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Mitchell v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 30, 2018



          CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Vikki Mitchell was terminated after serving 12 years as a detention officer with the District of Columbia Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (“DYRS”). In this case, Mitchell brings two distinct sets of employment discrimination claims against the District of Columbia arising from her tenure with DYRS. One relates to sexual harassment she allegedly experienced at the hands of a supervisor at the agency's Oak Hill youth detention facility in 2007, while the other challenges her termination by DYRS in 2014. The Court previously dismissed one of Mitchell's state-law claims due to failure to exhaust administrative remedies, and she has conceded that the other was untimely. The District now moves for summary judgment on all of her remaining federal claims, which are brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) and the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (“FMLA”). As explained further below, the Court will deny the District's motion with respect to the claims arising from Mitchell's alleged sexual harassment and the FMLA claim arising from her termination, but will grant summary judgment for the District on Mitchell's Title VII termination-based claim.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         The D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services operates a network of secure juvenile detention and treatment facilities in the Washington, D.C. area. Vikki Mitchell began working for DYRS in 2002 as a Youth Development Representative (a euphemistic detention officer) at the Oak Hill Youth Center, which was closed in 2009. She later worked at DYRS's Youth Services Center.

         As noted above, this drama proceeds in two acts. The first centers on Ms. Mitchell's treatment by a former Oak Hill shift commander named Jerome Parkinson in 2007 and the ensuing retaliation she claims she suffered as a result of reporting his misbehavior. The second involves her termination from DYRS in 2014, which the agency attributed to a string of violations of the agency's time and attendance policies, but which Mitchell maintains was engineered to retaliate against her for taking too much time off work, including approved family medical leave to care for a relative. The facts relevant to each episode follow.

         1. Harassment and Retaliation: 2007-2008

         On August 9, 2007, Mitchell lodged a written complaint with DYRS's Deputy Director, David Brown. Pl.'s Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. Ex. C. In it, Mitchell stated that since July 12, 2007 her shift commander Jerome Parkinson had been repeatedly touching her, including her breasts, badgering her to accompany him on vacation, and summoning her to his office alone on a daily basis. Id. Mitchell further indicated that on July 29, 2007 she reported Parkinson's inappropriate touching to Oak Hill's Deputy Superintendent David Thomas, who failed to intercede. Id. Upon receipt of Mitchell's written complaint, Deputy Director Brown granted her request for a transfer to DYRS's Youth Services Center and commenced an internal investigation of Parkinson's conduct. Id. Exs. A, D.

         On August 15, 2007, about a week after Mitchell was transferred from Oak Hill, a “barring notice” addressed to all staff from Oak Hill's Superintendent, Dextar Dunbar, was posted at the main entrance to the facility. Pl.'s Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. Ex. E. The notice stated in bold print: “please do not allow Ms. VICKI MITCHELL” on the premises. Id. Ex. E. When Mitchell arrived at Oak Hill for a previously scheduled training session that day, staff members questioned her about the notice and she was not able to attend the training. Id. Ex. G, Ex. F (memorandum scheduling training). Although Dunbar issued a retraction five days later asking staff to disregard the notice and apologizing to Mitchell for issuing it, nothing in the record indicates why the notice was issued in the first place. Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 3. Based on these events, the District of Columbia Office of Human Rights determined that there was probable cause to believe that Mitchell had been subjected to unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex pursuant to the D.C. Human Rights Act. Pl.'s Opp'n Mot. Sum. J. Ex. H.

         Parkinson resigned from his position in December 2007. Pl.'s Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. Ex. H. The next day, Mitchell was transferred back to Oak Hill and placed under the supervision of Deputy Superintendent Thomas, the person to whom she had originally complained about Parkinson. Id. Ex. J. On September 22, 2008, Mitchell filed another complaint with DYRS Deputy Director Brown, alleging that Thomas was harassing and retaliating against her for the original complaint against Parkinson. Id. She specifically complained that Thomas denied her a uniform, chided her about how her car was parked, changed her post assignments, ignored her complaints, showed preferential treatment to other employees, and threatened her job because of time she took off for approved medical appointments. Id. The District disputes that these actions took place and, if they did, that they were retaliatory. Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. at 15-17.

         2. Termination: 2014-2015

         By 2012, Oak Hill had been shuttered and Mitchell was working at DYRS's Youth Services Center. In December of that year, Mitchell requested and was approved for up to 640 hours of unpaid, intermittent FMLA leave to care for a family member, to be taken over a 24-month period. Pl.'s Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. Ex. V. She took this leave on 28 separate days throughout 2013. Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 22 (documenting FMLA leave from January to September 2013). At some point on or prior to November 13, 2013, Matthew Stern, Mitchell's supervisor at the time, prepared a “Human Resources Personnel Request Form” recommending to his supervisors that Mitchell be terminated for being absent without leave (“AWOL”) and late to work several times. Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 16.[1]

         On January 8, 2014, Stern sent Mitchell a letter providing 45-day advance notice of DYRS's proposal to remove her from her position. Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 4. The Notice specifically listed five “facts in support of the determination”: (1) in September 2013, Mitchell was late to work three times by two, three, and one minute, respectively; (2) on October 3, 2013 Mitchell called in sick less than one hour before her shift and was charged with AWOL; (3) on October 23, 2013 Mitchell left her post to attend a doctor's appointment (the parties dispute whether this was pre-approved); (4) on October 24, 2013 Mitchell again called in sick under an hour before her shift and was charged with AWOL; and (5) on November 4, 2013 Mitchell was more than 15 minutes late to work. Id. Mitchell was provided a copy of the proposed removal notice mid-January 2014. Mitchell Dep. 112:7-13. Per District policy, the day she received the notice, Mitchell turned in her ID and did not return to work. She continued to be paid, however. Id. at 122:6-20.

         Mitchell challenged her proposed termination before a hearing officer, who issued a final determination sustaining the proposal on February 27, 2014. Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 15. Mitchell received the final determination on March 18, 2014 and the hearing officer set her official termination date for April 4, 2014. Id. Ex. 17.

         B. Procedural Background

         After pursuing both sets of claims through the EEOC administrative process, Mitchell filed suit in this Court on August 12, 2015 and amended her complaint on November 4, 2015. The amended complaint included claims under Title VII, the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), the District of Columbia Human Rights Act (“DCHRA”), and the District of Columbia Family and Medical Leave Act (“DCFMLA”). See generally Complaint. The Court dismissed Mitchell's DCHRA claims as untimely, see March 9, 2017 Minute Order, and Mitchell has conceded that her DCFMLA claims are also untimely, Pl.'s Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. at 1. However, the Court declined to dismiss Mitchell's Title VII claims on timeliness grounds. With respect to her Title VII claims stemming from the events that took place in 2007 and 2008, the Court found her hostile work environment claim was subject to a more lenient exhaustion standard and thus was timely filed with the EEOC. March 9, 2017 Minute Order; March 7, 2017 Hearing Tr. And as for her Title VII claim stemming from her 2014 termination, the Court found that the existence of a work sharing agreement between the EEOC and DCOHR extended the time for Mitchell to contact the EEOC from 180 to 300 days, and that Mitchell filed her claim within that period. April 25, 2017 Order. The District now moves for summary judgment on those Title VII claims, along with Mitchell's FMLA claim.

         II. Standard of Review

         Granting a motion for summary judgment is proper where “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 movant bears the burden to demonstrate an “absence of a genuine issue of material fact” in dispute. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The Court must accept as true the non-movant's evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in her favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). The ...

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