United States District Court, District of Columbia
PATRICIA D. LEWIS, Plaintiff,
THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant.
E. BOASBERG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
employees do not surrender all their [constitutional] rights
by reason of their employment.” Garcetti v.
Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410, 417 (2006). Rather, the Fourth
Amendment still governs public workplaces, protecting most
employees against random, suspicionless drug testing while on
the job. The District of Columbia nevertheless instituted
such a regime for its new Consolidated Forensics Laboratory,
a facility that houses several law-enforcement agencies. It
gave Plaintiff Patricia Lewis, a human-resources liaison in
that office, two choices: submit to testing or be fired.
Lewis chose the latter course, and when the District
dismissed her, she responded with this lawsuit. The case
ultimately proceeded to trial, where a jury resolved all
contested facts in her favor and awarded her $802, 800.
Unhappy with this result, the District now moves for judgment
as a matter of law or, alternatively, asks the Court to
either order a new trial or reduce Lewis's damages. The
Court will deny the Motion across the board.
Court begins with the facts that emerged at trial, resolving,
as it must given the verdict, all reasonable inferences in
Plaintiff's favor. It then recounts the case's
better part of a decade, Lewis worked as a “Human
Resources Advisor, ” “Management Liaison
Specialist” in D.C.'s Office of Chief Medical
Examiner. See Trial Tr. (Mar. 13, 2018) at 4:1-4,
11-23. OCME's duties include conducting autopsies as well
as other forensic and medico-legal investigations.
See Trial Tr. (Mar. 12, 2018) at 41:11-13; see
also D.C. Code § 5-1401 et seq. From the
time she was hired until October 2012, OCME was located in an
office building at 1910 Massachusetts Avenue in Southeast
Washington. See Tr. (3/13) at 24:16-21.
point, the city developed plans for the Consolidated Forensic
Laboratory. See Tr. (3/12) at 58:8-11. This new
laboratory would house under one roof a number of city
departments, including OCME, the Public Health Laboratory,
and the Mobile Crime Unit of the Metropolitan Police
Department. Id. at 59:21-24; see also D.C.
Council Resolution No. 19-726 § 2(b) (Dec. 4, 2012). On
June 18, 2012, Mayor Vincent Gray signed Order 2012-84,
providing authority for the Director of the D.C. Department
of Human Resources to “identify and designat[e]
high-risk or sensitive positions” for employees who
would have a duty station at the CFL. See Pl. Exh. 4
at 2. Employees so designated would be subject to
“background checks, investigations, mandatory criminal
background checks, and[/or] test[ing] for controlled
substance use.” Id.
18, 2012, Charles Tucker, the DCHR General Counsel, and other
members of the department held a meeting at OCME,
see Tr. (3/12) at 67:5-7, 68:7-16, informing the
staff that all employees moving to the CFL would be
“subject to mandatory criminal background checks and
testing for controlled substance use.” Pl. Exh. 6. DCHR
also distributed several forms, including an
“Individual Notification of Requirements Form for Drug
and Alcohol Testing.” Pl. Exh. 7 (Notice and
Acknowledgment Form). Citing the Mayor's Order, it
[T]his notice informs you that you have been appointed to, or
you currently occupy, either as an employee or volunteer, a
covered position that makes you subject to drug and alcohol
testing. . . . Thirty (30) days after you acknowledge receipt
of this advance written notice, you will be subject to drug
and alcohol testing, unless you acknowledge a drug or alcohol
problem during the 30-day notification period.
Id. The bottom portion of the notice, titled
“Acknowledgement of Receipt, ” required the
employee's signature, which would be an admission that
she “currently occup[ied] a protections-sensitive
position that is subject to drug and alcohol testing.”
immediately voiced her objections to the policy at the
meeting and refused to sign the form. See Tr. (3/13)
at 40:21-25; 50:6-10. Although she was not taking illegal
drugs or abusing alcohol, id. at 46:4-8, Lewis
feared she would need to reveal her prescription medications
to explain any positive test results. Id. at
63:2-13. Two days after the meeting, she thus sent a
grievance letter to Tucker protesting the policy.
See Pl. Exh. 8. In that letter, she maintained that
she “was hired into a non-sensitive position that has
not been re-classified nor designated as high risk” and
would not sign the acknowledgment form until DCHR conducted a
“reclassification and risk assessment.”
Id. On August 30, 2012, Tucker denied the grievance.
See Pl. Exh. 9.
