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Robinson v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 1, 2017

MARK E. ROBINSON, Plaintiff,
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant. Re Document No. 19


          RUDOLPH CONTRERAS United States District Judge.


         The District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department uses high-tech cameras to catch traffic offenders without the need for real-time observation by police officers. To organize the photographs, analyze evidence of violations, and issue citations, the police department created the Automated Traffic Enforcement Unit (“ATEU”). Plaintiff Mark Robinson, a Sergeant with the Metropolitan Police Department who has devoted his career to traffic safety, worked in the ATEU full-time starting in 2008. In 2011, he began training and certifying sworn officers to work as part of the ATEU Overtime Program, which allowed police officers to supplement their normal workload with traffic-safety work in the ATEU. Mr. Robinson himself logged considerable time in the ATEU-in many years exceeding 1, 500 hours of overtime. Then, in December 2011, Mr. Robinson was transferred out of the ATEU as part of a civilianization of the Unit. Although MPD asserts that no sworn officers worked in the ATEU full-time after 2011, the Overtime Program continued, meaning hundreds of officers were able to work there outside of their normal assignments. Mr. Robinson's requests to work overtime, however, were denied. He believes he was transferred out of the ATEU and denied overtime opportunities because of his race, and thus sues for discrimination. He also believes that his requests for reassignment to the ATEU and overtime were continuously denied because he previously had complained of discrimination, and thus sues for retaliation.

         The District of Columbia moves to dismiss on relatively narrow grounds. It argues that neither the reassignment from the ATEU nor the denial of overtime opportunities constituted sufficiently adverse employment actions to support a lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It also argues that it had a nondiscriminatory reason for transferring Mr. Robinson-it civilianized the unit, and thus no sworn officer worked in the ATEU on a full-time basis after the transition in 2011.

         The civilianization of the ATEU is indeed a valid nondiscriminatory reason for Mr. Robinson's transfer, and Mr. Robinson has not shown any indication that it was not the actual reason that he was transferred. Thus, the Court will grant Defendant summary judgment with respect to Plaintiff's claim that his transfer from the ATEU was discriminatory and retaliatory. But because Mr. Robinson has shown that he sought out and was denied a significant amount of overtime while other sworn officers were allowed to work in the ATEU Overtime Program, he has shown that he suffered an adverse employment action in the form of loss of significant overtime opportunities. As a result, the Court will deny Defendant's motion for summary judgment insofar as it relates to the alleged loss of overtime.


         A. The Automated Traffic Enforcement Unit

         Mr. Robinson is a police officer whose career has been devoted to traffic safety. Aff. of Mark E. Robinson (“Robinson Decl.”) ¶ 4, ECF No. 24-1. He has worked for the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department (“MPD”) since 1990.[1] Robinson Decl. ¶ 3. Prior to working for MPD, he worked for the Fairfax County Police Department, where he was certified in the use of radar to detect speeding. Robinson Decl. ¶¶ 1-2. Shortly after starting with MPD, Mr. Robinson was certified in the use of Traffic Doppler Radar, and then two years later, became certified as an instructor in the use of radar devices to detect speed. Robinson Decl. ¶¶ 5-6. In 2004, after having been certified as an instructor for “Lidar”-another speed-detecting device- Mr. Robinson was certified to operate photographic speed measuring equipment. Robinson Decl. ¶¶ 9-10. In 2008, Mr. Robinson was permanently assigned, on a full-time basis, to the ATEU, the unit that administers automated traffic tickets based on photographic evidence. Robinson Decl. ¶¶ 10, 12-13. In that role, Mr. Robinson worked with other officers to draft MPD regulations pertaining to automated traffic enforcement, instructed classes, and supervised ATEU employees. Robinson Decl. ¶¶ 12-15. For over ten years, he also co-taught classes on traffic enforcement for other MPD officers. Robinson Decl. ¶ 14.

         Mr. Robinson, along with other certified ATEU operators, logged significant overtime in the ATEU. Robinson Decl. ¶ 15. Shortly after Mr. Robinson began working in the ATEU, MPD solicited officer volunteers to work overtime in the Unit. Robinson Decl. ¶ 15. Over 855 MPD members volunteered, of which 213 were selected through a lottery system. Robinson Decl. ¶ 15. Because Mr. Robinson was one of the two officers who trained the volunteers to be ATEU-certified and was already working in the ATEU, he claims that he was not required to participate in the lottery system. Robinson Decl. ¶¶ 15-16.

