160 F. Supp.2d 14 (2001) | Cited 0 times | District of Columbia | July 27, 2001




Both sides in this racially charged case frame their positionswith incendiary rhetoric. The plaintiffs, ten current and formerAfrican-American employees of the Christian Coalition of America("the Coalition"), move the court for a preliminary injunctionto prevent their employer from engaging in any retaliatoryconduct toward them. The plaintiffs, all of whom work or workedin the data-entry or remittance departments of the Coalition'sWashington, D.C. office, filed their complaint on February 23,2001. They explain that they brought this "lawsuit in 2001concerning Jim Crow-style racial discrimination." See Pls.'Reply ("Reply") at 16. The plaintiffs filed a first amendedcomplaint on May 25, 2001. On July 5, 2001, the plaintiffs movedthis court for a preliminary injunction, arguing that inretaliation for their lawsuit, the defendants1 have cuttheir work hours dramatically, forcing several of them to quit.

Firing back, the Coalition contends that the plaintiffs'motion for a preliminary injunction "is merely an attempt togenerate negative publicity against the Coalition and to forcewide-ranging discovery prior to a ruling on defendants'dispositive motions to dismiss and accompanying motions to staydiscovery." See Defs.' Opp'n to Mot. for Prelim. Inj. ("Defs.'Opp'n") at 1. The defendants argue that because the plaintiffshave made a relatively weakshowing in their motion for injunctive relief, the court shoulddeny the plaintiffs' motion.

For the reasons that follow, the court will grant in part anddeny in part the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminaryinjunction.


A. Factual History

Founded in 1989 by Pat Robertson "to give Christians a voicein government," the Christian Coalition "represent[s] a growinggroup of nearly 2 million people of faith to have a voice in theconversation we call democracy." Seehttp://www.cc.org/aboutcca/mission.html, last visited on July25, 2001. The Coalition, a non-profit corporation under section501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code, is incorporated underthe laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia. See First Am. Compl.at 3.

In June 2000, the Coalition moved its headquarters fromChesapeake, Virginia to Washington, D.C. See Defs.' Opp'n at7; First Am. Compl. at 3. To help staff its Washington office,the Coalition hired All-U-Need personnel, an employment agency.See Defs.' Opp'n at 8. When she was first hired in June 2000,Elizabeth Lee, an African-American woman, was an hourly employeeof this agency and had no supervisory authority. In mid-November2000, the Coalition offered her, and she accepted, a promotionto a salaried supervisory position, Remittance Manager. Seeid.

The other nine plaintiffs — Eboni N. Coatley-el, MonicaHagans, Latasha Lee, Lanae McCollum, Cynthia Moore, Tina M.Smith, Lisa J. Sutton, Norma Vaughn, and Marion R. Wilson — areall African-American women. Hired between June 2000 and January2001, these nine plaintiffs work or worked at an hourly rate ofpay between $6.50 and $8. See First Am. Compl. at 3. ElizabethLee earns a salary of $12 per hour. See E. Lee First Decl. at3. Every plaintiff works or worked in the Coalition's remittanceand data entry department. See First Am. Compl. at 3.2According to the defendants, the remittance and data processingdepartment, which Elizabeth Lee supervises, is divided into twoparts. See Defs.' Opp'n at 8. The department's main functionis to process the mail containing contributions to theCoalition. See id. As the defendants explain:

The duties of the plaintiffs who are, or were, in the Remittance division include counting the pieces of mail, opening them, and tabulating the total amount of the checks and/or cash received. When Remittance finished this processing, the mail was forwarded to Data Processing. The duties of the plaintiffs who were in the Data Processing division included entering the name and address of the contributor and total amount of the contribution into the Coalition database.

Id. (citing Cardenas Decl. at 2).

B. Procedural History

On February 23, 2001, the plaintiffs filed their initialcomplaint. They alleged that the Coalition had a "frontdoor/back door policy." See Compl. at 6. Specifically, theyclaimed that while white employees were allowed to use the frontdoor, which leads into the reception area and is accessible tothe public, black employees were instructed to use only the backdoor. See id. at 67. According to the plaintiffs, RobertaCombs, the Coalition's Executive Director, justified this policyby saying "that she did not want important people seeing thegirls from remittance/data entry in the reception area." Seeid. at 8.

The African-American remittance/data entry employees alsoclaimed that the Coalition maintained segregated kitchen andbreak facilities. See Compl. at 9. Whereas white employeeswere allowed to use the kitchen — which contained arefrigerator, microwave, dishwasher, bottled water service,coffeemaker, and television — the black remittance and dataentry employees allegedly had to take breaks in a segregatedbreak area "consisting of tables shoved against the wall of theremittance/data entry room." See id. at 9.

The plaintiffs also charged that the Coalition excluded blackemployees from the Christmas party and from events revolvingaround the inauguration of President George W. Bush, provided nohealth-care coverage to any of the black employees, and refusedto pay the black employees overtime. See Compl. at 10-15.

The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants have violated theD.C. Human Rights Act, D.C.Code § 1-2501 et seq., haveviolated the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2001 etseq., and have committed intentional infliction of emotionaldistress. See Compl. at 16-19. On May 4, 2001, the defendantsresponded by filing a motion to dismiss pursuant to FederalRules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) (lack of subject-matterjurisdiction) and 12(b)(6) (failure to state a claim). Seegenerally Defs.' Mot. to Dis.

On May 25, 2001, the plaintiffs filed a first amendedcomplaint. They now contend that after they filed this lawsuit,the "[d]efendants engaged in a course of conduct intended toforce one or more Plaintiffs to resign." See First Am. Compl.at 15. Among other things, the plaintiffs charge that beforethey filed their original complaint, the Coalition maintained apolicy of paying a minimum of four hours pay when an hourlyemployee reported to work, even if there was insufficient workto perform. See id. at 16. After the employees filed theirsuit, however, the Coalition allegedly adopted a policy ofrefusing to pay them the four-hour minimum. See id.

The remittance and data-entry employees also assert that theprevious requirement that each employee process a minimum of 300transactions per day was increased to 2,000 transactions perday. See id. at 17. Moreover, the defendants' outsideconsultants allegedly told Elizabeth Lee that the plaintiffswould be allowed only one bathroom break per day, and "would beexpected to type continuously from 9 am [sic] until lunchtime at12:45." See id.

In addition to the counts alleged in the original complaint,the plaintiffs added two counts in their amended complaint:intentional racial discrimination in violation of42 U.S.C. § 1981 on behalf of all the plaintiffs, and constructive dischargebased on a hostile work environment on behalf of the fourplaintiffs who allegedly had been forced to quit by thedefendants' conduct. Through their briefs and the affidavits ofemployees, the defendants deny all charges of racialdiscrimination and retaliation.

C. Background to the Motion for a Preliminary Injunction

In a nutshell, the plaintiffs contend that they needinjunctive relief to prevent the defendants from engaging inunlawful retaliatory conduct toward the plaintiffs who are stillemployed at the Coalition or toward witnesses who haveinformation that could help the plaintiffs' case. See Mot. forPrelim. Inj. at 1. Since they filed theinitial lawsuit, the plaintiffs argue that the "[d]efendantshave gradually intensified pressure on Plaintiffs to resign."See id. Noting that only five out of the original 10plaintiffs remained employed at the Coalition, the plaintiffsstate that the defendants have sought to reduce the hours of theremaining four hourly plaintiffs to no more than a few hours perday. "Unless this Court takes prompt action, no Plaintiffs willremain employed at the Coalition as a result of Defendants'retaliation." See id. at 2.

