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Hill v. Gray

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

March 21, 2014

CYNTHIA HILL, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
HON. VINCENT GRAY, et al., Defendants

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 49

Re Document No.: 8.

For Cynthia S. Hill, Plaintiff: John F. Mercer, MERCER LAW ASSOCIATES, PLLC, Washington, DC.

For Vincent C. Gray, Honorable, District of Columbia, District of Columbia Office of The Attorney General, District of Columbia, Defendants: Sarah L. Knapp, LEAD ATTORNEY, ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Washington, DC.

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MEMORANDUM OPINION

RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, United States District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

The plaintiffs are ten former employees of the District of Columbia Public Schools, who were subject to a reduction-in-force. The plaintiffs brought this suit against the District of Columbia alleging defamation, due process violations, and age discrimination.

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The defendants moved to dismiss all of the plaintiffs' claims. For the following reasons, the defendants' motion to dismiss will be granted, in part, regarding the plaintiffs' defamation and due process violations claims and denied, in part, regarding the plaintiffs' discrimination claims.

II. FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

On or around October 2, 2009, the District of Columbia Public Schools (" DCPS" ) delivered notices of removal to over two hundred employees of DCPS as part of a reduction-in-force (" RIF" ), which went into effect on November 2, 2009. Compl. ¶ 16. The plaintiffs were all employees of DCPS. Compl. ¶ 14. At the time of removal, Cynthia Hill, the initially filing plaintiff of the complaint, worked as a science teacher at Ballou High School; Carol Carter was assigned to Abraham Simon Elementary School; Curtise Woodward was a social science teacher at Easter High School; Phyllis Lovett was a special education teacher at Ballou High School; Sandra Williams was assigned at Duke Ellington School of the Arts; Adele LaFranque was assigned at Ballou High School; Jerelyn Ola Jones was assigned at Woodson Senior High School; and Francis Simmons was a special education teacher at Eastern Senior High School. Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss 2-3; Compl. ¶ ¶ 15, 49-97. Four of the ten plaintiffs, Curtise Woodward, Adele LaFranque, Sandra Williams, and Francis Simmons, retired after notice of the RIF, but before the RIF went into effect. Pls.' Opp'n 1. All of the plaintiffs were over the age of forty years old when removed from their positions. Compl. ¶ 14. Additionally, each of the plaintiffs is African-American or Hispanic. Pls.' Opp'n 2.

The plaintiffs allege that they did not receive " 'reasonable notice' as to the essential factors to be considered in removing [t]eachers from their employment positions. . . . [or] the nature and type of factors being used in determining [their] likelihood of removal." Compl. ¶ 17. Furthermore, plaintiffs allege that they " were not made aware of documents and information gathered [that was] used by DCPS officers and administrators to determine [removal] . . . [and] had no access to [such] documents and information." Compl. ¶ 18. " [M]ore than two years after they were written, submitted, and published," the plaintiffs received full copies of the information used by DCPS. Pls.' Opp'n 2. As a result, the plaintiffs " were unable to either confront or rebut the content of unsupported negative allegations." Compl. ¶ 18.

According to the plaintiffs, the defendants used a Competitive Level Documentation Form (" CLDF" ) system, including Competitive Level Ranking Score Card (" CLRSC" ) documents, to determine who would be removed pursuant to the RIF. Compl. ¶ 25; Pls.' Opp'n 2. CLDFs and CLRSCs contained narratives written by DCPS principals and administrators about employee's performance. Pls.' Opp'n 2. The plaintiffs argue that the narratives were untrue and that " [t]he CLDF was used to describe [p]laintiffs' professional performances as opposed to using verifiable information such as evaluations, verifiable observations, or supported documents, professional third parties, or active parents." Pls.' Opp'n 2-3. Once the plaintiffs received copies of the CLRSCs in early 2012, they claim they became aware of statements that were " untrue, unsupported by facts, destructively defamatory, and completely contrary to . . . previous yearly evaluations." Compl. ¶ 32.

Ms. Hill, the initially filing plaintiff, filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (" EEOC" ) in November of 2010. Compl. ¶ 20. On October 4, 2012, Ms. Hill received a right-to-sue

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letter from the EEOC, Compl. ¶ 20, and filed her complaint with this Court on January 2, 2013, Pls.' Opp'n 3. On May 6, 2013, Ms. Hill filed a motion to amend her initial complaint along with the amended complaint, which includes the nine additional plaintiffs. Pl.'s Mot. for Leave to File Am. Compl. This Court granted the motion, and the amended complaint was filed on May 26, 2013. Pls.' Opp'n 3. All of the nine added plaintiffs filed complaints with the EEOC except for two, Carol Carter and James Lightfoot. Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss 3. The seven plaintiffs that filed with the EEOC received right-to-sue letters between the dates of November 30, 2012 and March 28, 2013.[1] Pls.' Opp'n 3. Additionally, eight plaintiffs [2] filed complaints regarding the RIF with the District of Columbia Office of Employee Appeals (" OEA" ). Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss. 4.

III. ANALYSIS

First, the defendants argue that the plaintiffs' defamation claims should be dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (Fed.R.Civ.P.) 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim, because the plaintiffs' defamation claims do not fall within the applicable one-year statute of limitations. The defendants argue, however, that even if the defamation claims are not time-barred, then this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), because the District of Columbia Comprehensive Merit Personnel Act gives jurisdiction over the plaintiffs' claims to the OEA. Second, the defendants argue that the plaintiffs' due process violation claims should be dismissed under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for falling outside of the applicable three-year statute of limitations. Third, the defendants argue that each of the plaintiffs' discrimination claims should be dismissed in three separate parts: (1) six plaintiffs failed to properly exhaust administrative remedies; (2) three plaintiffs did not face the requisite adverse action; and (3) one plaintiff is barred by res judicata.

A. Legal Standards of Review

1. Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction (12(b)(1))

Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, and the law presumes that " a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction . . . ." Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377, 114 S.Ct. 1673, 128 L.Ed.2d 391 (1994); see also Gen. Motors Corp. v. E.P.A., 363 F.3d 442, 448, 361 U.S.App.D.C. 6 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (" As a court of limited jurisdiction, we begin, and end, with an examination of our jurisdiction." ). It is the plaintiff's burden to establish that the court has subject matter jurisdiction. Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561, 112 S.Ct. 2130, 119 L.Ed.2d 351 (1992).

Because subject matter jurisdiction focuses on the Court's power to hear a claim, the Court must give the plaintiff's factual allegations closer scrutiny than would be required for a 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim. See Grand Lodge of Fraternal Order of Police v. Ashcroft,

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185 F.Supp.2d 9, 13 (D.D.C. 2001). Thus, the court is not limited to the allegations contained in the complaint. See Wilderness Soc'y v. Griles, 824 F.2d 4, 16 n.10, 262 U.S.App.D.C. 277 (D.C. Cir. 1987). Instead, " where necessary, the court may consider the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record, or the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts." Herbert v. Nat'l Acad. of Scis., 974 F.2d 192, 197, 297 U.S.App.D.C. 406 (D.C. Cir. 1992) (citing Williamson v. Tucker, 645 F.2d 404, 413 (5th Cir. 1981)).

2. Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim (12(b)(6))

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a complaint contain " 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. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); accord Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007) (per curiam). A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) does not test a plaintiff's ultimate likelihood of success on the merits; rather, it tests whether a plaintiff has properly stated a claim. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236, 94 S.Ct. 1683, 40 L.Ed.2d 90 (1974). A court considering such a motion presumes that the complaint's factual allegations are 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 ...


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