United States District Court, D. Columbia
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
CHRISTINE SUN, Plaintiff, Pro se, Washington, DC.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA GOVERNMENT, Defendant: Jonathan Hale
Pittman, Joseph Alfonso Gonzalez, LEAD ATTORNEYS, OFFICE OF
ATTORNEY GENERAL/DC, Washington, DC; Martha J. Mullen, LEAD
ATTORNEY, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR THE DISTRICT OF
COLUMBIA, Public Interest Division, Washington, DC.
JOHANNA SHREVE, Director, Office of the Tenant Advocate,
DENNIS TAYLOR, General Counsel, Office of the Tenant
Advocate, Defendants: Joseph Alfonso Gonzalez, LEAD ATTORNEY,
OFFICE OF ATTORNEY GENERAL/DC, Washington, DC; Martha J.
Mullen, LEAD ATTORNEY, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR THE
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Public Interest Division, Washington,
BERMAN JACKSON, United States District Judge.
Linda Sun, a former employee of the District of Columbia
Office of the Tenant Advocate (" OTA" ), has sued
the District of Columbia, OTA Director Johanna Shreve, and
OTA General Counsel Dennis Taylor for wrongful termination,
discrimination, and retaliation. The claims
against Shreve and Taylor have been brought against them in
both their official and individual capacities. The federal
claims arise under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42
U.S.C. § 2000e, and 42 U.S.C. § 1981, see
Second Am. Compl. [Dkt. # 20] (" Am. Compl." ) at
7-8, 9, and plaintiff has also brought state and common law
claims, invoking the Court's supplemental jurisdiction.
See Am. Compl. at 1, citing 28 U.S.C. § 1367.
a period of discovery, each party moved for summary judgment.
See Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J., [Dkt. # 64];
Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J. [Dkt. # 73]. Upon consideration
of the motions, oppositions, replies, and supporting
documentation, the Court will grant defendants' motion in
part and deny it in part, and it will deny plaintiff's
motion. Count VII of the Second Amended Complaint for Assault
was born in Shanghai, China, and became a naturalized United
States citizen in May 1972. Am. Compl. ¶ 3. In 2004,
plaintiff graduated from Northwestern California University
Law School, but she has not passed a bar exam and is not
admitted to practice law in any jurisdiction. Defs.'
Statement of Undisputed Material Facts [Dkt. # 64] ("
Defs.' SOF" ) at 43-48, ¶ 1. OTA hired
plaintiff in September 2007 as a Program Support Specialist.
Defs.' SOF ¶ 2. OTA " provides technical advice
and other legal services to tenants regarding disputes with
landlords, including legal representation through lawyers
[it] employe[s]." Defs.' SOF ¶ 2.
Plaintiff's job included explaining to tenants " on
a daily basis" the D.C. Municipal Regulations covering
security deposits and housing code violations. Dep. of Sun
[Dkt. # 64-1] (" Sun Dep." ) at 47:15-19. In
addition, plaintiff assisted with mediations in the Office of
Administrative Hearings, advised clients on strategy, and
" collected judicial opinions and constructed a formula
for how much of a rebate to request from a specific
judge." Defs.' SOF ¶ 4, citing Sun Dec. 14,
2010 Email [Dkt. # 64-4] and Sun Dep. at 68:14-69:12.
undisputed evidence reveals that there came a time when
defendant Dennis Taylor, who was plaintiff's immediate
supervisor, expressed concerns about plaintiff's engaging
in the unauthorized practice of law. Sun Dep. at 98:10-14. In
February 2009, Taylor sent plaintiff an email titled "
Misleading Statement," in which he informed plaintiff
that her email to attorney Parag Khandhar asking for help in
representing an individual in Small Claims Court since she
was " not able to do so myself" was " highly
misleading." Taylor Email, Defs.' Ex. 9 [Dkt. #
64-9] at 2. Taylor stated that " [a] reasonable person
would read the segment as a peer-to-peer,
attorney-to-attorney communication in which you ask Mr.
Khandhar to represent a client for you because you have a
schedule conflict." Id. Taylor further stated:
" [w]e have previously discussed your statements of
being an attorney or a lawyer and we have addressed your
previous practice of including 'J.D.' in your email
signature. However, you must also think of how both a lay
person and a lawyer would interpret your words. Please be
very careful to not in any way imply that you are a lawyer. I
do not want you to run afoul of District law."
responded by acknowledging that Taylor's " point is
well taken if there had been no discussion with Parag and
this is the first time we are communicating." Sun Feb.
