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Joyce v. Office of Architect of Capitol

United States District Court, District Circuit

September 5, 2013



JAMES E. BOASBERG United States District Judge

Upon returning from a week of medical leave, Plaintiff Frank Joyce was told that his work schedule with the Architect of the Capitol would be changing for the first time in twelve years. His new shift, moreover, would leave him unable to continue as his grandchildren’s primary caregiver. Instead of accepting the new schedule, Joyce resigned. In this suit under the Congressional Accountability Act, Joyce asserts that his shift change (and attendant forced resignation) was discriminatory. Specifically, he claims that the change was motivated by retaliation for past protected activity, age discrimination, and retaliation for taking protected medical leave, and he further alleges that the change illegally interfered with his right to take medical leave. The AOC now moves to dismiss. Concluding that the allegations supporting the first retaliation count fall short, but that those supporting the other claims clear the pleading bar, the Court will grant the AOC’s Motion in part and deny it in part.

I. Background

Because the Motion at issue is a motion to dismiss, the Court draws the facts from the Amended Complaint, assuming them to be true at this stage.

A. Factual Background

The Architect of the Capitol is a legislative-branch office that repairs and maintains the U.S. Capitol and its associated facilities. See 2 U.S.C. §§ 1811-1827. Frank Joyce worked at the AOC for 39 years. See Am. Compl., ¶ 14. Since 2000, Joyce had been the Facilities Supervisor for the Labor and Custodial Branch of the Client Services Division at the AOC Senate Office Buildings, overseeing 250 employees. See id., ¶¶ 15, 18. For his entire tenure as Facilities Supervisor, Joyce straddled the night and day shifts, working from 4:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. (or, when working a flexible schedule, 1:30 p.m.). See id., ¶ 17. He came to rely on this schedule after his daughter gave birth to twins in 2010. See id., ¶¶ 24-25. In the afternoon, while his daughter worked, Joyce would act as primary caregiver for his grandchildren. See id., ¶¶ 7, 25, 88.

Six years into his time as Facilities Supervisor, Joyce began to clash with management over his requests for family and medical leave. In 2006 and 2009, for example, Joyce needed leave to care for his wife after her leg surgery (2006) and dizzy spells requiring her hospitalization (2009). See id., ¶¶ 21, 23. In 2010, Joyce again required leave, this time to care for his daughter during her difficult pregnancy. See id., ¶ 24. Management repeatedly denied Joyce’s requests for leave outright or – despite a process allowing employees to “self-certify” leave without a doctor’s note, see id., ¶ 33 – refused to give him more than 24 hours of leave without documentation. See generally id., ¶¶ 27-47, 52.

These squabbles over leave eventually spilled over to other personnel matters. In 2011, Joyce’s request for a flexible work schedule was denied because, “‘[b]ased on [his] leave record, [he] ha[d] not established a pattern of regular work attendance.’” Id., ¶¶ 49, 51. When Joyce confronted management, his supervisor’s supervisor admitted that the denial “might” be attributable to a “mistaken belief that Joyce was using his leave in preparation for retirement.” Id., ¶¶ 54-55. (It appears Joyce was eventually allowed a flexible schedule. See id., ¶ 17.) Joyce also details other grievances about his work environment, but as they are untethered from discrimination, see id., ¶¶ 56-77, the Court need not recount them.

Problems came to a head when Joyce injured his back in March 2012. His doctor said not to return to work until the injury improved. See id., ¶ 80. Joyce therefore took sick leave from March 5 to March 12, informing management beforehand and calling his supervisor on March 5 to confirm his leave. See id., ¶¶ 78-79. When Joyce returned to work on March 13, his supervisor handed him a memo (dated March 5) assigning Joyce a new schedule: beginning March 19, Joyce would work the day shift from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. instead of his usual shift from 4:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. See id., ¶¶ 81, 84, 86. As his supervisor knew, the new schedule would leave Joyce unable to care for his grandchildren. See id., ¶¶ 87-88. AOC management claimed that the change was made “because the day shift supervisor was underperforming and AOC wanted Joyce to infuse his leadership on the low performing supervisor.” Id., ¶ 92. Joyce, however, believes it was motivated by discrimination. See id., ¶ 94. Despite Joyce’s protests, his supervisor refused to revisit the decision. See id., ¶ 89. Joyce then submitted his resignation. See id., ¶¶ 95-96.

