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Dorriz v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, D. Columbia

September 30, 2015

ZAHRA DORRIZ, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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          For ZAHRA DORRIZ, Plaintiff: Brian J. Markovitz, Jarrod Stephen Sharp, LEAD ATTORNEYS, JOSEPH, GREENWALD & LAAKE, P.A., Greenbelt, MD; Cary Johnson Hansel, III, HANSEL LAW, P.C., Baltimore, MD.

         For DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant: Martha J. Mullen, LEAD ATTORNEY, Aaron Josiah Finkhousen, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Washington, DC.

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         MEMORANDUM OPINION

         TANYA S. CHUTKAN, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Zahra Dorriz brings this retaliation action against the District of Columbia Department of Transportation pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (" Title VII" ), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act (" DCHRA" ), D.C. CODE § 2-1401.01 et seq. Presently before the court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 24). For the reasons set forth below, the court will grant the motion in part and deny the motion in part.

         I. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate where the record shows there is no genuine issue of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Waterhouse v. D.C., 298 F.3d 989, 991, 353 U.S.App.D.C. 205 (D.C. Cir. 2002). " 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, including depositions, documents, . . . affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the court must view all facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970).

         II. FIRST EEOC CHARGE: DEMOTION CLAIM

         A. Facts

         Plaintiff, who is Iranian, began her employment as an engineer with the District of Columbia Department of Transportation (" DDOT" ) in October 2003 as a Project Manager. ( See Pls. Ex. 25, Dorriz Dep. 35). In that position she supervised one or two employees. (Dorriz Dep. 36). At the time she was hired, her immediate supervisor was Said Cherifi. (Dorriz Dep. 38). Five years later, she was promoted to Deputy Program Manager within the Infrastructure Project Management Administration (" IMPA" ) division of DDOT. ( Id. 41). Her immediate supervisor in the IMPA division was Ali Shakeri, who is also Iranian, and there was another Iranian supervisor, Adeesh Nafici, at DDOT during this time. (Dorriz Dep. 41; Pls. Ex. 23, Cherifi Dep. 132-33). In her new position, Dorriz was responsible for design and construction projects, while supervising up to 30 employees. (Dorriz Dep. 43-44).

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          Sometime later, a terminated Nigerian co-worker, Sylvester Okpala, filed a discrimination complaint against DDOT alleging that he had been discriminated against by Iranian supervisors, including Dorriz's supervisor, Shakeri. See Okpala v. D.C., 09-cv-1948-RLW (D.D.C.). Okpala also alleged that Dorriz received preferential treatment from the Iranian supervisors. ( Id., Compl. ¶ ¶ 9-10). Around this same time, a rumor circulated that these supervisors had used their influence to get Dorriz promoted and that she was having a sexual relationship with Nafici. (Cherifi Dep. 132-34, 136).

         In the fall of 2009, Michael Jelen (who is Caucasian) conducted Dorriz's performance evaluation. (Pls. Ex. 2, Jelen Aff. ¶ 3; Pls. Ex. 3). He rated Dorriz's performance at four on a five-point scale, but before the evaluation was finalized he was transferred to another division at DDOT and Maduabuch Udeh, who is Nigerian, became Dorriz's supervisor. (Jelen Aff. ¶ 3; Cherifi Dep. 42). According to Dorriz, Udeh was friends with Okpala, the Nigerian former co-worker who filed the discrimination complaint. (Dorriz Dep. 98-99).[1]

         Around this same time, Jelen became aware that Dorriz's performance evaluation had been altered and her rating lowered. (Jelen Aff. ¶ 4). He responded by complaining about the matter in an email to Operations Manager Stephanie Dunbar, who is African-American. (Jelen Aff. ¶ 5; Pls. Exs. 4-5). After failing to receive a satisfactory response, Jelen sent a series of emails to Dunbar, some of which were copied to Udeh. (Jelen Aff. ¶ ¶ 5-9; Pls. Exs. 4-5). In those emails, Jelen not only complained about the altered evaluation, but also complained because he had not been consulted prior to the change, and explained his reasons for rating Dorriz as he had. (Jelen Aff. ¶ ¶ 5-9; Pls. Exs. 4-5).

         Dorriz also complained, first to Dunbar, who allegedly dismissed the matter and instead asked Dorriz if she knew where Nafici was now working. (Dorriz Dep. 88-89). When Dorriz responded that she did not know, Dunbar reportedly said " C'mon, how wouldn't you know? You guys had [a] relationship." ( Id. ). Dorriz was shocked by the response. ( Id. ).