12, 2009 Email, Defs.' Ex. 9 [Dkt. # 64-9] at 3.
Plaintiff explained that she had informed Khandhar in a
meeting " several weeks ago" that she was not an
attorney and conveyed the difficulties OTA
clients " who do not speak English well" had in
getting help from legal services organization because of the
language barrier. Id. Plaintiff then admonished her
The danger in statements such as yours once again warn,
charge, and insinuate wrongdoing without sufficient
background knowledge. Unless you have been in on the
discussions from the very beginning going back to several
months of communication, it is easy to jump to conclusions
based on supervision information. . . . I think it is also
important that you take the time to ask before reaching
conclusions. One of my law professors who clerked for Justice
Thurgood Marshall said he always told his clerks, "
Never assume anything, because it makes an ass out of you and
record reflects the fact that plaintiff's unauthorized
practice of law remained an ongoing concern at the agency,
and that plaintiff's superiors received complaints from
multiple individuals. For example, in May of 2009, the issue
was raised by an opposing counsel in a landlord-tenant
matter, who wrote Taylor to complain.
After more than two hours, the Tenant . . . and I came to an
agreement. Ms. Sun, who referred to [the Tenant] as her
'client; then suggested that she wanted to leave the
hearing room with [the Tenant] . . . . I correctly
anticipated [that] Ms. Sun was seeking to undo the agreement.
At that point, I asked Ms. Sun if she was a lawyer, she
responded yes, and volunteered that she was not admitted to
practice in D.C. I didn't ask her if she was admitted in
any other jurisdiction. You have represented to me that she
is not . . . . You and I both know a lawyer is not just a
graduate of a law school, but someone admitted to practice in
the jurisdiction they're practicing in and in good
May 20, 2009 Letter, Defs.' Ex. 6 [Dkt. # 64-6] at 1.
legislative director of OTA raised the issue again in June
2010, sending an email to OTA Director Johanna Shreve and
copying Taylor, stating:
[I]n a conversation I had with Judge Jennifer Long about
another matter, she alluded to chronic difficulties she and
other ALJs are having with Ms. Sun in terms of appearances at
hearings and mediations and the " unauthorized practice
of law." She said Ms. Sun showed up at a hearing either
this week or last week and was turned away, but regardless
Judge Long's understanding is that (as a matter of OTA
policy or by agreement with OAH?) Ms. Sun would always be
accompanied by other OTA staff for purposes of any OAH case.
Finally, she said many judges are aware of the work OTA does,
but others only know of OTA through Ms. Sun's
transgressions and she regrets that the agency's image
seems to suffer accordingly.
Cohn June 25, 2010 Email, Defs.' Ex. 7, [Dkt. # 64-7] at
March 2011, an OTA attorney filed a formal complaint with
Shreve with respect to actions plaintiff had taken in a
particular landlord-tenant matter involving a former OTA
client who was represented by outside counsel. Gibbs Letter,
Defs.' Ex. 8, [Dkt. # 64-8] at 1. In October 2010,
the OTA attorney, at plaintiff's request, drafted a
tenant petition to file with the D.C. Housing Department.
Id. at 1. The landlord in turn filed a petition in
landlord-tenant court for possession of the tenant's
unit. Id. The parties reached a settlement
agreement, and upon receipt of the settlement check, the
tenant's attorney filed a motion to withdraw the tenant
petition. Id. The OTA attorney wrote that when the
tenant " received notice that the [settlement] check had
deducted a per diem amount pursuant to the agreement,"
the tenant " breached the agreement by repudiating her
motion to withdraw the tenant petition" and dismissed
the attorney. Id. The OTA attorney wrote:
It has now come to my attention that Ms. Sun has been
speaking with [the tenant] confidentially and providing her
with legal advice contrary to that provided by [the
tenant's counsel] and myself. Ms. Sun even went so far as
to take [the tenant] to consult with a separate attorney
yesterday morning. [The tenant] certainly has the right to
consult with an attorney, as Mr. Taylor and I recommended she
do [in their meeting with the tenant following the filing of
the motion to withdraw], but Ms. Sun is an employee and an
agent of this office, and must act as such. . . . Until I am
confident that Ms. Sun will comply with my instructions I
give to her and refrain from offering independent legal
advice, I cannot allow her to have contact with any of my
clients. As [her] actions have the potential to legally bind
me and I cannot with confidence say that she will following
any direction I might attempt to give her, I cannot accept
any assistance from her whatsoever.
