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Huang v. Pai

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 12, 2019

QIHUI HUANG, Plaintiff



         Pro se Plaintiff Qihui Huang, a former employee of the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”), brings retaliation and discrimination claims against Ajit Pai, the Chairman of the FCC. Plaintiff retired from the FCC in January 2016. And, on December 17, 2018, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit bringing numerous claims and arguing that Defendant discriminated and retaliated against her in various ways dating back to at least 2004.

         Before the Court is Defendant's [19] Motion to Dismiss. First, Defendant claims that the Court should dismiss Plaintiff's entire Complaint because Plaintiff failed to timely exhaust her administrative remedies. Second, Defendant argues that several of Plaintiff's claims are barred by the doctrine of res judicata because they are related to claims that Plaintiff brought against Defendant in a prior 2016 lawsuit. Finally, Defendant contends that, for each of Plaintiff's claims, she has failed to allege actionable discrimination or retaliation.

         Upon consideration of the pleadings[1], the relevant legal authorities, and the record for purposes of this motion, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion. The Court concludes that Plaintiff failed to timely exhaust each of her claims by requesting Equal Employment Opportunity (“EEO”) counseling within 45 days of the alleged discriminatory or retaliatory events. Additionally, the Court concludes that at least one of Plaintiff's claims is barred by res judicata and three of Plaintiff's claims fail to state a claim for which relief may be granted. Accordingly, the Court DISMISSES Plaintiff's lawsuit in its entirety.

         I. BACKGROUND

         For the purposes of the motion before the Court, the Court accepts as true the well-pleaded allegations in Plaintiff's Complaint. The Court does “not accept as true, however, the plaintiff's legal conclusions or inferences that are unsupported by the facts alleged.” Ralls Corp. v. Comm. on Foreign Inv. in the United States, 758 F.3d 296, 315 (D.C. Cir. 2014). Further, because Plaintiff proceeds in this matter pro se, the Court must consider not only the facts alleged in Plaintiff's Complaint, but also the facts alleged in Plaintiff's Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. See Brown v. Whole Foods Mkt. Grp., Inc., 789 F.3d 146, 152 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (“[A] district court errs in failing to consider a pro se litigant's complaint ‘in light of' all filings, including filings responsive to a motion to dismiss.”); Fillmore v. AT & T Mobility Servs. LLC, 140 F.Supp.3d 1, 2 (D.D.C. 2015) (“The Court, as it must in a case brought by a pro se plaintiff, considers the facts as alleged in both the Complaint and Plaintiff's Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss.”).

         As Plaintiff is pro se, her Complaint is at times difficult to understand and contains extraneous information. Moreover, Plaintiff's Complaint is often devoid of important factual information, such as the dates on which events occurred. The Court has attempted to summarize the facts relating to Plaintiff's claims and recites only the background necessary for the Court's resolution of the pending Motion to Dismiss.

         Plaintiff is an Asian American, foreign-born, disabled woman who is over 67 years old. Pl.'s Opp'n, ECF No. 23, 2. Plaintiff started working for the FCC in 1991. Id. While working for the FCC, Plaintiff states that she significantly contributed to the winning of the 2006 Nobel Physics Prize and co-authored three publications for the Nobel Prize project. Id. From 2004 until her retirement in 2016, Plaintiff was a GS-15 electronics engineer in the Office of Engineering and Technology. Id. Plaintiff states that, prior to the events alleged in her Complaint, she received all positive performance evaluations, all within grade step increases, and some performance awards. Id.

         Plaintiff states that for six or more years while she performed as a GS-15 employee, she applied for seven or eight supervisory positions with the Office of Engineering and Technology. Id. Plaintiff states that she was not selected for any of those supervisory positions. Plaintiff further states that no woman, Asian person, foreign-born person, or other minority was promoted to those supervisory positions. Id. at 3.

         Plaintiff claims that in either 2010 or 2012 she complained to the former-Chairman of the FCC and a commissioner of the FCC about the FCC's failure, from 2004 to 2012, to promote to supervisory positions women, Asian persons, foreign-born persons, and other minorities. Id.; Compl., ECF No. 1, 3.

