United States District Court, District of Columbia
BERMAN JACKSON United States District Judge
Sohelia Jangjoo and Ardavan Roozbeh have sued the
Broadcasting Board of Governors (“BBG”), an
independent federal agency, and a BBG employee, Setareh
Derakhshesh Sieg, in her individual capacity. Plaintiffs
worked for BBG's Persian language service, the Persian
News Network (“PNN”), which is a component of
BBG's broader “Voice of America” network.
First Am. Compl. [Dkt. # 14] (“Am. Compl.”)
¶¶ 2, 17, 30, 82. Defendant Sieg is the Director of
PNN, and had supervisory control over both plaintiffs.
Id. ¶¶ 16, 51.
April 2, 2015, PNN announced that the popular host of its
show Ofogh, Siamak Dehghanpour, would be replaced.
Am. Compl. ¶¶ 19-23. A public outcry followed.
Id. ¶¶ 24- 25. Supporters of Dehghanpour
created a petition on “Change.org, ” demanding
that he be reinstated. Id. ¶¶ 25-26.
Plaintiff Jangjoo signed the petition. Id. ¶
40. Plaintiff Roozbeh did not sign the petition, but he
maintained a friendly relationship with Dehghanpour even
after the network's decision. See Id . ¶
28. Plaintiffs allege that in retaliation for supporting
Dehghanpour, and in violation of their First Amendment
rights, Sieg and BBG fired them. Id. ¶ 29. They
also allege that the terminations violated their Fifth
Amendment rights to due process. Id. ¶¶
128-40; 164-75. They seek damages, and a declaratory judgment
and injunction to remedy the alleged constitutional injuries.
Id. ¶¶ 141-50; 176-85.
have moved to dismiss in part. While they do not challenge
Counts I and III - plaintiff Jangjoo's First and Fifth
Amendment claims against defendant Sieg, in her individual
capacity - they move to dismiss the remaining counts.
Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss in Part &, in the Alternative,
to Sever Pls.' Am. Compl. [Dkt. # 15] (“Defs.'
Mot.”) at 2. Defendants argue that all of the claims
against BBG - Counts II, IV, VI, and VIII - should be
dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1)
because BBG, as a government entity, enjoys sovereign
immunity. Id. at 7-8. And defendant Sieg moves to
dismiss the claims brought against her by plaintiff Roozbeh
(Counts V and VII) under Rule 12(b)(6), on the grounds that
Roozbeh's First and Fifth Amendment claims fail to allege
a plausible claim for relief. Id. at 8-12.
also move to sever plaintiff Jangjoo's claims from those
of plaintiff Roozbeh under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
20, arguing that while the two plaintiffs shared a common
employer and supervisors, their dismissals did not arise from
the “same transaction, occurrence, or series of
transactions or occurrences.” Id. at 12-13.
Court will grant the motion to dismiss. BBG is entitled to
sovereign immunity, so all of the claims against it will be
dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule
12(b)(1). With respect to plaintiff Roozbeh's claim in
Count V that defendant Sieg infringed on Roozbeh's
constitutional rights by forcing him to waive his right to
file a complaint against the agency and by retaliating
against him for making statements about her conduct as a
manager, plaintiff has failed to plausibly allege a First
Amendment violation because the statements at issue were made
as part of his official duties as a BBG employee. And with
respect to plaintiff Roozbeh's allegation in Count VII
that defendant Sieg violated his Fifth Amendment rights when
she terminated his employment with BBG, plaintiff Roozbeh
likely lacks standing to pursue a claim against Sieg; he
specifically alleges that he resigned, and therefore, his
alleged injuries are not fairly traceable to defendant
Sieg's conduct. And even if plaintiff had standing, his
procedural due process claim would fail on the merits.
Because the Court will dismiss all claims brought by
plaintiff Roozbeh, it need not address defendant's motion
to sever the claims of the two plaintiffs.
resolve the pending motion to dismiss, the Court accepts as
true the allegations in plaintiffs' First Amended
BBG is an independent federal agency whose “mission is
to inform, engage and connect people around the world in
support of freedom and democracy.” Am. Compl. ¶
17. In pursuit of that mission, BBG operates several media
outlets, including Voice of America, a multimedia network
producing “popular news, information and cultural
programs in 45 languages.” Id. One foreign
language subsidiary of Voice of America is PNN, which is
“directed towards the people of Iran and
Persian-speakers in furtherance of BBG's mission.”