October 2012, DCHR Director Shawn Stokes sent Lewis a
follow-up notice, requesting that she sign and return the
notice-and-acknowledgment forms, but Plaintiff refused to do
so. See Pl. Exh. 10; see Tr. (3/13) at
64:21-23. Later that month, a second notice further advised
that “corrective and/or adverse action” could
result if she did not “comply with this process”
by November 8, 2012. See Pl. Exh. 3. At the same
time, OCME began the move to the CFL. See Tr. (3/13)
at 65:5-8. On October 23, Lewis attempted to transport some
of her files - apparently with her supervisor's
acquiescence - into the new building but was escorted out of
the facility. Id. at 70:16-76:1. While the rest of
the OCME staff completed its move to the CFL, Lewis remained
alone at 1910 Massachusetts Avenue, in an aging building with
no working heat, elevators, or phones. Id. at
nonetheless continued to work there until she received an
Advance Written Notice of Proposed Removal on January 3,
2013, when she was placed on administrative leave.
See Pl. Exh. 11. The letter charged her with
“neglect of duty and insubordination” on three
occasions: (1) refusing to sign the notice-and-acknowledgment
forms on July 18; (2) refusing to sign the forms after the
October follow-up letters; and (3) attempting to move into
the CFL without being cleared. Id. at 1-2. On April
9, 2013, the District officially terminated Lewis based on
the same charges. See Pl. Exh. 12. She has not
worked since, either for the city or anywhere else.
See Tr. (3/13) at 112:8-12.
two years after her termination, Lewis filed this suit
against the District (along with several individual
Defendants, all of whom were later dismissed). She brought a
host of claims, but only two survived summary judgment: (1) a
count for violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act;
and (2) a count for violation of the Fourth Amendment.
See Lewis v. Gov't of Dist. of Columbia, 282
F.Supp.3d 169, 190 (D.D.C. 2017).
latter count is the “heart” of Plaintiff's
suit and alleges “that the [District's] testing
policy constituted an unreasonable search.”
Id. at 184. As the Court explained previously,
“[D]rug and alcohol tests are ‘searches'
within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, and random,
suspicionless drug tests are ‘inherently
suspect.'” Id. (quoting Knox Cty.
Educ. Ass'n v. Knox Cty. Bd. of Educ., 158
F.3d 361, 373 (6th Cir. 1998)). When such searches
“serve special governmental needs, beyond the normal
need for law enforcement, it is necessary to balance the
individual's privacy expectations against the
Government's interests to determine” whether they
are reasonable. See Nat'l Treasury Emps. Union v. Von
Raab, 489 U.S. 656, 665 (1989).
question of whether a “drug testing program . . .
comport[s] with the Constitution” is “a matter of
law.” Boyd v. Coleman, 906 F.2d 783, 783 &
n.3 (D.C. Cir. 1990) (per curiam) (unpublished). At
summary judgment, the Court thus undertook “a
context-specific inquiry, examining closely the competing
private and public interests advanced by the parties.”
Chandler v. Miller, 520 U.S. 305, 314 (1997). On the
one hand, it concluded that Lewis had “‘a serious
and legitimate privacy interest in not being subject to'
random drug tests.” Lewis, 282 F.Supp.3d at
184 (quoting Stigile v. Clinton, 110 F.3d 801, 804
(D.C. Cir. 1997)). The public interest, however, was more
equivocal. Defendants contended that “[P]laintiff's
position [at the CFL] would have provided her access to
secure areas . . ., including the mortuary, toxicology, and
investigation divisions of OCME.” Id. at 186
(citation omitted). Lewis, meanwhile, “vehemently
denie[d] that she would have had access to anything other
than confidential personnel files.” Id.
light of that “material disputed fact, ” the
Court held that the scales did not “clearly tip to
either side.” Id. at 188. It made manifest,
however, that if “Plaintiff could obtain only
confidential HR files (to which she already had access in the
old building), but not enter other key areas of the lab, the
city's interest in preventing corruption does not
outweigh her privacy interest.” Id. at 186. By
contrast, a “finding . . . that she would have been
able to freely enter all or many departments could well
outweigh her privacy interest, ” assuming, of course,
that alternative arrangements were not otherwise practical.
Id.; see also Nat'l Fed'n of Fed.
Emps.-IAM v. Vilsack, 681 F.3d 483, 490 (D.C. Cir. 2012)
(“[E]ven where the government asserts important
interests, it must still demonstrate an immediate threat to
those interests that could not practically be addressed
through a suspicion-based approach in order to justify a
suspicionless search under the Fourth Amendment.”).
case thus proceeded to trial, where the Court employed a
special-verdict form precisely tailored to those questions.
For her Fourth Amendment count, it asked the jury whether
Lewis had proven by a preponderance of evidence that either:
(1) “[U]pon moving to the new CFL, she would not have
had access to confidential and sensitive information within
OCME (beyond the personnel and employment files ...