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Dickerson v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

July 26, 2018

KENNETH DICKERSON, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant.

          OPINION

          PAUL L. FRIEDMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the Court on defendant District of Columbia's motion [Dkt. No. 75] to dismiss plaintiff Kenneth Dickerson's fourth amended complaint, filed April 12, 2018. Mr. Dickerson filed his opposition to the motion on May 10, 2018, and the District of Columbia filed a reply brief on May 24, 2018. For the following reasons, the Court will deny the District of Columbia's motion to dismiss.[1]

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         The Court begins by setting forth the facts alleged in the fourth amended complaint. Mr. Dickerson, an African-American man, began his employment with the District of Columbia Public Schools (“DCPS”) as a teacher in 1993. See 4th Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 1, 6. In 1999, he was assigned to work at Wilson Senior High School (“Wilson”) and promoted to serve as the Dean of Students at Wilson. See id. at ¶ 6. In 2000, DCPS again promoted Mr. Dickerson, this time to a position as an assistant principal at Wilson. See id. Mr. Dickerson served in the assistant principal role until June 2008. See id. at ¶¶ 6, 17. During his time as a school administrator at Wilson, Mr. Dickerson explains that he simultaneously performed his job responsibilities as Dean of Students, assistant principal, and music teacher. See id. at ¶ 6.

         Mr. Dickerson asserts that, in light of his “years of service, administrative leadership and experience, [and] education, including his soon-to-be PhD status, ” he was well-qualified to serve as a school administrator and “satisfied any and all Defendants' documented objectives for hiring, keeping and promoting qualified DCPS employees.” See 4th Am. Compl. at ¶ 23. Mr. Dickerson further notes that he received ratings of “Exceeds Expectations” in his annual performance evaluations for both the 2005-06 and 2006-07 school years. See id. at ¶ 10. He also describes how, under his leadership, Wilson gained significant recognition for its students' academic achievements, despite a lack of faculty and other school resources. See id. at ¶¶ 14-15. During the 2007-08 school year, for example, Wilson was “ranked in the top 1% of all high schools, nationwide on student performance on advance placement testing.” See id. at ¶ 15.

         Beginning in the 2007-08 school year, Mr. Dickerson describes several events evincing unfair and unfavorable treatment by his employer. First, Mr. Dickerson asserts that he was offered a position as a school principal in May 2008, but at a salary “far less” than the salaries offered to other new principals, despite his performance and qualifications. See 4th Am. Compl. at ¶ 16. In response to this offer, Mr. Dickerson alleges that he “pointed out the obvious unfairness in such an offer and turned it down.” See id. Although he rejected this offer to be promoted to school principal, Mr. Dickerson asserts that he communicated his intent to remain in his assistant principal position by following established DCPS policies. See id. at ¶¶ 12-13. He explains that, as part of its “annual reappointment contractual process, ” DCPS would send a Declaration of Intent (“DOI”) form to every school administrator each spring. See id. at ¶ 12. An administrator who did not intend to return to her current position would convey that intent by signing and submitting the DOI form. See id. On the other hand, if an administrator did not sign and return the DOI form by the deadline, that omission represented “a commitment to return to the administrator's current position.” See id. By not signing and returning the DOI form by the deadline, Mr. Dickerson represents that he “confirmed his acceptance, commitment and expectation to remain in the Assistant Principal position at Wilson SHS for the 2008-2009 SY.” See id. at ¶ 13.

         In addition, Mr. Dickerson alleges that during the 2007-08 school year, DCPS failed to administer multiple required evaluations of his performance. See 4th Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 9, 11. First, he points to the “systemic evaluation processes for school administrators” established under the District of Columbia's Municipal Regulations (“DCMR”) and the relevant Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”), which he argues “required pre-conference, mid-year and annual end-of-year evaluations.” See id. at ¶ 9. During the 2007-08 school year, however, he asserts that DCPS never administered any of these required performance evaluations. See id. Second, Mr. Dickerson alleges that, in late 2007, DCPS officials notified him that Chancellor Michelle Rhee's office would “evaluate and rank school officials at the end of the academic year based on students' reading and mathematics test scores, attendance, and improvement in various other academic and scholastic areas.” See id. at ¶ 11. But, he asserts, DCPS also failed to conduct these evaluations. See id.

