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Richardson v. District of Columbia Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 22, 2017

CHARLOTTE M. RICHARDSON, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA DEPARTMENT OF YOUTH REHABILITATION SERVICES, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          TANYA S. CHUTKAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Charlotte M. Richardson brings this action against the District of Columbia Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (“DYRS”) alleging sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2 (2000); age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 623(a); retaliation and hostile work environment in violation of both Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3 (2000), and the ADEA, 29 U.S.C. § 623(d); and violation of the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2601. DYRS has filed a motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 22) and, for the reasons set forth below, the court will GRANT the motion.

         A. BACKGROUND

         Richardson, who was over forty years old at the time of the relevant events, began her employment with DYRS as a Correctional Institutional Administrator with Detained Services in 2004. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 2, 11, 14; Defs. Ex. A). Richardson claims she was targeted for multiple transfers to various positions, including positions that “did not exist” or were slated for elimination because of her gender, age and prior protected EEO activity. (Am. Compl. ¶ 11). Prior to the incidents at issue here, Richardson apparently filed an EEO charge against DYRS challenging age and sex-based disparate treatment. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 8-10). Subsequently, the transfers intensified, along with alleged retaliation and hostile treatment. (Am. Compl. ¶ 13). When she complained about the transfers, her supervisor informed her that the Deputy Director had expressed concerns about Plaintiff's previous EEO complaint against the agency. (Id.) On various other occasions she complained about the transfers, but DYRS allegedly ignored her telephone calls and e-mail messages. (Id.)

         Although the facts and timing are unclear, it appears that sometime around September 2013 DYRS transferred Richardson to an unspecified position and replaced her with Bruce Wright, even though he did not possess a Social Worker's license, which Richardson alleges was a requirement for the position. (Am. Compl. ¶ 12). Richardson alleges the transfer was motivated by gender bias and retaliation. (Id.) Although she claims she had no performance issues, DYRS terminated her the following year. (Am. Compl. ¶ 14). It appears she later sought re-employment with DYRS in either the same position or a different position, but the agency refused to rehire her, claiming she was unqualified for the position(s) sought. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 16, 17). Instead DYRS hired Steve Baynes, even though Richardson contends she was more qualified. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 16, 17).

         Finally, Richardson asserts that she applied for Family Medical Leave, but the agency denied her request. (Am. Compl. ¶ 15).

         DYRS seeks summary judgment on all of Richardson's claims. (ECF No. 22).

         B. LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 is appropriate where there is no genuine issue of material fact, and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). “A fact is ‘material' if a dispute over it might affect the outcome of a suit under governing law.” Holcomb v. Powell, 433 F.3d 889, 895 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (internal citation omitted). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the court must view all facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). The moving party bears the “initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits . . . which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         In employment discrimination cases, “the operative question . . . is whether ‘the employee produced sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find that the employer intentionally discriminated against the employee on the basis of [protected status].'” Ayissi-Etoh v. Fannie Mae, 712 F.3d 572, 576 (D.C. Cir. 2013) (citation and original alterations omitted). “[W]hen the plaintiff offers direct evidence of discriminatory intent, that evidence will ‘generally entitle a plaintiff to a jury trial.'” Id. (citation omitted). In the absence of direct evidence, however, discrimination cases are governed by the burden-shifting framework laid out in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). Under this framework, the plaintiff must first establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, a prima facie case of discrimination. See McDonnell Douglas Corp., 411 U.S. at 802. Once the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the defendant must produce evidence that the challenged employment actions were taken for a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason. See Aka v. Washington Hosp. Ctr., 156 F.3d 1284, 1288 (D.C. Cir. 1998). If the defendant can do so, “the presumption . . . raised by the prima facie case is rebutted and drops from the case.” Id. at 1289 (quoting St. Mary's Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 507 (1993)) (internal quotation marks omitted). At this juncture, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to show that a reasonable jury could infer that the proffered legitimate reason was false and that the defendant acted with discriminatory or retaliatory intent. Id. In order to meet this burden, the plaintiff must “go beyond the pleadings and by her own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Celotex Corp., 477 U.S at 324 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         C. ANALYSIS

         1. Disparate Treatment and Retaliation Claims

         With regard to Richardson's termination claim, DYRS asserts that the agency was required to comply with certain budgetary directives and, in so doing, eliminated her position in a reduction-in-force (RIF), along with twenty-five others identified as duplicative. (See ECF No. 22-2, Defs. Exs. B, C, D, E; ECF No. 22-1, Defs. Statement of Facts ¶¶ 2-5) (hereinafter “Defs. SOF”). With respect to Richardson's reassignment/transfer claims, DYRS argues that the claims are not actionable because Richardson suffered no adverse employment action and she cannot show DYRS treated her less favorably than those outside of her protected class.

         Richardson responds that there are material facts in dispute as to the “real purpose and extent of” the various transfers and the termination. (Pls. Resp. pp. 1, 3; Am. Compl. ¶ 7). She claims that DYRS Director Neil Stanley reassigned her to lower positions three times between September 2011 and October 2013, in an effort to make her more susceptible to the RIF, (Pls. Resp. pp. 18, 21-22; see id. p. 13), and “many” of those designated for the RIF were over forty. (See Pls. Resp. p. 1; see Am. Compl. ΒΆ 7). Richardson further alleges that, as a consequence of one reassignment, she reported to a supervisor who held the same grade as she did, and she complains that one of the reassignments involved placing her in a cubicle, without a door, ...


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