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Holassie v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

October 15, 2019



          Tanya S. Chutkan United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Ronald Holassie, a former lifeguard with the District of Columbia Department of Parks and Recreation (“DPR”), brings this suit against the District of Columbia for engaging in discriminatory and retaliatory conduct in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”) and the D.C. Human Rights Act, as amended, D.C. Code §§ 2-1401.01 et seq. (“DCHRA”) (Count I), retaliation in violation of the D.C. Whistleblower Protection Act (“DCWPA”), D.C. Code §§ 1-615.51 et seq. (Count II), and unlawful invasion of privacy (Count III).

         The District of Columbia (“the District”) moves, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, for summary judgment. (ECF No. 42.) For the reasons set forth below, the court will GRANT the motion, in part, and DENY the motion, in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In May of 2006, Carmen Jean-Baptiste, Holassie's mother, began working as a lifeguard at DPR's Takoma Aquatic Center. Byrd v. District of Columbia, 807 F.Supp.2d 37, 52 (D.D.C. 2011). In 2007, Jean-Baptiste sued the District of Columbia, claiming that, during the course of her employment, she experienced sexual harassment, a hostile work environment, and eventually a wrongful and retaliatory termination. Carmen Jean-Baptiste v. District of Columbia, 11-cv-1587-RCL, ECF No. 51. In 2012, a jury awarded Jean-Baptiste $3.5 million and returned an addendum recommending that DPR “begin an EEO training program for all DPR managers, ” revise its policies regarding the handling of complaints, and conduct an internal audit of compliance with DPR policies. Id. ECF No. 185. Jean-Baptiste settled her lawsuit for a confidential amount and the matter was dismissed in January 2014. Id. ECF Nos. 254-55.

         A. Holassie's Employment with DPR

         Holassie began his employment with DPR as a summer lifeguard at Wilson Aquatic Center in 2012. (ECF No. 44-15 (“Pl.'s Resp. to Interrog. No. 5”) at 7.) He then worked at Takoma Aquatic Center as a summer lifeguard in 2013 and 2014. (Id.) According to Holassie, from 2012 to 2014, he had no negative interactions with supervisors or co-workers, negative performance reviews, or mediation meetings with management. (Id. at 7-8.)

         Holassie alleges that, in summer 2015, DPR caused him to work in a hostile work environment in retaliation for his mother's protected activity. (ECF No. 44-1 (“Pl.'s Resp. 7(h)(1) Statement”) at ¶¶ 1-3.) In support of his claims, Holassie proffers the following events:

• On June 9, 2015, Holassie was selected at random for a performance audit by a third-party auditor hired by DPR to perform surprise audits. (Id. at ¶¶ 13-15.) It is undisputed that all lifeguards were subjected to performance audits; and that the videotape of Holassie was viewed only by the auditor and DPR's aquatic leadership team. (Id. at ¶¶ 14, 21.)
• On July 10, 2015, Holassie, his brother, and another lifeguard were involved in a “physical skirmish, ” during which Holassie tipped over a trash can and used profanity. (Id. at ¶¶ 5-6.) On July 14, 2015, Holassie's supervisor, Robert Allen, scheduled a meeting with Holassie to discuss the incident. (Id. at ¶ 7.)
• On July 21, 2015, Holassie had a meeting with his supervisor regarding his leaving his assigned zone to find his whistle. (Id. at ¶¶ 8-9.) The parties dispute whether Holassie secured coverage before he left his post. (Id. at ¶¶ 9-10.)
• On July 28, 2015, according to DPR, Holassie failed to adhere to the schedule. (Id. at ¶ 12.) Holassie maintains that he was on time for his assigned shift. (Id.) On August 3, 2015, an employee conference was held to discuss the matter. (Id. at ¶¶ 11-12.)

         Holassie claims that at various points during the summer, he felt uncomfortable on the evening shift and asked Allen to switch him to the morning shift. (Id. at ¶ 13; ECF No. 42-4 (“Pl.'s Resp. to Interrog. No. 4”) at 5.) Allen denied his requests. (Id.)