Before they filed their suit, the plaintiffs maintained thatthey "regularly worked full days" in the remittance anddata-entry departments. See Mot. for Prelim. Inj. at 2. Afterthey filed their suit, however, the work in the office began todecrease and the work conditions allegedly grew more hostile,forcing some of the plaintiffs to resign. Only five plaintiffsremain at the Coalition: Elizabeth Lee, Lanae McCollum, TinaSmith, Lisa Sutton, and Marion Wilson. See id. at 3."According to the Coalition, the work originally performed byten full-time, hourly employees is now only sufficient to occupyfour hourly employees at less than half-time, an estimatedreduction in workload of 80%." See id. (citing E. Lee Decl. at3).

On June 14, 2001, a memo from defendant Roberta Combs wasdistributed which was "purportedly meant to `clarify'" that theregular workday for the hourly employees was from 9 a.m. to12:30 p.m. each weekday. See Mot. for Prelim. Inj. at 3. Thememo explained that there was "not enough work" to maintain afull-time schedule for the hourly employees. See id. Theemployees take issue with the Coalition's assertion that it hasthe right to "agree" with the hourly employees to a workschedule of less than four hours per day under D.C. law. Seeid. (citing D.C. Mun. Regs. Tit. 7, § 907.1). The employeesnote that at three-and-a-half hours per day, they are grossingbetween $26.25 and $28 per workday. If the court accepted thedefendants' logic, they argue, the defendants could continue toreduce the "assigned" work hours to one or two hours per day.See id. "Defendants are slowly forcing Plaintiffs['] pay downto a level where it is less than their commuting and child carecosts." See id. at 3-4.

A key point in the dispute is the plaintiffs' contention thatthe volume of work has not decreased by 80 percent. See Mot.for Prelim. Inj. at 4. Rather, the plaintiffs claim, thedefendants "began implementing a scheme" to reassign work"secretly" from the plaintiffs to the single white employee inthe remittance area, and to other employees who had never doneremittance or data-entry work before. See id. In herdeclaration, Elizabeth Lee says that on June 20, 2001, she foundsigned documentation showing that "Walter (`Rob') Schmidt, thesingle white employee in remittance, Arlynn Gray, and TracyAmmons, had been performing data entry work on June 19, afterthe black hourly employees who are Plaintiffs left the office."See E. Lee Decl. at 5. Ms. Lee states that because thedata-entry work was beginning to pile up, she called Ms. Combsat about 12:20 p.m. on June 20, 2001 to ask her if the blackemployees could stay after 12:30 p.m. to finish the work, butthat Ms. Combs refused. See id. Ms. Combs "said she hadsomebody else to do the work. I had to stay and show and tellTracey [sic] Ammons and Arlynn Gray how to do the work." Id.

The employees contend that Mr. Ammons, the Human ResourcesDirector, does not have any responsibility for remittance anddata-entry work. See E. Lee Decl. at 6. Elizabeth Lee alsostates that Rob Schmidt came to her on the morning of June 21,2001 and asked her toapologize for him to the black hourly employees for doing workthat they could be doing. See id. She added that despiteRoberta Combs's statement that Rob Schmidt was performing theremittance and data-entry work as a volunteer, Rob Schmidt toldElizabeth Lee that the Coalition was paying him to do the work.See id.

The second principal point of contention revolves around theCoalition's hiring of an outside consultant, Campaign Mail andData, Inc. ("CMDI"), to do the data-entry work. On July 2, 2001,Elizabeth Lee noticed that 12 shelves that had previously beenfilled with data-entry work to be performed just a week beforewere now empty. See E. Lee Decl. at 7. She learned the nextday that the work had been sent to CMDI for data entry. SeeMot. for Prelim. Inj. at 5.

To further support their motion for a preliminary injunction,the plaintiffs include declarations from three former ChristianCoalition employees: Trent Barton, Candace Wheeler, and JoelGarrett.3 Mr. Barton, a white man who worked at theCoalition from about December 26, 2000 to February 27, 2001,said he learned that the Coalition prohibited African — Americanemployees who worked in remittance and data entry from using the"front door" into the Coalition's reception area. See BartonDecl. at 1. "When I asked an employee why this policy existed, Iwas told that Roberta Combs did not want `important people' tosee the girls from the back." Id. He also learned that theCoalition prohibited these employees from using the kitchen, andthat Candace Wheeler — a white employee who began working at theCoalition in December 2000 — was receiving health insurancebenefits, while Elizabeth Lee was not. See id. at 2. Finally,Mr. Barton says he was fired because he refused to spy on hisco-workers. As he explains:

On or about Thursday, February 22, 2001, Tracy Ammons asked me to enter the remittance/data entry room and eavesdrop on the African-American employees. . . . On Monday, February 26, 2001, I told Tracy Ammons that I was unwilling to eavesdrop or spy on fellow employees. On the evening of February 27, 2001, at approximately 10:30 p.m., Tracy Ammons phoned me and told me that my services at the Coalition were no longer needed. Mr. Ammons said to me that he knew I would not cause trouble for the Coalition, since I was a good Christian and [a] man of integrity. I took his statement to mean that any support for the racial discrimination lawsuit would be contrary to my religious and ethical beliefs as a Christian.

Barton Decl. at 3.

Candace Wheeler, a white woman who served as Director ofMembership Services at the Coalition from December 12, 2000 toApril 30, 2001, also states that the Coalition had a "back door"policy for the African-American employees. See Wheeler Decl.at 1-2. She says she learned that none of the black employeeshad been invited to the office's Christmas party in December2000, and that they were regularly excluded from other officesocial events. See id. at 2. Ms. Wheeler explains that "[u]ponlearning these facts, I became very concerned that theleadership of the Coalition was intentionally discriminatingagainst the black women who worked for the Coalition. It iscontrary to my beliefs as a Christian to treat persons as lesserhuman beings because of their race." See id. at 3. Lastly, Ms.Wheeler said that at several prayer meetings after theplaintiffsfiled their lawsuit, "Roberta Combs told the group that she andPat Robertson were anointed of God. Mrs. Combs stated that shefelt sorry for anyone who crossed them because `God would dealwith them.'" See id.

Lastly, Joel Garrett — who describes himself as "a Christianwho generally agrees with the Coalition's political goals" —worked for the Coalition around the time of the RepublicanNational Convention in the summer of 2000. See Garrett Decl.at 1. During his time with the Coalition, he does not recall"ever observing the black employees from remittance using thefront door through the reception area. The only places I wouldsee these black employees was in the remittance room or thestorage room." See id. at 3.

In response, the Coalition and Ms. Combs vigorously refute theallegations of unlawful retaliation. They note that the declinein the Coalition's contributor mail since December 2000 (about73 percent) "was probably the result of several factors,including the end of the presidential election cycle andplaintiffs' incompetence in entering data, which resulted innumerous complaints from contributors due to too frequentsolicitation." See Defs.' Opp'n at 9 (citing Decl. of CMDIPresident John Simms at 5-6).

