STANAZAI v. BROADCASTING BOARD OF GOVERNORS
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER: Upon consideration of Defendant's motion for reconsideration or, in the alternative, for summary judgment, Dkt. 31 , it is hereby ORDERED that the motion DENIED. It is further ORDERED that the parties shall appear for a telephonic status conference on October 29, 2020 at 2:00 p.m. to discuss further proceedings. The Clerk of Court is directed to provide the parties with the relevant dial-in information. See document for details. Signed by Judge Randolph D. Moss on 10/16/2020. (lcrdm3)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
NASEEM S. STANAZAI,
Civil Action No. 17-2653 (RDM)
BROADCASTING BOARD OF
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Naseem Stanazai, an international broadcaster with the Pashto Language
Service, is suing the Broadcasting Board of Governors (“the Board”), a federal agency that
administers the Voice of America (“VOA”), for unlawful discrimination under Title VII of the
Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a), and the Age Discrimination in
Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. The Board (now called the U.S.
Agency for Global Media) previously moved for summary judgment, Dkt. 15, and the Court
granted the Board’s motion with respect to all of Plaintiff’s claims except one: his claim that he
was not offered a senior editor position in retaliation for his protected Equal Employment
Opportunity (“EEO”) activity, Dkt. 21. With respect to that claim, the Court observed that
Plaintiff had exhausted his administrative remedies; that his Complaint could reasonably be
construed to include the claim; and that the Board simply failed to address that one claim in its
motion for summary judgment. Id. at 13–14.
After having taken discovery, the Board now moves for reconsideration of the Court’s
earlier decision, id., or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. Dkt. 31. The Board’s central
argument is that, during his deposition, Plaintiff “disavowed any claim of retaliation regarding
the senior editor assignment.” Dkt. 34 at 1; see also Dkt. 31-1 at 7. For the reasons that follow,
the Court DENIES the Board’s motion for reconsideration or, in the alternative, for summary
judgment, Dkt. 31.
Plaintiff Naseem Stanazai is an international broadcaster for VOA assigned to the Afghan
Service (“Service”) who, at the time of the events giving rise to the Complaint, was compensated
at the GS-12 level. Dkt. 31-2 at 1 (Def.’s SUMF ¶ 2). In 2016, the Afghan Service came under
new leadership, and the new acting Chief, Akbar Ayazi, proposed a restructuring. Id. at 1–2
(Def.’s SUMF ¶¶ 4–6). Until that time, the Afghan Service had four divisions: (1) Dari language
radio; (2) Pashto language radio; (3) Dari and Pashto television; and (4) digital. Id. at 2 (Def.’s
SUMF ¶ 5). Ayazi reorganized the radio and television divisions to be divided by language,
rather than format. Id. (Def.’s SUMF ¶ 7). As a result of the restructuring, Ayazi reassigned
Lina Rozbih and Shaista Sadat Lami to serve as the managing editors of the Dari radio and
television service and the Pashto radio and television service, respectively. Id. (Def.’s SUMF
¶¶ 8–9). Each had previously been compensated at the GS-13 level and would continue to be
compensated at that level. Id. Ayazi also asked two individuals to serve as “senior editors” for
each newly organized team. Id. (Def.’s SUMF ¶ 10). Plaintiff’s Complaint alleges that he had
“applied for several management positions that became available, but was denied, as reprisal for
his” prior protected EEO activity. Dkt. 1 at 5 (Compl. ¶ 13) (emphasis added).
The Board previously moved for summary judgment on the grounds that (1) “there was
no managing-editor position that was vacant or for which [Plaintiff] was qualified” and
(2) Plaintiff had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. Dkt. 15-1 at 8. The Court agreed
and granted summary judgment on all of Plaintiff’s claims, except for his claim that he had been
passed over for one of the four senior editor positions in retaliation for his prior EEO activity.
Dkt. 21 at 13. Relying on the Plaintiff’s allegation that he had “applied for several management
positions,” the Court understood Plaintiff to be alleging that both his non-selection for a
managing editor position and his non-selection for a senior editor position were retaliatory. Id.
Because the Board’s motion did not address the senior editor positions, that claim survived. Id.
During discovery, Plaintiff was asked at his deposition to name all of the management
positions which he was claiming that he had been unlawfully denied. Dkt. 31-3 at 9:4–17:6;
21:10–26:14 (Stanazai Dep.). Plaintiff listed a series of positions—web editor, managing editor,
and Chief of the Afghan Service—but did not mention the senior editor position. Id. When
pressed, Plaintiff reiterated that those positions were “all of the positions that [he was] claiming,
in this case, that [he] w[as] improperly denied.” Id. at 17:3–6 (Stanazai Dep.). In light of this
testimony, the Board now moves for reconsideration of the Court’s opinion on its prior motion
for summary judgment or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. Dkt. 31.
There are two issues to resolve here: first, whether Plaintiff is pursuing a non-selection
claim based on the senior editor position; and second, if so, whether the Board is entitled to
summary judgment on that claim as a substantive matter. The Court addresses each issue in turn.
