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Williams v. Smithsonian Institution

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 31, 2016

SAMUEL C. WILLIAMS, IV, Plaintiff,
v.
SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

TANYA S. CHUTKAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

Before the court is Defendant’s Partial Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 6), and Plaintiff’s Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint (ECF No. 10). For the reasons set forth below, the court will grant Plaintiff’s motion and grant Defendant’s motion, in part. The court considers the facts alleged in the Amended Complaint in ruling on Defendant’s motion.

STATEMENT OF FACTS

Plaintiff Samuel C. Williams is African-American. He was formerly employed by Defendant, the Smithsonian Institution, as a Management and Program Analyst in the Systems Engineering Section of the Office of Facilities Management & Reliability (OFMR). When Plaintiff applied for the position, Smithsonian employee Enos Scragg required that Plaintiff take “two pre-employment tests, an Excel test and writing sample.” (Amend. Compl. ¶¶ 10, 12). The vacancy announcement for the position did not indicate that any pre-employment tests were required. (Id. ¶¶ 13-14).

Once Plaintiff was hired, Scragg became his supervisor. Around the time he was hired, Plaintiff requested a copy of his test results, but Katherine Simenton, an employee in the Personnel Unit of the Business Operations Division of the OFMR, informed Plaintiff “that there were no tests required for his position.” (Amend. Compl. ¶¶ 15-17; Defs. Ex. A, Simenton Aff. ¶ A2).

Later, while participating on an interview panel, Plaintiff observed Scragg ask a candidate if “he submitted a required test.” (Amend. Compl. ¶¶ 18-19). The candidate “responded that since the test was not required per the vacancy announcement he was not going to submit the test.” (Id. ¶ 20). After the interview “Scragg told the panel to remove the candidate’s name from the selection pool.” (Id. ¶ 21). Eventually, the position went to Tamia Rush, who told Plaintiff that she submitted only a writing sample. (Id. ¶¶ 22-24).

In late June, Scragg held Plaintiff responsible for a computer system error, even after the software builder determined that the error occurred outside of Plaintiff’s control. (Id. ¶¶ 28-40). On or around June 27, 2013, Plaintiff complained to Simenton that Scragg had denied Plaintiff’s requests for training. (Id. ¶ 25). Plaintiff also told Simenton about the computer system issue and complained that “Scragg was treating Plaintiff differently than his non-African-American coworkers.” (Id. ¶¶ 26-27).

Plaintiff complained to Simenton again on July 9, 2013. (Id. ¶ 41.) Specifically, Plaintiff complained “that the disparity in job requirements was discriminatory based on Plaintiff’s race.” (Id. ¶ 41). Simenton responded that Scragg had been warned about using pre-employment tests because the practice was “outside OPM guidelines.” (Id. ¶ 42). According to Plaintiff, Simenton told Scragg about Plaintiff’s complaint and Scragg later called Plaintiff a “troublemaker.” (Id. ¶ 43). Approximately two weeks later, on or around July 23, 2013, Scragg terminated Plaintiff from his position. (Id. ¶ 44; Defs. Ex. A, Simenton Aff. ¶ A10). Plaintiff subsequently contacted an EEO counselor.

Plaintiff brings suit pursuant to Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. He alleges that the Smithsonian discriminated and retaliated against him, based on race, when it denied him training opportunities and terminated him.[1]

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint. Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ’ but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. (citation omitted). Moreover, a pleading must offer more than “labels and conclusions” or a “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Id. (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). If the facts as alleged, which must be taken as true, fail to establish that a plaintiff has stated a claim upon which relief can be granted, the Rule 12(b)(6) motion must be granted. See, e.g., Am. Chemistry Council, Inc. v. U.S. Dep’t of Health & Human Servs., 922 F.Supp.2d 56, 61 (D.D.C. 2013).

III. ANALYSIS

The court notes that Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint is remarkably short on information that would normally be considered relevant in a racial discrimination claim. For example, Plaintiff alleges that his supervisor Scragg (whose race is unspecified), discriminated against Plaintiff by, among other things, requiring him to take a pre-employment test. See Washington v. Chao, 577 F.Supp.2d 27, 42 (D.D.C. 2008) (“Although far from dispositive, the fact that [the selecting official] and Plaintiff are members of the same protected class is also a fact that “weighs against any inference of discrimination.’”) (citing Hammond v. Chao, 383 F.Supp.2d 47, 58 n. 2 (D.D.C. 2005), aff’d, 2006 U.S. App. LEXIS 13290 (D.C. Cir. May 22, 2006)). Plaintiff alleges that another prospective employee refused to take the test and was not considered for employment, but does not specify the prospective employee’s race. Plaintiff also alleges that yet another employee was hired without having to take the test but, similarly, does not give that employee’s race. Information regarding these individuals’ race would be relevant to Plaintiff’s claim, and the court assumes that Plaintiff possesses that information, but declines to present it. Nonetheless, the Smithsonian has not based its challenge to Plaintiff’s claims on this lack of information and, therefore, at this stage of the litigation, the court will consider only the arguments raised by the Smithsonian in its motion to dismiss.

The Smithsonian seeks partial dismissal of Plaintiff’s complaint for two reasons. First, the Smithsonian argues that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies with respect to his claim for discrimination in training opportunities. Plaintiff concedes this argument, ...


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