United States District Court, District of Columbia
ROSEMARY M. COLLYER Judge United States District Court
Burford was a law enforcement officer in the Law Enforcement
Unit of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
from 2002 until February 2012. Ms. Burford alleges that she
suffered discrimination due to her sex and age and was
retaliated against after she asked the Board to investigate
the alleged discrimination. She also complains that she was
discharged because of false retaliatory charges. She sues
Janet L. Yellen, Chair of the Board of Governors, in her
official capacity. The Board moves to dismiss the Amended
Complaint or, alternatively, for summary judgment.
relevant time, Ms. Burford was approximately 50 years old. As
a result, she was, and is, protected from employment
discrimination based on her sex by Title VII of the Civil
Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16
(2012), and from discrimination based on her age by the Age
Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C.
§§ 621 et seq. Both laws also protect
employees from retaliation because they engaged in activities
in furtherance of equal employment opportunities. 42 U.S.C.
§ 2000e-3(a) (“Discrimination for making charges,
testifying, assisting, or participating in enforcement
proceedings”); Gomez-Perez v. Potter, 553 U.S.
474, 479 (2008) (holding ADEA 29 U.S.C. § 633(a)
precludes retaliation based on the filing of an age
Burford was hired as an officer in the Law Enforcement Unit
(LEU) of the Board in December 2002, after a reduction in
force at the District of Columbia Department of Corrections
(DC DOC) where she had previously been employed as a
corrections officer. She gained the rank of senior law
enforcement officer and served as a “lead”
officer in 2009. While she had earlier filed charges alleging
a lack of equal employment opportunity (EEO), this case
concerns a series of workplace incidents that began in late
2009 and which Ms. Burford alleges constituted discrimination
because of her sex, age, and EEO activity.
in December 2009, Ms. Burford complains that she was
repeatedly confronted by a probationary female officer,
Shandra Love, who put Ms. Burford in fear for her physical
safety. The first of those incidents occurred on December 1,
2009, when Ms. Love, “in a seemingly unprovoked verbal
assault, ” called Ms. Burford a “btch.” Am.
Compl. ¶ 12. Ms. Love has admitted using the epithet to
address Ms. Burford at a time when Ms. Love was talking to
LEU Sergeant Frank Williams on her cell phone. Id.
¶ 13. “With her cell phone to her ear, Love took
what appeared to be an aggressive fighter's stance while
[Ms. Burford] sat inside the guard booth bracing for what
could have [led] to a physical assault against her.”
Id. ¶ 15. On a later date, Ms. Love “made
unprovoked false accusations that [Ms. Burford] bumped her in
the back . . . .” Id. ¶ 24. Ms. Burford
alleges that a subsequent incident occurred when Ms. Love
falsely claimed that when the two women were in the locker
room, Ms. Burford “intentionally brushed [Ms.
Love's] hair with her buttocks as Love leaned over her
purse, ” and that Ms. Love then “engaged in a
barrage of aggressive obscenities against [Ms. Burford], who
in fear of physical attack, continued to face her locker and
prepare for dayshift roll call.” Id.
¶¶ 28, 30. The Amended Complaint alleges that these
“false accusations came after [Ms. Burford] wrote a
statement to [the dayshift watch commander, Lieutenant
Larence] Dublin alleging that Love was not checking the
identifications of vehicle occupants [who] were attempting to
enter the Board through the East Court, which was Love's
primary responsibility.” Id. ¶ 25. Lt.
Dublin allegedly did not investigate Ms. Burford's
complaints about Ms. Love, and provided false testimony in
the later EEO investigation. Id. ¶¶ 21,
22, 23. He also failed to discipline Ms. Love in a manner
that Ms. Burford felt appropriate. See id.
¶¶ 18, 21, 23, 33. Both Lt. Dublin and Ms. Love
were younger than 40 at the time of these incidents. Ms.
Burford alleges that unidentified harassing conduct towards
her from Ms. Love and/or Lt. Dublin “became a condition
of [her] continued employment.” Id. ¶ 35.
confrontations with Ms. Love and Lt. Dublin's inaction
led Ms. Burford to initiate internal EEO proceedings in
August 2010, in which she alleged discrimination due to her
sex and age. Id. ¶ 26. See also Id.