The Board first argues that Plaintiff is no longer pursuing the only claim that his
Complaint adequately alleged: retaliation based on non-selection to the senior editor position.
Dkt. 31-1 at 9 (“The Court should reconsider its prior decision denying the [Board’s] summary
judgment on a retaliation claim for nonselection as a senior editor because Stanazai asserts no
such claim in this case.”). In support of this argument, the Board principally points to Plaintiff’s
deposition testimony, in which Plaintiff purportedly disavowed pursuing a senior-editor claim.
In pertinent part, that testimony is recounted here:
Okay. I want to turn your [Plaintiff’s] attention to paragraph number
13 [of the operative Complaint]. This is on page 5. 1
That says that Mr. Stanazai applied for several management positions
that became available, but was denied as reprisal for his EEO
complaints. Did I read that correctly?
And now going to paragraph 9, you refer to a managing editor position
that you say you applied for on or about 2010; correct?
Is that one of the management positions you’re referring to in
And [in] paragraph 10, you refer to a position as the chief of Afghan
Service that you say you applied to or that you were not selected for in
And is that one of the management positions you’re referring to in
Then in paragraph 11, you refer to a managing editor position that
went to Ms. Lami in 2014/2015; correct?
Paragraph 13 reads: “Mr. Stanazai applied for several management positions that became
available, but was denied, as reprisal for his EEO complaints.” Dkt. 1 at 5 (Compl. ¶ 13).
Is that one of the positions you’re referring to in paragraph 13?
That is one of the positions[.]
Okay. And there’s also a managing editor position referred to in
paragraph 12; correct?
Is that also one of the management positions referred to in paragraph
So going back. Other than the positions described in paragraphs 9
[managing editor position], 10 [chief of Afghan Service], 11
[managing editor position], and 12 [managing editor position] of your
complaint in addition to the managing editor position in 2006, are
there any other management positions that you’re referring to in
Not that I remember right now, but those were the main positions.
All right. I’m just trying to get a sense of your claims in the case.
And so those are the management positions that you claim you were
improperly denied; is that correct?
And those are all of the positions that you’re claiming, in this case,
that you were improperly denied; is that correct?
Dkt. 31-3 at 9:4–17:6 (Stanazai Dep.) (emphasis added).
Shortly after this exchange, Plaintiff was handed a copy of an email sent by Ayazi to him
and others on October 7, 2016. Id. at 17:10–11, 19:22–25 (Stanazai Dep.); see also Dkt. 15-3 at
4 (Ayazi email). The email, bearing the subject line “New Afghan service management
structure,” detailed a series of personnel changes that would become “effective immediately” at
the Service. Dkt. 15-3 at 4. The changes affected the following positions: “acting service chief
of the Afghan service;” managing editor of “the Dari team TV and radio;” managing editor of the
Pashto team; special project coordinator of the Afghan Service; executive producers of the
Afghan Service; web editor of the Dari website; and senior editors of the Dari and Pashto teams.
Id. at 4–5. The Board’s counsel allowed Plaintiff to review the document, after which the
following exchange occurred:
Mr. Stanazai, you’ve had an opportunity to review Exhibit 2 in detail?
And my question to you was other than the two managing editor
positions that we just discussed, are there any other positions or
responsibilities mentioned in this e-mail that you think should have
gone to you?
From the beginning when the web was started and launched in the
Afghan Service, I was –
Well, first answer my question.
That’s the question – the answer. I was helping the web, so – but I
was not considered for it. I was editor of web material, but I was not
considered for that.
And are you saying that you think you should have been the web
editor of the Dari website?
Or at least I should have been one of the editors[.]
So you’re saying you felt like you should have been a web editor of a
You just shrugged?
Yeah. Basically, my complaint is – my claim is about the two
managing editor positions, Dari and Pashto.
So your claim in this case –
Is about those two managing editor positions?
Yeah. But –
And not any of the other –
THE REPORTER: I cannot write – you need to let him finish.
BY MR. WALKER:
Your claim in this case is about the two managing editor positions?
Not any of the other responsibilities in this e-mail?
No . . . .
But I just want to be clear about what you’re [sic] claims are in this
case. So –
Okay. As far as the claim is going on, I claimed about Dari managing
editor and Pashto managing editor.
And those are the positions that went to Ms. [Rozbih] and Ms. [Lami]?
And as far as this e-mail and this restructuring . . . . As far as the
positions mentioned in e-mail are concerned, those two managing
editor positions are the only positions that are the subject of your
claims in this case?
Dkt. 31-3 at 22:23–26:14 (Stanazai Dep.) (emphasis added).
