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Joyce v. Office of Architect of Capitol

United States District Court, District of Columbia

May 27, 2015



JAMES E. BOASBERG, District Judge.

Plaintiff Arthur Richard Joyce worked for the Office of the Architect of the Capitol for thirty-nine years. From 2000 to 2012, he served as a Facilities Supervisor, in which capacity he worked from 4:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and oversaw both the day and night shifts. In March 2012, claiming it needed to beef up supervision of the day staff, the AOC shifted his hours somewhat later in the day. As this move left him unable to care for his young grandchildren, Joyce resigned and asserted constructive discharge. In this suit under the Congressional Accountability Act, Plaintiff alleges that his shift change (and attendant forced resignation) was discriminatory. Specifically, he claims that the change was motivated by age discrimination, constituted retaliation for taking protected medical leave, and illegally interfered with his right to take such leave. The AOC now moves for summary judgment. Concluding that no reasonable jury could find for Joyce on any of his counts, the Court will grant the Motion.

I. Background

In this section, the Court sets forth the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the non-moving party. The Office of the Architect of the Capitol is a legislative-branch office that repairs and maintains the U.S. Capitol and its associated facilities. See 2 U.S.C. §§ 1811-1827. Rick Joyce worked at the AOC for thirty-nine years. See Def.'s Statement of Facts, ¶ 2. In 2000, he was promoted to the position of Facilities Supervisor for the Labor and Custodial Branch of the Client Services Division at the AOC Senate Office Buildings. See Pl.'s Record of Facts (PROF), ¶ KK. As Facilities Supervisor, Plaintiff straddled the night and day shifts, working from 4:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. - or occasionally from 3:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Id., ¶ D. Joyce came to rely on these hours. Id., ¶¶ MM-OO. He had four toddler grandchildren at the time whom he routinely cared for, picking them up from daycare after his shift or earlier when they were sick. Id.

While it appears that things began to sour as early as 2006, the first dispute relevant to this action occurred in 2011. At that time, Jean Gilles - Joyce's first-level supervisor - denied his application for a flexible work schedule. Id., ¶ TT. In Gilles's judgment, Plaintiff had not "established a pattern of regular work attendance" at the time, and his "leave balance was low considering... the amount of time [he had] been employed...." Id . Plaintiff responded to this denial by approaching AOC Superintendent Robin Morey (Joyce's third-level supervisor). Id., ¶¶ UU, VV. In the conversation that followed, Joyce suggested to Morey "that he and leadership obviously were operating under the mistaken belief that [Joyce] was using up [his] leave in preparation for retirement." See Opp., Exh. 24 (June 29, 2011, Formal Grievance of Arthur Joyce). According to Joyce, Morey indicated in response that "that might' be the perception but the denial was based on total hours used." Id.

In February 2012, the AOC received a complaint that an area in the Senate Rotunda was dirty and had not been recently cleaned. See PROF, ¶ M. In a meeting that followed, Delano Reeves - Joyce's direct report on the day shift - refused to take responsibility for the failure. Id., ¶ N. He was immediately counseled and later disciplined for his response. Id . This incident would have repercussions for Joyce and his shift.

On March 1, Plaintiff had been out for two days due to back pain, but came in to work despite his condition because he had previously committed to help with interviews that day. Id., ¶ Q. When the interviews were over, Gilles told Joyce that he wanted to see him. Id . In response, Joyce phoned Gilles to explain that he was only there for interviews, that he was experiencing terrible back pain, and that he was at work against his doctor's orders. Id . Gilles insisted nonetheless that he and Joyce meet. Id.