Moreover, in seeking to support their assertion that the courtshould deny the plaintiffs' motion because the plaintiffs haveunclean hands, the defendants charge that plaintiff ElizabethLee engaged in mismanagement, misconduct, and nepotism. Theystate that after she assumed the supervisory position inNovember 2000, Ms. Lee hired plaintiffs Monica Hagans and TinaMarie Smith. See Defs.' Opp'n at 9. Moreover, although theCoalition suffered a 16 percent decline in incoming mail betweenDecember 2000 and January 2001, after all the discriminatoryevents alleged in the initial complaint had supposedly occurred,Ms. Lee hired three new employees in late January 2001:"plaintiff Latasha Whitfield-Lee (apparently her sister-in-law),plaintiff Lanae McCollum (plaintiff Monica Hagens' roommate),and plaintiff Norma Vaughn." See id. (citing Cardenas Decl. at3). Seeking to cast doubt on the plaintiffs' overall case, thedefendants note that "[w]ithin three weeks, each of these newemployees joined the lawsuit, each claiming she was the victimof widespread discrimination. These same employees are nowclaiming retaliation because their work hours have declined."See Defs.' Opp'n at 9.

In terms of its use of the outside vendor, the Coalitionexplains that from June to September 2000, CMDI provided on-linedata services to the Coalition. Although it ceased itsrelationship with CMDI in September 2000, the Coalition resumedits business relationship with CMDI in March 2001. At thatpoint, the Coalition gave copies of all the data previouslyentered to CMDI, which attempted to integrate it with itsexisting Coalition database. See id. at 10. According to thedefendants, "CMDI discovered that the data was incomplete,severely corrupted, and rife with duplicative entries. . . .CMDI discovered that the poor quality of the work done by theCoalition's data processing staff was the primary source of thedata problems." Id.; see also Decl. of Coalition employeeSusan Floyd at 2-3 (stating that the data processing staffperformed well below industry standards, that many were poortypists who use the "hunt and peck" typing system, and that theywere not willing to complete even the most basic tasks). Inaddition, CMDI President John Simms says the remittance staffswork product was "as deficient as the work product of the dataentry staff." See Simms Decl. at 5. He adds that the dataentry staffsfailure to properly maintain the development database may bepartially responsible for the decrease in the mail volumeexperienced by the Coalition since December 2000. See id. at5-6.

In the defendants' view, the Coalition made a legitimatebusiness decision to farm out the data entry work to an outsidevendor since the Coalition's data entry staff could not handleit in a satisfactory manner. Accordingly, starting on June 25,2001, "in light of the resignations, no shows, and incompetenceof the Coalition's data processing personnel, the Coalitionstopped using its personnel to do data entry." See Defs.'Opp'n at 11. The vendor now enters all data on its own directlyfrom the remittance data prepared by the Coalition. See id.

In terms of some of the other allegations by the plaintiffs,the defendants offer their version of the facts. For example,Cecelia Cardenas, Mrs. Combs's personal assistant, explains thatMs. Lee's supervisors refused to allow the African-Americanemployees to work past 12:30 p.m. because the Coalition felt theemployees should have been able to complete the processing ofthe day's mail during regular work hours. See Cardenas Decl.at 5. "On those occasions when the Remittance and DataProcessing employees dragged their feet and did not complete themail during their regular hours, other employees at theCoalition helped complete the work." See Cardenas Decl. at 5.

Meanwhile, in their reply brief, the plaintiffs hone in on thefact that the defendants reintroduced CMDI into the Coalition'soperation in March 2001, "just weeks after this lawsuit wasfiled." See Reply at 1. The African-American employees citethe sudden re-appearance of CMDI and the "immediate overhaul andoutsourcing of work" as prima-facie evidence of retaliation.See id.

The plaintiffs also call attention to the fact that thedefendants rely on Cecelia Cardenas's declaration more than anyother even though she was not hired as Ms. Combs's assistantuntil March 2001, after the lawsuit was filed, and thus lackspersonal knowledge of the many events about which she claims tohave "personal knowledge." See Reply at 2.

In addition, the plaintiffs charge that the defendants havenow changed their retaliatory strategy by instructing RobSchmidt — the white employee in remittance who had previouslybeen instructed to do some of the African-American employees'work — not to work past 12:30 p.m. anymore. See id. at 3.Instead, Elizabeth Lee says she is "expected to complete all ofthe work myself. I have been told to stay each evening until thework is done, work that used to be performed by the hourlyemployees."4 See E. Lee Second Decl. at 4-5. Theplaintiffs contend that "[b]y imposing this excessive workschedule on one salaried person, who is not being paid overtime,the Coalition may also compel Elizabeth Lee to quit due tothe hostile work conditions." See Reply at 3-4.

Elizabeth Lee also contends that previously, neither theCoalition nor CMDI complained about the procedures used tocomplete the Coalition's data-entry work, and that the sameprocedures have been in place since June 2000. See E. LeeSecond Decl. at 5. She also notes that because of computerproblems, no data-entry work was done from September toNovember, 2000. See id. at 1. And contesting the defendants'assertion that she unilaterally decided to hire people,Elizabeth Lee notes that in November 2000, Roberta Combs askedher to find more employees to clear up the data-entry backlog.See id. at 2. Moreover, she disputes the accusation ofemployee incompetence by pointing out that Coalition employeeAllyson Plathe gave all of the remittance and data-entryemployees a typing test in late 2000, and all but one employeepassed. See id. Finally, she declares that "[a]t no time haveI had the authority to hire employees for my section without theapproval of Tracy Ammons (and, ultimately, Roberta Combs)."Id. Mr. Ammons conducts the job interviews and makes thehiring decisions. See id.

The plaintiffs also take issue with the charges of nepotism.Plaintiff Lanae McCollum, a Coalition employee from January 2001to the present, states that she has never been a roommate orlived with plaintiff Monica Hagans. See McCollum Decl. at 1.When she was looking for work, she asked Ms. Hagans, a longtimefriend, to take a resume to the Christian Coalition and see ifthey were hiring. See id. Ms. McCollum states, "Tracey [sic]Ammons interviewed me for the position in remittance and I washired." See id.

In addition, plaintiff Latasha Lee, a Coalition employee fromJanuary to May 2001, states that contrary to the defendants'submission, she is not Elizabeth Lee's sister-in-law, but thatElizabeth Lee is a cousin of her husband. See L. Lee Decl. at1. Furthermore, she did not meet Elizabeth Lee until she appliedfor work at the Coalition, after her mother-in-law informed herthat the Coalition was hiring. Tracy Ammons asked her tocomplete the paperwork for the application process and hiredher. See id. at 1-2. She quit her job in part because of thereduced hours and in part because of what she judged to be ahostile work environment. See id. at 2-3. "During the time Iworked at the Coalition, no one told me that I was performingremittance work improperly." Id. at 3.

Finally, the defendants' surreply adds little in terms of newfactual assertions, with the exception being the observationthat the plaintiffs' own complaint lists plaintiffs MonicaHagans and Lanae McCollum as having the same address. SeeSurreply at 14 n. 17.

D. Plaintiff Tina Smith's Conduct

The last major factual point of contention concerns plaintiffTina Smith's conduct on the morning of June 21, 2001. At about10 a.m. that day, Ms. Smith became involved in a dispute withMaria Trejos, the cashier at the American Café, a restaurantlocated in the basement of the building where the Coalitionrents space. See Defs.' Opp'n at 12.

