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Younger v. District of Columbia Public Schools

United States District Court, District of Columbia

July 21, 2017




         Plaintiff Camilla Younger was employed by the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) as an art teacher and attendance officer for over eighteen years. In 2010, she was discharged after she allegedly failed to disclose that she continued to hold a part-time, evening, teaching position at Roosevelt Senior Alternative High School (Roosevelt STAY) while on medical leave from her full-time teaching position at Woodson Ninth Grade Academy at Ron Brown Middle School. After the Court granted, in part, Defendants' motion to dismiss, see Memorandum Opinion [Dkt. 33], only Ms. Younger's claims of age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 19 U.S.C. §§ 621 et seq. (2012) (ADEA) and retaliation under the District of Columbia Whistleblower Protection Act, D.C. Code § 1-615.53 (2012) (DCWPA) remain. DCPS now moves for summary judgment on the remaining claims, arguing that the undisputed facts show that Ms. Younger's termination and the denial of her request to transfer to a new school were not a result of age discrimination or retaliation. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant summary judgment to DCPS on Ms. Younger's retaliation claims and on her claim that Principal Darrin Slade discriminated against her when he terminated her, but will deny summary judgment on Ms. Younger's claim of age discrimination when Principal Williams-Minor denied, or withdrew, an offer to transfer Ms. Younger to a new school.

         I. FACTS

         Ms. Younger served DCPS as a dual-certified art teacher and attendance officer from 1992 to 2010. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Art Education and a Master's degree in Administration and Supervision. Am. Compl. [Dkt. 2] ¶ 20. Prior to the 2008-2009 school year, Ms. Younger taught full-time at the Woodson Senior High School (WSHS). Id. ¶ 34. Starting in 2007, Ms. Younger was also a part-time evening art teacher at Roosevelt STAY. Ex. 1, Mot. for SJ, Deposition of Camilla Younger [Dkt. 58-1] at 93:8-11 (Younger Dep.). After the 2007-2008 school year, WSHS was closed and the students were transferred to temporary locations. Am. Compl. ¶ 34. Ms. Younger asked to be transferred to the temporary high school location, but was instead moved to Woodson Ninth Grade Academy, located inside Ron Brown Middle School. Id.

         Ms. Younger's experience at Woodson Ninth Grade Academy was not ideal. Ms. Younger alleges that the combined Ron Brown/Woodson school was “unsafe, overcrowded, hostile, unbearable[, ] . . . school violence increase[d] daily (kids fighting daily, violence against teachers, destruction of property, fires . . .), ” and that she did not receive the institutional support necessary to teach students effectively. Id. ¶ 37. Ms. Younger describes multiple instances of physical altercations with students during the 2008-2009 school year, see id. ¶¶ 39-40, and states that she submitted incident reports to DCPS regarding these events. Id. ¶ 40. Although she reported the incidents to her supervisors, the solutions were not satisfactory, in that offending students were merely removed from her classroom for a few days. Id. ¶¶ 39-40.

         At the end of the 2008-2009 school year, when DCPS teachers could apply to transfer to new schools, Ms. Younger applied and was accepted for a position at another school. Id. ¶ 41. However, Darrin Slade, Principal of Woodson Ninth Grade Academy, convinced Ms. Younger to return to Woodson Ninth Grade Academy and assured her that he would authorize an immediate transfer if her working conditions did not improve. Id.

         Ms. Younger states that her working conditions worsened in the next school year. On September 1, 2009, she was “physically assaulted and injured by special education high school students with varied learning disabilities and emotional problems [who] . . . [ran] over [her] at the door, [and knocked] [her] to the floor, ” causing injuries that required her to take medical leave. Id. ¶ 42; see also Ex. 2, Mot. for SJ [Dkt. 58-1] (Sept. 1, 2009 Report of Injury). In a memorandum dated September 30, 2009, Ms. Younger was informed of “Classroom Management Concerns” raised by Principal Slade, including failing to keep students occupied and engaged during the class period and failing to “maintain appropriate disciplinary data.” Ex. 3, Mot. for SJ [Dkt. 58-1] at 1 (Sept. 30, 2009 Slade Memo). Ms. Younger states that she asked Principal Slade for an immediate transfer and applied for workers' compensation following the September 1, 2009 altercation with the hope of receiving a reasonable accommodation that would allow her to continue working at Woodson Ninth Grade Academy. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 43-44. In early October 2009, Ms. Younger stopped reporting for work at Woodson Ninth Grade Academy, see Ex. 4, Mot. for SJ [Dkt. 58-1] at 1 (DCPS Response to Request for Information); Younger Dep. 262:15-263:4, but she continued to teach at Roosevelt STAY during the evening. See DCPS Response to Request for Information at 2. Ms. Younger did not return to the Woodson Ninth Grade Academy for the remainder of the 2009-2010 school year.

