

In employment discrimination cases, " [r]einstatement is the presumptive remedy to make a successful plaintiff whole, though courts have recognized that there are exceptional circumstances sufficient to rebut the presumption." Glymph v. Dist. of Columbia , 374 F.Supp.2d 219, 226

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(D.D.C. 2005) (citing Robert Belton, Remedies in Employment Discrimination Law, § 7.16 at 236 (1992)); see also Squires v. Bonser , 54 F.3d 168, 173 (3d Cir.1995) (" [R]einstatement is the preferred remedy in the absence of special circumstances militating against it." ). " Title VII envisioned that making a victim whole would include his reinstatement to the position he would have held but for the discrimination. Section 706(g), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(g), the remedial provision of Title VII, specifically includes reinstatement as an appropriate judicial remedy." Lander v. Lujan , 888 F.2d 153, 156, 281 U.S. App. D.C. 140 (D.C. Cir. 1989). However, even where reinstatement to plaintiff's ...


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