Though the resignation would not take effect until April 30, Joyce was at home for much of his remaining time on account of his back injury. See id., ¶¶ 105, 111. Management had told Joyce that he could self-certify some of this sick leave, but his repeated attempts to do so were denied. See id., ¶¶ 106-10. “To date, Joyce is not sure if he has been paid for all his leave from March 13, 2012 through April 30, 2012.” Id., ¶ 111.

In the days and weeks after March 13, Joyce played a role in at least four discrimination cases against the AOC. Even before his resignation, Joyce had been asked by both the AOC and by AOC employees to serve as a witness in other cases. See id., ¶ 98. On April 20, AOC attorneys spoke with Joyce about three discrimination cases involving other employees. See id., ¶ 99. The AOC eventually subpoenaed Joyce in one lawsuit, and he testified on June 15. See id., ¶ 100. He gave a declaration in support of another employee on June 14. See id., ¶ 104. Joyce also pursued his own case, making a verbal complaint with the AOC Office of Compliance on the day of his resignation, then filing a written complaint on April 6. See id., ¶¶ 96-97. To exhaust administrative remedies, he participated in counseling and mediation with the AOC in July and October. See id., ¶¶ 122, 129, 145, 155.

B. Procedural Background

Joyce brought this suit against the AOC on November 13, 2012, asserting five counts under the Congressional Accountability Act. He amended his Complaint on January 4, 2013, dropping the count for race discrimination. The AOC now moves to dismiss.

The AOC also moves, in the alternative, for summary judgment. Because of the parties’ confusion about that aspect of the Motion, however, the Court does not reach the summary-judgment issues. The AOC moved for summary judgment in part because of purported defects in claims that Joyce did not actually bring in his Amended Complaint (such as for racial discrimination and hostile work environment) and in part because Joyce had insufficient evidence to rebut the AOC’s nondiscriminatory explanations for its actions. See Mot. at 22 (citing Brady v. Office of Sergeant at Arms, 520 F.3d 490, 494 (D.C. Cir. 2008)). The latter ground for summary judgment is clearly premature: When filing his complaint, a discrimination plaintiff rarely has proof that his employer’s explanation is pretextual. Instead, he hopes that discovery will uncover evidence to support his allegations. See, e.g., Blue v. Jackson, 860 F.Supp.2d 67, 78 (D.D.C. 2012). To postpone a premature motion for summary judgment, however, a plaintiff generally must file an affidavit or declaration under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d) explaining why he needs discovery to oppose the motion.

In this case, Joyce believed that the AOC agreed that no affidavit was necessary, and thus he never filed one. See Opp. at 1 n.1. The confusion stems from an e-mail exchange between the parties’ counsel. After ascertaining that Joyce was not suing for a hostile work environment or racial discrimination, the AOC’s attorney agreed that Joyce need not address those arguments in his Opposition. See Opp., Exh. 1 (E-mail Between Counsel (May 28, 2013)). Joyce’s attorney replied that he would tell the Court that “there is now no need to oppose the motion for summary judgment or to file a Rule 56(d) affidavit with this understanding between us, ” and the AOC’s attorney responded, “Thank you.” Id. (emphasis added). Obviously, counsel were talking past each other. In light of this confusion and the fact that the Court would have granted a Rule 56(d) request, the Court will consider only the AOC’s Motion to Dismiss. In future arrangements, however, the Court trusts that counsel will be more careful to ensure that they are on the same page.

II. Legal Standard

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a court must dismiss a claim for relief when the complaint “fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” In evaluating a motion to dismiss, the Court must “treat the complaint’s factual allegations as true and must grant plaintiff the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.” Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A court need not accept as true, however, “a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation, ” nor an inference unsupported by the facts set forth in the complaint. Trudeau v. FTC, 456 F.3d 178, 193 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). Although “detailed factual allegations” are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, [if] accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (internal quotation omitted). Though a plaintiff may survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion even if “recovery is very remote and unlikely, ” the facts alleged in the complaint “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56 (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)).

A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) must rely solely on matters within the pleadings, see Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d), which includes statements adopted by reference as well as copies of written instruments joined as exhibits. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(c). Where the Court must consider “matters outside the pleadings” to reach its conclusion, a motion to dismiss “must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d); see also Yates v. District of Columbia, 324 F.3d 724, 725 (D.C. Cir. 2003).

III. Analysis

Joyce brings four counts under the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, 2 U.S.C. § 1301 et seq., alleging retaliation (Count I), age discrimination (Count II), retaliation for taking family and medical leave (Count IV), and interference with family and medical leave (Count V). (A misnumbering of counts resulted in no Count III in the Amended Complaint.) After giving an overview of the law that frames each count, the Court will consider the AOC’s primary objection: that Joyce never ...

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