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Miles v. Howard Univ.

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

March 16, 2015

CANDICE MILES, Plaintiff,
v.
HOWARD UNIVERSITY, [1] Defendant

For CANDICE MILES, Plaintiff: Nicholas Woodfield, R. Scott Oswald, LEAD ATTORNEYS, THE EMPLOYMENT LAW GROUP, P.C., Washington, DC.

For UNIVERSITY OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant: Yoora Pak, LEAD ATTORNEY, Michelle Bergman, WILSON, ELSER, MOSKOWITZ, EDELMAN & DICKER LLP, McLean, VA.

For HOWARD UNIVERSITY, Defendant: Daniel I. Prywes, LEAD ATTORNEY, Ian L. Barlow, BRYAN CAVE LLP, Washington, DC.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

REGGIE B. WALTON, United States District Judge.

The plaintiff, Candice Miles, filed this civil action against defendant Howard University (" Howard" ), alleging violations of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (" FMLA" ), 29 U.S.C. § § 2611-19 (2012), the District of Columbia Family and Medical Leave Act (" DCFMLA" ), D.C. Code § § 32-501 to -517 (2001), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (" Title VII" ), 42 U.S.C. § § 2000e to -17e (2012), and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act (" DCHRA" ), D.C. Code § § 2-1401.01 to -1431.08 (2001). Amended Complaint (" Compl." ) ¶ ¶ 116-59. Currently before the Court is Howard's motion for summary judgment. Defendant Howard University's Motion for Summary Judgment (" Def.'s Summ. J. Mot." ). For the reasons explained below, the Court must grant Howard's motion.[2]

I. BACKGROUND

A. The District Of Columbia Small Business Network And The Plaintiff's Employment

" During all . . . periods [of time relevant to this case]," the United States Small Business Administration (" Small Business Administration" ) has annually " awarded Howard a grant to run . . . [the District of Columbia] Small Business Development Center" Network (" Small Business Network" ). Pl.'s Summ. J. Facts ¶ 1. Under that grant, Howard manages the " Lead Center" and " award[s] annual subcontracts to individual non-profit organizations" throughout the District of Columbia that are required to host " Service Centers," which " provide small-business development services" to third parties. Id. ¶ 2. These Service Centers comprise the Small Business Network. See id. ¶ 14. One of these non-profit organizations was the University of the District of Columbia School of Business (" UDC" ). Id.

" In late 2008," the Dean of UDC, Charlie Mahone, formed a " Search Committee" to hire " a new Director of the UDC Service Center." Id. ¶ ¶ 20-21. Although Dean Mahone was " not required" to do so, he " invited" Henry Turner, the Executive Director of the Howard Lead Center at the time, " to serve on the Search Committee." Id. ¶ ¶ 4, 21. One candidate who " applied for the position of Service Center Director at UDC" was the plaintiff. Id. ¶ 20. Despite Mr. Turner's " reservations about hiring" the plaintiff for the position, she was " nonetheless hired after Dean Mahone agreed that he would mentor [the plaintiff] in the position." Id. ¶ 22 (internal quotation marks omitted).

The plaintiff began serving as the Director of the UDC Service Center in January 2009. Id. ¶ 24. The plaintiff's " office was located at UDC," and she worked there " almost every day." Id. ¶ 29. She " generally did not visit Howard's Lead Center more than a couple of days a month." Id ¶ 29. Dean Mahone was the plaintiffs " direct supervisor" at the UDC Service Center. Id ¶ 30. The plaintiff was able to " create[] her own schedule to best address the goals of the UDC Service Center." Id ¶ 39 (internal alteration omitted). She " was responsible for preparing [the] UDC [Service Center's strategy to achieve the contractual goals specified in the Howard[-]UDC subcontract, as well as work plans for the UDC Service Center." Id ¶ 42. The plaintiff " had to use her own professional judgment when counseling clients[] and in selecting topics for training workshops." Id ¶ 41. Further, " UDC carried [the plaintiff] on its payroll, issued her paychecks, and provided her with health and disability insurance." Id ¶ 29. The plaintiff was also " subject to UDC's leave policies." Id And UDC " had [the plaintiffs] personnel files." Id

After January 2010, the individual Service Centers in the Small Business Network " worked more independently" from Howard's Lead Center and there was " decreased cooperation" with Howard's Lead Center. Id ¶ 47. Mr. Turner's supervisor, Barron Harvey, the Dean of the Howard School of Business, " became dissatisfied with [Mr.] Turner's leadership" and " critical] [of Mr.] Turner's performance" as the Executive Director of the Howard Lead Center. Id ¶ 6. Throughout Mr. Turner's tenure, the plaintiff received " little communication as to the vision and direction of the [Small Business] [N]etwork and the individual [S]ervice [C]enters" from the Howard Lead Center.[3] Id ¶ 45. Mr. Turner " eventually decided to retire effective July . . . 2010." Id ¶ 7.