         At Dunbar's direction, Dorriz subsequently discussed her concerns about the performance evaluation with Udeh, who denied making the alterations. ( Id. ). Dorriz believes Udeh or Dunbar made the alterations; she claims Jelen told her he was unable to access the online performance evaluation form after he left the department and, only Udeh and Dunbar had access. (Dorriz Dep. 88-89). Jelen testified that he believes Dunbar made the alterations or ordered someone to make them because of what he perceived as Dunbar's discriminatory animus toward Dorriz. (Jelen Aff. ¶ 13).[2] Apparently,

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no-one at DDOT admitted to making the alterations.

         Subsequently, in January 2010, Dorriz spoke with an internal EEO counselor --although the precise nature of the discussion is not entirely clear because the record contains conflicting evidence. ( See Pls. Ex. 7, DCHRA Determination Letter at p. 4; Pls. Br. at 5; Pls. Ex. 10 at p. 2). In any event, on January 26, 2010, shortly after the conversation with the EEO counselor, the IMPA division was restructured and Dorriz claims she was demoted from Deputy Program Manager to Structural Engineer by her supervisor Udeh. ( See Pls. Ex. 8; Cherifi Dep. 59-61). Less than one month later, on February 18, Dorriz was involuntarily transferred to the role of Project Manager for the District of Columbia Street Car Project, where she had no supervisory authority. (Dorriz Dep. 142-43). Dorriz notes that " Project Manager" was the same title she had previously held when she began her employment with DDOT five years earlier. Moreover, Dorriz claims the Street Car Project was underfunded and she was forced to reapply for her position periodically. (Dorriz Dep. 84-85).

         In response to these events, on February 24, 2010, Dorriz completed an EEO Intake Questionnaire in which she complained about the altered performance evaluation and her " plann[ed]" demotion. (Pls. Ex. 9).[3] On the form, Dorriz alleged that Dunbar, Udeh, Cherifi and others had engaged in the challenged conduct for discriminatory and retaliatory reasons. ( Id. ).

         Several months later, on April 5, 2010, Dorriz filed her first EEOC Charge of Discrimination, alleging disparate treatment and retaliation. (Pls. Ex. 10). In that charge, Dorriz contended that Udeh began creating a hostile environment for her because he had been friends with Okpala. ( Id. ). Specifically, she complained about the demotion, reassignment to temporary duty, and about Dunbar's comment regarding the alleged relationship between Dorriz and former DDOT employee Nafici. ( Id. ).

         Dorriz remained on the Street Car Project for approximately one year, until February 2011, when she returned to the IPMA division. (Dorriz Dep. 85, 39). Later, during the summer of that same year, Dorriz unsuccessfully sought a promotion and ultimately filed a second EEOC Charge on March 1, 2012 over the failed promotion. ( See Pls. Ex. 1; ECF No. 39, Notice ¶ 4).[4]

         B. Analysis

         Although Plaintiff alleged in Count I of her complaint that the demotion was retaliatory, DDOT does not seek summary judgment for the demotion claim. ( See ECF No. 7, Amend. Compl ¶ 51). Consequently, Plaintiff contends the court should deny summary judgment on this claim.[5] In its reply, DDOT argues that Plaintiff's demotion claim is not properly before this court because Plaintiff raised the claim in

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her first EEOC Charge, but did not raise it in the second EEOC Charge, which is the subject of this suit.

         In the absence of a response by Dorriz, the court issued a Minute Order on September 16, 2015 directing Dorriz to file a Notice with the court identifying which EEOC Charge(s) formed the basis of the present lawsuit. In response, Plaintiff indicated that the second charge, dated March 1, 2012, is the only charge at issue. (ECF No. 39, Notice ¶ 4). Because the March 1, 2012 charge does not contain any allegations regarding the demotion or the allegedly altered performance evaluation, those claims are not properly before this court. Accordingly, the court will grant summary judgment on any claims relating to those events.

         II. SECOND EEOC CHARGE: PREFORMANCE APPRAISAL, MICROMANANGING AND PROMOTION CLAIMS

         A. The Evidence

         Upon Dorriz's transfer back to the IPMA division, in February 2010, Program Manager Paul Hoffman became her immediate supervisor.[6] ( See Dorriz Dep. 85, 39; Pls. Ex. 21, Khalid Dep. 105). Hoffman's supervisor ...


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