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Sims v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District Circuit

February 6, 2014

SABRINA SIMS, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ELLEN SEGAL HUVELLE United States District Judge

On April 20, 2012, plaintiff, then a sergeant in the Metropolitan Police Department (“MPD”), filed suit against the District of Columbia alleging unlawful discrimination, retaliation, and a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”). (See Compl. [ECF No.1].) Following discovery, defendant moved for summary judgment on all counts. (See Mem. in Support of D.C.’s Mot. for Summ. J., Nov. 13, 2013 [ECF No. 23-1] (“Def.’s Mot.”).) Plaintiff opposed this motion and filed her own motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of retaliation. (See Pltf.’s Opp. to District’s Mot. for Summ. J., Dec. 6, 2013 [ECF No. 26] (“Pltf.’s Opp.”); Pltf.’s Mot. for Partial Summ. J., Nov. 13, 2013 [ECF No. 22] (“Pltf.’s Mot.”).) Based on a thorough examination of the record and for the reasons stated below, the Court will grant summary judgment for defendant on plaintiff’s discrimination claim. On plaintiff’s retaliation claim, both parties’ motions for summary judgment will be denied, and on plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim, defendant’s motion for summary judgment will be denied.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff joined the MPD in 1990 and began working in the Youth Investigations Branch (“Youth Division”) in 1998. (Dep. of Sabrina Sims, June 11, 2013 [ECF No. 23-4] (“Sims Dep.”), at 14-16.) Plaintiff remained in the Youth Division until December 2010, when, at her request, she was transferred to the Criminal Investigations Division (“CID”). (Id. at 84-85.) Today, plaintiff continues to work in the CID, where she was promoted to the rank of lieutenant in 2012. (Id. at 16, 22.)

The circumstances leading up to plaintiff’s departure from the Youth Division underlie this lawsuit. In early 2010, plaintiff complained to Commander Charnette Robinson, the female head of the Youth Division, that she was giving preferential treatment to less senior male officers.[1] (Id. at 59; see also Pltf.’s Opp., Ex. 7 (“D.C Charge of Discrimination Form”).) In April 2010, plaintiff complained to Assistant Chief Newsham about this allegedly discriminatory behavior and requested a transfer away from Commander Robinson. (Sims Dep. at 84-85.)

After plaintiff’s transfer request was denied, she began receiving what she viewed as undesirable assignments from Commander Robinson. (Id. at 46-53, 94-95.) She was assigned to work short-term details outside of her unit lasting no more than several days and was also assigned to a Congressional Forum which, in her view, was unrelated to her duties. (Id. at 47-48, 94-95.) These assignments not only took plaintiff away from her regular work, but they did not provide opportunities for overtime and overtime pay. In June 2010, plaintiff was forced to work the midnight tour of duty for three to four weeks which plaintiff alleges, was “something no other sergeant assigned to the unit ha[d] been required to do.”[2] (Id. at 42, 118-19 (citing Pltf.’s Opp., Ex. 5 (“Formal EEOC Complaint”), Sept. 14, 2010 [ECF No. 26-5]).)

In September 2010, plaintiff filed a formal Equal Employment Opportunity (“EEO”) complaint with the MPD’s Diversity & Equal Employment Opportunity Compliance Branch (“MPD’s EEO Office”), alleging unlawful gender discrimination, retaliation, and a hostile work environment. (See “Formal EEOC Complaint.”) Plaintiff alleged that “Commander Charnette Robinson repeatedly affords the male sergeants opportunities over the female sergeants” and “having filed a grievance in reference to these matters [previously] . . . the actions displayed by Commander Robinson constitute retaliation. . . .” (Id.)

Specifically, plaintiff relied on two incidents. First, she discussed Commander Robinson’s decision not to assign her to the “Bundy School” in March 2010. Despite the fact that plaintiff was the more senior sergeant, Commander Robinson instead assigned Sergeant Torrence, a male, to the desirable six-month detail. Following an intervention by plaintiff’s union, plaintiff ultimately was assigned to the Bundy School detail in September 2010. However, unlike Sergeant Torrence, plaintiff was not given a set schedule of hours or days off. Instead, she was scheduled to work “rotating shifts” and train another sergeant. (Id.; see also Sims Dep. at 76-84.)

Plaintiff also described an incident when Commander Robinson informed male sergeants of training opportunities but failed to discuss those training opportunities with her. (See Formal EEOC Complaint; Sims Dep. 62-65.) Even after plaintiff asked Commander Robinson about the training opportunities directly, the Commander said that she would “get back” to plaintiff and “give [her] the information.” (Sims Dep. at 66.) Later, after plaintiff applied for these training programs, her application was passed over in favor of the less-senior, male sergeants. In plaintiff’s view, she was “repeatedly overlooked and intentionally excluded” from training programs in retaliation for her claims of discrimination. (See Formal EEO Complaint.)

After plaintiff filed her formal EEO complaint in September, she claims that she was subjected to further retaliatory action in the form of disciplinary actions. In October 2010, less than one month after she submitted the formal EEO complaint, plaintiff was issued a “Work Performance Plan” (WPP) over the objections of her immediate supervisor, Lieutenant Tate. (Sims Dep. at 67-76; Pltf.’s Opp., Ex. 3, Dep. of Alphonso Augustus Lee, Vol. 2., Sept. 19, 2013 [ECF No. 26-3], 134-35.) Plaintiff was informed that she had been placed on a WPP because she had overdue reports. However, prior to being placed on the WWP, plaintiff was not made aware of any problems with her work performance. (Sims Dep. at 72-73.) Moreover, no other officers in the Youth Division were put on WPPs in 2010, despite the fact that some officers had a greater number of overdue reports than plaintiff. (Id. at 127-129.) Later that month, Commander Robinson relied on the fact that plaintiff was on a WWP to deny training opportunities that plaintiff had requested. (Id. at 85-88, 94; see also Pltf.’s Opp., Ex. 8 (e-mail from Sims to Lee, Oct. 26, 2010).)

During October and November of 2010, Commander Robinson questioned plaintiff about her EEO Complaint and refused to let her respond in writing to a co-worker’s EEO complaint. (Sims Dep. at 111-13, 135-36.) In December 2010, Commander Robinson denied plaintiff’s leave request without any explanation. Only after plaintiff complained to Commander Robinson’s supervisor, Assistant Chief Newsham, was her request for leave granted. (Id. at 138-39.)

In response to plaintiff’s formal EEO complaint, Alphonso Lee (an MPD EEO official) conducted an investigation. (Pltf.’s Opp., Ex. 2, Dep. of Alphonso Augustus Lee, Vol. 1., Sept. 19, 2013 [ECF No. 26-2] (“Lee Dep., Vol. 1.”), 35-44.) Though Mr. Lee concluded based on his investigation that there was insufficient evidence to sustain plaintiff’s claim of gender-based discrimination, he “sustained” plaintiff’s retaliation claim, explaining that “there was a probability that retaliation [by Commander Robinson] occurred” based on “the allegations proffered by Lieutenant Sims, and the information collected after the allegation was made.” (Id. at 41-42.) On December 2, 2010, the Assistant Chief of Police “concur[ed] with [the] findings” of Mr. Lee that retaliatory misconduct likely took place. (Pltf.’s Opp., Ex. 6.) Later that month, plaintiff was transferred to the CID where she continues to work apparently without difficulty. (See Sims Dep. at 85.)

ANALYSIS

I. STANDARD OF REVIEW


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