Id. at 1-2.
record also reveals that on March 16, 2011, Taylor
communicated with Human Resources about replacing an unnamed
Case Management Specialist who " [i]n addition to her
insubordination, . . . insist[ed] on engaging in the
unauthorized practice of law." Taylor Mar. 16, 2011
Email, Defs.' Ex. 12 [Dkt. # 64-12]. He added that "
[w]e fear for Bar Counsel retributions." Id.
And plaintiff admits that she and Taylor " had this
argument about unauthorized practice of law[.]" Sun Dep.
alleges that she was engaged in certain whistleblower
activity. According to plaintiff, in February 2012, she
questioned another employee about Taylor's residing in
Maryland since " it was her understanding" that
" legal supervisors employed by the District of
Columbia" were required to live in the District. Am.
Compl. ¶ 9. Plaintiff also alleges that she learned in
February 2012 that Shreve " was running a private
[property management company] called 'The Shreve Group
LLC'" and, on February 17, 2012, she asked Taylor if
that constituted a conflict of interest for Shreve as head of
the OTA. Am. Compl. ¶ ¶ 13-15. Taylor replied that
Shreve's husband ran the company. Am. Compl. ¶ 15.
the record includes a series of statements and emails
concerning the manner in which plaintiff went about taking or
requesting leave and the manner in which her superiors
addressed it. According to plaintiff, in February 2012,
during a conversation with plaintiff about a leave request,
Taylor allegedly " instructed [p]laintiff to address
[Shreve] as though she were a judge [and] stated that
[p]laintiff did not understand what was required in
'American culture[.]'" Am. Compl. ¶ 12.
was fired on February 21, 2012, and was issued a Summary
on February 24, 2012, signed by Shreve. Removal Notice,
Defs.' Ex. 13, [Dkt. # 64-13]. As grounds for
plaintiff's termination, the removal notice sets out ten
o Count One -- Misfeasance and Insubordination: Copying the
Executive Office of the Mayor with Your Disrespect of
o Count Two -- Malfeasance by Unauthorized Practice of Law:
Preparation of Legal Documents.
o Count Three -- Malfeasance by Unauthorized Practice of Law;
Unauthorized Drafting of Legal Documents.
o Count Four -- Malfeasance by Unauthorized Practice of Law
and Insubordination by Violation of OTA Bulletin No.
2010-001: Participation in Mediation Conducted By the Office
of Administrative Hearings.
o Count Five -- Malfeasance by Unauthorized Practice of Law:
Provision of Legal Advice and Preparation of Legal Documents.
o Count Six -- Malfeasance by Unauthorized Practice of Law:
Advising a Tenant to Fire an OTA Attorney.
o Count Seven -- Insubordination: Disobeying a Direct Order
From Your Supervisor.
o Count Eight --Misfeasance: Boasting to a Member of the
Public of Your Disrespect of a Superior.
o Count Nine -- Unauthorized Practice of Law and
Insubordination: Use of Degree Designation 'JD' in
Email Signature Block.
o Count Ten -- Insubordination: Disobeying Repeated Direct
Orders to Avoid Practice of Law.
Notice at 1-8. Each count is followed by at least one
explanatory paragraph describing the offending behavior.
events on the date of plaintiff's actual departure also
form the basis for a count in the complaint: according to
plaintiff, when Shreve informed plaintiff of her termination,
she " demanded that [p]laintiff turn in her employee
identification badge and cell phone, and leave the
building" or be escorted out by a security guard. Am.
Compl. ¶ 16. When plaintiff asked to discuss the matter
further, Shreve " stood up and moved closely toward
[p]laintiff[,] . . . raised her hand, slammed it on the
table, and yelled 'I am done with you!" Am. Compl.
¶ 17. Plaintiff alleges that she " felt physically
afraid, and quickly left [Shreve's] office." She
" had less than a half hour to remove her belongings . .
. and leave the building after four and a half years of
service." Am. Compl. ¶ 18.
alleges that prior to her termination, she " had
consistently received good job performance review [and]
compliments from the many tenants she . . . served." Am.
Compl. ¶ 19. Plaintiff alleges further that she "
was just six months away from having fully vested retirement
benefits" at the time of her termination. Am. Compl.
Second Amended Complaint, which was drafted by then-appointed
counsel, plaintiff ...