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Ranowsky v. National Railroad Passenger Corp.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 26, 2017

KATHLEEN RANOWSKY, Plaintiff,
v.
NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORPORATION d/b/a AMTRAK e* a/., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          RICHARD J. LEON United States District Judge

         Kathleen Ranowsky ("plaintiff or "Ranowsky") brings this action against the National Railroad Passenger Corporation ("Amtrak"), Amtrak Inspector General Tom Howard ("Howard"), and Chief Human Capital Officer for the Amtrak Inspector General, Terry Gilmore ("Gilmore"). Ranowsky alleges that Amtrak discriminated against her on the basis of her age and gender, unlawfully terminated her from her position as Deputy Counsel to the Amtrak Inspector General, and discriminated and retaliated against her when it refused to rehire her at Amtrak, all in violation of the District of Columbia Human Rights Act ("DCHRA"), D.C. Code § 2-1401, et seq., and § 2-1402.11, et seq. Ranowsky further alleges that Howard and Gilmore aided and abetted Amtrak's discriminatory and retaliatory conduct, in violation of D.C. Code § 2-1402.62. Currently before the Court is defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [Dkt. #31], Upon consideration of the parties' pleadings, the entire record in this case, and relevant law, the Court GRANTS summary judgment in favor of defendants.

         BACKGROUND

         Ranowsky began her employment with Amtrak on July 21, 1997, as an attorney in Amtrak's Law Department. Defs.' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ("Defs.' SOF") ¶ 5 [Dkt #31-2]; Ranowsky Dep. at 24:17-20 [Dkt. #31-3]. In April of 2002, Ranowsky became Deputy Counsel in the Office of the Inspector General ("OIG"), where she remained until her termination. Defs.' SOF ¶ 6; Ranowsky Dep. at 24:19-22; 46:25-47:2. At all times, defendants Terry Gilmore ("Gilmore") and Thomas Howard ("Howard") were Chief Human Capital Officer for the Amtrak Inspector General and Inspector General for Amtrak, respectively. Defs.' SOF ¶¶ 12, 30; PL's Statement of Material Facts Genuinely in Dispute ("PL's SOF") ¶¶ 12, 30 [Dkt. # 40].

         On November 18, 2014, Howard notified Ranowsky of her termination in a letter which stated: "[t]his letter serves as notification of the termination of your position as Deputy Counsel for the Office of Inspector General with the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, in accordance with Amtrak's Policy and Instruction Manual (APIM) Human Resources Policy 7.32.0[.] Termination will be effective December 2, 2014." 11/18/14 Termination Letter at 1 [Dkt. #38-4]. The stated reason for the termination was "loss of confidence" in Ranowsky's "ability to perform in the role of Deputy Counsel." Id. Her termination was designated as a "reduction in force, " thereby making Ranowsky eligible for a severance agreement not ordinarily available to those employees who are involuntarily terminated unless designated as a reduction in force. Defs.' SOF ¶ 34; Gilmore Dep. at 33:12-18; 54:19-55:4 [Dkt. # 31-10]. Ranowsky declined the package and later opted to collect early retirement benefits, so her termination designation was changed to "Early Retirement." Defs.' SOF ¶ 35; Gilmore Dep. at 63:22-65:14. At the time of her termination, Ranowsky was sixty-two years old. Ranowsky Dep. at 5:15-16. Howard, also sixty-two years old at the time, was Ranowsky's second level supervisor and was the sole decision-maker behind the decision to terminate Ranowsky's employment, although he did consult with other senior colleagues. Defs.' SOF ¶¶ 21, 65; Howard Dep. at 19:6-7, 97:17-99:8 [Dkt. #31-4]; Howard Deck ¶ 2 [Dkt. # 31-9].