PNN's most popular programs is a show called
Ofogh, an informational talk show formerly hosted by
Siamak Dehghanpour. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 19-20. In late
March and early April of 2015, a series of disagreements
between Dehghanpour and PNN's management team culminated
in PNN management removing Dehghanpour as the host of
Ofogh on April 2, 2015. Id. ¶¶
22-23. Because of Dehghanpour's popularity,
Ofogh viewers began circulating a petition on
Change.org expressing concern about his removal and calling
for his reinstatement. Id. ¶¶ 25- 26.
Plaintiff Jangjoo signed this petition. Id. ¶
Jangjoo worked on several PNN programs as a Purchase Order
Vendor (“POV”) from April of 2012 to November of
2015, starting out as a “Chyron/Teleprompter
Operator” and eventually rising to a
Am. Compl. ¶¶ 31-32, 35. Jangjoo typically received
18 assignments per month, the equivalent of 18 full-time work
days. Id. ¶ 34. But according to the complaint,
after Jangjoo signed the Change.org petition, her
supervisors, at Sieg's direction, reduced her workload to
10 assignments per month. Id. ¶ 41. Since she
was paid on a per-assignment basis, her overall pay was
reduced. Id. ¶ 42.
Jangjoo alleges she emailed Sieg directly to discuss the
reduction in her assignments, but Sieg did not respond. Am.
Compl. ¶¶ 45-46. Jangjoo's relationship with
Sieg soured from there; Sieg even stopped responding to
Jangjoo's greetings when they passed each other in the
hallways of the office. Id. ¶ 46. Eventually,
Jangjoo was able to speak with Sieg, who accused Jangjoo of
going “behind [her] back.” Id. ¶
47. Jangjoo understood Sieg's accusation to be in
reference to Jangjoo's signing of the Change.org
petition. Id. Though plaintiff says that she told
Sieg that she had signed the petition in her capacity as a
private citizen, Sieg responded by confirming that her
assignments “were going to be reduced to 10 per month
regardless of what she said, ” and that Jangjoo should
stop asking Sieg to change her mind. Id.
November 12, 2015, plaintiff's immediate supervisors
confirmed in a meeting that Sieg's decision would not be
revisited, and that plaintiff's hours would be reduced.
Am. Compl. ¶ 57. Plaintiff then became “distraught
and began crying, ” and expressed to her supervisors
“her feelings regarding the injustice of this action
and the extreme hardship she expected to endure.”
Id. ¶ 58. As she put it, “[u]pon the
implementation of Defendant Sieg's decision . . .
Plaintiff Jangjoo suffered from severe emotional distress and
was referred to the BBG Security Office.” Id.
¶ 60. Apparently, during the meeting, plaintiff made
statements giving rise to the impression that she intended to
harm herself, but she claims that she “clarified”
those statements the following day when she arrived at work
but was detained because she had not reported to the Security
Office. Id. ¶¶ 62-67, 69. She told the BBG
supervisors she met with that day “that she never
actually meant to hurt herself and she had merely made a
statement under severe emotional stress.” Id.
¶ 68. According to plaintiff Jangjoo, “[s]he very
clearly denied having any suicidal inclinations.”
Jangjoo was “involuntarily taken away in handcuffs and
committed to the [District of Columbia] Department of
Behavioral Health, ” and she alleges that step was
taken in order to discredit her reputation and her complaints
against defendant Sieg. Am. Compl. ¶ 69. She was later
discharged from the Department of Behavioral Health after
being declared “to be in a stable mental state and to
not be either suicidal or homicidal, ” but merely
“stressed.” Id. ¶ 73.
when plaintiff Jangjoo sought to return to work after her
release, she was “told to come and gather her
belongings.” Am. Compl. ¶ 74. She was “made
to believe that her employment contract with BBG had been
terminated, ” although she never received a letter
formally terminating the arrangement. Id.
¶¶ 74-76. Jangjoo alleges that she has been
effectively barred from performing her employment duties
because she was “banned from entering the BBG
headquarters.” Id. ¶ 77. And she claims
that as a result of the actions taken against her by
defendant Sieg and others at BBG, she has suffered
“physical, emotional, mental and financial
damage.” Id. ¶ 81.
Roozbeh worked as a Purchase Order Vendor and Social Media
Administrator for PNN from November 10, 2014 until August 24,
2015, handling PNN's social media outreach on platforms
including Facebook, Google Plus, and Instagram. Am. Compl.
