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Stewart v. Federal Communications Commission

United States District Court, District of Columbia

June 1, 2016

SHARON K. STEWART, Plaintiff,
v.
FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY United States District Judge

         Presently before the Court is Plaintiff’s [24] Motion for Relief from Interlocutory Order. Upon consideration of the pleadings, [1] the relevant legal authorities, and the record as a whole, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff’s Motion for Relief from Interlocutory Order. The Court shall modify its [19] Order issued on April 8, 2016 to deny Defendant’s motion to dismiss Count Five of the Complaint with respect to Plaintiff’s claim that she suffered retaliation based on her removal of her duties in preparing the Section 610 Reports.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On January 14, 2015, Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, filed her Complaint, alleging five claims against her employer, Defendant, the Federal Communications Commission (the “FCC”): (1) “Hostile Work Environment” (Claim 1); (2) “Discrimination Based on Gender” (Claim 2); (3) “Reprisal for EEO Filing and Discrimination” (Claim 3); “Further Reprisal for EEO Filing” (Claim 4)”; and “Higher Level Work, Reprisal, Inference with work and Discrimination Based on Gender” (Claim 5).[2]

         On April 8, 2016, the Court granted in part and denied in part Defendant’s [7] Motion to Dismiss in Part and for Summary Judgment in Part. See Mem. Opinion & Order, ECF Nos. [19], [20]. Specifically, the Court granted Defendant’s motion to dismiss with respect to Count Two (gender discrimination), Count Four (retaliation) and Count Five (gender discrimination and retaliation), and the Court denied Defendant’s motion to dismiss with respect to Count One (hostile work environment) and denied Defendant’s motion for summary judgment on Count Three (retaliation).

         On May 5, 2016, attorney Noah B. Peters of the law firm Bailey & Ehrenberg entered an appearance on behalf of Plaintiff, who, up until that time, had been proceeding pro se. See Notice of Appearance, ECF No. [23]. On May 17, 2016, Plaintiff’s counsel filed the instant [24] Motion to Modify Interlocutory Order, requesting that the Court amend its Order issued on April 8, 2016 so as to deny Defendant’s motion to dismiss Count Five of the Complaint with respect to Plaintiff’s claim that she suffered retaliation based on removal of her duties in preparing the FCC’s “Section 610 Reports.”[3] See Pl.’s Mot. for Relief, ECF No. [24]. Plaintiff contends that the Court’s Memorandum Opinion applied an incorrect legal standard, and that relief is warranted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b). See Id. at 1-3.

         Defendant opposes Plaintiff’s motion, contending that the Court correctly dismissed Plaintiff’s claim that she suffered retaliation based on removal of her duties in preparing the Section 610 Reports. See Def.’s Opp’n, ECF No. [25].

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b) provides that “any order . . . that adjudicates fewer than all the claims or the rights and liabilities of fewer than all the parties . . . may be revised at any time before the entry of a judgment adjudicating all the claims and all the parties’ rights and liabilities.” A motion to reconsider brought under Rule 54(b) may be granted “as justice requires.” Singh v. George Wash. Univ., 383 F.Supp.2d 99, 101 (D.D.C. 2005) (quoting Cobell v. Norton, 224 F.R.D. 266, 272 (D.D.C.2004)).

         Under the “as justice requires standard, ” it is appropriate to grant a Rule 54(b) motion “when the Court has patently misunderstood a party, has made a decision outside the adversarial issues presented to the Court by the parties, [or] has made an error not of reasoning but of apprehension.” Lemmons v. Georgetown Univ. Hosp., 241 F.R.D. 15, 22 (D.D.C. 2007) (quoting Singh, 383 F.Supp.2d at 101). “Errors of apprehension may include the Court’s failure to consider controlling decisions or data that might reasonably be expected to alter the conclusion reached by the Court.” Id. (internal formatting omitted). The Court has broad discretion to consider whether relief is “necessary under the relevant circumstances.” Lewis v. District of Columbia, 736 F.Supp.2d 98, 102 (D.D.C. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         The party moving the Court to reconsider its decision carries the burden of proving that some harm would accompany a denial of the motion to reconsider: “In order for justice to require reconsideration, logically, it must be the case that, some sort of ‘injustice’ will result if reconsideration is refused. That is, the movant must demonstrate that some harm, legal or at least tangible, would flow from a denial of reconsideration.” Cobell, 355 F.Supp.2d at 540. Finally, “even if the appropriate legal standard does not indicate that reconsideration is warranted, the Court may nevertheless elect to grant a motion for reconsideration if there are other good reasons for doing so.” Id.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff contends that the Court erred when it dismissed Plaintiff’s claim for retaliation for removing her duties in preparing the Section 610 Reports (part of Count Five of her Complaint). Pl.’s Mot. for Relief, ECF No. [24], at 1. Plaintiff asserts that in the Court’s Memorandum Opinion issued on April 8, 2016, the Court “analyzed Ms. Stewart’s retaliation claim using the ‘adverse action’ standard for discrimination claims, requiring that there be ‘a tangible effect on the terms, conditions, or privileges of employment[, ]’ [b]ut under Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White, a lower standard applies to retaliation claims: whether the action ‘might have dissuaded a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination.’ ” Pl.’s Mot. for Relief, ECF No. [24], at 1 (quoting White, 548 U.S. 53, 68 (2006)).

         Defendant disagrees that a “lower standard” applies to employment-related actions occurring in the retaliation context, and contends that the Court correctly dismissed Plaintiff’s retaliation claim because Plaintiff did not allege in her Complaint that she experienced any materially adverse consequences affecting the terms, ...


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