The parties dispute who initiated the altercation. Theplaintiffs characterize the episode as "Maria's verbal assaulton Tina Smith." See E. Lee Decl. at 6. Elizabeth Lee, awitness to the dispute, says that when Tina Smith complainedthat Ms. Trejos was being rude to her by asking whether she hadone or two eggs on her croissant, Ms. Trejos responded by sayingshe complained too much and called her a "bitch." See id. Onthe other hand, thedefendants contend that Ms. Smith "verbally assaulted the femalecashier" and that during the course of the incident, Ms. Smith"snatched the money she had paid, threatened to `kick the ass'of the cashier, and further threatened to wait for her afterwork to commit the assault." See Defs.' Opp'n at 12 (citingTrejos Decl. at 2-3). Moreover, the defendants maintain thateven though a restaurant employee told Ms. Smith not to returnto the premises, she returned and had an argument the next day,this time with the manager. See id.

Gloria Waul, a co-worker at the American Café and aneyewitness, supports Ms. Trejos's version of the facts. Inaddition, Ahmed Mohamed, the owner and operator of therestaurant, states that although he did not observe the incidentfirsthand, when he returned to the restaurant, Ms. Trejos was"crying and shaken." See Mohamed Decl. at 1. He adds thatduring the time he has known Ms. Trejos, "I have never known herto curse or threaten anyone." See id. at 3.

After learning of the incident, Mr. Mohammed went to theCoalition's office in the building to complain about the conductof the Coalition's employee. See id. at 2. Later that day, theCoalition's representatives interviewed Mr. Mohammed and Ms.Waul. The defendants explained that based on these interviewswith third-party witnesses, "the Coalition did the responsiblething: it suspended Ms. Smith [without pay] pending aninvestigation." See Defs.' Opp'n at 12. It also advised Ms.Smith's counsel that it would welcome the opportunity tointerview her. According to the defendants, plaintiffs' counseldid not respond to this request.5 See id.

E. Requested Injunctive Relief

Based on their allegations, the plaintiffs ask the court toorder the Coalition to restore the work assignments whichprevailed before they filed this lawsuit and to allow theremaining five plaintiffs (Elizabeth Lee, Tina Smith, LeeSutton, Marion Wilson, and Lanae McCollum) to complete theirwork. Specifically, the plaintiffs move the court to prohibitthe defendants from reassigning work that was routinelyperformed by the African-American remittance and data-entryemployees to any outside consultants, to salaried employees, orto hourly white employees pending this suit's resolution. SeeMot. for Prelim. Inj. at 2. "Unless Defendants show cause,Plaintiffs should be entitled to work the original work scheduleof 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. each day (provided that there is workavailable) and should be guaranteed a minimum of four hours payper [workday], in accordance with D.C. law." See id.More-over, the plaintiffs ask the court to order thereinstatement of plaintiff Tina Smith and to guarantee her aminimum of four hours paid work per day. See Mot. for Prelim.Inj., Pls.' Proposed Order.

In response, the defendant argues that the plaintiff hasfailed to make the requisite showing to justify the court'sissuance of injunctive relief. With regard to every plaintiffstill employed by the Coalition except Tina Smith, the courtdisagrees.


A. Legal Standard for Injunctive Relief

This court may issue a preliminary injunction only when themovant demonstrates that:

(1) there is a substantial likelihood plaintiff will succeed on the merits; (2) plaintiff will be irreparably injured if an injunction is not granted; (3) an injunction will not substantially injure the other party; and (4) the public interest will be furthered by an injunction.

Davenport v. International Bhd. of Teamsters, 166 F.3d 356,361 (D.C.Cir. 1999); see also World Duty Free Americas, Inc. v.Summers, 94 F. Supp.2d 61, 64 (D.C. 2000). These four factorsare not considered in isolation from one another, and no onefactor is necessarily dispositive as to whether preliminaryinjunctive relief is warranted. See CityFed Fin. Corp. v.Office of Thrift Supervision, 58 F.3d 738, 746 (D.C.Cir. 1995).Rather, the factors "interrelate on a sliding scale and must bebalanced against each other."6 Davenport, 166 F.3d at361 (citing Serono Labs. v. Shalala, 158 F.3d 1313, 1317-18(D.C.Cir. 1998)); see also WMATC v. Holiday Tours, Inc.,559 F.2d 841, 842-43 (D.C.Cir. 1977) (court "examines eachrequirement in light of the others to determine whether aninjunction would be proper").

Thus, a particularly strong showing on one factor maycompensate for a weak showing on one or more of the otherfactors. See Serono Labs., 158 F.3d at 1318. For instance, asto the first factor, "[t]he court is not required to find thatultimate success by the movant is a mathematical probability,and indeed, [the court] may grant [an injunction] even thoughits own approach may be contrary to [the movants'] view of themerits. The necessary `level' or `degree' of possibility ofsuccess will vary according to the court's assessment of theother factors." New Mexico v. Richardson, 39 F. Supp.2d 48, 50(D.C. 1999) (quoting Holiday Tours, 559 F.2d at 843).

A strong showing of likely success on the merits may warrantissuance of preliminary injunctive relief even if the plaintiffmakes a less compelling showing on the other three factors. SeeVirginia Petroleum Jobbers Ass'n v. Federal Power Comm'n,259 F.2d 921, 925 (D.C.Cir. 1958) ("injury held insufficient tojustify a stay in one case may well be sufficient to justify itin another, where the applicant has demonstrated a higherprobability of success on the merits."); National WildlifeFed'n v. Andrus, 440 F. Supp. 1245, 1256 (D.C. 1977) (enjoiningfurther construction on dam power plant, despite dispute overirreparable injury, because "the court is convinced byplaintiffs' argument on the merits and therefore finds itsufficient on the question of irreparable injury . . .").

If the plaintiff makes a particularly weak showing on onefactor, however, the other factors may not be enough to"compensate." See Taylor v. RTC, 56 F.3d 1497, 1506(D.C.Cir.), amended on other grounds on reh'g, 66 F.3d 1226(D.C.Cir. 1995). It is particularly important for the plaintiffto demonstrate a substantial likelihood of success on themerits. Cf. Benten v. Kessler, 505 U.S. 1084, 1085, 112 S.Ct.2929, 120 L.Ed.2d 926 (1992) (per curiam); University of Texasv. Camenisch, 451 U.S. 390, 394, 101 S.Ct. 1830, 68 L.Ed.2d 175(1981); Doran v. Salem Inn, Inc., 422 U.S. 922, 934, 95 S.Ct.2561, 45 L.Ed.2d 648 (1975). If the plaintiff fails to make thisshowing, "it would take a very strong showing with respect tothe other preliminary injunction factors to turn the tide inplaintiff['s] favor." Davenport, 166 F.3d at 366; see, e.g.,National Pharm. Alliance v. Henney, 47 F. Supp.2d 37, 41 (D.C.1999) ("Here, because the likelihood of success is slim,plaintiffs would have to make a very substantial showing ofsevere irreparable injury in order to prevail on theirmotion."). Indeed, absent a "substantial indication" of likelysuccess on the merits, "there would be no justification for thecourt's intrusion into the ordinary processes of administrationand judicial review." American Bankers Ass'n v. National CreditUnion Admin., 38 F. Supp.2d 114, 141 (D.C. 1999) (quotingHoliday Tours, 559 F.2d at 843).

In addition, any injunction that the court issues must becarefully circumscribed and tailored to remedy the harm shown.See National Treasury Employees Union v. Yeutter,918 F.2d 968, 977 (D.C.Cir. 1990) (citation omitted).

