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Johnson v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

April 17, 2015

ANDREW JOHNSON, et al., Plaintiffs,

Page 101

For ANDREW JOHNSON, Plaintiff: Claire Molle Maddox, Daniel Edward Johnson, LEAD ATTORNEYS, MCKENNA LONG & ALDRIDGE, LLP, Washington, DC.

For OSCAR J. HARP, III, Plaintiff: Olekanma Arnnette Ekekwe-Kauffman, LEAD ATTORNEY, LAW OFFICES OF OLEKANMA A. EKEKWE PC, Washington, DC.

For DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, a municipal corporation, Defendant: Caliandra Burstein, LEAD ATTORNEY, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Washington, DC; James Anthony Towns, Sr., LEAD ATTORNEY, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL for DC, Washington, DC.

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CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER, United States District Judge.

Dr. Andrew Johnson and Dr. Oscar Harp worked for many years as psychologists with the District of Columbia Public Schools (" DCPS" ). After both were terminated for receiving poor performance ratings under DCPS's new IMPACT staff evaluation system, they sued, claiming they were actually fired because of their age. The District of Columbia now moves for summary judgment. Although DCPS's rollout of the IMPACT system apparently left much to be desired, neither Johnson nor Harp has produced evidence to support an inference that he was fired because of his age. The Court will therefore grant summary judgment in favor of the District.

I. Background

A. The IMPACT Program

Beginning with the 2009-2010 school year, the District of Columbia Public Schools implemented the IMPACT program, a new system to evaluate teachers and support personnel, including school psychologists. Def. Statement of Facts (Johnson) (" DSOF" ) ¶ 6. Under IMPACT, school psychologists are evaluated bi-annually using four criteria: (1) standards--which broadly measures the services psychologists provide; (2) quality--which analyzes the Individual Education Plans psychologists prepare for students; (3) professionalism--which reviews attendance records and workplace demeanor; and (4) timeliness--which assesses whether psychologists submit student assessments on time. Def. (Johnson) Ex. 4 at DC000037-56.

The scores for both bi-annual reviews are converted into a final numerical score, which translates to an IMPACT rating of " Highly Effective," " Effective," " Minimally Effective," or " Ineffective" for a given school year. DSOF ¶ ¶ 10-11. Personnel who receive a rating of " Ineffective" for a single year or " Minimally Effective" for two consecutive years are subject to termination. Id. ¶ 12. The standards, quality, and professionalism criteria are evaluated by a psychologist's program manager or a DCPS special education coordinator, while other DCPS personnel separately calculate the timeliness score. Pl. (Johnson) Ex. 33 at 234:21-236:3. Psychologists receive the highest timeliness score, a four, by completing 100 percent of their student assessments on time; they receive the lowest score, a one, if fewer than 90 percent are

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timely. Def. (Johnson) Ex. 4 at DC000084-85. DCPS averages the standards, quality, and timeliness components to arrive at a combined score, which is then reduced by a small amount if the professionalism rating is less than perfect. Id. at DC000051.

Despite DCPS's lofty aims, the IMPACT rollout did not go according to plan. DCPS did not include psychologists' quality and timeliness scores in the 2009-2010 school year rating, and again omitted the quality score for the 2010-2011 school year, due to " challenges with the data." Pl. (Johnson) Ex. 18 at 38:13-39:04. For the 2010-2011 timeliness score, DCPS only counted assessments of students whom special education coordinators assigned to psychologists through an online database, although coordinators sometimes assigned students by other means. Pl. (Johnson) Ex. 42 at 78:3-18. Additionally, in the middle of the 2009-2010 school year, DCPS issued clarifications to the evaluation methodology, which arguably modified performance expectations for school psychologists, even for work they had already performed. Id. Ex. 32. Despite these problems, DCPS ultimately terminated 165 employees, including 12 psychologists, who received " Ineffective" IMPACT ratings for the 2009-2010 School year. Compl. ¶ 8.

