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Massaquoi v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

January 3, 2018




         The plaintiff, Nathaniel Massaquoi, brings this civil action against the defendant, the District of Columbia (the “District”), his former employer, asserting claims of hostile work environment and discrimination on the basis of national origin, religion, and gender in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to e-17 (2012) (“Title VII”), disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12213 (2012), and retaliation in violation of both statutes. See Amended Complaint (“Am. Compl.”) ¶¶ 1-2. Currently before the Court is the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (“Def.'s Mot.”), which seeks summary judgment on the plaintiff's Title VII retaliation claim, see Def.'s Mot. at 1, which is the only claim that survived the District's motion to dismiss.[1] Upon careful consideration of the parties' submissions, [2] the Court concludes that it must grant in part and deny in part the District's motion.


         Although much of the factual background of this case has been previously set forth by the Court, see Massaquoi v. District of Columbia, 81 F.Supp.3d 44, 47-48 (D.D.C. 2015) (Walton, J.), the Court finds that reiteration of the following facts as alleged by the plaintiff, and not disputed by the District, is necessary for the resolution of the pending motion.

         On October 1, 2007, the District hired the plaintiff to work at the Child Support Services Division of the District's Office of the Attorney General (the “Division”) as a Community Outreach Specialist. See Pl.'s Facts ¶ 1; see also Def.'s Facts ¶ 1. The plaintiff's primary duties included “communicating with stakeholders[, ] such [as] inmates, [ ] returning citizens [from incarceration] or members of the community, clergy, families[, ] and even judges.” Pl.'s Facts ¶ 2; see also Def.'s Facts ¶¶ 2-3. The plaintiff also performed a number of other responsibilities and participated in various other initiatives and programs. See Pl.'s Facts ¶ 2.

         From February 2012 through April 2012, the plaintiff reported to Nicole Reece. Def.'s Facts. ¶ 4; see also Pl.'s Facts ¶ 3. “On February 24, 2012, [the p]laintiff [informally] complained to [ ] Reese that [Angelisa] Young was subjecting him to disparate treatment.” Pl.'s Facts ¶ 6. At that time, Ms. Young was also a Community Outreach Specialist; she was later promoted to be the plaintiff's supervisor in April 2012. Id. ¶ 3. In March 2012, the plaintiff's workstation was relocated. See id. ¶ 7; see also Def.'s Facts ¶ 11. And, between April 2012 and July 2012, the plaintiff received “letters of admonition, [was] exclud[ed] [ ] from meetings, and [was] den[ied] . . . participat[ion] in essential [Division] training.” Pl.'s Facts ¶ 8; see also Def.'s Facts ¶¶ 14-18.

         “In August 2012, [the p]laintiff's physician ordered [him] to take a medical leave of absence due to his deteriorating health condition . . . .” Pl.'s Facts ¶ 11. Then, “[the p]laintiff filed an internal retaliation complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (‘EEOC') at [the Office of the Attorney General].” Id.; see also Def.'s Facts ¶ 25. “After filing the EEOC [c]omplaint, [the p]laintiff remained on unpaid medical leave of absence . . . until October 31, 2012, when he returned to work . . . .” Pl.'s Facts ¶ 11. In November 2012, Young informed the plaintiff that he could no longer perform certain duties and denied the plaintiff certain training opportunities. See Pl.'s Facts ¶ 12. On January 4, 2013, the plaintiff was placed on paid administrative leave until the expiration of his contract of employment in March 2013, see Pl.'s Facts ¶ 12; see also Def.'s Facts ¶ 24, which the District elected not to renew, see Def.'s Facts ¶ 23; see also Pl.'s Facts ¶¶ 13-14.

         Based on the employment actions taken by the District, the plaintiff commenced this litigation alleging that the District unlawfully retaliated against him for engaging in protected activity. See generally Am. Compl. The District now moves for summary judgment, arguing that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law because the challenged employment actions were taken for legitimate, non-retaliatory reasons. See Def.'s Mot. at 2.


         Courts will grant a motion for summary judgment under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure “if the movant shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Holcomb v. Powell, 433 F.3d 899, 895 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (citing Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000)). The Court must therefore draw “all justifiable inferences” in the non-moving party's favor and accept the non-moving party's evidence as true. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).