Finally, because preliminary injunctions are extraordinaryforms of judicial relief, courts should grant them sparingly.See Mylan Pharms., Inc. v. Thompson, 139 F. Supp.2d 1, 17(D.C. 2001) (Urbina, J.); Moore v. Summers, 113 F. Supp.2d 5,17 (D.C. 2000). Although the trial court has the discretion toissue or deny a preliminary injunction, it is not a form ofrelief granted lightly. See Ambach v. Bell, 686 F.2d 974, 979(D.C.Cir. 1982). As the Supreme Court has said, "[i]t frequentlyis observed that a preliminary injunction is an extraordinaryand drastic remedy, one that should not be granted unless themovant, by a clear showing, carries the burden of persuasion."Mazurek v. Armstrong, 520 U.S. 968, 972, 117 S.Ct. 1865, 138L.Ed.2d 162 (1997).

B. Injunctive-Relief Analysis

In this case, the court determines that all the plaintiffsexcept Ms. Smith make a strong showing on all four factors thatthe court must consider in the injunctive-relief analysis. Inshort, the plaintiffs have shown that they are likely to prevailon the merits of their case, they would suffer irreparable harmif an injunction is not issued, the balance of the equitiesfavors the plaintiffs, and issuance of a preliminary injunctionwould serve the public interest.

1. The Plaintiffs Have a Strong Likelihood of Success on the Merits

In their motion for a preliminary injunction, the plaintiffsargue that they have a strong likelihood of success on themerits of their unlawful-retaliation claim.7 To assess thestrength of the plaintiffs' claim that the defendants unlawfullyretaliated against them for complaining of discriminatorytreatment, the court applies the familiar McDonnell Douglastest used in cases involving claims under Title VII of the CivilRights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.("Title VII"). "The methods and order of proof applicable to aclaim of disparate treatment under Title VII apply equally underSection 1981." See Richardson v. National Rifle Ass'n,871 F. Supp. 499, 502 (D.C. 1994) (citing McDonnell Douglas Corp. v.Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973)).

a. The McDonnell Douglas Framework

To prevail on a claim of race discrimination or retaliationunder Title VII, a plaintiff must follow a three-partburden-shifting analysis. See McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at802, 93 S.Ct. 1817. The Supreme Court has explained this schemeas follows:

First, the plaintiff has the burden of proving by the preponderance of the evidence a prima facie case of discrimination. Second, if the plaintiff succeeds in proving the prima facie case, the burden shifts to the defendant `to articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the employee's rejection.' Third, should the defendant carry this burden, the plaintiff must then have an opportunity to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the legitimate reasons offered by the defendant were not its true reasons, but were a pretext for discrimination. . . . The ultimate burden of persuading the trier of fact that the defendant intentionally discriminated against the plaintiff remains at all times with the plaintiff.

Texas Dep't of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248,252-53, 101 S.Ct. 1089, 67 L.Ed.2d 207 (1981) (quotingMcDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802, 93 S.Ct. 1817 (citationsomitted)).

Thus, the plaintiff must first establish a prima-facie case ofprohibited discrimination or retaliation. See McDonnellDouglas, 411 U.S. at 802, 93 S.Ct. 1817; Aka v. WashingtonHosp. Ctr., 156 F.3d 1284, 1288 (D.C.Cir. 1998) (en banc). Todemonstrate a prima-facie case of retaliation, the plaintiffmust establish that: (1) the plaintiff engaged in a protectedactivity; (2) the employer took an adverse personnel actionagainst her; and (3) there is a causal link between the adverseaction and the protected activity. See Jones v. WashingtonMetro. Area Transit Auth., 205 F.3d 428, 433 (D.C.Cir. 2000).

If the plaintiff succeeds in making a prima-facie case, theburden shifts to the employer to articulate a non-discriminatoryor non-retaliatory reason for its action. The employer's burden,however, is merely one of production. See Texas Dep't ofCommunity Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. at 254-55, 101 S.Ct.1089. The employer "need not persuade the court that it wasactually motivated by the proffered reasons. It is sufficient ifthe defendant's evidence raises a genuine issue of fact as towhether it discriminated against the plaintiff." Id. If theemployer is successful, the burden shifts back to the plaintiffto show that the defendant's proffered reasons are pretextualand that unlawful discrimination was the real reason for theaction. See McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802-805, 93 S.Ct.1817; St. Mary's Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 508, 113S.Ct. 2742, 125 L.Ed.2d 407 (1993).

The defendant's explanation of its legitimate reasons must be"clear and reasonably specific" so that the plaintiff is"afforded a full and fair opportunity to demonstrate pretext."See Burdine, 450 U.S. at 258, 101 S.Ct. 1089 (citationomitted). A subjective reason can be legally sufficient,legitimate, and nondiscriminatory if the defendant articulates aclear and reasonably specific factual basis upon which it basedits subjective opinion. See id.

Once the defendant carries its burden of articulating a"legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason" for the adverse action,the plaintiff must have an opportunity to prove by apreponderance of the evidence that the legitimate reasonsoffered by the defendant were not its true reasons, but were apretext for unlawful discrimination or retaliation. SeeMcDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802, 93 S.Ct. 1817. "That is,the plaintiff may attempt to establish that he was the victim ofintentional discrimination `by showing that the employer'sproffered explanation is unworthy of credence'" and that theplaintiffs membership in a protected class was the true reasonfor the employment action. See Reeves v. Sanderson PlumbingProds., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 2106, 147 L.Ed.2d105 (2000) (quoting Burdine, 450 U.S. at 256, 101 S.Ct. 1089);see also Aka, 156 F.3d at 1290; Mungin v. Katten Muchin &Zavis, 116 F.3d 1549, 1554 (D.C.Cir. 1997).

Both the Supreme Court and the D.C. Circuit have held that theburden-shifting scheme becomes irrelevant once both parties havemet the burdens discussed above. See Reeves, 120 S.Ct. at2106; Aka, 156 F.3d at 1289. At that point, the relevantinquiry is whether there is sufficient evidence from which areasonable trier of fact could find in favor of the plaintiff,although "the trier of fact may still consider the evidenceestablishing the plaintiffs prima facie case and inferencesproperly drawn therefrom . . . on the issue of whether thedefendant's explanation is pretextual." See Reeves, 120 S.Ct.at 2106 (citing Burdine, 450 U.S at 255 n. 10, 101 S.Ct.1089); see also Aka, 156 F.3d at 1290; Mungin, 116 F.3d at1554. In Aka, the D.C. Circuit found that the plaintiff hadpresented no evidence directly suggesting discrimination, butinstead presented evidence that the defendant's profferedjustification was false. The Aka court ruled that simplycasting doubt on the employer's proffered justification did notautomatically enable the plaintiff to survive summary judgment.See Aka, 156 F.3d at 1290-91. Rather, "the plaintiffs attackon the employer's explanation must always be assessed in lightof the total circumstances of the case." Id. at 1291.

In sum, once an employer has met its burden of advancing anondiscriminatory reason for its actions, the focus ofproceedings at summary judgment:

will be on whether the jury could infer discrimination from the combination of (1) the plaintiffs prima facie case; (2) any evidence the plaintiff presents to attack the employer's proffered explanation for its actions; and (3) any further evidence of discrimination that may be available to the plaintiff (such as independent evidence of discriminatory statements or attitudes on the part of the employer) or any contrary evidence that may be available to the employer (such as evidence of a strong track record in equal opportunity employment).

