OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA DEPARTMENT
OF HUMAN RIGHTS,
MPA No. 95-14
Before the Court is petitioner’s Petition for Review from the District of Columbia Department of Human Rights (“DHR”), respondent District of Columbia Department of Human Rights’ Opposition and petitioner’s Reply Memorandum. Petitioner has challenged the DHR’s Determination on Reconsideration in the matter of Freedman v. Akin, Gump, Hauer & Feld (92-087-P (CN), which affirmed the Department’s finding of no probable cause as to petitioner’s claim that he had been discriminated against because of his sexual orientation by his former employer, the law firm of Akin, Gump. Having reviewed the pleadings and the record herein, this Court concludes that there is no basis for overturning DHR’s decision, and therefore, DHR’s determination of no probable cause is affirmed.
While the precise standard for reviewing a determination of no probable cause has yet to be definitively established by the Court of Appeals, see Simpson v. District of Columbia Office of
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Human Rights, 597 A.2d 392, 406 (D.C. 1991, 1/ this Court will adopt the standard advocated by appellant in Simpson: was the determination “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law”? Id. In reviewing the agency’s decision, the Court is cognizant that an “agency’s decision . . . is presumed to be correct, so that the burden of demonstrating error is on the appellant or petitioner who challenges the decision.” Cohen v. Rental Housing Comm’n., 496 A.2d 603, 605 (D.C. 1985). See also Motor Vehicle Mfr’s. Ass’n. of U.S., Inc. v. State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co., 463 U.S. 29, 43 (1983) (under the arbitrary and capricious standard, a court may not substitute its judgment for that of the agency); Steel Manufacturers Ass’n. v. Environmental Protection Agency, 27 F.3d 642, 646, 307 U.S. App. D.C. 192, 196 (1994) (in assessing whether agency decisions are arbitrary and capricious, a court must afford an agency “significant leeway” and may not substitute its judgment for that of the agency but shall require “only that the agency’s decisions reflect reasoned decision making”).
In this case DHR issued a detailed ten-page decision
1/ The Court of Appeals in Simpson did not settle on the precise wording that describes the standard to be used in the review of agency findings of no probable cause. In that case, the District argued that the standard was “arbitrary, capricious, or an abuse of discretion.” See Simpson, 597 A.2d at 406. Simpson contended that the standard was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.” The Court of Appeals noted that Simpson’s articulation seemed reasonable but declined to definitively adopt it, finding that the issue was not material to the resolution of that case.
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justifying its no probable cause finding. In its decision, DHR found that although petitioner had made out a prima facie case of discrimination under the analytic framework set forth in McDonnell-Douglas Corp. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973) and its progeny, respondent’s proffered reasons for terminating the petitioner were not pretextual, but were legitimate and nondiscriminatory given the valid concerns regarding petitioner’s mental health and stability based on petitioner’s own statements, the reactions of his co-workers to petitioners’ behavior, and the advice of mental health professionals. On the basis of these detailed findings of fact, DHR concluded that there was “no credible evidence in the record that respondent terminated [petitioner] because of his sexual orientation or that [petitioner] was harassed because of his sexual orientation.” Petitioner then moved for Reconsideration of the DHR’s Determination on July 27, 1993, and on September 24, 1993, DHR reaffirmed its determination of no probable cause.
Petitioner has now appealed DHR’s decision, arguing that DHR’s no probable cause determination was not supported by substantial evidence, since there was no basis upon which to conclude that petitioner’s belief that he had been subjected to harassment was the product of a serious mental disturbance; DHR exceeded its authority by adopting the employer’s allegations concerning petitioner’s mental condition and potential for violence, and DHR erred by ignoring evidence of retaliation and harassment, an allegedly inadequate investigation by respondent
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and fabrication of evidence.
Despite the exhaustive efforts by petitioner to support these arguments, the Court must conclude that the record is devoid of any basis for concluding that DHR’s decision was arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or not in accordance with the law. With respect to petitioner's arguments regarding DHR’s findings as to his mental condition, petitioner has apparently misunderstood DHR’s decision. Contrary to the petitioner’s argument, DHR did not find that petitioner suffered from a mental illness. Rather, DHR concluded that the law firm was not motivated by a discriminatory animus based on petitioner’s sexual orientation, but rather by a concern for his mental stability, and this constituted a legitimate business reason for his termination. As to petitioner’s argument that DHR failed to consider evidence regarding possible fabrication, harassment and/or retaliation, the Court has reviewed the record herein and finds that DHR considered the arguments now raised by petitioner and properly rejected them. It is not the role of this Court to weight the evidence and substitute its judgment for that of the agency. Moreover, neither DHR nor this Court need "determine whether or not defendant adequately investigated the charges of . . . discrimination before discharging plaintiff.” Evans v. Bally’s Health and Tennis, 64 FEP Case. 33, 38 (D.Md. 1994). See also Bradshaw v. Brookdale Hosp. Medical Ctr., 1993 Westlaw 289435 (E.D.N.Y. 1993) (even if defendant’s investigation resulted in an inaccurate determination, plaintiff offers no
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evidence that defendant acted with discriminatory intent). Consistent with the holdings of these cases, the Court concludes that any allegations regarding the adequacy of the firm’s investigation cannot negate the credibility of the respondent’s asserted reasons for the termination.
In sum, DHR’s determination that there was no probable cause to credit the claim of discrimination based on sexual orientation was not arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or inconsistent with the law. On the contrary, there was substantial evidence in the record to support DHR’s determination, and it was in accordance with the governing principles of law. It should therefore be affirmed.
Accordingly, it is this 10th day of June, 1996. Hereby
ORDERED that the petition is DENIED, and
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the status hearing on June 28, 1996 is cancelled.
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Signed in Chambers
Docketed JUN 12 1996
MAILED JUN 12 1996
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