         In responding to a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Accordingly, the non-moving party must not rely on “mere allegations or denials . . . but . . . must set forth specific facts showing that there [are] [ ] genuine issue[s] for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248 (second omission in original) (internal quotation marks omitted). “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-moving party's] position [is] insufficient” to withstand a motion for summary judgment, as “there must be [some] evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-moving party].” Id. at 252.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Title VII protects government employees from retaliation on the basis of having “opposed any practice made an unlawful employment practice by [Title VII], or . . . [having] made a charge . . . under [Title VII].” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). “Where, as here, a plaintiff offers only circumstantial evidence of retaliation, h[is] claim is governed by the burden-shifting framework of McDonnell Douglas Corp v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-[]08 (1973).” Solomon v. Vilsack, 763 F.3d 1, 14 (D.C. Cir. 2014); see also Jones v. Bernanke, 557 F.3d 670, 677 (D.C. Cir. 2009). “Under that framework, a plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case of retaliation by showing (1) that he engaged in statutorily protected activity; (2) that he suffered a materially adverse action by his employer; and (3) that a causal link connects the two.” Jones, 557 F.3d at 677 (citing Wiley v. Glassman, 511 F.3d 151, 155 (D.C. Cir. 2007)). If the plaintiff satisfies this burden, “the burden of production shifts to the employer to produce a ‘legitimate, [non-retaliatory] reason' for its action.” Solomon, 763 F.3d at 14 (quoting Wiley, 511 F.3d at 155). If the employer provides such a reason, the plaintiff must then counter with “sufficient evidence to ‘create[] a genuine dispute on the ultimate issue of retaliation either directly by [showing] that a [retaliatory] reason more likely motivated the employer or indirectly by showing that the employer's proffered explanation is unworthy of credence.'” Id. (first and second alterations in original) (quoting Pardo-Kronemann v. Donovan, 601 F.3d 599, 604 (D.C. Cir. 2010)).

         However, once the employer “has asserted a legitimate, non-[retaliatory] reason” for the adverse employment actions in the context of a summary judgment motion, “the district court need not-and should not-decide whether the plaintiff actually made out a prima facie case under McDonnell Douglas.” Brady v. Office of Sergeant at Arms, 520 F.3d 490, 494 (D.C. Cir. 2008); see also Jones v. Bernanke, 557 F.3d 670, 678 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (explaining that Brady's instruction that the district court should not examine whether a plaintiff made out a prima facie case where an employer has asserted a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason “appl[ies] equally to retaliation claims”). Rather, the court must evaluate only whether “the employee produced sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find that the employer's asserted non-[retaliatory] reason was not the actual reason [for the adverse employment actions] and that the employer intentionally [retaliated] against the employee.” Evans v. Sebelius, 716 F.3d 617, 620 (D.C. Cir. 2013) (quoting Brady, 520 F.3d at 494). In making this determination, the court considers “all the evidence, which includes not only the prima facie case but also the evidence the plaintiff offers to attack the employer's proffered explanation for its action and other evidence of retaliation.” Jones, 557 F.3d at 677 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted); see also Id. at 679 (“[T]he court reviews each of the three relevant categories of evidence-prima facie, pretext, and any other-to determine whether they ‘either separately or in combination' provide sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to infer retaliation.” (quoting Waterhouse v. District of Columbia, 298 F.3d 989, 996 (D.C. Cir. 2002))).

         Here, the plaintiff asserts that, because he engaged in protected activity for the purpose of opposing discrimination, the District retaliated against him by: (1) relocating his cubicle to a less desirable location notwithstanding his medical condition, Pl.'s Facts ¶ 7; (2) excluding him from meetings and denying his request to participation in certain Division trainings, see id. ¶¶ 8, 10; (3) taking corrective action against him while he had a pending Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) request and “yell[ing] at [him] for purportedly sending too many work related [ ] emails, ” id. ¶ 9; (4) denying his reasonable accommodation requests “for a flexible start time, telecommuting as necessary[, ] and a flexible outreach schedule, ” id. ¶ 4; (5) denying his request “to convert his employment status from term employment . . . to [f]ull-time [e]mployment, ” id.; (6) issuing him an admonishing letter on August 1, 2012, regarding his work performance, see id. ¶ 13; see also Pl.'s Opp'n at 14; (7) “strip[ing]” him of credentials and essential job-related duties, see Pl.'s Facts ¶ 12; and (8) placing him on paid administrative leave until the expiration of his contract and deciding not to renew his employment, see id. ¶ 12.[3] In response, the District argues that these actions cannot be considered retaliatory because none of the plaintiff's supervisors were aware of the plaintiff's protected activities. See Def.'s Mem. at 9-10, 14. Additionally, the District asserts that it had various legitimate, non-retaliatory reasons for each of these allegedly adverse employment actions. See id. at 11-15. Therefore, the Court need only determine whether the plaintiff produced sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that the reasons offered by the District for its actions are pretext for what was actually unlawful retaliation, see Brady, 520 F.3d at 494; see also Jones, 557 F.3d at 678. The Court must therefore now address the plaintiff's proffer of circumstantial evidence (1) that his supervisors retaliated against him because they were aware of his engagement in protected activity and (2) that the District's asserted legitimate, non-retaliatory reasons for each of the alleged adverse employment actions are pretextual.

         A. The Supervisors' Knowledge of the Plaintiff's Protected Activity

         The District contends that “no decision-maker had any knowledge of the [plaintiff's] informal complaint when they took the actions that [the p]laintiff contends were retaliatory.” Def.'s Mem. at 9.[4] Specifically, the District states:

As of April 2012, [the p]laintiff's supervisors were Young and [Joseph] Allen[, the Division's Deputy and Assistant Director]. Allen, the primary decision maker, did not learn about any protected activity by [the p]laintiff until December 26, 2012, when he received an e-mail . . . about the [plaintiff's] August 2012 formal EEO[C] complaint. And Young first learned that [the ...

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