See Aka, 156 F.3d at 1289.

In Reeves, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the principles setforth in Aka. Mandating a case-by-case approach, the SupremeCourt instructed district courts to examine a number of factors,including "the strength of the plaintiffs prima facie case, theprobative value of the proof that the employer's explanation isfalse, and any other evidence that supports [or undermines] theemployer's case." See Reeves, 530 U.S. 133, 120 S.Ct. at 2108;see also Aka, 156 F.3d at 1289.

Applying these legal standards to the instant case, the courtproceeds with its analysis.

b. The Plaintiffs' Claim of Unlawful Retaliation

The defendants make two main points in arguing that theplaintiffs have failed to demonstrate a prima-facie case ofretaliation. First, the defendants argue that the plaintiffscannot establish an adverse personnel action. See Defs.' Opp'nat 24. According to the defendants, the plaintiffs have failedto demonstrate the requisite "significant change" in employmentstatus because the Coalition hasmaintained a consistent work-hours policy during the period ofthe plaintiffs' employment. See id. at 24-25. The courtrejects this notion out of hand. If the plaintiffs' hoursdropped from 37 1/2 hours per week to about 17 1/2 hours perweek, this decrease constitutes a "significant change" inemployment status. Even assuming arguendo that the defendants'official policy on the books was for the plaintiffs to work onlyuntil all the data entry and remittance work had been completed,the defendants themselves do not dispute that before thelawsuit, the plaintiffs' average day actually ran from about 9a.m. to 4:30 p.m., or 7 1/2 hours. A cut in pay of more than 50percent qualifies as a "significant change" in a person'semployment status.

Second, in terms of causation, the defendants argue that giventhe "substantial time lapse" of about four months between thefiling of the plaintiffs' complaint and the plaintiffs' allegedadverse employment action, the plaintiffs have failed toestablish a sufficient causal connection between the filing oftheir complaint and the Coalition's alleged retaliatoryreduction of their hours. See Defs.' Opp'n at 27. First, thecourt does not deem four months to be an unduly long lapse oftime. Second, the defendants ignore the fact that the plaintiffsfiled their original complaint on February 23, 2001, and thatonly a few weeks later in March 2001, the Coalition brought inan outside vendor to begin doing some of the plaintiffs' work.Third, the defendants omit the fact that on May 25th, theplaintiffs filed an amended complaint and that in June 2001, theCoalition began drastically cutting down the plaintiffs' hours.The plaintiffs are likely to persuade the jury that there is acausal connection between the filing of their complaint and theadverse action. Accordingly, the court holds that the plaintiffshave established a prima-facie case of unlawful retaliation.

Under the McDonnell Douglas test, the burden now shifts tothe defendants to offer a legitimate, non-discriminatory reasonfor the reduction in their employees' hours. The defendants meettheir burden by stating that because of the substantial drop inincoming mail after the 2000 election cycle, the Coalition hadless mail for the plaintiffs to process. See Defs.' Opp'n at25. In addition, because of the plaintiffs' alleged incompetencein handling the mail, the Coalition outsourced more of the workand transferred the data-processing functions to an outsidevendor for business reasons.

The third phase of the McDonnell Douglas test requires theplaintiffs to present enough evidence to allow a reasonable juryto infer unlawful retaliation, if this case were at thesummary-judgment stage. The plaintiffs easily meet this burden.In addition to their prima-facie case, the plaintiffs presentcompelling evidence that the Coalition's black employees weretreated differently from the white employees, and that thisdisparate treatment stemmed from the black employees' filing ofthe lawsuit. The court is inclined to find the declarations ofTrent Barton, Candace Wheeler, and Joel Garrett credible onthese points. Based on the record to date, a reasonable jurycould clearly conclude that white employees were allowed to worklonger hours than the black employees, who were told they had tofinish by 12:30 p.m.

The idea — as the defendants would have the court believe —that the Coalition's Director of Human Resources "volunteered"to do the data-entry work strains credulity, to say the least.And the fact that Rob Schmidt, the lone white employee in theremittance department, apologized to Elizabeth Lee after he wasallowed to continuedoing work after 12:30 p.m. could also be seen to weaken thedefendants' claim of a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason fortheir personnel action. Similarly, even though the outsidevendor now voices criticism of the data-entry work, a jury couldconclude that the defendants' explanation that the plaintiffs'work was so poor that it was forced to outsource work to CMDI isfar too convenient and perhaps contrived, based on the timing ofthe outsourcing and the undisputed statements in the plaintiffs'declarations that none of the Coalition's employees ever voicedany criticism about the quality of the data-processing work.

In sum, at this point, the plaintiffs have presented a verystrong claim of unlawful retaliation that would allow them tosurvive a possible motion for summary judgment.

2. The Plaintiffs Will Suffer Irreparable Harm If the Preliminary Injunction Is Not Granted

The defendants contend that the plaintiffs will not sufferirreparable harm if the preliminary injunction is denied becausethe gravamen of the plaintiffs' motion for injunctive-relief isa claim for money damages. See Defs.' Opp'n at 20 (citingPinckney v. Board of Educ., 920 F. Supp. 393, 400 (E.D.N.Y.1996)). In essence, the defendants maintain that the plaintiffs'irreparable-harm claim boils down to the assertion that "theyare not earning as much money as they would like — injury thatis, by definition, entirely compensable by monetary damages."See id. at 2.

But the defendants misconstrue the relevant case law. On theone hand, the court agrees that it is well-settled that economicloss alone will rarely constitute irreparable harm. SeeWisconsin Gas Co. v. Federal Energy Regulatory Comm'n,758 F.2d 669, 674 (D.C.Cir. 1985); Barton v. District of Columbia,131 F. Supp.2d 236, 247 (D.C. 2001) (Urbina, J.). In the businesscontext, however, the well-settled exception to the rule is thatif the potential harm could threaten the very existence of thebusiness, a court may deem such harm irreparable. See, e.g.,Wisconsin Gas Co., 758 F.2d at 674. Similarly, while anemployer's discharge or constructive discharge of an employeewill rarely constitute irreparable harm, courts routinely makeexceptions when an employee is so poor that if she stoppedworking, the consequences would be severe. For instance, inHamlyn v. Rock Island County Metro. Mass. Transit District, thecourt held that:

The rule is clear: monetary loss does not constitute an irreparable injury because a successful plaintiff can be adequately compensated at the conclusion of the litigation. There are four possible exceptions to this rule: (1) the plaintiff is so poor that he would be harmed in the interim by the loss of the monetary benefits; (2) the plaintiff would be unable to finance his lawsuit without the money he wishes to recover; (3) the damages would be unobtainable from the defendant because it will be insolvent prior to the final judgment; and (4) the nature of the plaintiffs' loss may make damages very difficult to calculate.

960 F. Supp. 160, 162 (C.D.Ill. 1997) (citing Roland MachineryCo. v. Dresser Indus., Inc., 749 F.2d 380, 386 (7th Cir. 1994))(internal citations omitted); see also Chapman v. South BuffaloRailway Co., 43 F. Supp.2d 312, 318 (W.D.N.Y. 1999); Williamsv. State Univ. of N.Y., 635 F. Supp. 1243, 1248 (E.D.N.Y. 1986)("the plaintiff must quite literally find himself being forcedinto the streets or facing the spectre of bankruptcy before acourt can enter a finding of irreparable harm.").