In that same month, Howard hired Don Wilson " as a consultant to lead the search for a new Executive Director of the Howard Lead Center[] and to provide advice about the [Small Business] [N]etwork." Id. ¶ 10. In December 2010, an " accreditation team" from the Association of Small Business Development Centers (" Association" ) " visited the District of Columbia and . . . several [S]ervice [C]enters, including UDC." Id. ¶ 61. The Association " ran the Congressionally-approved accreditation program for" small business " networks across the [United States]." Id. ¶ 11. The Association accreditation team " met with Howard's Dean Harvey" and " told him that substantial improvement in the [Small Business] [N]etwork was required[] and that the performance of the UDC Service Center was especially problematic." Id. ¶ 62 (internal quotation marks omitted). Based on these remarks, " Howard feared that . . . the [Small Business Administration] . . . [would] cancel the grant for the entire [Small Business] [N]etwork." [4] Id. ¶ 63.

Early the following year, in February 2011, " Darrell Brown started work as the new Executive Director of the Howard Lead Center." Id. ¶ 12. At that time, both Mr. Brown and Mr. Wilson " concluded that UDC . . . was the worst-performing [Service] Center in the [Small Business] [N]etwork." Id. ¶ 58 (internal quotation marks omitted); see also id. ¶ 72. During that month, Howard also " received a draft of the [Association] accreditation team's report" regarding the Small Business Network, which " recommended deferral of accreditation." Id. ¶ 68 (internal quotation marks omitted); see also id. ¶ 63. The report " called upon the [Small Business] [N]etwork to revisit and analyze its organizational structure for service delivery," which Mr. Brown interpreted as " calling for a restructuring analysis of who [Howard] partnered with." Id. ¶ 68 (internal quotation marks omitted). In that same month, " Howard also received word that the [Small Business Administration] was planning to terminate the grant for the entire [Small Business] [N]etwork," as the Small Business Administration was not going to " allow the status quo to continue[]" and warned Howard " that termination of the [Small Business Administration] grant was a distinct possibility." Id. ¶ 71.

In March 2011, Mr. Brown and Mr. Wilson " had dinner with several members of the [Association] accreditation team." Id. ¶ 69. The members " commented that it was necessary for Howard to seriously restructure the [Small Business] Network and to do so quickly" and informed Mr. Brown that " Howard may have to change sub-hosts (i.e., change its [S]ervice-[C]enter subcontractors)," including " tak[ing] a hard look at UDC." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). Subsequently, the Association accreditation team's final report informed Howard that the Small Business Network was " currently unaccredited" and that it " had one year to cure the problems identified by the [Association]." Id. ¶ 88. Based on this deferral of accreditation, the Small Business Administration reiterated that it " could terminate the . . . grant with Howard." Id. ¶ 89 (internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, " [t]he entire grant was in serious jeopardy." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted); see also id. ¶ 90 (" [The Small Business Administration] called for tough decisions by Howard, including the immediate need to put action plans in place to address concerns about the quality and strength of partnerships needed for an effective [Small Business Network]. UDC was the worst[-]performing such partnership." (internal ellipses and quotation marks omitted)). But the Small Business Administration decided to afford Howard some time to " reset the foundation" of the Small Business Network and bring it " into compliance" with the requirements of the grant. Id. " At all times, [the plaintiff] recognized that [the] UDC [Service Center] needed to improve its performance." Id. ¶ 65.

B. The Plaintiff's Pregnancy And Termination

The plaintiff " learned that she was pregnant in August 2010, with an expected due date of April 3, 2011." Id. ¶ 50. She informed Dean Mahone that she was pregnant in the fall of 2010. Id. ¶ 51. However, " [s]he did not tell anyone at the Howard Lead Center about her pregnancy [or the expected date of her child's birth] until January 2011." [5] Id. ¶ 50. In February 2011, the plaintiff requested leave from UDC beginning on April 3, 2011, which coincided with her expected due date. See, e.g., Pl.'s Opp'n, Exhibit (" Ex." ) 21 (Declaration of Candice Miles (" Miles Decl." )) ¶ 67. Because of " unexpected complications," however, on March 7, 2011, the plaintiff was placed " on [temporary] bed rest" by her doctor, and then on March 11, 2011, her doctor required her to remain on bed rest for the remainder of her pregnancy.[6] Pl.'s Summ. J. Facts ¶ 52; Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 21 (Miles Decl.) ¶ ¶ 75, 77.

