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Bennett v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District Circuit

December 5, 2013

EMYRTLE BENNETT, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

BARBARA J. ROTHSTEIN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Memorandum Opinion Denying Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment [34] and Denying Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment [41]

I. INTRODUCTION

Before the Court are the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment [34] and [41]. Plaintiff Emyrtle Bennett alleges that her employer, the District of Columbia, discriminatorily terminated her because of her age and in retaliation for her prior complaints of age-based harassment. Plaintiff commenced this suit under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621, et seq., and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act (“DCHRA”), D.C. Code §§ 2-1401.01, et seq. Upon consideration of the parties’ arguments, the relevant case law, and the entire record, the Court denies the parties’ respective motions for summary judgment.

II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On August 18, 2008, the District of Columbia Public Schools (“DCPS”) hired Plaintiff to work as a guidance counselor at Calvin Coolidge Senior High School (“CCSHS”).[1] Pl.’s Mot., Ex. 2. In addition to Plaintiff, Defendant hired two other counselors, Amanda Poorkhodakaram and Dawn Mayo, to work at CCSHS during the 2008–2009 school year. Def.’s Mot. at 5.

Plaintiff alleges that Poorkhodakaram called her “old fogey” and “old fashioned” on a number of occasions during the 2008–2009 school year. Pl.’s Opp’n at 10. According to Plaintiff, in September 2009, she complained about Poorkhodakaram’s actions to CCSHS’s principal, Thelma Jarrett, [2] and CCSHS’s Assistant Principal. Pl.’s Opp’n at 10–11.

On September 10, 2009, at the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year, DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee issued a memorandum indicating that for budgetary reason, DCPS would conduct a Reduction-In-Force (“RIF”) to “eliminate positions at schools that cannot be supported” by the school’s budget. Pl.’s Mot., Ex. 9. On September 18, 2009, the Director of School Operations sent a follow up memorandum to all DCPS principals with specific instructions on implementing the RIF process (hereinafter “RIF memo”). Pl.’s Mot., Ex. 11. First, each school principal was to “identify[] the positions within the school [to be] eliminated.” Pl.’s Mot., Ex. 11. In identifying these positions, principals were required to “only consider the impact that losing a particular position [would have on his or her] school, as opposed to any consideration of who is in such positions.” Pl.’s Mot., Ex. 11. The principal would then send the positions that he or she proposed eliminating to the Director of School Operations for his review and approval. Pl.’s Mot., Ex. 11.

Once the principal received approval, he or she had to rate each staff member that held the position to be eliminated. Id. The principal had to base the ratings on the following criteria:

1. Office or school needs (including curriculum-specialized education, degrees, licenses, or areas of expertise), accounting for 75% of the total score;
2. Significant relevant contributions, accomplishments or performance, accounting for 10% of total score; and 3. Relevant supplemental professional experience as demonstrated on the job, accounting for 10% of total score.

Pl.’s Mot., Ex. 11, Attach. B (listing “Factors to be Rated by the Principal”).[3] The principal had to assign each factor listed above a rating from zero (the lowest possible score) to ten (the highest possible score). Additionally, the principal was required to give a separate narrative supporting each of her ratings in the three categories listed above. Pl.’s Mot., Ex. 11. The RIF memo instructed the principals that they were not to consider age when rating the staff members. Pl.’s Mot., Ex. 11, Attach. B.

After the principals made their ratings based on the aforementioned factors, DCPS’s Office of Human Resources would take into account the staff member’s “length of service, ” which accounted for 5% of the total score. Pl.’s Mot., Ex. 11, Attach. B. Human Resources would then issue a final “weighted” ranking to each of the staff members under review, obtained by comparing the raw score of zero to ten to the number of points available, depending on the specific factor.[4] Human Resources would then issue a notice of separation to the lowest scoring employee. Id.

During the RIF, the principal of CCSHS, Thelma Jarrett, decided to eliminate one of the guidance counselor positions at the school. Def.’s Mot. at 6. As required under the RIF memo, all three guidance counselors (Plaintiff, Poorkhodakaram, and Mayo) received a ...


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