¶ 120 (alleging that “she filed her EEO complaint
after LEU managers failed to address Love's aggressive
and potentially violent behaviors”). These conflicts
continued after Ms. Burford contacted an EEO Counselor at the
Board. See Id. ¶ 36. The Amended Complaint
alleges that Ms. Love and Lt. Dublin made false allegations
against Ms. Burford during the EEO investigation, during
which EEO Counselor Johanna Bruce also interviewed LEU Chief
Billy Sauls and Senior Employee Relations Specialist Keisha
Hargo, both of whom also allegedly gave false testimony
detrimental to Ms. Burford. Id. ¶¶ 25, 26,
27, 28, 29, 38, 39. Ms. Burford further alleges that Ms. Love
“admitted that she and Dublin were in constant
communication with one another with regard to [Ms. Burford],
and that the communication was personal in nature.”
Id. ¶ 129.
approximately two months between August and October 2010, LEU
Administrative Sergeant Michelle Tillery-Fuller consistently
assigned Ms. Burford to daily posts that required Ms. Burford
to stand for her work shift, carrying “the hefty UP-40
submachine gun, with the weapon's strap painfully digging
into Plaintiff's shoulder, when no other LEU officers
were forced to endure such abuse.” Id. ¶
44. Ms. Burford alleges that, as a lead officer and one of
only two women LEU leads, she was entitled to seated posts
typically filled by lead officers, but which Sgt
Tillery-Fuller assigned to male non-lead officers.
Id. ¶¶ 46, 48. These standing assignments
did not result in any decrease in Ms. Burford's pay or
other benefits and did not constitute a demotion. Standing
assignments are part of lead officer duties; Ms. Burford
alleges, however, that she was assigned a disproportionate
number of them on every shift for approximately two months,
which “was not normal for any LEU officer.”
Id. ¶ 44. She further alleges that she was
“the only female lead officer meeting the ADEA's
age limit criteria who had been removed from her lead officer
position” and replaced with men who were not lead
officers. Id. ¶ 48, and that she was “the
only lead officer who had engaged in protected activity at
the time of her removal from the Lead Officer Program.”
Id. ¶ 49. Additionally, the Amended Complaint
alleges that Sgt. Tillery-Fuller “stated in her
deposition that she doesn't know why [Ms. Burford]
wasn't assigned to lead posts” and “only
admits to discriminating against [Ms. Burford] after [Sgt.
Tillery-Fuller] bec[ame] aggressive and disturbingly upset
with Ellen Opper-Weiner, ” then-counsel to Ms. Burford,
during the Sergeant's deposition. Id. ¶ 50.
Sgt. Tillery-Fuller “angrily” testified in
deposition that she removed Ms. Burford “from the Lead
Officer Program . . . because [Ms. Burford] was not
communicating with officers, which were false allegations
made only by Love and Dublin.” Id. ¶ 51.
It is alleged that Sgt. Tillery-Fuller knew of Ms.
Burford's EEO activities at that time. Id. .
addition to the standing shift assignments, Ms. Burford
alleges that she was discriminated and retaliated against
when she was blamed for the release of a confidential
document she had written for the Board's use to an
outside attorney representing an employee suing the Agency.
Id. ¶ 60. On August 26, 2010, Ms. Burford was
aggressively questioned by Chief Sauls and Ms. Hardo for
approximately an hour. Id. ¶ 66, 72. Both
interrogators “claimed that it was [Ms. Burford] who
released the document to the non Board [sic] attorney.”
Id. Ms. Burford complains that Mr. Sauls and Ms.
Hargo “threatened to obtain a warrant to seize [Ms.
Burford's] home computer. [She] was also threatened with
disciplinary action if she did not confess to disclosing the
document to the non Board [sic] attorney when Sauls and Hargo
both were aware that it was Sauls that committed the act he
and Hargo were accusing [Ms. Burford] of committing.”
Id. ¶ 67. Ms. Burford was not placed on
administrative leave or otherwise disciplined following the
interview and she was ultimately exonerated. Id.