A week later, on March 14, 2011, the plaintiff " advised . . . [Mr.] Brown [in an email] that she had started [her] FMLA leave" and " that her planned return date would fall between June 27 and July 25[, 2011]." [7] Pl.'s Summ. J. Facts at 27 ¶ 84, 28 ¶ 87. When Mr. Brown learned of the plaintiff's leave on March 14, 2011, he sent the plaintiff " an email wishing her well" and inquiring about what " accommodations" the plaintiff had " made to continue servicing . . . clients while . . . [she was away] on leave," id. ¶ 92, as she " had an obligation to make arrangements for the servicing of [the] UDC [Service Center]'s clients while she . . . [was] out on expected maternity leave," id. ¶ 97. But prior to the March 14, 2011 email sent to Mr. Brown, the plaintiff " had not . . . informed the Howard Lead Center of any plan for servicing [the] UDC [Service Center]'s clients during the period in which [the plaintiff was] expected to be on leave," id. ¶ 93, except to refer clients to another Service Center, see id. ¶ ¶ 100, 101. Mr. Brown became " concerned when he learned on March 14, 2011, that counseling services were not being provided at [the] UDC [Service Center]." Id. ¶ 105. Mr. Brown " believed that [the] UDC [Service Center] had an obligation to ensure that the Service Center [was] operational and functioning." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). " Mass. referrals by [the] UDC [Service Center] of its clients were considered by [Mr.] Brown to be the last option used, not the first, and not one that should have persisted for more than a few weeks." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

A meeting between Howard representatives and UDC's Dean Mahone was subsequently convened on April 1, 2011, " to discuss the UDC Service Center." Id. ¶ 109. During this meeting, " [Mr.] Brown told Dean Mahone that [because] the UDC Service Center was underperforming, its Director was on leave, and it had no business consultant, [the] UDC [Service Center] would be asked to put together a contingency plan to ensure that the [UDC Service] Center would [continue to] function." Id. ¶ 110 (internal quotation marks omitted). Dean Mahone was also informed " that the [Small Business Administration] was demanding significant corrective actions for the [Small Business] [N]etwork and major structural changes." Id.

Mr. Brown then " followed up the April 1, 2011 meeting by sending [the] UDC [Service Center] a letter dated April 7, 2011." Id. ¶ 120. The letter notified the Service Center that Howard was placing it on " probation" and warned the Service Center that the Howard-UDC subcontract (or " subcontract" ) " could be terminated if it did not submit a satisfactory 'Recovery Plan' within 30 days." Id. ¶ 121 (certain internal quotation marks omitted). The letter also " identified several serious deficiencies in [the] UDC [Service Center]'s performance." Id. ¶ 122 (citing Def.'s Summ. J. Mem., Ex. 25 (April 7, 2011 Letter from Mr. Brown to Dean Mahoney (" Apr. 7, 2011 Letter" )) at 1). According to the letter, one such deficiency was that

the [UDC] Service Center Director [wa]s . . . on maternity leave. She took leave without prior notification to the Executive Director [of the Howard Lead Center]. She notified the Executive Director she was taking leave only after her leave started and she failed to make any meaningful provision for the continuation of client services at the UDC [S]ervice [C]enter. Moreover, the [UDC Service] Center Director failed to communicate to the Executive Director a specific date and time for returning to work. The [UDC Service] Center Director essentially abandoned the [S]ervice [C]enter and its clients by her failure to take the necessary and proper steps to assure viable operation of the [S]ervice [C]enter. Further, the Center Director failed to communicate to the Executive Director that the [S]ervice [C]enter would cease to function when she took maternity leave. Today, the [S]ervice [C]enter is not functioning except for making referrals to other service centers.

Def.'s Summ. J. Mem., Ex. 25 (Apr.7, 2011 Letter) at 2; see also Def.'s Summ J. Mem., Ex. 8 (Candice Miles Deposition Transcript (" Miles Dep. Tr." ) at 195:4-197:10). In light of the aforementioned deficiencies, the letter recommended that the UDC Service ...


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