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Samuel v. Metropolitan Police Department

United States District Court, District of Columbia

June 28, 2017

LAURIE SAMUEL, Plaintiff,
v.
METROPOLITAN POLICE DEPARTMENT, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION Re Document No: 14

          RUDOLPH CONTRERAS United States District Judge

         Granting in Part and Denying in Part Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This is a case where there simply is no “there” there. Ms. Laurie Samuel was forced to resign from the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department because her visa expired and she could not obtain permanent residency status. Ms. Samuel claims that her employer, through human resources director Ms. Diane Haines-Walton, withheld information from her that would have given her the opportunity to apply for a visa extension, which would allow her to continue working in the United States. Neither side disputes that Ms. Samuel was threatened with termination and that it would have been illegal for the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department to continue to employ her. Understandably frustrated, Ms. Samuel contends that her resignation was the inevitable consequence of Ms. Haines-Walton's sabotage of her visa application, a sabotage Ms. Samuel asserts was carried out because she is from Canada and because she complained about Ms. Haines-Walton's discriminatory treatment.

         Even assuming such an act of sabotage occurred (an assumption based on scant evidence), the simple problem with Ms. Samuel's theory is that there is no permissible evidence in the record suggesting that the sabotage had any effect on Ms. Samuel's eventual resignation. Her immigration status would necessarily have expired a year before she was terminated because she was not eligible for further extensions, and she has not shown any other way that she could have continued working legally. Thus, the alleged sabotage of Ms. Samuel's visa is analytically unconnected to her resignation for Title VII purposes.

         As for the adverse employment action that she experienced, Ms. Samuel has not shown that the basis for her termination-her unlawful immigration status-was a mere pretext for discrimination or retaliation. She openly admits that she had strong relationships with the individuals who made the decision to force her to resign. And even if the only person allegedly biased against her, Ms. Haines-Walton, did have power to fire her, Ms. Samuel has not shown that she actually had any animus against her because of her Canadian national origin or because she complained about discriminatory treatment. Indeed, during her deposition, Ms. Samuel did not even mention national-origin discrimination despite being asked about it. Putting aside inadmissible information that the Court cannot consider at the motion-for-summary-judgment stage, the only evidence that Ms. Samuel can point to in support of her claim of pretext is a statement in her last-minute declaration repeating the allegation in her complaint that Ms. Haines-Walton prefaced sentences with something to the effect of “here in America, we do things this way.” This preface, though arguably offensive, is insufficient to establish pretext. Taking everything together, the Court enters summary judgment in favor of Defendant insofar as Plaintiff seeks recovery for disparate treatment. However, because Plaintiff also appears to seek relief on hostile-work-environment grounds and Defendant did not satisfactorily address that claim on summary judgment, Plaintiff's case survives (at least for now).

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiff Laurie Samuel, a Canadian citizen, sued the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department (“MPD”) for discriminating and retaliating against her based on her national origin. See Compl. at 10-11, ECF No. 1; see also Decl. of Laurie Samuel (“Samuel Decl.”) ¶ 2, ECF No. 32-2. She claims that she experienced disparate treatment and a hostile work environment because she is Canadian. See Compl. ¶ 34 (“Ms. [Haines-Walton's] discriminatory treatment of her created a hostile work environment . . . .”); Compl. ¶ 36 (“Ms. [Haines-Walton] continued her discriminatory treatment . . . .”); Compl. ¶ 72 (“Plaintiff was constructively discharged . . . due to Ms. [Haines-Walton's] discriminatory treatment.”). Starting in 2006, Ms. Samuel began working for MPD as a project specialist in the MPD Human Resources Management Division. Samuel Decl. ¶ 14. Ms. Samuel interviewed with, and ultimately was hired by, the director of the Human Resources Management Division, Ms. Diana Haines-Walton. Samuel Decl. ¶¶ 19- 20. According to Ms. Samuel, Ms. Haines-Walton was aware of Ms. Samuel's Canadian national origin during the interview, and immediately began harassing her about it after she started working at MPD. Samuel Decl. ¶¶ 20, 22. Ms. Samuel alleges that no MPD employee other than Ms. Haines-Walton discriminated or retaliated against her. Dep. of Laurie Samuel (“Samuel Dep.”) at 30, ECF No. 32-3. In January 2013, Ms. Samuel transferred from H.R. to Internal Affairs, meaning she stopped working for Ms. Haines-Walton. Samuel Decl. ¶ 88.

