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Turner v. Enzler

United States District Court, District of Columbia

February 21, 2017

JOHN ENZLER et al ., Defendants.




         What remains of this civil action are Plaintiff Betty Jean Turner's claims of age and race discrimination against her former employer, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington (“Catholic Charities”).[1] The claims arose from Plaintiff's termination in May 2014. The parties have completed discovery, and Defendant has moved for summary judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, ECF No. 54. Plaintiff has opposed the motion, ECF No. 64, and Defendant has replied, ECF No. 66. The Court finds from the summary judgment record that Defendant has established legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for plaintiff's termination, which Plaintiff has not sufficiently rebutted. Therefore, the Court grants summary judgment to Defendant for the reasons explained below.


         On January 15, 2014, Plaintiff, an African American woman over the age of 40, was hired as a Community Support Specialist (“CSS”) with the Catholic Charities' Community Companions Program at the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Institute. Def.s' Statement of Material Facts Not Genuinely in Dispute (“Def.'s Facts”) ¶ 1, ECF No. 54 pp. 5-7; Def.'s Mem. of P. & A. at 2. As a CSS, Plaintiff was responsible for the supervision and care of special needs children. Def.'s Facts ¶ 4. Plaintiff's employment was at-will and contingent upon her completion of a 90-day probationary period, id. ¶ 3, which “was scheduled to end on or about April 15, 2014.” Pl.'s Statement of Material Facts in Genuine Dispute (“Pl.'s Facts”) ¶ 1, ECF No. 64.

         On April 8, 2014, two teenagers--a 16-year-old-boy and a 15-year-old girl--were in Plaintiff's care. Def.'s Facts ¶ 5; Pl.'s Facts ¶ 3.[2] Plaintiff left the girl in a classroom while she escorted the boy to the bathroom. Def.'s Facts ¶¶ 5-6. The parties disagree on whether the girl was left alone. See Def.'s Facts ¶ 7 (“The female child for which Ms. Turner had sole responsibility was left alone.”) (citing incident reports); cf. Pl.'s Facts ¶ 3 (“Plaintiff advised and asked the other Community Support Specialists in the room if she may leave the female student . . . in her care, with them, so that she may properly supervise a bathroom trip. Each . . . responded with ok, sure . . . before she left the female student in their care.”). Regardless, Administrative Coordinator Brenda Smallwood and CSS Kim Jorden “found the female child asleep on the classroom floor.” Def.'s Facts ¶ 10. Smallwood “immediately called” Plaintiff's team leader, Jenna Craig, who with Smallwood, reported the incident to Plaintiff's supervisor, Senior Program Manager Daniel Hammond. Def.'s Facts ¶ 10; see Pl.'s Facts, Ex. 1 (job offer letter identifying Hammond as the individual to whom Plaintiff was to report).

         Because leaving a child alone violated the Program's Policy on Abuse and Neglect, see Def.'s Ex. J, ECF No. 54-10, Plaintiff was placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of a neglect investigation by the Quality Assurance Department, which began on April 9, 2014.

         Def.'s Facts ¶¶ 9, 11-12; see Apr. 15, 2014 Memorandum (“Tasker Memo”), Def.'s Ex. I, ECF No. 54-9. Following her investigation of the incident, Deputy Director Sequaya Tasker concluded:

Based on the facts provided through face to face interviews, email statements, documents collected, and written statements[, ] the allegation of neglect is substantiated in regard to Betty Jean Turner. The evidence supports that Ms. Turner left K.S. in classroom B unattended. K.S. is a 15 year old . . . diagnosed with Severe MR and Autism. K.S. is non-verbal and communicates by pulling staff toward objects she desires.

         Tasker Memo at 5. Tasker referred Plaintiff “to administration for disposition.” Id. In an email to Tasker during the investigation of Plaintiff, Program Manager Hammond conveyed “more information regarding the incitement of alleged abuse of K.S. by Ms. Betty Turner.” Apr. 11, 2014 e-mail, Def.'s Ex. M, ECF No. 54-13. Hammond wrote:

On 4/10/2014, I was contacted by [an individual] of Hebron Associates, K.S.'s house manager at her home. She informed me that the staff from Hebron reported on more than one occasion K.S. appeared unclean when they arrived at 6:00 p.m. to pick her up from the program. On one specific occasion, her evening staff member . . . noticed that K.S. had not been changed and had a soiled diaper. When she spoke to Ms. Turner, who was assigned to K.S. that day, Ms. Turner stated that she did not notice, and asked the Hebron staff member to change her.

Id. Hammond wrote further that he had informed the individuals that “Hebron staff should not be directed to care for one of our participants” and that “K.S. will be under the care of another staff member moving forward.” Id.

         On May 8, 2014, following an e-mail discussion between Human Resources staff and the Executive Director of the Kennedy Institute, see Def.'s Ex. K, ECF No. 54-11, Defendant issued a “Notice of Final Decision” over Hammond's signature, immediately terminating Plaintiff's employment “for failure to comply with the Agency's policy and procedure on Abuse and Neglect.” Def.'s Ex. O, ECF No. 54-15. The Notice cited the neglect finding from the April 8, 2014 incident and concluded that alone provided “sufficient evidence to warrant the termination of [Plaintiff's] employment.” Id. According to Hammond, “Human resources” makes the ultimate decision to terminate an employee. Hammond Dep. at 49-50, ECF No. 54-14.

         In a letter to Human Resources Director Michele Sparks dated May 14, 2014, “RE: Unfair Discriminatory Termination, ” Plaintiff stated that the allegation of neglect was false, and she requested “to review the determination report again” and to be reinstated. Pl.'s May 14 Letter at 1, Def.'s Ex. P, ECF No. 54-16. Plaintiff purported to lodge charges of “discriminatory action by the Kennedy Institute” and “ask[ed] if the following considerations were made prior to the determination of the Quality Assurance team upholding the allegation and subsequent termination.” Id. at 1. Plaintiff enumerated six “considerations, ” which consisted of her denials that K.S. was left lying in an unsafe position and that K.S. was left alone in the classroom. Plaintiff posited that “the staff and co-workers” had “ulterior motives” and had singled her out because: (1) she “felt obligated to report an abuse allegation [concerning a current employee] witnessed several months earlier which [she] found was not kept totally confidential and anonymous as [she] had asked”; (2) she had applied for several positions, “one being a Teacher, Group Leader, and a Director position at the ...

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