         Mr. Dickerson represents that, on or about June 24, 2008, he received notification that DCPS “would not be reappointing him to his Assistant Principal position at Wilson SHS, effective June 30, 2008.” See 4th Am. Compl. at ¶ 17. He states that DCPS did not provide any explanation for his non-reappointment, beyond indicating that Chancellor Rhee had made the decision. See id. On June 30, 2008, Mr. Dickerson explains, he was “removed” from his administrative role. See id.

         Prior to receiving his non-reappointment notice, Mr. Dickerson alleges that DCPS's “employees and agents surreptitiously interviewed and engaged replacements for his soon-to-be vacant position at Wilson SHS, ” in violation of provisions of both the DCMR and CBA that require “vacancies . . . [to] be listed so that all have knowledge of the vacancy.” See 4th Am. Compl. at ¶ 21. Mr. Dickerson further asserts that “Chancellor Rhee and her staff made public statements to the media which defended its non-reappointment of Plaintiff due to laziness, failure to improve the statistical performance and mistreatment of students at Wilson, ” although “[n]one of these described characterizations applied to Plaintiff's professional career or his tenure at Wilson SHS in any capacity.” See id. at ¶ 19. Mr. Dickerson alleges that his former colleagues who were white and similarly situated were not subjected to the same treatment he received. See id. at ¶ 20. And while “the Chancellor's office removed Plaintiff and the other African-American administrators, ” DCPS hired a white woman with less education and experience to fill Mr. Dickerson's former position as Senior Assistant Principal, hired a white man to fill the vacant Wilson principal position, and hired a Hispanic man with less experience and education than Mr. Dickerson to fill an unspecified position. See id. at ¶ 24.

         On June 30, 2009, Mr. Dickerson and twenty-one other former DCPS principals and assistant principals filed this discrimination lawsuit in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. See Removal Notice Ex. 1. The District of Columbia removed the case to this Court on November 20, 2009, see Removal Notice, where the parties have proceeded to litigate since. After nearly a decade of litigation, every other plaintiff has either settled with the District of Columbia or been dismissed by the Court for failing to prosecute their claims. See Dismissal Notice; Order [Dkt. No. 69] (Jan. 25, 2018). As the sole remaining plaintiff, Mr. Dickerson filed the fourth amended complaint on March 13, 2018, alleging discrimination in violation of Section 1981 of Title 42 of the United States Code. See 4th Am. Compl. Specifically, Mr. Dickerson alleges that DCPS, by breaching the terms of his existing employment contract and failing to reappoint or promote him, violated his rights under Section 1981 to make and enforce contracts free from racial discrimination. See id. at ¶¶ 33-37.

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows dismissal of a complaint if a plaintiff fails “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Generally, under Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a plaintiff need only provide “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief” that “give[s] the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). Although “detailed factual allegations” are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the complaint “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, ‘to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570); see also Henok v. Kessler, 78 F.Supp.3d 452, 457 (D.D.C. 2015). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” In re Interbank Funding Corp. Sec. Litig., 629 F.3d 213, 218 (D.C. Cir. 2010) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).

         In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court “must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint.” See Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 508 n.1 (2002) (citation omitted); see also Henok v. Kessler, 78 F.Supp.3d at 457. The Court considers the complaint in its entirety, seeTellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007), and construes it “liberally in the plaintiffs' favor, ” see Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994); see alsoHettinga v. United States, 677 F.3d 471, 476 (D.C. Cir. 2012). The Court must grant a plaintiff “the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged, ” although it need not accept plaintiff's legal ...


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