         According to Ms. Samuel, Ms. Haines-Walton discriminated against her by “maintain[ing] an ongoing pattern of harassing” behavior toward her, in part by making “snide comments” about her national origin. Samuel Decl. ¶¶ 22, 24-26. After Ms. Samuel had worked at MPD for around two years, the Chief of Police began giving her more responsibility, which made Ms. Haines-Walton even more upset with Ms. Samuel. Samuel Decl. ¶¶ 23-24; Samuel Dep. at 31. Ms. Samuel maintains that Ms. Haines-Walton tried to stand in the way of her career progression, see Samuel Decl. ¶¶ 101-02, but does not contend that Ms. Haines-Walton ever successfully prevented her from receiving a promotion, see Samuel Dep. 23-27. See also Pl.'s Opp'n Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. (“Pl.'s Opp'n”) at 14, ECF No. 32 (“While Plaintiff was successful in obtaining promotions to Acting Manager, EEO & Diversity and the EEO Director, she accomplished these feats despite Ms. Haines-Walton's continued attempts to sabotage her success.”). Ms. Samuel also claims that Ms. Haines-Walton sabotaged her applications for a visa extension and permanent residency, which ultimately led to her termination because MPD could not employ her without a visa. Samuel Decl. ¶¶ 37-38.

         As for retaliation, Ms. Samuel contends that, after she approached supervisors at MPD about the discrimination outlined above, Ms. Haines-Walton started withholding important immigration information from her. Compl. ¶ 85. She claims that this inevitably led to her resignation, which was actually a constructive termination. Compl. ¶ 84; Samuel Decl. ¶¶ 68- 69.

         A. Ms. Samuel's Pursuit of Permanent Residency

         Because she was not a United States citizen, Ms. Samuel needed a visa to begin working at MPD. So, she transferred her H-1B visa-a non-citizen visa that allows foreign nationals in “specialty occupations” to work in the United States, see RCM Techs., Inc. v. U.S. Dep't of Homeland Sec., 614 F.Supp.2d 39, 42 (D.D.C. 2009)-from her previous job to MPD. Samuel Decl. ¶ 15. She received her H-1B visa with MPD in January 2006. Samuel Dep. at 49-50; Samuel Decl. ¶ 15. But because H-1B visas are only valid for three years and may be extended only up to an additional three years, Ms. Samuel needed to upgrade her immigration status to continue working for MPD after September 2012. See 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(h)(15)(ii)(B)(1) (“An extension of stay may be authorized for a period of up to three years for a beneficiary of an H-1B petition . . . . [But] [t]he alien's total period of stay may not exceed six years.”); Samuel Dep. Ex. C Attach. 6, ECF No. 27-1. Thus in mid-2009, Ms. Samuel asked MPD, as her employer, to sponsor her application for permanent residency status. Samuel Decl. ¶ 29.

         Ms. Samuel began the process of seeking sponsorship by approaching employees in the MPD's Office of the Chief. Samuel Decl. ¶ 29. Eventually those employees told Ms. Samuel that she should go through her supervisor, Ms. Haines-Walton. See Samuel Decl. ¶ 32. When Ms. Samuel approached her about the situation, Ms. Haines-Walton was annoyed by the fact that she had gone over her head to the Chief, but nonetheless agreed to look into the matter. Samuel Decl. ¶ 32. MPD ultimately agreed to sponsor Ms. Samuel. Dep. of Diana Haines-Walton (“Haines-Walton Dep.”) at 32-33, ECF No. 32-4. Ms. Haines-Walton was solely responsible for managing Ms. Samuel's visa application. Samuel Decl. ¶ 33.

         Within about a week of Ms. Samuel approaching Ms. Haines-Walton, Ms. Haines-Walton drafted a memorandum requesting $10, 000 to support Ms. Samuel's application. See Haines-Walton Dep. at 33. Having received the funding, in around August 2009, Ms. Haines-Walton contracted with the Immigration Law Group to pursue the permanent resident status. Samuel Decl. ¶ 36. In July 2010, Ms. Haines-Walton terminated the Immigration Law Group because it did not timely file immigration paperwork, causing the Department of Labor to deny Ms. Samuel's permanent-residency application. Samuel Decl. ¶¶ 50-53. Ms. Haines-Walton then contracted with the law firm Duane Morris to pursue another application for permanent residency. Samuel Decl. ¶¶ 33, 54-55. In addition to submitting another application, Duane Morris filed a petition to have Ms. Samuel's H-1B visa extended for one year plus any time that she had spent outside the United States. Samuel Decl. ¶ 66. Sometime between Ms. Haines-Walton contracting with Duane Morris and the spring of 2011, Ms. Haines-Walton stopped working with Ms. Samuel. Samuel Dep. at 83 (stating that Ms. Haines-Walton “washed her hands of anything” to do with Ms. Samuel).

         Ms. Samuel frequently checked on the status of her applications with Duane Morris, but was never given information about any updates or decisions related to her case. Samuel Decl. ¶ 80. Other MPD staff members checked on the status of her H-1B extension application with the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”), but each time they checked, it showed as “pending” with DHS. However, according to Ms. Samuel, Ms. Haines-Walton “did not express much concern for the status of [her] extension.” Samuel Decl. ¶ 84. Ms. Samuel told Ms. Haines-Walton that she was concerned with the status of her application in light of her conversations with Duane Morris and DHS, but Ms. Haines-Walton “did nothing to address the issue.” Samuel Decl. ¶¶ 84-87.