         Ranowsky also alleges Amtrak did not interview her for two positions to which she applied in 2015 as further age and gender discrimination and as an act of retaliation for the Charge of Discrimination she filed with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") in January 2015. See EEOC Charge of Discrimination, [Dkt. # 39-9 (Under Seal)]. First, in March 2015, Ranowsky applied to the open Deputy Counsel Position in Amtrak OIG, but OIG Deputy Inspector/Counsel Kevin Winters decided not to interview her. Defs.' SOF ¶¶ 47-51; Winters Dep. at 79:20-22 [Dkt. #31-11]. Winters instead chose to hire Frank Mazurek, who was under the age of forty and had nearly a decade of experience in NASA's Office of Inspector General. Defs.' SOF ¶ 56; Winters Dep. at 102:16-19; Mazurek Dep. 19:6-20:16 [Dkt. # 31-13]. In July 2015, Ranowsky applied to an opening for an experienced transactional attorney position with the Amtrak Law Department, but the Managing Deputy General Counsel for the Law Department, William Herrmann, made a determination not to interview her because of his prior experience working with her and his determination that she would not "be a positive addition or contribution to the work" of the Department. Defs.' SOF ¶ 59; Herrmann Decl. ¶3 [Dkt. #31-14], Plaintiff filed this Complaint in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia on June 10, 2015. Notice of Removal ¶ 1 [Dkt.# 1]. On July 15, 2015, defendants collectively removed this case to federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441(a) and 1446, on the grounds that Amtrak is a federally-chartered stock corporation and the United States owns more than one-half of its capital stock. Id. See 28 U.S.C. § 1349; Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp. v Lexington Ins. Co., 365 F.3d 1104, 1105 (D.C. Cir. 2004) ("The case is in federal court because Amtrak is a federal corporation and the federal government owns more than one-half of its stock.").

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is appropriate when "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The burden is on the movant to show that there is no dispute of fact, but the non-moving party carries the "burden of producing . . . evidence that would support a jury verdict." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986). The non-moving party "may not rest upon mere allegation or denials of his pleading, but must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Id.

         When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must accept as true the evidence of the non-moving party, and draw "all justifiable inferences" in favor of that party. Id. at 255. However, to the extent that the party opposing summary judgment will bear the burden of proving facts at trial, those facts must be supported by competent evidence, and the absence of that evidence forms the basis for summary judgment. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-24. A genuine dispute of material fact exists only where "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

         ANALYSIS

         I. Legal Standard

         Ranowsky brings her claims under the DCHRA, which makes it unlawful for an employer "to fail or refuse to hire, or to discharge, any individual" because of his or her "race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, family responsibilities, genetic information, disability, matriculation, or political affiliation." D.C. Code § 2-1402.11(a)(1). The statute also prohibits retaliation against employees who exercise their DCHRA rights, stating that it is unlawful to "retaliate against... any person ... on account of having exercised or enjoyed ... any right granted or protected" under the DCHRA, and imposes liability on persons who aid or abet DCHRA violations. Id. § 2-1402.61(a), § 2-1402.62.

         DCHRA discrimination and retaliation claims are analyzed the same as claims brought under federal employment discrimination statutes, and are thus subject to the traditional three-step framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-03 (1973). Vatel v. Alliance of Auto. Mfrs., 627 F.3d 1245, 1246 (D.C. Cir. 2011) ("We analyze discrimination claims under the D.C. Human Rights Act in the same way that we analyze discrimination claims under the federal anti-discrimination laws."); McCain v. CCA of Term., Inc., 254 F.Supp.2d 115, 124 (D.D.C. 2003) ("The elements of a retaliation claim under the DCHRA are the same as those under the federal employment discrimination laws.").

         Under this three-step framework, the plaintiff must first make out a prima facie case of discriminatory or retaliatory conduct. For discrimination claims, the plaintiff must show that "(1) she is a member of a protected class; (2) she suffered an employment action; and (3) the unfavorable action gives rise to an inference of discrimination." Stella v. Mineta,284 F.3d 135, 145 (D.C. Cir. 2002). For retaliation claims, a plaintiff needs to show "that she engaged in protected activity, that she suffered an adverse employment action, and that there was a causal link between the former and the latter." Allen v. Johnson,795 F.3d 34, 39 (D.C. Cir. 2015). Once a plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the employer must provide a legitimate non-discriminatory or non-retaliatory reason for its adverse action. McDonnell-Douglas, 411 U.S. at ...


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