¶¶ 82-83, 86, 88, 96. As Social Media
Administrator, he worked under Sieg, who had direct control
over anything that Roozbeh posted on PNN's social media
channels. See Id . ¶¶ 86-88.
alleges Sieg pressured him to upload favorable photos and
videos of her to Facebook and Instagram, Am. Compl.
¶¶ 86, 88-89, using him “as her instrument to
commit waste, ” which “purposefully interfered
with [his] ability to fulfill his professional
obligations.” Id. ¶ 87. Sieg ordered
Roozbeh to upload content favorable to her, and to delete
content that portrayed her in an unfavorable light,
personally or professionally, in order “to promote
herself as an individual and to promote her own shows on
PNN.” Id. ¶ 87-88, 94.
instance, the State Department's Persian Language
Spokesperson asked his followers on Facebook whether they
thought PNN was a better news source than BBC Farsi.
Id. ¶ 89. After followers responded strongly in
favor of BBC Farsi, defendant Sieg ordered one of her
subordinates, Mohammad Manzarpour, to tell plaintiff Roozbeh
“to find individuals, at whatever cost, to leave
positive comments regarding PNN and [defendant Sieg]”
on the post. Id. Roozbeh “found the demand
appalling and refused to comply.” Id.
addition, Sieg “frowned upon” Roozbeh's
continued friendship with Dehghanpour. Am. Compl. ¶ 90.
According to the complaint, she tried to pressure Roozbeh by
complaining to his contracting supervisor about the pace of
his social media updates. Id. ¶ 91. Roozbeh
later explained to his supervisor that “he was in fact
not delaying any posts or online submissions, but rather . .
. he was strategically working to ensure that PNN received
the largest web following possible.” Id.
Sieg's complaint was noted in plaintiff Roozbeh's
employment file anyway. Id. ¶ 92.
also alleges that Sieg ordered him and others to
“delete every comment, from PNN's social media
outlets, that related to Mr. Dehghanpour. Id. ¶
94. Roozbeh refused this request, arguing that it violated
BBG policy. Id. Sieg then “began to create
unnecessary administrative red tape” for Roozbeh,
including delaying his request for a replacement press badge
and sending him email assignments that “served
absolutely no functional purpose” other than to
“harass and micro-manage” him. Id.
light of these incidents, on Friday August 21, 2015,
plaintiff Roozbeh “decided to voice his grievances to
[Voice of America] and BBG senior management by writing an
email in [the] form of a resignation letter, ” which
“inform[ed] them of [d]efendant Sieg's behavior and
[Roozbeh's] reasons for resigning.” Am. Compl.
¶ 97. After no one from BBG responded to the email over
the weekend, Roozbeh came to work on Monday, August 24, 2015
and learned that Sieg was taking steps to terminate him in
the wake of his resignation. Id. ¶¶
99-100. So Roozbeh sent another resignation email, this time
to all PNN staffers, in which “he shared his decision
to resign, and also his grievances with the mismanagement at
PNN and particularly with [d]efendant Sieg's abusive
behavior and interference with his contractual
obligations.” Id. ¶ 100
supervisors challenged the second resignation. Am. Compl.
¶ 101. They “interrogated” him in a meeting
by “yelling” at him, and asking him “how
dare he quit his contract.” Id. ¶¶
101-102. Eventually, an unnamed individual told Roozbeh that
he would “help him out” and proposed that Roozbeh
waive his legal right to file a complaint against BBG in
exchange for BBG's closing out the employment contract
administratively. Id. ¶ 103. Roozbeh rejected
those terms. Id. ¶¶ 103-104. While Roozbeh
was meeting with PNN management, Sieg was “smearing his
reputation and misinforming her staff about the truth of the
matter, ” by claiming that he had been terminated, not
that he had resigned. Id. ¶ 105.
next day, August 25, 2015, Roozbeh again went to the
contracting office to meet with his supervisors. Am. Compl.
¶ 106. He told them that “if the Agency did not
agree with his resignation letter, then he would go back to
his desk and would continue working until the end of his
contract.” Id. In response, his supervisors
again attempted to induce him to sign a letter terminating
his employment and waiving his right to file a complaint
against BBG. Id. After he again refused, a
supervisor told him “you will sign and then
you will get out of here.” Id. ¶ 107.