         Plaintiff alleges that sometime after she made this complaint, she began to experience discrimination and retaliation. Pl.'s Opp'n, ECF No. 23, 4. For example, in 2012, a GS-15 branch chief position opened in the Office of Engineering and Technology. Compl., ECF No. 1, 3. Plaintiff states that John Kennedy, an African American man, was promoted to the branch chief position. Pl.'s Opp'n, ECF No. 23, 4. Plaintiff alleges that she was more qualified than Mr. Kennedy. Compl., ECF No. 1, 4-5. Additionally, Plaintiff further claims that her performance cash awards were reduced, then went to zero despite the fact that she did her work and did not receive negative comments. Id. at 5; Pl.'s Opp'n, ECF No. 23, 4. Plaintiff next claims that in 2014, another FCC employee, Martin Doczkat, was promoted to GS-15, then made acting branch chief, and then promoted to branch chief even though Plaintiff had more experience. Compl., ECF No. 1, 5; Pl.'s Opp'n, ECF No. 23, 4.

         While the following allegations are not made in her Complaint, in her Opposition, Plaintiff further claims that Defendant improperly tasked her with working on a report on wireless microphones. Plaintiff explains that, based on this report on wireless microphones, Defendant concluded that she was a poor performer, gave her a failing performance evaluation, and denied her within grade step increases. At this time, Mr. Doczkat was Plaintiff's supervisor and working with him caused her blood pressure to rise. Despite these issues, Plaintiff alleges that she was denied requests to work with a new supervisor. Finally, Plaintiff claims that she retired early. Pl.'s Opp'n, ECF No. 23, 4.

         Plaintiff claims that her attempts to report complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity (“EEO”) counselors were stymied because, beginning in January 2015 and lasting for several months, the Office of Workplace Diversity did not respond to Plaintiff's attempts to contact them. Compl., ECF No. 1, 7. Plaintiff alleges that this failure to respond was based on her race, sex, national origin, disability status, age, and prior discrimination reports. Id.

         Finally, Plaintiff claims that Defendant lied about, altered, or concealed material facts in her prior 2016 lawsuit against Defendant. Id. at 7; see Huang v. Wheeler, Civ. A. No. 16-1398 (JEB), affirmed, 17-5290 (D.C. Cir. 2019). In Plaintiff's prior 2016 lawsuit, she brought claims against the then-chairman of the FCC for discrimination, retaliation, and a hostile work environment alleging that from Spring 2014 through January 2016 she was told that she was unqualified to be a GS-15, that she received a “fail” performance rating, that her sick leave request was not approved, that she was denied a step increase, that she was placed on a performance improvement plan, that she was not allowed to transfer, and that she was forced to retire early. Huang, Civ. A. No. 16-1398 (JEB), Oct. 19, 2016 Memorandum Opinion, ECF No. 24, 2-6.

         Based on the facts alleged in this lawsuit, Plaintiff contends that Defendant violated “[a]ll U.S. Constitutions, federal laws, codes, rules, regulations, ACTs, which are related to constitutional rights, civil rights, employment discriminations and retaliations, ‘No Fear Act', and more.” Compl., ECF No. 1, 3. The Court interprets Plaintiff to be invoking Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. The Court further interprets Plaintiff's Complaint and her Opposition as stating seven claims for relief, the first six of which are alleged in her Complaint and the last of which is alleged only in her Opposition.

• Count 1- Discrimination and retaliation for failing to promote women, Asian Americans, foreign born persons, and other minorities from 2004 to 2012;
• Count 2- Discrimination and retaliation for failing to promote Plaintiff to a supervisory branch chief position in 2012;
• Count 3- Discrimination and retaliation for decreasing Plaintiff's performance cash awards;
• Count 4- Discrimination and retaliation for failing to promote Plaintiff to acting branch chief and branch chief in 2014;
• Count 5- Discrimination and retaliation for failing to process Plaintiff's EEO complaints in January 2015 and for several months thereafter;
• Count 6- Discrimination and retaliation for altering or concealing material facts in Plaintiff's 2016 lawsuit against Defendant; and
• Count 7- Discrimination and retaliation for forcing Plaintiff to work on a wireless microphone report under a disfavored supervisor, resulting in poor performance reports and Plaintiff's early retirement.


         Defendant moves to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint under Rule 12(b)(6). According to Rule 12(b)(6), a party may move to dismiss a complaint on the grounds that it “fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). “[A] complaint [does not] suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 557 (2007)). Rather, a complaint must contain sufficient factual allegations that, if accepted as true, “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         III. ...

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