         In July 2011, DHS granted Ms. Samuel's extension to April 2012. Samuel Decl. ¶¶ 110- 112; see also Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. 5, ECF No. 32-6. In DHS's approval notice, it informed Ms. Samuel that to apply for another extension, MPD would have to submit an application by April 2012. Samuel Decl. ¶ 111. According to Ms. Samuel, Ms. Haines-Walton and Duane Morris received notice, but Ms. Haines-Walton never informed Ms. Samuel of the approval. Samuel Decl. ¶¶ 112-13. In support of her statement, Ms. Samuel points to a copy of the notice, which is addressed to MPD, “c/o Diana Haines.” Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. 4, ECF No. 32-5. Ms. Haines-Walton claims that she did not personally receive this notice. Haines-Walton Dep. at 59.

         Ms. Haines-Walton also did not maintain any kind of public folder containing Ms. Samuel's immigration papers, which Ms. Samuel contends she was required to do under Department of Labor rules. Samuel Decl. ¶¶ 116-17. But MPD claims that Chief Rodney Parks was the official responsible for placing the visa documents in a public file. Haines-Walton Dep. at 59-60. Eventually, Ms. Samuel's visa expired. Samuel Decl. ¶ 108-09; Samuel Dep. at 41. Another employee emailed the DHS's notice and deadline for reapplication to Ms. Samuel in September 2013, over two years after approval and well past the deadline to apply for another extension. Samuel Decl. ¶¶ 110, 114; Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. 4. Ms. Samuel states that she would have applied for another extension had she known about the deadline. Samuel Decl. ¶ 114. But, as noted above, given that H-1B visas are only valid for three years and may be extended for only an additional three years, the latest that Ms. Samuel could have worked using her H-1B visa was September 2012.[2] See Samuel Dep. Ex. C Attach. 6. Nonetheless, she asserts that she would have made other arrangements had she been aware of the deadline. Samuel. Decl. ¶ 114.

         In 2011, Ms. Samuel's request for permanent residency was denied. See Samuel Dep. Ex. C. Duane Morris unsuccessfully appealed that decision. See Samuel Dep. Ex. C. In August 2013-nearly a year beyond the date for which Ms. Samuel could have obtained an extension- when MPD realized that Ms. Samuel's visa had expired and she did not have a legal basis to remain in the United States, the Assistant Chief of Police asked Ms. Samuel to demonstrate that she had a valid work visa. Samuel Decl. ¶ 105; Samuel Dep. at 40-41. On August 30, 2013, Ms. Samuel was placed on administrative leave. Samuel Decl. ¶ 107. In October, an MPD Assistant Chief, at the behest of the Chief of Police, called Ms. Samuel to tell her she was going to be terminated. Samuel Dep. at 43. The employee asked Ms. Samuel to resign and suggested that if she did not, she would never work in law enforcement again and would otherwise experience professional repercussions in the future. Samuel Dep. at 43-45. These repercussions would have been devastating to her career, because it was heavily devoted to criminal justice. See Samuel Decl. ¶ 122. As a result, she resigned her position at MPD on October 4, 2013. Samuel Dep. at 45.

         Up until she was asked to resign, at that point working in a different department from Ms. Haines-Walton, Ms. Samuel had a good working relationship with her supervisor and colleagues. Samuel Dep. at 24, 83. Indeed, Ms. Samuel was “friendly” with the Chief of Police; they “would go to dinner together” and “talk outside of work.” Samuel Dep. at 22. Ms. Samuel even went to the Chief's home over holidays, including for Thanksgiving and Christmas meals with just the Chief and her immediate family. Samuel Dep. at 22. When asked, Ms. Samuel said she “[a]bsolutely” thought the Chief of Police wanted her career to grow at MPD. Samuel Dep. at 23. Ms. Samuel was also friends with her immediate supervisor, with whom she “had a really good working relationship.” Samuel Dep. at 24. She was also friendly with the supervisor that ultimately asked her to resign. Samuel Dep. at 44.

         B. Ms. Haines-Walton's Alleged Animus

         The cause of the friction between Ms. Haines-Walton and Ms. Samuel is somewhat unclear. During Ms. Samuel's deposition, in the context of discussing national origin discrimination, the following exchange occurred:

Q: Why do you think you were discriminated against because of your national origin?
A: I mean, I -- I would be speculating.
[Plaintiff's counsel]: You have to state it.
A: Okay. . . . I think she did not like me. I think that she was threatened [by] my relationship with the Chief of Police. I think she was-and again, this is just based on comments that she made[-]I think she was jealous about the way I looked because she would always make snide comments about the fact [that] I'm very into health. . . . I ultimately think she felt threatened about her job and being usurped eve[n] though I never wanted her job.

         Samuel Dep. at 30-31. Ms. Samuel did not mention her national origin nor any comments made by Ms. Haines-Walton about her Canadian heritage. See Samuel Dep. at 30-31. In the context of discussing Ms. Haines-Walton's failure to follow up with Ms. Samuel about her visa application from 2011 until her termination, the following exchange occurred:

Q: Did Ms. [Haines-]Walton . . . check in [with Homeland Security] on your behalf . . . ?
A: No.
Q: Is there any reason why that is? ...

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