         On August 3, 2015, Holassie told Allen that he felt targeted by other employees. (Pl.'s Resp. to Interrog. No. 5 at 9.) Allen then emailed Tyrell Morris, DPR's Director of Aquatics, stating: “Ronald Holassie has expressed to me that he feels as if he has been targeted by other employees and is being harassed. What would be the official DPR procedure course of action to take?” (ECF No. 44-7 (“Allen/Morris E-mail”) at 2.) On August 4, 2015, Morris responded, informing Allen that he would be meeting with Holassie later that day; Allen memorialized the substance of Holassie's incidents and meetings in an email to Morris and DPR's Aquatic Operations Manager. (Id.; Pl.'s Resp. 7(h)(1) Statement at ¶ 4.) At some point that day, Holassie rescheduled his meeting with Morris to the following day, August 5, 2015. (Pl.'s Resp. to Interrog. No. 5 at 10.)

         The morning of August 5, 2015, Holassie filed an EEOC complaint against DPR. (Id.) He then met with Morris and other DPR management employees that afternoon. (Id.) According to Holassie, at the meeting he explained that he had been “taunted and treated with unwarranted hostility by his supervisors and staff.” (Id.) Morris then read Allen's list of Holassie's alleged incidents and complaints and stated that, effective immediately, Holassie would be transferred to the Rumsey Aquatic Center. (Id. at 10-11.) Holassie agreed to the transfer and began working at the new location the following day. (Id. at 11.)

         B. Holassie's 2015 Termination

         On August 17, 2015, Holassie learned that his last day at DPR would be August 23, 2015. (ECF No. 44-16 (“Pl.'s Resp. to Interrog. No. 6”) at 15.) He e-mailed Morris to confirm, and Morris responded: “It is my understanding that this is the date you provided to staff as you were leaving to go back to school.” (ECF No. 44-10 (“Morris/Holassie E-mail”) at 2-3.) The parties dispute whether the August 23, 2015 end date was expected. (Pl.'s Resp. 7(h)(1) Statement at ¶¶ 16-17.)

         In support of its position that Holassie's employment was always contemplated to end in August, the District relies on the following facts: (1) DPR's personnel action form indicated that Holassie's last day would not be later than August 29, 2015 (ECF No. 42-9 (“Notification of Personnel Action”)); (2) DPR's decision-to-hire form, signed in December 2014, indicated that Holassie asked to end his employment by “mid-August” (ECF No. 42-10 (“Summer 2015 Decision Action Form”)); and (3) Holassie planned to return to school in Florida in August and travelled to Florida at the end of August to check on his financial aid status (ECF No. 42-6 (“Holassie Dep. I”) at 69:1-70:5).

         In support of his position that his employment was not expected to conclude in August, Holassie points to his testimony that his return to college depended on his ability to receive financial aid. (ECF No. 44-19 (“Holassie Dep. II”) at 11:17-12:5, 36:5-9.) He also testified that in prior years he had been told he was eligible for an extension past August.[1] (Id. at 102:18-20, 103:10-104:15.)

         C. Holassie's 2016 Application

         On April 24, 2016, Holassie applied to work as a summer 2016 DPR lifeguard. (ECF No. 44-13 (“2016 Holassie Application”).) Holassie did not receive an offer and he never returned to work for DPR. (Pl.'s Resp. to Interrog. No. 6 at 15.)

         The District claims Holassie was not hired because: (1) a current lifeguard certification is a mandatory prerequisite for lifeguard employment and Holassie's certification expired in January 2016, (see Pl.'s Resp. 7(h)(1) Statement at ¶¶ 18-19); and (2) DPR had already filled all the summer 2016 lifeguard positions, (see Id. at ¶ 20).

         Holassie disputes the District's proffered reasons. With respect to the certification, he relies on: (1) Morris' testimony that certification was not a prerequisite for scheduling an interview, (ECF No. 44-22 (“Morris Dep. I”) at 42:8-12; 43:13-18, 49:14-25), and (2) his own testimony that in past years he enrolled in the recertification course after HR notified him that he had been selected, (Holassie Dep. II at 82:21-83:20). With respect to the availability of summer 2016 lifeguard positions, Holassie points to Morris' testimony that by March 2016 he had “nearly sufficient guards, ” but that he could not “speak with any confidence” about where he was in the hiring process in April 2016. (Morris Dep. I at 45:14-21, 47:18-48:10.)


         A. ...

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