In that meeting, Gilles informed Plaintiff that his shift would be changing. Starting March 12, Joyce would work from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., so that he could "shadow" Reeves and improve his performance, as well as that of the day shift he managed. Id., ¶¶ R, T. The change, Gilles told Joyce, was precipitated by Reeves's not taking responsibility for the Senate Rotunda incident. Id., ¶¶ E, R. Joyce told Gilles that he believed this to be a bad idea. Three quarters of the staff who reported to Joyce worked the night shift, and the change would remove senior management entirely during the hours of 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. - a critical transition time for the unit. Id., ¶¶ R, T. Joyce also explained the difficult position the change put him in; if forced to work the new shift, he would no longer be able to continue his role as the primary caregiver for his grandchildren. Id., ¶¶ R, Y, NN. Gilles was not sympathetic, telling Joyce summarily that that was his "problem." Id., ¶ Y. He also relayed to Joyce that the decision was final and unappealable and had been made by himself, Taxiarxis Tzamaras (Joyce's second-level supervisor), and Morey. Id., ¶¶ R, W. Gilles, for his part, denies ever meeting with Joyce on March 1, but at this stage, the Court must credit the testimony of the non-moving party.

After working another hour and a half, Joyce called Gilles and left a voice message indicating he was going home because of his back. Id., ¶ YY. Plaintiff returned to work on March 12. Id., ¶ T. At that time, Gilles read Joyce a memo that required him to change his shift to 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., effective March 19, 2012. Id . The following day, March 13, Joyce wrote an email entitled "Forced Retirement" to the Chief Operating Officer of the AOC, Christine Merdon. Id., ¶ W. In the email, he stated that the effective date of his retirement was April 30, 2012, which would allow him "the opportunity to use the remainder of [his] sick leave." DSOF, ¶ 35. Joyce also spoke with Merdon by telephone the next day, explained that he would rather keep working, but reiterated that if forced to retire, he wanted to use his remaining sick leave. See PROF, ¶ BB. That same day, Morey instructed Gilles to accept Joyce's offer to retire. Id., ¶ AA. On March 19, after returning from leave, Joyce worked the new shift that day, after which he was informed that his retirement had been finalized and that he would no longer need to work the new shift. Id., ¶¶ AA-EE. After exhausting his sick leave, Joyce then retired on April 30. Id., ¶ JJ.

Joyce brought this suit against the AOC on November 13, 2012. After this Court ruled on Defendant's earlier Motion to Dismiss, three counts remained under the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, 2 U.S.C. § 1301 et seq.: age discrimination (Count II), retaliation for taking family and medical leave (Count IV), and interference with family and medical leave (Count V). See Joyce v. Office of Architect of Capitol (Joyce I), 966 F.Supp.2d 15, 21 (D.D.C. 2013).

II. Legal Standard

Summary judgment may be granted if "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986); Holcomb v. Powell, 433 F.3d 889, 895 (D.C. Cir. 2006). A fact is "material" if it is capable of affecting the substantive outcome of the litigation. See Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 248; Holcomb, 433 F.3d at 895. A dispute is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007); Holcomb, 433 F.3d at 895. "A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion" by "citing to particular parts of materials in the record" or "showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1).

When a motion for summary judgment is under consideration, "[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255; see also Mastro v. PEPCO, 447 F.3d 843, 850 (D.C. Cir. 2006); Aka v. Wash. Hosp. Ctr., 156 F.3d 1284, 1288 (D.C. Cir. 1998) ( en banc ). On a motion for summary judgment, the Court must "eschew making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence." Czekalski v. Peters, 475 F.3d 360, 363 (D.C. Cir. 2007).

The non-moving party's opposition, however, must consist of more than mere unsupported allegations or denials and must be supported by affidavits, declarations, or other competent evidence, setting forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). The non-movant, in other words, is required to provide evidence that would permit a reasonable jury to find in her favor. See Laningham v. U.S. Navy, 813 F.2d 1236, 1242 (D.C. Cir. 1987).