In this case, the four remaining hourly plaintiffs havedemonstrated that because they are so poor, the loss of theirjobs would rise to the level of irreparable harm.In describing themselves, the plaintiffs note that they are"subsistence employees, who need their meager wages to supporttheir families. . . . They may have great difficulty findingother work to avoid insolvency, eviction, and even to obtainfood." See Mot. for Prelim. Inj. at 14. For the four remaininghourly employees, a workday of 3 1/2 hours at $7.50 per houramounts to a daily take of $26.25, which equals $131.25 perweek, or $6,825 per year (assuming no time off). This yearly payfalls well below the federal poverty line.

In further support of their argument, the plaintiffs includedeclarations explaining how they would suffer irreparable harmif they no longer worked. Plaintiff Lisa Sutton explains that"[a]s a result of the Coalition's deliberate reduction in mywork, I have experienced difficulty paying utility bills, andhave had difficulty paying my rent on time. Unless the courtorders the Coalition to return me to the work hours and rulesthat existed before the lawsuit, there is a substantial riskthat I will lose my housing for me and my seven children." SeeSutton Decl. at 2. She adds that she has applied for food stampsto ease the present situation, but cannot receive any benefitsuntil 30 days after her application. See id. In herdeclaration, plaintiff Marion Wilson states that unless thecourt grants the plaintiffs' motion, she will be forced to quither job because she will be unable to support her grandchild.See Wilson Decl. at 3.

Plaintiff Tina Smith submits that she has also had troublepaying utility bills and fears she "will be unable to pay [the]rent." See Smith Decl. at 2. She added that as of July 13,2001, she would no longer be able to pay for day care providedby social services for her children. See id. at 3. Lastly,plaintiff Lanae McCollum states that because the defendantsreduced her hours, on some days she does not have enough moneyto commute to and from work. See McCollum Decl. at 2. She addsthat "I cannot feed and clothe my children on the wages I amearning from the Coalition, and I do not know when I will beable to find other work." See id. at 3.

In sum, the remaining hourly plaintiffs have made anundisputed showing that they are subsistence employees.Accordingly, they have more than adequately described theirreparable harm they would suffer if the court does not grantthem preliminary injunctive relief. The inability to pay utilitybills or to feed one's children or the risk of being evictedfrom one's home, amounts to irreparable injury that moneydamages cannot remedy. The essential logic underpinning theexception to the rule that monetary damages alone do not amountto irreparable harm is that a poor person who faces a dischargefrom her job would very likely incur injuries — such as thosementioned above — that are not compensable by money damages.Quite simply, since being evicted or being unable to feed achild are the types of injuries that are often incalculable,injunctive relief may be appropriate in these cases.

The court makes clear that its holding on this point should benarrowly construed. A middle-class person facing an employmentdischarge who would be unable to pay off the entire balance onhis credit card bill each month would not have made a showing ofirreparable harm. Clearly, this is not the case here. Thus, thecourt deems the defendants' statement that "every employmentretaliation case would be the subject of preliminary injunctiverelief" to amount to total hyperbole. See Defs.' Opp'n at 16.

There is a second reason why the hourly plaintiffs have mettheir burden of demonstrating irreparable harm. If the court didnot grant an injunction, some plaintiffsmight have to go on welfare, or Temporary Assistance to NeedyFamilies ("TANF"), 42 U.S.C. § 601 et seq. Enacted in 1996,TANF has as one of its "express statutory purposes . . . to `endthe dependence of needy parents on government benefits bypromoting job preparation, work and marriage.'" See Reynolds v.Giuliani, 35 F. Supp.2d 331, 333 (S.D.N.Y. 1999). TANF alsoestablished a five-year lifetime limit on benefits, with theexpectation being that recipients would land jobs to supporttheir children and themselves. See 42 U.S.C. § 608(a)(7).Seizing on this point, plaintiff Lisa Sutton says "I understandthat current public assistance rules limit a person'seligibility to sixty months over their entire lifetime.Therefore, if I am forced to rely upon public assistance tosupport my children, I will permanently lose some of myeligibility for future assistance." See Sutton Decl. at 2-3.

On this matter of first impression, the court agrees with theplaintiffs. If the court did not grant the plaintiffs' motionfor injunctive relief, the plaintiffs might well be forced touse up some of their irreplaceable 5-year lifetime limit. Thisis precisely the type of relief that cannot be remedied at theend of this litigation. For example, it is not inconceivablethat this lawsuit might not be resolved within the next twoyears. Thus, even if the plaintiffs were ultimately successful,those who would be forced to go on welfare in the interim wouldhave lost about 40 percent of the total time in their lives thatthey are allowed to be on welfare. Neither the defendants northe court could provide a remedy for these damages. Thus, thisirreplaceable loss would constitute irreparable harm.

Because the court concludes that the plaintiffs have alreadydemonstrated that they will suffer irreparable harm if the courtdoes not issue an injunction, the court need not address theplaintiffs' additional arguments for why they have shownirreparable harm.

a. Plaintiff Tina Smith Has Not Demonstrated Irreparable Harm

As to plaintiff Tina Smith, however, the court cannot agreethat she has suffered an irreparable injury because of hersuspension from the Coalition. Looking to the record, the courtfinds the three declarations from the American Café employees asto what really happened between Tina Smith and Maria Trejos onJune 21, 2001 to be rather compelling. All three people —employees Gloria Waul and Maria Trejos, and owner Ahmed Mohammed— have absolutely nothing to do with the lawsuit. Accordingly,at this point in the litigation, the court accords thedefendants' version of the altercation more weight. Based on Ms.Smith's apparent verbal assault of Ms. Trejos and her threat ofphysical violence, the Coalition acted well within itsdiscretion in deciding to suspend her pending an investigation.

The case law is well-settled that "[a] preliminary injunctionmovant does not satisfy the irreparable harm criterion when thealleged harm is self-inflicted." Fiba Leasing Co., Inc. v.Airdyne Indus., Inc., 826 F. Supp. 38, 39 (Mass. 1993); seealso San Francisco Real Estate Investors v. Real EstateInvestment Trust, 692 F.2d 814, 818 (1st Cir. 1982); Barton,131 F. Supp.2d at 247. In this case, the court determines thatMs. Smith's conduct makes the harm self-inflicted. Accordingly,Ms. Smith has not met her burden to show that she deservesinjunctive relief, and the court will deny the motion as to thisplaintiff.

3. The Balance of the Equities

Like the previous two factors, the balance-of-harms prongstrongly militatesin favor of granting injunctive relief. The plaintiffs argueconvincingly that the requested relief will in no way "impingeupon the Coalition financially." See Reply at 15. For example,they note, that 40 additional hours of work per week at $7.50per hour equals $300 per week. This hardly seems like acrippling burden to place on the Coalition pending the outcomeof the litigation.

The defendants counter that granting the injunction: (1) wouldharm the Coalition financially by forcing it to allow theplaintiffs to work additional hours, resulting in additionalpayments to the plaintiffs even though those additional hourswill not benefit the Coalition; (2) would "paralyze" theCoalition from taking appropriate action to manage itsemployees; and (3) would damage the Coalition's discretion inoperating its organization. Whereas the potential harm to thirdparties and to the Coalition of plaintiffs' requested relief isminimal at best, the harm to the plaintiffs by denying theminjunctive relief would be severe.