B. Dr. Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson worked as a DCPS school psychologist from 1994 until his termination in 2011. DSOF ¶ 2. Johnson had generally received positive performance reviews during his career, but his reviews dropped when DCPS implemented the IMPACT program. Pl. (Johnson) Ex. 14. Under IMPACT, Johnson's final combined standards and professionalism scores resulted in a " Minimally Effective" rating for the 2009-2010 school year, based on the scores provided by his program manager, Dr. Jamila Mitchell. DSOF ¶ ¶ 16-21. Johnson's standards scores improved somewhat in 2010-2011, but he received a timeliness score of one, resulting in another " Minimally Effective" rating. Id. ¶ ¶ 22-27. DCPS considered only three reports in calculating Johnson's 2010-2011 timeliness score because Johnson's Special Education Coordinator assigned the bulk of Johnson's students outside of the online database. Pl. (Johnson) Ex. 20 at 157:12-157:18. Because Johnson submitted one of these three assessments late--for a student with the initials " J.F." --he fell well under the 90 percent timeliness threshold required to receive better than the lowest possible score. Pl. (Johnson) Ex. 30 at 3-4. When Johnson learned that DCPS included J.F.'s assessment in his final IMPACT evaluation, he informed an IMPACT administrator that he had been unable to meet with J.F. because the student was not assigned to either of Johnson's schools. Pl. (Johnson) Ex. 48. Johnson also spoke with Dr. Mitchell, who explained that Mitchell had conveyed his concerns to the DCPS official who calculated his timeliness score but that she, as a supervisor, could not be involved in the process. Pl. (Johnson) Ex. 35 at AJOHNSON-000000953. Johnson also raised concerns about his overall IMPACT score with Dr. Mitchell at his year-end review on June 7, 2011. Pl. (Johnson) Ex. 16 at 74:15-75:02. According to Johnson, Dr. Mitchell " giggled" and responded by saying " well, you can retire." Id.

DCPS terminated Johnson on August 12, 2011 based on his two consecutive " Minimally Effective" ratings. Def. (Johnson) Ex. 12 at DC000262. Johnson filed an appeal with the Chancellor's Impartial Review Board challenging his IMPACT score, which was denied. Pl. (Johnson) Ex. 70. This suit followed.

C. Dr. Oscar Harp

Dr. Oscar Harp was employed by DCPS from 1980 to 2010, first as a clinical psychologist

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and then as a school psychologist. Def. (Harp) Ex. 1, Pl.'s Resp. to Def. Interrog. 3. Dr. Maria Turner-Wingate supervised Harp for most of the 2009-2010 school year and administered his first IMPACT evaluation. Pl. (Harp) Ex. 2 at 8-9. Harp received a very low standards score in the evaluation because the sample assessment reports that Turner-Wingate reviewed lacked necessary information and were improperly formatted. Def. (Harp) Ex. 4 at DC001710-12. Turner-Wingate also gave Harp a low professionalism score, noting that he routinely failed to follow DCPS policies by not " complying with the schedule of days per school assignment, furnishing his schools with a copy of his building schedule and monthly meetings, [or] following the eligibility guidelines." Id. at DC001715-16. Near the end of the school year, DCPS assigned Dr. Ramona Rich to supervise Harp, and she provided his second IMPACT evaluation. Pl. (Harp) Ex. 2 at 10-11. Harp received a much improved professionalism score in this evaluation, but his standards score remained low. Rich explained that Harp had been applying incorrect evaluation methods to students referred for counseling, and that he was not including required information in his reports. Def. (Harp) Ex. 5 at DC001723-25. Harp's combined scores for the 2009-2010 school year resulted in a rating of " Ineffective," leading to his termination in July 2010. Def. (Harp) Ex. 7.

Harp challenged his termination through DCPS's Office of Employee Appeals. Pl. (Harp) Ex. 2. An Administrative Judge found that DCPS had committed several procedural violations in administering Harp's reviews: (1) it had failed to provide adequate guidance by changing the IMPACT rubric half-way through the 2009-2010 school year; (2) it failed to score Harp under all four of the IMPACT criteria; and (3) Rich had evaluated Harp within 90 days of becoming his supervisor, in violation of D.C. municipal regulations. Id. at 19-21. As a result of these violations, the Administrative Judge found that DCPS terminated Harp without just ...

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