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Dodson v. United States Capitol Police

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 30, 2019

ARREN DODSON, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES CAPITOL POLICE, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Randolph D. Moss, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Arren Dodson brings this action against Defendant United States Capitol Police (“Capitol Police”) pursuant to the Congressional Accountability Act (“CAA”), 2 U.S.C. §§ 1301-11, which subjects various legislative branch agencies to certain laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Plaintiff asserts three claims: a claim of race discrimination, Dkt. 1 at 7; a claim of retaliation, id. at 8; and a procedural due process claim, id. at 9. Defendant moves to dismiss all three claims. See Dkt. 13. For the reasons explained below, the Court will deny Defendant's motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         For purposes of the pending motion to dismiss, the following allegations, which are taken from Dodson's complaint, are accepted as true. See Am. Nat'l Ins. Co. v. FDIC, 642 F.3d 1137, 1139 (D.C. Cir. 2011); see also EEOC v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 117 F.3d 621, 624 (D.C. Cir. 1997) (“In determining whether a complaint fails to state a claim, [the Court] may consider only the facts alleged in the complaint, any documents either attached to or incorporated in the complaint and matters of which [it] may take judicial notice.”).

         Plaintiff Arren Dodson is a former United States Capitol Police Officer. Dkt. 1 at 3, 7 (Compl. ¶¶ 10, 40). He is “an African American.” Id. at 3 (Compl. ¶¶ 9). Over the course of his employment with the Capitol Police, Dodson “regularly spoke out about” the Capitol Police “treating him less favorably than his Caucasian colleagues.” Id. at 3 (Compl. ¶ 15). He alleges that the disciplinary actions-one for insubordination and one for unsatisfactory performance- that led to his termination from the Capitol Police were the “[m]ost recent[]” examples of such disfavored treatment. Id. at 3 (Compl. ¶ 16); see Id. at 4 (Compl. ¶¶ 19-20).

         On January 17, 2018, Dodson felt ill but thought he was well enough to work his assigned shift that began on that day. Id. at 4 (Compl. ¶ 21). Towards the end of his shift, which spanned into January 18, 2018, he was informed that “he would be required to work additional duty into the next shift.” Id. Because Dodson's name appeared towards the bottom of the list that provided the order in which officers would be asked to work additional duty-this list is known as “the unscheduled draft list”-he inquired why he was being asked to work additional duty. Id. at 4-5 (Compl. ¶¶ 21-22). He “learned that all of the employees who had been scheduled to work additional duty for that date went home with no negative consequence.” Id. at 5 (Compl. ¶ 22).

         Upon learning of his counterparts' departures, Dodson told his supervisor “that he had an ear infection and a migraine” and was therefore “unable to continue working.” Id. Despite excusing employees who were supposed to be assigned to additional duty before Dodson, Dodson's supervisor “ignored [Dodson's] assertions that he was not fit to complete another shift, resulting in [an] improper order that he remain on-duty, even though he had properly notified management of his illness.” Id. (Compl. ¶ 23). Dodson left work anyway and went home and to the doctor, id. (Compl. ¶ 24), where he was diagnosed with an ear infection in both ears, prescribed a course of antibiotics, and given “a note permitting him to return to work as soon as January 19, 2018, only if he was feeling better, and seven to ten days later if he was not, ” id. (Compl. ¶¶ 25-26). Dodson did not return to work until January 24, 2018. Id. (Compl. ¶ 28).

         Dodson provided Sergeant Brown with the doctor's note, which Sergeant Brown rejected as “insufficient” to excuse Dodson's departure from work and would not explain why. Id. at 5-6 (Compl. ¶¶ 29-30). Dodson brought Brown yet another doctor's note, which was similarly rejected as insufficient without explanation. Id. at 6 (Compl. ¶ 31). “Past practice of [the Capitol Police] ha[d] been to provide a doctor's note that outline[d] for how long an employee should take sick leave.” Id. (Compl. ¶ 33). And, “[a]t no time” did any of the Capitol Police provide guidance to Dodson concerning how to document his sick leave. Id. (Compl. ¶ 32).

         On April 30, 2018, as a result of Dodson's departure from work on January 18, 2018 and related absence, he received disciplinary citations for insubordination and for unsatisfactory performance, carrying corresponding recommended penalties of a two-day suspension and termination, respectively. See Id. at 4 (Compl. ¶¶ 18-20). At the same, the Capitol Police informed Dodson: “As you know, under the terms of the June 28, 2016 Last Chance Agreement (“LCA”) entered into by you and the Department, your receipt of any sustained CP-535 discipline is a violation of the LCA that will result in the termination of your employment, and you are not entitled to an appeal, grievance or any other challenge of the recommended termination.” Id. at 6 (Compl. ¶ 34). On May 4, 2018, Dodson provided “additional information that he believed was relevant to the disciplinary actions” to the Chief of Police, Matthew Verderosa, “but it was rejected.” Id. (Compl. ¶ 36). Five days later, Chief Verderosa notified Dodson “that he had accepted the recommendation” to terminate Dodson and planned to “forward his recommendation” to the Capitol Police Board within five days if Dodson “did not resign.” Id. at 6-7 (Compl. ¶ 37). Dodson did not resign. Id. at 7 (Compl. ¶ 39). He was then notified by the Capitol Police on July 2, 2018, that he had been terminated effective June 26, 2018. Id. (Compl. ¶ 40).

         B. Procedural Background

         On November 19, 2018, Dodson filed this lawsuit. See Id. at 1. In alleges that the Capitol Police's disciplinary actions that led to his termination violated the CAA, id. at 7-9, which incorporates the prohibitions on discrimination and retaliation contained in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 2 U.S.C. § 1311(a)(1). He also alleged that the Capitol Police's actions violated his Fifth Amendment right to procedural due process. Dkt. 1 at 9. The Capitol Police moves to dismiss his claims insofar as they allege an unlawful hostile work environment for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and it moves to dismiss all of the counts of the complaint for failure to state a claim. See Dkt. 13-1.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Motions to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) “test[] the legal sufficiency of a complaint.” Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002). This examination requires the Court to “first ‘tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state [the] claim' to relief, and then determine whether the plaintiff has pleaded those elements with adequate factual support to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Blue v. District of Columbia, 811 F.3d 14, 20 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 675, 678 (2009)) (alterations in original) (internal citation omitted). That “facial plausibility” requires that it “plead[] 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. A plaintiff need not make “detailed factual allegations” to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), but “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, [if] accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, '” Iqbal, 556 ...


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