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Hill v. Board of Trustees

United States District Court, D. Columbia

November 24, 2015

Seabern Hill, Plaintiff,
v.
Board of Trustees of the University of the District of Columbia, Defendant

          For Seabern Hill, Plaintiff: John W. Davis, LAW OFFICES OF JOHN W. DAVIS, Washington, DC USA.

         For Board of Trustees University of District of Columbia, Defendant: Anessa Abrams, LEAD ATTORNEY, FORD & HARRISON LLP, Washington, DC USA.

         MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

         Amit P. Mehta, United States District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Seabern Hill worked in various capacities for the University of the District of Columbia (" UDC" ) for 38 years, including 25 years as Acting Director of UDC Records Management. Beginning in 2010, however, Plaintiff's tenure at UDC took a turn for the worse. First, Plaintiff was demoted to a less significant, department-specific position within UDC's Office of Recruitment and Admissions. Two years later, Plaintiff discovered that student interns working in the Office of Recruitment and Admissions were allowed to access student records in violation of District of Columbia privacy laws. Hill reported the problem to the Acting Director of Recruitment and Admissions, but she ignored his concerns. He then elevated the issue to " the District of Columbia Records Officer" --apparently a government official outside the University. Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff was stripped of his duties and subsequently terminated from his job.

         After obtaining a right to sue letter from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Plaintiff filed his Complaint against Defendant UDC, alleging gender discrimination, age discrimination, and violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for retaliating against his exercise of free speech under the First Amendment. ECF No. 1. Defendant has filed a Motion to Dismiss for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). ECF No. 3 [hereinafter " Mot. to Dismiss" ].

         For the reasons stated below, the court grants in part and denies in part Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff is permitted to proceed with his claims of age discrimination and violation of his right to free speech, but his claim of gender discrimination is hereby dismissed.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         Plaintiff Seabern Hill is a 68 year old former employee of the University of the District of Columbia (" UDC" ). Compl. ¶ ¶ 4, 36-37; Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. A.[1] Plaintiff began his employment with UDC in the early to mid-1970s and held several positions in his 38 years there, including more than 25 years as the Acting Director of UDC Records Management. Id. ¶ ¶ 4, 6, 8-12. Throughout this time, Plaintiff's " work performance was always evaluated as exceptional." Id. ¶ 18. Yet despite these reviews, Plaintiff was demoted in 2010 from his position as Acting Director and reassigned to serve in " a line position as the Records Officer in the UDC Office of Recruitment and Admissions." Id. ¶ 19. Plaintiff alleges that he was not given any notice of his right to appeal the demotion. Id. ¶ 20. He further contends that the Director position he formerly held in an " Acting" capacity remained vacant for three years following his demotion, in violation of District of Columbia law. Id. ¶ ¶ 22-23.

         After his transfer to the UDC Office of Recruitment and Admissions, Plaintiff was asked to " establish[ ] the electronic records storage and retrieval system" for that office. Id. ¶ 24. This assignment entailed scanning and transferring student record files into the office's electronic records management system. Id. ¶ ¶ 25-28. Plaintiff personally scanned over 22,000 such files. Id. During his time scanning records in the Office of Recruitment and Admissions, Plaintiff did not receive any performance evaluations. Id. ¶ 38.

         In September 2012, a new Acting Director of Recruitment and Admissions, Sandra Carter, replaced the outgoing Director, David Sanchez. Id. ¶ ¶ 29-30. Around this time, Plaintiff discovered that student interns within the Office were allowed to access student records as part of their work. Id. ¶ 31. Believing this to be a violation of District of Columbia privacy laws, Plaintiff shared his concerns with the new Acting Director. Id. ¶ 32. She, however, ignored his complaints. Plaintiff then sent an email to " the District of Columbia Records Officer," id. ¶ 33--evidently a District official outside the University[2]--to report that student interns were inappropriately " processing and handling confidential student records," id.

         Soon thereafter, in November 2012, Plaintiff was " stripped of all his duties as Records Officer." Id. ¶ 34. In January 2013, Plaintiff received further " notice from UDC that his position as Records Officer in the Office of Recruitment and Admissions had been abolished, and that he was being terminated," effective one month later. Id. ¶ ¶ 36-37. UDC did not give Plaintiff the opportunity to apply for any vacant positions for which he might qualify. Id. ¶ 40. In addition, UDC refused to grant Plaintiff severance pay until he signed " a statement waiving all of his rights to contest his termination." Id. ¶ 39.

         Plaintiff alleges that sixty-nine people were terminated by UDC in the January 2013 " reduction in force" that cost him his job. Id. ¶ 43. More than 50 percent of those terminated employees, he claims, were older than 40 years of age. Id. In addition, Plaintiff notes that " [i]n the year preceding [his] termination, the Department of Recruitment and Admissions hired several persons younger than the age of thirty into full-time positions." Id. ¶ 41. Further, " at least four women" in Plaintiff's office with " less seniority" were retained when he was terminated. Id. ¶ 42.

         B. Procedural Background

         In April 2013, Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (" EEOC" ). Id. ¶ 46; Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. A. Plaintiff alleged employment discrimination on the grounds of age, disability, and retaliation. Compl. ¶ 46; Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. A. More than a year later, in August 2014, Plaintiff received a " right-to-sue" letter from the EEOC. Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. C. Thereafter, on October 29, 2014, he filed the Complaint presently before this court.

         In his Complaint, Plaintiff asserts that UDC (1) discriminated against him based on his gender--a basis not raised in his Charge of Discrimination--and age, and (2) violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by retaliating against him for exercising his First Amendment right to free speech. On December 15, 2014, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss ...


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