         According to Defendant's affiant-who is also Plaintiff's supervisor-Lisa Sutter, ATEU was civilianized in 2011, after which no sworn officers were employed on a full-duty basis. Aff. of Elisabeth Sutter (“Sutter Decl.”) ¶¶ 2-3, ECF No. 19-3. Mr. Robinson states that Ms. Sutter's account of the ATEU civilianization is “a misrepresentation, ” noting that several officers received overtime from the ATEU from 2011 to 2016. Robinson Decl. ¶ 31. Importantly, Ms. Sutter only stated that no sworn officers were employed within the ATEU on a full-time, permanent basis; in fact, she specifically stated that, “[f]ollowing the civilianization of the ATEU, some sworn officers were detailed to the ATEU on a less-than-full-duty temporary basis.”[2] Sutter Decl. ¶¶ 3-4; see also Aff. of Lamont Hinton (“Hinton Decl.”) ¶¶ 3-4, ECF No. 27-1. Regardless, both sides agree that, by 2014, MPD employed civilian technicians to operate automated traffic devices. Sutter Decl. ¶¶ 3-4; Robinson Decl. ¶ 17. Notably, no witness has stated that the ATEU continued employing officers on a full-time basis after 2011. See Robinson Decl. ¶ 17 (quoting MPD regulations as stating that the ATEU program uses “‘sworn MPD members' who ‘receive compensation . . . outside of their regular assigned duties and responsibilities'” (ellipses in original)).

         B. The Transfer of Mr. Robinson

         In 2011, following the start of MPD's civilianization of the ATEU, MPD reassigned Mr. Robinson to MPD's Special Events Branch. See Robinson Decl. ¶ 18; Sutter Decl. ¶¶ 2-3. Mr. Robinson's supervisors-Ms. Sutter and Commander Sund-told him that he was transferred as part of the civilianization process. Robinson Decl. ¶ 18. Mr. Robinson believes that he was transferred out and repeatedly denied reassignment back because of his race. Robinson Decl. ¶¶ 34-35.

         Mr. Robinson was also denied overtime work in the ATEU. Although he did not participate in the lottery described above, he was a certified operator and instructor, and thus, according to him, qualified to work in the ATEU Overtime Program. Robinson Decl. ¶ 18. He requested overtime work starting on February 8, 2014 until the program ended on May 16, 2015, but his requests were denied each time by Ms. Sutter and Commander Sund. Robinson Decl. ¶ 18; Sutter Decl. ¶ 6; see also Dep. of Mark E. Robinson (“Robinson Dep.”) at 31, ECF No. 19-1. His supervisors' stated reason for denying his request was that he did not meet the requirements for participation in the program, including the requirement to deploy radar car within the last six months. Robinson Dep. at 20-21. At one point, MPD also suggested that he was denied overtime opportunities because he did not participate in the 2010 lottery. Robinson Decl. ¶ 23. Mr. Robinson does not contend that he completed the usual prerequisites, instead arguing that they were only required for newly trained employees. Robinson Dep. at 21. Despite his claim that he was denied overtime in the ATEU, he did earn over 525 hours of overtime elsewhere in MPD from February 8, 2014 through May 16, 2016. Aff. of Priya Mathews (“Mathews Decl.”) ¶ 6, ECF No. 19-2. In comparison, the average number of overtime hours received by officers participating in the ATEU Overtime Program was 468 during that same period. Mathews Decl. ¶ 4. Mr. Robinson states that, had he been allowed to work overtime in the ATEU, he would have worked many more hours than the 525 hours he already worked, citing his history of working 1, 500 to 2, 000 hours of overtime per year. Robinson Decl. ¶¶ 29-30.

         In support of his contention that he was transferred out of ATEU and denied overtime opportunities because of his race, Mr. Robinson points to situations where he believes less-qualified white employees were given opportunities ahead of him in the ATEU. According to Mr. Robinson, Terry Thorne-who is white-was selected to teach a photo radar class in the ATEU over Mr. Robinson in 2014, despite the fact that Mr. Thorne was less qualified. Robinson Decl. ¶ 26. In fact, all of Mr. Thorne's trainees were ultimately denied certification “because a problem was identified with respect to [Mr.] Thorne's qualifications.” Robinson Decl. ¶ 26. Mr. Robinson also stated that Keith Blakely, who is white, was allowed to work in the ATEU Overtime Program despite not having participated in the lottery or used ATEU equipment in many years. Robinson Decl. ¶ 25. According to Mr. Robinson, Mr. Blakely was in the exact same situation he was with respect to the purported prerequisites to earning overtime, but Mr. Blakely did not have as much experience with the latest speed-detection equipment. Robinson Decl. ¶ 25. More broadly, Mr. Robinson contends that he is “more qualified to work in the ATEU overtime program than all of the white sworn members who earned ...

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