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Blount v. Johnson

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 22, 2016

JEH JOHNSON, Secretary U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Defendant.


          ROSEMARY M. COLLYER United States District Judge.

         Settlement Agreements are contracts; each side gives up something and each side gets something to resolve a dispute. In this case, Lester Blount signed a settlement agreement with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), his employer, to resolve multiple charges alleging that DHS had violated his rights to equal employment opportunity (EEO). In the days just before the settlement agreement was signed, Mr. Blount learned that he had not been selected for a particular job opportunity. He immediately contacted an EEO Counselor and complained. Nonetheless, with advice of counsel, he signed the settlement agreement and agreed, in part, that he would not complain further about anything related to his job that had occurred prior to and as of the date of his signature.

         With new counsel, Mr. Blount now sues Jeh Johnson, DHS Secretary, alleging that his non-selection was due to race and age discrimination and in retaliation for Mr. Blount's prior EEO activity. However, DHS is entitled to the benefit of its bargain in the settlement agreement, which bars this lawsuit. Accordingly, the motion to dismiss filed by the Secretary will be granted.

         I. FACTS

         Lester Blount, a 47-year-old African American, has been employed by the United States Secret Service since 1997. From 2003, after the Secret Service had become an agency within DHS, until late 2012, he served as a canine technician in the White House K-9 canine detachment, Office of Protective Operations; specifically in the Special Operations Branch (Branch) of the Uniformed Division. His assigned canine, “Chico, ” was trained to detect explosives. Mr. Blount was always rated as “successful” or better, and was repeatedly recognized for his dedicated service. Compl. [Dkt. 1] ¶ 14; see also Id. ¶ 23 (“For the review period, July 2012 through October 2012, Plaintiff's immediate supervisor, Sergeant David Dumont rated Plaintiff's performance as a canine technician as ‘currently performing all his duties at a fully successful level.'”).

         During 2012, Mr. Blount used approximately 265 hours of approved family and medical leave, principally to care for his spouse who suffered from a serious illness. In the summer of 2012, new ranked officers were assigned to the Branch, including Captain Barry Lewis and Lieutenant Steve Stasiuk, who are both white.

         Chico suffered a work injury in November 2012 and was retired from active duty as a result. When Mr. Blount discussed Chico's injury with Cpt. Lewis, the Captain said that “because [Mr. Blount] was such a great handler, he would ensure that [Mr. Blount] would be assigned another canine and that he would be placed in the next canine explosives detection training course.” Id. ¶ 18. While waiting for that next course, Mr. Blount was assigned to security at the Vice President's residence at the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. In this post, he no longer earned the night differential and overtime pay that he received in the Branch.

         In October 2012, the Branch had posted a vacancy announcement for an Officer-Technician on the Canine Explosives Detection Team, for which training was scheduled in February 2013. Mr. Blount filed a timely application to work with a new dog and continue his previous assignment. On January 8, 2013, the Branch posted a list of the persons who had been selected, but Mr. Blount was not included. He immediately became aware of his non-selection. Mr. Blount has continued to work as security at the Vice President's residence. As a result of his January 8 non-selection, Mr. Blount brought the instant lawsuit.

         A. Settlement Agreement

         On January 15, 2013, Mr. Blount entered into a negotiated Settlement Agreement with the Secret Service that explicitly settled three formal EEO complaints, identified as EEOC No. 570-2007-00109x/Agency No. DHS-USS-06-034 (“2006 Complaint”), EEOC No. 570-2009-00505x/Agency No. DHS-USSS-08-0065 (“2009 Complaint”), EEOC Appeal No. 120114128/Agency No. HS-USSS-01312-2011 (“2011 Complaint”), as well as all claims raised in an informal EEO complaint, Agency No. HS-USSS-0241-2013 (“2013 Complaint”), which was being counseled by the Agency's EEO Office. See MTD, Ex. 1 [Dkt. 7-2] (Settlement Agreement). The “2013 Complaint” did not concern Mr. Blount's non-selection claim, which underlies the instant lawsuit and was identified as Agency No. HS-USSS-00962-2013.

         Mr. Blount was represented by counsel throughout the settlement negotiations and his lawyer, E. Ned Sloan, signed the Settlement Agreement along with Mr. Blount on January 15, 2015. The Settlement Agreement specified that “[t]hrough this Settlement Agreement (‘Agreement'), Mr. Blount and the Agency settle all matters, claims, or causes of action arising from or related to Mr. Blount's employment with the Secret Service as of the date of the signing of the Agreement, including but not limited to all claims raised” in the formal 2006 Complaint, 2009 Complaint, and 2011 Complaint, as well as the informal 2013 Complaint numbered, in part, 0241-2013. Settlement Agreement ¶ 1. Secretary Johnson argues that this language clearly included Mr. Blount's second informal complaint in 2013, numbered in part 962-2013, which complained of his non-selection on January 8, 2013. Mr. Blount argues that the Settlement Agreement should be limited to the specified EEO Complaints. See Compl. ¶ 32.

         Additional language in the Settlement Agreement bears on this question. For instance, under paragraph 2.b, Mr. Blount agreed to:

Waive any right that he may have, may have had, or may hereafter discover to bring or file any other complaint, charge, or action with the Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Secret Service's EEO complaints process, the Merit Systems Protection Board, the Office of Special Counsel, a Federal court, or any other administrative or regulatory body, or any other entity if such complaint, charge or action concerns or relates in any manner to his employment with the Secret Service as of the date of the signing of this [Settlement] Agreement . . . .

Id. ¶ 2.b. Further, Mr. Blount agreed that he “[r]elease[d] the Agency, its employees, officers, or agents in their official and individual capacities, from any claims or liability relating to or arising from his employment with the Secret Service as of and including the date of this [Settlement] Agreement . . . .” Id. ¶ 2.c. Additionally, “[b]y his signature on this Agreement, Mr. Blount agree[d] not to seek recovery of any back-pay, damages, other monetary relief, or attorney's fees and expenses or costs in any judicial or administrative forum in connection with his employment with the Secret Service as of the date of the signing of this Agreement . . . .” Id. ¶ 5.

         Mr. Blount “entered into this [Settlement] Agreement freely and voluntarily” without threats or unwritten promises. Id. ¶ 6. He represented by his signature that he had “read this [Settlement] Agreement, understood all of its terms, has had a reasonable amount of time to consider whether to sign, that he has had the opportunity to discuss the terms . . . with his counsel and has done so” ...

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