4. Granting the Injunction Serves the Public Interest

Lastly, the court agrees with the plaintiffs that by issuingan injunction, the court would serve the public interest inensuring that employers do not take retaliatory action whenemployees file complaints of discriminatory treatment. The courtacknowledges the validity of the defendants' argument that thepublic interest is also served by allowing organizations to havediscretion to manage their internal operations as they see fitand by ensuring the efficient use of resources. In this case,however, the plaintiffs' articulation of the public-interestrationale outweighs the defendants' position.

In short, then, the court holds that the plaintiffs have madea compelling showing on all four factors of thepreliminary-injunction test.

C. The Defendants' Unclean Hands Argument

In addition to opposing the issuance of an injunction on theground that the plaintiffs do not pass the four-factor test, thedefendants also raise another argument: namely that the motionshould be denied "because plaintiffs come before this Court withunclean hands." See Defs.' Opp'n at 34. The Supreme Court hasheld that a party asserting an unclean-hands defense must showan "immediate and necessary relation" between the instant caseand the alleged misconduct. See Keystone Driller Co. v. GeneralExcavator Co., 290 U.S. 240, 245, 54 S.Ct. 146, 78 L.Ed. 293(1933). The defendants fail to meet this burden.

The defendants ground their argument on the fact thatElizabeth Lee hired employees with personal ties for the solepurpose of enabling them to become plaintiffs in this lawsuit,thus attempting to artificially inflate their alleged damages.The best reading of the record in the declarations indicates nosuch fact. The defendants' assertion that Elizabeth Lee, a$12-an-hour employee who was hired only five months earlier, wassolely responsible for hiring decisions in the remittance anddata entry department does not pass the smell test. Theplaintiffs' declarations are more convincing when they claimthat Tracy Ammons, the Director of Human Resources, and,ultimately, Roberta Combs, the Coalition's Executive Director,made these personnel decisions.

The defendants also assert that Candace Wheeler, a formeremployee and a white woman, has a political and financial agendatied to this litigation. They accuse her of stealingconfidential Coalition documents. See Surreply at 14 n. 17.The plaintiffs respond by stating that the "[d]efendantsseem incapable of imagining that a white, Christian employeecould be legitimately concerned about, and even deeply offendedby, the Coalition's segregation of African-American employees."See Reply at 8. Nothing in the record supports the defendants'position as to Ms. Wheeler.

Finally, the defendants offer exhibit 5 as an example of theplaintiffs' allegedly impure motives. The exhibit is a one-page,handwritten memo that was allegedly found in the remittance anddata processing room. It contains four bullet points, the firstreading "Tell other plaintiffs that going for counseling is amust for a larger settlement." See Defs.' Opp'n, Ex. 5. Thetop of the memo lists plaintiff Cynthia Moore's name. See id.In response, the plaintiffs state that "Ms. Moore would notwrite herself a note in this fashion and did not do so. Nor didPlaintiffs' counsel. Defendants do not authenticate who authoredthis document, for what purpose, or who received it." SeeReply at 18 n. 11. The court agrees with the plaintiffs thatthis exhibit is totally unauthenticated, and without moreevidence, the court will not consider it. In short, thedefendants have failed to meet their burden of showing that theplaintiffs have unclean hands.

D. Remedy

Accordingly, the court grants in part and denies in part theplaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction. Specifically,the court denies the plaintiffs' motion as to plaintiff TinaSmith, and will not order the Coalition to reinstate her. Thecourt does, however, rule for the other plaintiffs. In doing so,the court will follow relevant case law and seek to fashion anarrow remedy. The court orders the defendants not to engage inany acts of unlawful retaliation against the plaintiffs.Moreover, the court orders the defendants to restore the otherthree hourly employees — plaintiffs Lisa Sutton, Marion Wilson,and Lanae McCollum — to the standard work hours of 9 a.m. to4:30 p.m. with a guaranteed minimum pay for four hours work perweekday (excluding legal office holidays) for the duration ofthis lawsuit.


For all these reasons, the court grants in part and denies inpart the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction. Anorder directing the parties in a fashion consistent with thisMemorandum Opinion is separately issued this 27th day of July,2001.



For the reasons stated in the court's Memorandum Opinionissued separately and contemporaneously this 27th day of July,2001, it is

ORDERED that the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminaryinjunction is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part; and it is

FURTHER ORDERED that the plaintiffs' motion is DENIED asto plaintiff Tina Smith and the court will not order theCoalition to reinstate her; and it is

ORDERED that the defendants shall not engage in any acts ofunlawful retaliation against the plaintiffs; and it is

FURTHER ORDERED that the defendants shall restore theremaining hourly employees — plaintiffs Lisa Sutton, MarionWilson, and Lanae McCollum — to the standard work hours of 9a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with a guaranteed minimum pay for four hourswork per weekday (excluding legal office holidays) for theduration of this lawsuit.


1. In addition to the Coalition, the other defendant isRoberta Combs, the Executive Director of the Coalition.

2. In a companion case to the one at bar, Martin v.Christian Coalition of America, Inc., Dkt. No. O1cv0497(D.D.C.) (RMU), three former employees of the Washington officehave sued the Coalition. Since the plaintiffs in the Martincase have not moved for a preliminary injunction, the court willnot discuss the companion case in this Memorandum Opinion.

3. Mr. Barton is a plaintiff in the companion case, Martinv. Christian Coalition of America, Inc., Dkt. No. 01cv0497(D.D.C.) (RMU). Ms. Wheeler and Mr. Garrett are not.

4. The plaintiffs included three new declarations in theirreply brief and asked the court for leave to file these threesupplemental declarations. In response, the defendants filed asurreply brief along with a motion for leave to file thesurreply brief. A court may grant a party's motion to file asurreply if the moving party shows that the reply brief raisednew arguments that were not included in the original motion.See Alexander v. Federal Bureau of Investigation,186 F.R.D. 71, 74 (D.C. 1998) (granting motion for leave to file a surreplywhere the reply included a declaration that was not included inthe original motion, and that raised "matters presented to thecourt for the first time"). Accordingly, in this case, the courtwill grant both the plaintiffs' motion for leave to file thesupplemental declarations and the defendants' motion for leaveto file a surreply.

5. In its opposition, the Coalition states that based on itsfurther investigation and the sworn declarations of the AmericanCafé workers, the Coalition believes that Ms. Smith's actionswarrant her termination and intended to notify her counsel ofthis personnel action shortly. See Defs.' Opp'n at 12 n. 6.

6. When a party seeks an injunction to reverse policies thatare already in place, "the moving party must meet a higherstandard than in the ordinary case by showing `clearly' that heor she is entitled to relief or that `extreme or very seriousdamage' will result from the denial of the injunction." SeeColumbia Hosp. for Women Found. v. Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi,Ltd., 15 F. Supp.2d 1, 4 (D.C. 1997) (citation omitted),aff'd, 159 F.3d 636 (D.C.Cir. 1998) (table, text in Westlaw);see also Alaska Excursion Cruises, Inc. v. United States,595 F. Supp. 14, 18 (D.C. 1984) (attempt to alter status quo,rather than preserve it, must be supported by showing that "thefacts and law clearly support" such a change).

7. The court agrees with the defendants that since theplaintiffs seek to stop the alleged unlawful retaliation by thedefendants, the focus of the likelihood-of-success analysisshould be on the retaliation claim alone.

Back to top