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Vasquez-Mills v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 29, 2017

VIVENNE V. VASQUEZ-MILLS, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          AMY BERMAN JACKSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Vivienne V. Vasquez-Mills served as an Assistant Principal at Bruce Monroe at Park View Elementary School from 2010 to 2013. In this lawsuit, she alleges that her supervisors discriminated against her on the basis of her national origin when they decided not to renew her contract in 2013.

         Defendant, the District of Columbia, has moved for summary judgment. Def. District of Columbia's Mot. for Summ. J. [Dkt. # 21] (“Def.'s Mot.”); Mem. in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. [Dkt. # 21] (“Def.'s Mem.”). It submits that in 2013, the leadership of Bruce Monroe decided that it no longer required the services of a traditional assistant principal, and that it needed an Assistant Principal for Literacy instead to assist the school with its literacy issues. According to defendant, because plaintiff was not qualified for the new position, her contract was not renewed.

         The motion for summary judgment has been fully briefed, and the Court held a hearing on the motion on September 20, 2017. Plaintiff took the position in her pleadings that there was direct evidence of discrimination that precluded the entry of summary judgment in this case. Pl.'s Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of Opp. to Def.'s Mot. [Dkt. # 26] (“Pl.'s Opp.”) at 13-14. But the Court has found that the bulk of that evidence is either inadmissible hearsay or irrelevant to the pending claim of national origin discrimination. The Court further finds that notwithstanding the one statement that remains that would be admissible as the statement of a party opponent, there is no dispute as to any material fact, and defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Plaintiff herself has testified that there was a non-discriminatory reason underlying the decision not to renew her contract, and she has come forward with no admissible evidence that would show bias on the part of the individual she has agreed was behind the decision. Also, if one were to move forward to consider the legitimate, non-discriminatory explanation proffered by the defense, plaintiff has not pointed to facts that would carry her burden to show that reason to be pretextual. Therefore, the Court concludes that plaintiff has failed to produce sufficient evidence that would enable a reasonable juror to find that defendant discriminated against her.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Factual Background

         Plaintiff, who is of Puerto Rican descent, was hired at Bruce Monroe Elementary School as a New Teacher Mentor in 2009. Def.'s Statement of Material Facts Not in Dispute [Dkt. # 21] (“Def.'s SOF”) ¶¶ 4-5; Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s SOF [Dkt. # 26-12] (“Pl.'s SOF”) ¶¶ 4-5. In that role, she spent approximately three days per week at Bruce Monroe where she would observe new teachers and mentor them during their first year of teaching. Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 6-8; Pl.'s SOF ¶¶ 6- 8.

         The administrative staff at Bruce Monroe was sufficiently impressed with plaintiff's work as a New Teacher Mentor that when an assistant principal position became available at the end of the 2009-10 school year, plaintiff was encouraged to apply. Def.'s SOF ¶ 11; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 11. She ultimately received the position, and she was selected by Dr. Marta Palacios, the principal, to serve as an assistant principal beginning during the 2010-11 school year. Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 13, 16; Pl.'s SOF ¶¶ 13, 16.

         Plaintiff was supervised by Dr. Palacios. Def.'s SOF ¶ 14; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 14. The next level supervisor was Dr. Amanda Alexander, the Instructional Superintendent for a group of twelve schools that included Bruce Monroe. Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 17-20; Pl.'s SOF ¶¶ 17-20.

         Dr. Palacios knew - from the time that she met plaintiff - that plaintiff was Puerto Rican, and there is some evidence in the record to suggest that Dr. Alexander did as well. Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 24-27; Pl.'s SOF ¶¶ 24-27.

         At Dr. Alexander's deposition, she testified that she has “always known that [plaintiff] was Puerto Rican.” Dep. of Dr. Amanda Alexander (Dec. 14, 2016) [Dkt. # 21-3] at 13:20-21. But plaintiff disputed defendant's proposed statement of fact to this effect, pointing to her own deposition testimony. Pl.'s SOF ¶ 27, citing Dep. of Vivienne V. Vasquez-Mills (Dec. 6, 2016) [Dkt. # 29] (“Pl.'s Dep.”) at 72:7-22. At the cited portion of her deposition, plaintiff was asked a very general question, and she gave a very general answer: “Q: Now, I presume . . . by the end of the first year as assistant principal, everybody knew you were Puerto Rican . . . would you agree? A: I don't know if everybody. I don't know if everybody knew.” Pl.'s Dep. at 72:7-13. So while she is claiming national origin discrimination, it is not wholly clear from plaintiff's testimony whether it is her contention that Dr. Alexander was one of the people who knew of her national origin.[1]

         Bruce Monroe is unique within the District's public school system. Because the majority of the student body is learning English as a second language, the curriculum is conducted in both English and Spanish. Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 2-3; Pl.'s SOF ¶¶ 2-3. In addition, Bruce Monroe students have long struggled with low literacy scores. Def.'s SOF ¶ 41; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 41.

         Within the D.C. Public School system, principals and assistant principals serve one-year appointments, and they are eligible for reappointment at the end of every school year. Def.'s SOF ¶ 46; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 46. At the end of each academic year, principals and assistant principals are either reappointed, not reappointed but made eligible to pursue other opportunities within the school system, or not reappointed and made ineligible to pursue those other opportunities. Def.'s SOF ¶ 47; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 47.