¶ 75. She alleges, however, that it was Chief Sauls who
had released the document to the Legal Department which, in
turn, handed it over to the employee's outside counsel,
and that Chief Sauls therefore had prior knowledge that Ms.
Burford was not the source of the “leak” when he
questioned her severely. According to the Amended Complaint,
Ms. Burford “was a reasonable employee who found the
retaliatory actions taken against her to be materially
adverse” and therefore violative of Title VII and the
ADEA. Id. ¶ 92.
Burford requested EEO investigations of the above instances
of alleged discrimination, and all were ultimately
considered, but rejected, by the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission (EEOC) on September 13, 2015, in its review of an
Administrative Judge's grant of summary judgment to the
Agency. See Mot. to Dismiss Ex. A (EEOC Dec.) [Dkt.
17-1] at 2 (“Upon the required de novo review of the
record, we find that the grant of summary judgment was
Burford alleges additional instances of discrimination beyond
those considered by the EEOC. She alleges that her car was
vandalized in September 2010 at her home in Waldorf, Maryland
and a note was found that explicitly told her to stop her EEO
activity. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 83, 84; see also
Opp. [Dkt. 19] Ex. D (sign reading “Btch your car is
just the beginning!!!! Stop the complaints at the Federal
Reserve or else you will be next! I hope we are clear on
this!”). A second car in Waldorf was also vandalized in
September 2010; the second car belonged to former LEU Master
Senior Officer Sabrina Bullock, who also had ongoing EEO
activity at the Board. Am. Compl. ¶ 85. Ms. Burford
alleges that Chief Sauls falsely reported to the Board's
Office of Inspector General (OIG) and to Employee Relations
that Ms. Burford had herself vandalized both vehicles.
Id. ¶ 90.
to the Amended Complaint, Chief Sauls and OIG Senior Special
Agent Albert Pleasant conspired “with malicious
intent” in September 2010 to allege that Ms. Burford
“had engaged in a fictitious cell phone spoofing
scandal, ” that had caused her to be named as a suspect
by law enforcement. Id. ¶ 91. As part of this
conspiracy, Agent Pleasant is alleged to have unlawfully
obtained Ms. Burford's personal cellular phone records
that he and Chief Sauls then shared with non-law-enforcement
personnel at the Board. It is further alleged that Agent
Pleasant and Charles Country Sheriff's Detective Higgs
banged on Ms. Burford's door at about 10:00 p.m. on May
23, 2011; Agent Pleasant attempted to enter by tugging on the
storm door; Agent Pleasant reported this incident to the OIG
by email; and Agent Pleasant unsuccessfully attempted to have
Ms. Burford falsely prosecuted in Stafford County, the
District of Columbia, and the District of Maryland “for
the fictitiously alleged spoofing scandal.”
Id. ¶¶ 97-101.
Burford was terminated on December 8, 2011 for her purported
involvement in the cell phone spoofing scandal and for the
vandalism on her car and Ms. Bullock's vehicle.
Id. ¶¶ 103&104. Her termination was
carried out as an alleged “intentional act to
humiliate” Ms. Burford, as it occurred where LEU
officers reporting for roll call might have observed it.
Id. ¶¶ 112-114. The stated reasons for her
termination are alleged to be pretextual to hide retaliation.
Id. ¶ 103. Although she was immediately placed
on leave on December 8, 2011, the effective date of Ms.
Burford's termination was February 29, 2012.
Ms. Burford argues that Board Senior Counsel John Kuray
prevented Mses. Burford and Bullock from adding retaliatory
car vandalism to their ongoing EEO complaints “due to
the threatening notes referencing the Board that were found
at the crime scenes.” Id. ¶ 109. She adds
that Mr. Kuray “also prevented” her timely claim
of wrongful termination “from being added to her
ongoing EEO activity” even though it was
“submitted to the Board by [her counsel] Ellen
Opper-Weiner.” Id. ¶ 111.
Ms. Burford alleges that Board employees retaliated against
her by entering false and defamatory allegations in Ms.
