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Pratt v. Pompeo

United States District Court, District of Columbia

July 5, 2018

SAMUEL OTIS PRATT, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL POMPEO, SECRETARY, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ROYCE C. LAMBERTH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is the Motion for Partial Dismissal of the plaintiffs Second Amended Complaint [ECF No. 24] by the defendant Michael Pompeo, [1] Secretary of the U.S. Department of State, and all responses and replies thereto. For the reasons stated below, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART the defendant's partial motion to dismiss.

         BACKGROUND

         This case involves allegations of (1) race discrimination and (2) retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e) et seq. ECF No. 20-3 at 16-18, ¶¶8O-93. While the original complaint contained additional claims of hostile work environment, harassment, and discrimination on account of the plaintiffs sex and age, each of these claims has since been withdrawn by the plaintiff, leaving only two claims under Title VII remaining. See ECF Nos. 1, 11, 20-3.

         Samuel Pratt is a 60-year-old, African-American male who has worked for the U.S. Department of State (hereafter the "Department") since 1986. ECF No. 20-3 at 3, ¶9. His two claims under Title VII arose during his tenure as a management officer working at the U.S. Embassy in Eritrea (hereafter the "Embassy"). Pratt alleges several disputes with his supervisors while he worked at the Embassy, during which he attempted to call attention to activities conducted by Embassy personnel that he viewed as wasteful and in some instances contrary to U.S. State Department rules and regulations. Id. at 5-6, ¶¶l7-23. These observations and objections, he alleges, were met with disdain by his supervisors, who declined to heed his concerns. Id.

         Following these alleged confrontations, Pratt claims he engaged in protected activity when he stated during a meeting with his supervisors on October 30, 2015, that he was no longer being informed of tasks and events at the embassy, which he believed significantly hindered his ability to do his job effectively. Id. at 6-8, ¶¶24-33. He alleged that the decisions to cut him out of the decision-making and management processes were retaliatory measures in response to his prior "whistleblowing activities" of calling attention to the various instances of wrongful behavior he allegedly witnessed at the Embassy. Id. at 8, ¶32. He also stated that his supervisors both had "a closer relationship with the white staff, who were also being treated better at the workplace." Id. at8, ¶33.

         On February 16, 2016, after two more alleged instances of careless and unlawful behavior by State Department personnel, Pratt filed an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) claim of discrimination and retaliation with the State Department. Id. at 8-9, ¶¶34-36; ECF No. 10-3 at 6. In retaliation for this claim and his prior protected activity, the plaintiff contends, he was (1) sent a letter of admonishment, (2) given an allegedly negative employee evaluation report (EER), (3) denied the position of Acting Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM), (4) involuntarily removed from the Eritrea office, and (5) subsequently given a lower ranking position at the U.S. Embassy in Mauritania. Id. at 9-16, ¶¶4O-79. This sequence of events forms the foundation of the plaintiffs Title VII allegations of race discrimination and retaliation against the State Department.

         The State Department issued its Final Agency Decision on October 11, 2016, which determined that Pratt "provided insufficient evidence to show the [Department's] reasons for its actions were pretextual" and "has not established his claims of discrimination." ECF No. 10-3 at 22. Pratt now sues after exhausting all administrative remedies available.

         Pratt has amended his complaint twice. See ECF Nos. 1, 11, 20-3. After the State Department filed its first motion to dismiss [ECF No. 10], Pratt filed his First Amended Complaint [ECF No. 11], which withdrew his claims of (1) race discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, (2) hostile work environment and harassment under § 1981, (3) retaliation under § 1981, (4) sex discrimination under Title VII, and (5) hostile work environment and harassment under Title VII. See ECF No. 11. The plaintiff subsequently filed notice with the Court withdrawing his two claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) [ECF No. 12.], leaving only two claims under Title VII left in the case. The State Department has brought a motion for partial dismissal of the claims arising out of (1) the Embassy's refusal to appoint Pratt acting DCM), and (2) the negative EER issued to Pratt following his alleged whistleblowing activities. This motion is now ripe for consideration.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Legal Standard-Motion to Dismiss

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the complaint must "state a claim upon which relief can be granted." FED. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). To carry this burden, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Facial plausibility is established "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. While well-pleaded factual allegations within the complaint must be accepted by the Court as true, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements" are insufficient. Id. A mere "legal conclusion" need not be accepted as true. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         II. Title VII discrimination and retaliation claims must allege an adverse action to state a claim for relief.

         Pratt's conclusory argument that he need only plead "that he was being discriminated against and that he wanted to be treated similarly as the white staff in the Embassy" in order to be entitled to discovery is incorrect. ECF No. 17 at 5. An adverse action is an essential element of both discrimination and retaliation claims under Title VII, and a complaint must allege that element in order to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Winston v. Clough, 712 F.Supp.2d 1, 10 (D.D.C. 2010) (quoting Brady v. Office of the Sergeant at Arms,520 F.3d 490, 493 (D.C. Cir. 2008)) (listing "an adverse employment action" as an element a plaintiff must plead in Title VII discrimination cases); Howard R.L. Cook & Tommy Shaw Found, ex rel. BlackEmployees of Library of Cong., Inc. v. Billington,737 F.3d 767, 772 (D.C. Cir. 2013) (holding that a claim of retaliation under Title VII must state "that the employee suffered a materially adverse action by the employee's employer . . ."). An adverse action is defined as "a significant change in ...


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