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Crawford v. Johnson

United States District Court, District of Columbia

February 26, 2016

JAMES CRAWFORD, Plaintiff,
v.
JEH JOHNSON, Secretary, Department of Homeland Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

KETANJI BROWN JACKSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Plaintiff James Crawford is an African-American employee of the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) who claims that DHS discriminated against him on the basis of his race, subjected him to a hostile work environment, and retaliated against him because of his engagement in protected activity, all in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2000e-17. (See generally Compl., ECF No. 1.) Crawford filed the instant complaint against Jeh Johnson, in his official capacity as Secretary of DHS (“Defendant”), in March of 2014, alleging that DHS employees intentionally targeted him with eleven discrete discriminatory and/or retaliatory acts that have commission dates ranging from November of 2010 to December of 2011. (See Id. at 2-3.)[1] On February 9, 2015, this Court granted Defendant’s partial motion to dismiss Crawford’s complaint as conceded, and thereby dismissed the complaint’s allegations with respect to eight of the eleven allegedly discriminatory and/or retaliatory events, but the Court also ordered Defendant to answer or otherwise respond to Crawford’s remaining contentions-i.e., his assertion that DHS violated Title VII when it (1) issued an unwarranted negative annual performance appraisal of him in October of 2011, (2) appointed a less-qualified individual to a supervisory position above him in November of 2011, and (3) suspended him from work without just cause in December of 2011. (See Mem. Op. & Order, ECF No. 5, at 2.)

Before this Court at present is DHS’s motion to dismiss, or in the alternative for summary judgment, with respect to these three allegedly discriminatory and/or retaliatory acts of Defendant. (See Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss or[] in the Alternative[] for Summ. J. (“Def.’s Mot.”), ECF No. 8.) DHS maintains that it is entitled to dismissal of the complaint’s claims with respect to all three events because Crawford did not include any of these allegedly discriminatory or retaliatory acts in his formal Equal Employment Opportunity (“EEO”) pleading, and thus, Crawford failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. (See Id. at 10-11.) Alternatively, Defendant contends that the complaint fails to state a retaliation claim with respect to the negative performance appraisal because Crawford had not engaged in prior protected activity, and also that summary judgment should be granted in Defendant’s favor because DHS had legitimate non-discriminatory reasons to suspend Crawford. (See Id. at 11-14.) In response, Crawford asserts only that he attached certain exhibits to his initial EEO complaint that touch upon the three events at issue here, and that this Court should treat these exhibits as having been integrated into the EEO complaint for the purpose of its evaluation of the exhaustion issue. (See Pl.’s Opp’n to Def.’s Mot. (“Pl.’s Opp’n”), ECF No. 11, at 4.)

Upon consideration of the parties’ submissions, the relevant authorities, and the record as a whole, this Court concludes that Crawford’s attachment of exhibits was insufficient to exhaust administrative remedies with respect to the three alleged instances of discrimination or retaliation that remain at issue in the instant case. Consequently, and as explained fully below, Defendant’s motion will be GRANTED.

A separate order consistent with this Memorandum Opinion will follow.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Facts

James Crawford is a Special Security Officer (“SSO”) at DHS’s Special Security Programs Division in Washington, D.C. (See Compl. at 4.) According to Crawford, on eleven distinct occasions between November of 2010 and December of 2011, several DHS management officials and supervisors retaliated and/or discriminated against him on the basis of his race. (See Id. at 2-3.) Crawford maintains, for example, that he was unreasonably denied leave requests, that management officials conspired against him and allegedly made false statements about his performance, and that unlike his white male counterparts he did not receive additional assistance personnel when he requested it from his superiors. (See id. at 2.) Crawford first contacted an EEO counselor on October 25, 2011, to report eight incidents of discrimination that allegedly occurred in the eight months between November of 2010 and July of 2011. (See id.) Crawford alleges that three additional incidents happened in the months that followed- specifically, that, on October 21, 2011, he received a negative annual performance appraisal that was entirely unjustified; that an unknown, less-qualified individual was appointed to a supervisory position above him on November 1, 2011; and that he was suspended from work without just cause on December 12, 2011. (See id. at 3.)

Subsequent informal attempts to resolve Crawford’s claims proved unsuccessful, and on February 7, 2012, Crawford filed a formal EEO complaint. (See Id. at 2; Pl.’s Opp’n at 2.) The body of the administrative complaint specifically alleged that Crawford had been subjected to a hostile work environment and/or reprisal based on the first eight allegedly discriminatory actions that Crawford had spoken to the EEO counselor about in October of 2011. (See Compl. at 2.) Crawford also purportedly attached exhibits that referenced at least two of the three additional incidents detailed above.[2] (See Pl.’s Opp’n at 4; Def.’s Mot. at 10, n.1.) Thereafter, the DHS’s EEO office requested clarification of the scope of Crawford’s complaint (see Decl. of Oscar Toledo, Ex. 2 to Def.’s Mot., ECF No. 8-2, at 1), and informed Crawford that it had identified for investigation only the eight incidents of alleged discrimination and/or retaliation that were specifically referenced in the body of the EEO complaint. (See Request for Clarification Email, Ex. 1 to Decl. of Oscar Toledo, ECF No. 8-2, at 3-5.) Crawford was silent regarding the three additional events that purportedly were revealed in the attachments to his complaint, and ultimately, the EEO office dismissed Crawford’s formal complaint for technical reasons unrelated to the instant action.[3] (See Compl. at 4-6.)

B. Procedural History

Crawford filed the instant lawsuit on March 18, 2014, claiming that DHS had committed eleven separate acts-the eight events that were referenced specifically in the body of the EEO complaint plus the additional three that allegedly occurred between October and December of 2011-that were discriminatory and/or retaliatory in violation of Title VII. (See id. at 1-3.) On June 2, 2014, DHS filed a motion to dismiss Crawford’s action for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, but its motion was directed only at Crawford’s claims regarding the eight initial events (i.e., those that took place between November of 2010 and July of 2011) and did not address the three events that allegedly occurred in the fall of 2011. (See Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 3, at 8.) Upon receipt of Defendant’s partial motion, this Court advised Crawford (who was proceeding pro se at that time) of his obligation under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the local rules of this Court to respond by July 21, 2014, and warned him that if he did not respond, the Court might render Defendant’s motion conceded. (See Order, ECF No. 4, at 1.) Crawford failed to file a timely opposition despite this warning, however; and on February 9, 2015, this Court granted Defendant’s motion and dismissed the complaint’s allegations regarding the eight challenged claims. (See Mem. Op. & Order, at 2.)

Notably, at that same time, the Court also ordered DHS to answer or otherwise respond to the three remaining allegations of discrimination/retaliation in Crawford’s complaint. (See id.) Defendant filed the instant motion to dismiss, or in the alternative for summary judgment, on March 9, 2015. In the motion, Defendant primarily argues that Crawford failed to exhaust his administrative remedies with respect to the remaining allegations because he did not include them in his EEO complaint. (See Def.’s Mot. at 10-11.) Crawford has responded (see generally Pl.’s Opp’n), and the motion is now ripe for this Court’s review.

II. LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Exhaustion Of Administrative Remedies As A Prerequisite To Filing Suit In ...


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