Burford's personnel file and then providing copies of
that file, including the false and defamatory statements, to
DC DOC, which prevented Ms. Burford from returning to
employment with the Department of Corrections. Id.
pro se, Ms. Burford now brings all claims before the
Court. The Amended Complaint advances the following counts:
(Count 1) Violations of the ADEA, including harassment and
retaliation allegedly committed by Ms. Love and Lt. Dublin
(younger than age 40) and Admin. Sgt. Tillery-Fuller (over
age 40), and discharge;
(Count 2) Sex-Based Discrimination in violation of Title VII,
including harassment and retaliation allegedly committed by
Ms. Love, Lt. Dublin and Admin. Sgt. Tillerly-Fuller, and
(Count 3) Disparate Treatment in violation of both Title VII
and the ADEA, including a hostile work environment created by
Ms. Love, Chief Dublin and Admin. Sgt. Tillery-Fuller;
hostile interrogation by Chief Sauls and Ms. Hargo; release
of her cell phone records by Chief Sauls and Agent Pleasant
to other Board employees; and termination due to false
allegations that Ms. Burford vandalized her own automobile
and the automobile of a former Board employee;
(Count 4) Disparate Impact in violation of both Title VII and
ADEA involving harsh name calling and various other illegal
(Count 5) Pervasive and Objectively Hostile Working
Environment, involving deliberate aggression and hostility by
Ms. Love, Lt. Dublin and Admin. Sgt. Tillery-Fuller; hostile
interrogation by Chief Sauls and Ms. Hargo; dissemination of
Ms. Burford's cellular records by Chief Sauls and Agent
Pleasant; an effort by Agent Pleasant to force his way into
Ms. Burford's home; vandalism of Ms. Burford's car;
dissemination of confidential records by Ms. Hargo and Jade
Mills-Little to the District of Columbia Department of
Corrections and other prospective employers; and
dissemination of Ms. Burford's confidential EEO file
within the Board by Ms. Hargo and Ms. Mills-Little;
(Count 6) Retaliation Violations Under Title VII and ADEA,
including false allegations by Ms. Love and Lt. Dublin;
(Count 7) Whistleblower Retaliation Under 18 U.S.C. §
1831j, involving Ms. Burford's disclosures of violations
of clearly established law and abuses of authority that
prompted “all of Plaintiff's allegations of
retaliation contained within the complaint, ” Am.
Compl. ¶ 258; and
(Count 8) Violations of the District of Columbia's Human
Rights Act (DCHRA), DC Code § 2-1402.62 (2012), by
numerous named and unnamed Board employees aiding and
abetting one another “in orchestrating and executing a
massive discriminatory and retaliatory scheme.” Am.
Compl. ¶ 265.
Court construes Count 1 to allege age discrimination,
id. ¶¶ 161, 171, 175; hostile work
environment due to age, id. ¶¶ 163, 164,
165; and retaliation due to age, id., ¶ 175.
The Court construes Count 2 to allege a hostile work
environment due to sex, id., ¶¶ 182, 183,
184, 185, 188, 189, 191; retaliation due to sex id.;
and wrongful termination due to sex. Id. ¶ 193.
The Court construes Count 3 to allege disparate (less
favorable) treatment due to age (ADEA), sex (Title VII), and
retaliation, id. ¶ 199. The Court construes
Count 4 to allege disparate impact because of age (ADEA) and
sex (Title VII). The Court construes Count 5 to allege a
hostile working environment because of age (ADEA), sex (Title
VII), and retaliation. Id. ¶¶ 245, 246,
247, 248. The Court construes Count 6 to allege retaliation
due to complaints of a hostile work environment under Title
VII and the ADEA. Id. ¶ 229. The Court
construes Count 7 to allege retaliation for whistleblower
activities. Id. ¶¶ 257, 258. The Court
construes Count 8 to allege that named and unnamed Board
employees aided and abetted one another to discriminate and
retaliate against Ms. Burford in violation of the DCHRA.
Id. ¶¶ 265, 266.
has filed a motion to dismiss. See Mot. to Dismiss
[Dkt 17]. Ms. Burford opposes the motion [Dkt. 19] and the
Board has replied [Dkt. 20]. Ms. Burford has also moved to
strike the Board's Motion to Dismiss, [Dkt. 18], which
the Board has opposed [Dkt. 21] and to which Ms. Burford has
replied [Dkt. 23].