         During the summer of 2010, Ms. Younger interviewed with several DCPS principals for a new position. Among those with whom she talked was Tanisia Williams-Minor, Principal at the Youth Engagement Academy. Am. Compl. ¶ 45. Ms. Younger alleges that after her interview with Principal Williams-Minor, [1] she was offered a part-time position as art teacher at the Youth Engagement Academy and was introduced to the Assistant Principal as Principal Williams-Minor's “new art teacher.” Id. Ms. Younger further alleges that she and Principal Williams-Minor met on multiple occasions to discuss the position and at the last of these meetings Principal Williams-Minor asked for the spelling of Ms. Younger's name, her address, and her date of birth to complete various personnel forms. Id. Ms. Younger alleges that “[w]hen [she] gave [Principal Williams-Minor] [her] date of birth she was noticeably shocked, breathless (she place[d] her hand over her heart) and was speechless, and gasping for breath. Her facial expression and [demeanor] change[d].” Id.

         DCPS disagrees, arguing that Ms. Younger was never offered the position at the Youth Engagement Academy, see DCPS Response to Request for Information, because Principal Williams-Minor and the principal from Jefferson Middle School decided to share a single fulltime art teacher and Ms. Younger was seeking a part-time position. See Am. Compl. ¶ 57. Ms. Younger admits that the teacher hired for the position was full-time to serve both schools, but alleges that Principal Williams-Minor chose to withdraw her offer of a transfer because of Ms. Younger's age. See id. DCPS concedes that the teacher hired to fill the position was 23 years old (Ms. Younger was 63), but insists that Principal Williams-Minor's decision was based on the fact that the Principal had previously worked with the young art teacher. See DCPS Response to Request for Information. Because Principal Williams-Minor withdrew, or did not offer, the position to Ms. Younger and it was too late to apply to transfer elsewhere, Ms. Younger was unable to transfer to a new school before the 2010-2011 school year. See id.

         Principal Slade learned in August 2010 that Ms. Younger had continued to teach at Roosevelt STAY during the period she claimed she was unable to return to Woodson Ninth Grade Academy. On August 16, 2010, Principal Slade notified Ms. Younger that she would be terminated effective August 27, 2010. See Mot. for SJ, Ex. 6 [Dkt. 58-1] (Notice of Termination).

         After exhausting her administrative remedies, and acting pro se, Ms. Younger filed a Complaint on August 27, 2013, see Compl. [Dkt. 1], and an Amended Complaint shortly thereafter, see Am. Compl. [Dkt. 2]. On July 25, 2014, the Court granted in part and denied in part Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, dismissing all claims except Count 1, alleging that DCPS discriminated against Ms. Younger due to her age when Principal Williams-Minor withdrew or refused to grant her a transfer and when Principal Slade discharged her; and Count 5, alleging that DCPS retaliated against Ms. Younger for pursuing her workers' compensation claim. See Memorandum Opinion [Dkt. 33]; Order [Dkt. 34]. DCPS filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on the remaining claims on May 19, 2016. See Mot. for SJ [Dkt. 58]. Ms. Younger, through counsel, opposed, see Opp'n [Dkt. 62], and DCPS replied. See Reply [Dkt. 65]. The motion is ripe for review.


         A. Motion for Summary Judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56

         Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment shall be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); accord Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986). Moreover, summary judgment is properly granted against a party who “after adequate time for discovery and upon motion . . . fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must draw all justifiable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor and accept the nonmoving party's evidence as true. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. A nonmoving party, however, must establish more than “the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence” in support of its position. Id. at 252. In addition, the nonmoving party may not rely solely on allegations or conclusory statements. Greene v. Dalton, 164 F.3d 671, 675 (D.C. Cir. 1999). Rather, the nonmoving party must present specific facts that would enable a reasonable jury to find in its favor. Id. If the evidence “is merely colorable, or is not ...

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