III. Analysis

Most federal antidiscrimination statutes exempt Congress from their coverage. See, e.g., 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(a) (extending Title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1964 to federal judicial and executive employees, but not legislative ones). Instead, legislative-branch employees, including AOC employees, must bring discrimination claims under the Congressional Accountability Act. Although the Act has its own unique set of procedural requirements, in substance it expressly incorporates protections and remedies from the generally applicable federal antidiscrimination statutes. See 2 U.S.C. § 1302. Claims relating to race, national-origin, gender, and disability discrimination thus explicitly track their ordinary federal analogs. See 2 U.S.C. § 1311(a)(1) (incorporating parts of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964); 2 U.S.C. § 1311(a)(3) (incorporating parts of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990). Similarly, though the Act's anti-retaliation provision, 2 U.S.C. § 1317(a), contains no express tie to other statutes, courts routinely refer to Title VII case law in evaluating claims of retaliation under the CAA. See Joyce I, 966 F.Supp.2d at 22; Herbert v. Architect of Capitol, 766 F.Supp.2d 59, 74 n.13 (D.D.C. 2011); Newton v. Office of Architect of Capitol, 905 F.Supp.2d 88, 92-93 (D.D.C. 2012).

With that framework in mind, the Court will proceed to separately analyze the three remaining counts of Joyce's Complaint.

A. Age Discrimination

The federal-sector provision of the ADEA provides: "All personnel actions affecting employees... who are at least 40 years of age... shall be made free from any discrimination based on age." 29 U.S.C. § 633a(a). As the D.C. Circuit has instructed, Joyce can proceed on such a claim in one of two ways.

"First, [he] can make use of the McDonnell Douglas evidentiary framework to establish that age was the but-for cause of the challenged personnel action." Ford v. Mabus, 629 F.3d 198, 207 (D.C. Cir. 2010); McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-05 (1973). Under this rubric, the plaintiff carries the initial burden of establishing a prima facie case of discrimination by a preponderance of the evidence. See Texas Dept. of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 252-53 (1981); Kersey v. Washington Metro. Area Transit Auth., 586 F.3d 13, 17 (D.C. Cir. 2009). To accomplish this, a plaintiff must show that "(1) [he] is a member of a protected class" ( i.e., at least 40 years of age); "(2) [he] suffered an adverse employment action; and (3) the unfavorable action gives rise to an inference of discrimination." Barnette v. Chertoff, 453 F.3d 513, 515 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (citation omitted). Defendant then has the burden to rebut that prima facie case with evidence of "a legitimate, nondiscriminatory... reason for its actions." Kersey, 586 F.3d at 17 (quoting Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 142 (2000) (internal quotation marks omitted)). "This burden is one of production, not persuasion; it can involve no credibility assessment." Reeves, 530 U.S. at 142 (internal quotation marks omitted) (citation omitted). Finally, if the defendant has produced such evidence, then the plaintiff must show by a preponderance of the evidence that "the legitimate reasons offered by the defendant were not its true reasons, but were a pretext for discrimination." Id. at 143 (internal quotation marks omitted). This three-step process differs slightly at the summary-judgment stage. At this point in the proceedings, if the defendant can offer a legitimate reason for the challenged action, then district courts may skip over the first step of the analysis, since in such circumstances "the prima facie case is a largely unnecessary sideshow." Brady v. Office of Sergeant at Arms, 520 F.3d 490, 494 (D.C. Cir. 2008).

"Second, [Plaintiff] may establish liability by showing that age was a factor in the challenged personnel action." Ford, 629 F.3d at 207 (emphasis original). Under this approach, a plaintiff may prevail even "where the employer acted with mixed motives." Id. at 203. "Specifically, once a plaintiff... shows that [discriminatory animus] played a motivating part in an employment decision, the [employer] may avoid a finding of liability only by proving that it would have made the same decision even if it had not allowed [discriminatory animus] to play such a role.'" Id. at 203-04 (quoting Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228, 244-45 (1989)) (alterations original). Although Plaintiff "may establish section 633a liability" on the mere showing that "age was a factor in the [AOC's] decision, " this ...

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