         Towards the end of the 2012-13 school year, D.C. Public Schools (“DCPS”) created a new position, an Assistant Principal of Literacy (“APL”). Def.'s SOF ¶ 38. A successful APL candidate was required to have demonstrated experience and training in both literacy and administration, and candidates had to meet certain special licensure requirements promulgated by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education. Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 39-40; Pl.'s SOF ¶¶ 39-40.

         Dr. Palacios determined at that time that a transition from a traditional assistant principal to an APL would better serve the needs of Bruce Monroe students because the APL would focus on literacy growth. Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 50-51; Pl.'s SOF ¶¶ 50-51. So she decided - with the approval of Dr. Alexander and the DCPS HR department - to hire an APL instead of a traditional assistant principal for the 2013-14 school year. Def.'s SOF ¶ 52; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 52.

         Because the 2013-14 school year budget had already been submitted, Dr. Palacios had to request a budget change to accommodate the move to an APL position; she submitted the necessary paperwork on April 30, 2013. Def.'s SOF ¶ 53; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 53.

         These are all undisputed facts that go to the existence of a non-discriminatory reason for the decision.

         Also around the end of the 2012-13 school year, Dr. Palacios recommended that plaintiff not be reappointed as the assistant principal of Bruce Monroe for the 2013-14 school year, and plaintiff does not dispute that the decision was initiated by Dr. Palacios. Def.'s SOF ¶ 48; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 48. Dr. Alexander signed off on the recommendation, as did the Chancellor of DCPS, Kaya Henderson. Def.'s SOF ¶ 49; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 49.

         According to plaintiff, she learned of the decision during a meeting with Dr. Palacios. Pl.'s Dep. at 135:7-136:1. Plaintiff testified at her deposition that Dr. Palacios told her that the decision to not renew plaintiff's contract “was not her decision” - “this was all Dr. Alexander . . . [and] you know that Dr. Alexander hates Puerto Ricans.” Id. at 135:16-21. Palacios disputes that the statement was made. Dep. of Marta N. Palacios (Jan. 5, 2017) [Dkt. # 29-1] (“Palacios Dep.”) at 73:3-22; see also Def.'s Mem. at 15 (“Dr. Palacios . . . denies telling [p]laintiff that Dr. Alexander disliked Puerto Ricans.”).

         On May 17, 2013, Dr. Alexander presented plaintiff with the letter that informed her that she would not be reappointed as an assistant principal at Bruce Monroe, but that she could seek other opportunities within the DCPS system. Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 54-56; Pl.'s SOF ¶¶ 54-56. While plaintiff could have applied for the APL position, she chose not to apply because she lacked the specialized literacy training that the position required, so she would not have been considered qualified for the role. Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 60-62; Pl.'s SOF ¶¶ 60-62. On July 19, 2013, Dr. Palacios selected Althea Bustillo as the new Assistant Principal for Literacy. Def.'s SOF ¶ 58; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 58; Ex. 12 to Def.'s Mot. [Dkt. # 21-4].

         II. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed this three-count lawsuit on May 7, 2015. Compl. [Dkt. # 1]. She alleged in Count I that DCPS engaged in age discrimination when it failed to re-hire her in 2013. Id. ¶¶ 45- 51. In Count II, she alleged that the failure to renew her contract was discriminatory because both Dr. Alexander and Dr. Palacios were biased against Puerto Ricans. Id. ¶¶ 53-60. And in Count III, she alleged that the District of Columbia interfered with her prospective economic advantage by not re-hiring her to other assistant principal positions. Id. ¶¶ 62-72.

         On October 29, 2015, the Court granted defendant's motion to dismiss Counts I and III. Min. Entry (Oct. 29, 2015). The parties then engaged in a period of discovery. Defendant's motion for summary judgment was filed on February 17, 2017. Def.'s Mot.; Def.'s Mem. Plaintiff sought and received three extensions of the due date for her opposition, and when it was filed on April 17, 2017, it did not comport with Local Civil Rule 7(h)(1) or the Court's Scheduling Order. See Min. Order (Apr. 18, 2017). However, the Court granted plaintiff another opportunity to supply a conforming statement of facts, and a revised opposition was docketed on April 26, 2017. Pl.'s Opp. Defendant filed its reply on May 15, 2017. Reply to Pl.'s Opp. [Dkt. # 28] (“Def.'s Reply”). The Court held a hearing on September 20, 2017. Min. Entry (Sept. 20, 2017).

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is appropriate “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). The party seeking summary judgment “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, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted). To defeat summary judgment, the non-moving party must “designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         The mere existence of a factual dispute is insufficient to preclude summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). A dispute is “genuine” only if a reasonable fact-finder could find for the non-moving party; a fact is “material” only if it is capable of affecting the outcome of the litigation. Id. at 248; Laningham v. U.S. Navy, 813 F.2d 1236, 1241 (D.C. Cir. 1987). In assessing a party's motion, the court must “view the facts and draw reasonable inferences ‘in the light most favorable to the party opposing the summary judgment motion.'” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007) (alterations omitted), quoting United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962) (per curiam).

         THE LEGAL FRAMEWORK FOR ANALYZING A ...


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