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Johnson v. Interstate Management Company, LLC

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

March 3, 2017

Robert Lee Johnson, Appellant
v.
Interstate Management Company, LLC, doing business as Hamilton Crowne Plaza Hotel, Appellee

          Argued September 21, 2016

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 1:11-cv-01702)

          Ruthanne M. Deutsch, Supervising Attorney, appointed by the court, argued the cause as amicus curiae on behalf of appellant. With her on the briefs were Steven H. Goldblatt, appointed by the court, and Katherine Connolly, Lauren Ige, and David Kanter, Student Counsel.

          Nicholas T. Moraites argued the cause for appellee. With him on the brief was Edward R. Noonan.

          Before: Henderson, Kavanaugh, and Millett, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          Kavanaugh, Circuit Judge

         Robert Johnson was a cook at a Washington, D.C., hotel managed by Interstate Management Company. Over several years, Interstate repeatedly reprimanded Johnson for a variety of unsanitary cooking and cleaning practices in the hotel kitchen. In 2011, after concluding that Johnson had prepared a serving of breaded chicken with a piece of plastic melted under the breading, Interstate finally decided that enough was enough. Interstate fired him.

         Johnson does not believe that his history of unsanitary kitchen practices was the real reason he was fired. Instead, Johnson says that Interstate retaliated against him because he had previously complained (i) to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration about allegedly unsafe workplace conditions at the hotel and (ii) to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission about alleged employment discrimination by the hotel.

         After he was fired, Johnson sued Interstate and raised two claims relevant to this appeal. First, Johnson asserted a retaliation claim under Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. See 29 U.S.C. § 660(c). Johnson alleged that Interstate fired him in retaliation for his filing of a complaint against Interstate with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The District Court dismissed that claim, holding that Section 11(c) does not provide a private cause of action for retaliation claims. Second, Johnson advanced a retaliation claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. See 29 U.S.C. § 623(d); 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-3(a), 12203(a). Johnson alleged that Interstate fired him in retaliation for his filing of a discrimination complaint against Interstate with the EEOC. The District Court granted summary judgment to Interstate on Johnson's EEOC retaliation claim, concluding that Johnson did not present sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find that Interstate's stated reason for firing Johnson was a pretext for retaliation.

         We agree with the District Court, and we affirm.

         I

         From 1996 until 2011, Robert Johnson was a cook at the Hamilton Crowne Plaza Hotel in Washington, D.C. The hotel is managed by Interstate Management Company.

         In 2007, Johnson started receiving a steady stream of warnings from Interstate about his unsatisfactory job performance. Johnson was cited at different times for incorrectly filling out his time sheets, violating the company's anti-harassment policy, leaving water running in the kitchen, cleaning floor mats inside cooking pots, creating cross-contamination hazards while preparing meat, following improper procedures for thawing fish, and using the wrong ingredients when preparing meals.

         The warnings did not do much. In March 2010, Johnson was suspended for undercooking chicken served at a 250-person banquet. He was later reinstated with a "final warning": "Any violation of any standard of conduct will result in immediate termination of employment." Counseling/Disciplinary Record (Mar. 8, 2010), J.A. 522. Johnson's violations nonetheless persisted. Several months after Johnson's reinstatement, Interstate cited Johnson for thawing frozen chicken in a sink, cooling soup improperly, and setting off a fire alarm by allowing too much smoke to accumulate in the kitchen grill.

         In February 2011, a hotel employee discovered plastic wrap melted under the breading of a piece of cooked chicken that was served for dinner. Interstate conducted an investigation and concluded that Johnson cooked the chicken with the plastic in it. Relying on the company's investigation and Johnson's documented history of "repeated performance failings, " the Human Resources Director at the hotel, Vanessa Peters, fired Johnson. Declaration of Vanessa R. Peters ¶ 8 (Nov. 22, 2013), J.A. 509. By the time Interstate fired Johnson, Johnson had violated company policy on at least 13 separate occasions.

         Johnson traces his firing to a different cause. Over the years, Johnson had complained a number of times about Interstate to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In 2005, 2007, and 2010, Johnson filed discrimination complaints with the EEOC. Those complaints were unsuccessful. In February 2010, Johnson complained to the Occupational Safety and Health ...


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