The Board relies on these passages from Plaintiff’s deposition to press the following
point: No reasonable jury could find that Plaintiff was unlawfully denied a position that he does
not claim he was improperly denied. The four senior editor positions, recall, are what remain of
Plaintiff’s retaliation claim. Dkt. 21 at 13. But when asked if “all of the positions that he [is]
claiming . . . that [he was] improperly denied” were limited to positions of managing editor and
Chief of the Afghan Service—neither of which are senior editor positions—Plaintiff responded,
“[t]hat’s right.” Dkt. 31-3 at 17:3–6 (Stanazai Dep.); see also id. at 26:14 (Stanazai Dep.).
Plaintiff’s counsel did not seek to clarify any of these statements on redirect. Id. at 62:4–75:18
(Stanazai Dep.). And so, says the Board, it should prevail here: After all, how could Plaintiff
succeed on a claim that he admits he is not bringing?
The question is rhetorical. But an attempt at answering it shows why the Board’s reliance
on Plaintiff’s deposition, despite its surface appeal, must fail. The Board’s argument is
essentially that Plaintiff abandoned his senior-editor claim during his deposition. 2 See Dkt. 31-1
at 3 (“[T]he only claim the Court allowed to go forward is not in fact a claim at all . . . .”). But
the doctrine of abandonment-by-deposition is not on such sure footing.
Beyond its recitation of the standard for reconsideration, the Board cites no legal authority in
its opening brief’s first argument section, which asserts that Plaintiff no longer “claim[s] that the
[Board] retaliated against him by not assigning him as senior editor in 2016.” Dkt. 31-1 at 9.
Nor does the Board’s reply brief cite any legal authority addressing the standard for
abandonment of a claim. Dkt. 34. The Board simply reiterates that Plaintiff “asserts no claim
whatsoever regarding the senior editor assignment.” Id. at 1.
To start, as Judge Walton has persuasively explained, “nothing in the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure specifically provides for the abandonment of an individual legal claim through
deposition testimony.” Lemmons v. Georgetown Univ. Hosp., 241 F.R.D. 15, 29 (D.D.C. 2007).
To the contrary, the Rules limit the mechanisms by which since-answered complaints may be
modified: Rule 41, for example, “allows plaintiffs to voluntarily dismiss an action without
permission of the Court ‘by filing a stipulation of dismissal signed by all parties who have
appeared in the action,’” id. at 30 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(a)(1)), while Rule 15 allows
“motions for leave to amend [that are] made in writing and . . . ‘set forth with particularity the
relief requested and the grounds supporting the request,’” id. (quoting 3 James Wm. Moore et al.,
Moore’s Federal Practice § 15.17 (4th ed. 2006)). Neither Rule is at play here.
It is true, as Lemmons observed, that “some courts do recognize the possibility that a
claim might . . . be expressly and unilaterally abandoned during discovery if certain conditions
are met.” Id. at 30–31. That is because one purpose of discovery is to enable the parties “to
disclose more precisely the basis of both claim and defense and to define more narrowly the
disputed facts and issues.” Kingman Park Civic Ass’n v. Williams, 348 F.3d 1033, 1040 (D.C.
Cir. 2003); see also Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, 437 U.S. 340, 351 (1978) (“[D]iscovery
itself is designed to help define and clarify the issues.”). The D.C. Circuit, however, “has never
recognized, nor even discussed, the propriety of this sort of” abonnement-by-discovery.
Lemmons, 241 F.R.D. at 31. Given the long history of the use of depositions to explore the
contours of a plaintiff’s claims, that alone counsels caution.
So too do the decisions that have addressed the type of abandonment that the Board
seeks. Lemmons again: in the “cases where abandonment has occurred, courts have almost
uniformly founded such a determination on (1) an explicit and unambiguous statement by the
plaintiff that a particular claim was no longer being brought or (2) factual assertions made in
discovery, usually during deposition testimony, that contradict or otherwise fatally undermine
the factual predicate for one or more of the plaintiff’s legal claims as articulated in the
complaint.” Id. Thus in Versarge, for example, a plaintiff abandoned a claim for monetary
damages when the plaintiff’s counsel stated during the plaintiff’s deposition that “[w]e’ve
abandoned that claim.” Versarge v. Township of Clinton, N.J., 984 F.2d 1359, 1363 & n.1 (3d
Cir. 1993). This is not such a case.
Plaintiff’s briefing, declaration, deposition testimony, counterstatement of material facts,
and interrogatory response, each suggest, in some way, that Plaintiff’s senior-editor claim
remains alive. To be sure, Plaintiff’s Complaint is not the picture of clarity, merely averring that
he “applied for several management positions that became available, but was denied, as reprisal
for his EEO complaints.” Dkt. 1 at 5 (Compl. ¶ 13). But, as the Court previously noted, use of
the word “several” suggests that the Complaint takes aim at more than the two managing editor
positions. Dkt. 21 at 13; see also Several, Merriam-Webster.com, https://www.merriamwebster.com/dictionary/several (last visited Oct. 14, 2020) (defining “several” to mean “more
than two but fewer than many”). Plaintiff, moreover, was explicit about this in his brief in
opposition to the Board’s prior motion for summary judgment: “Mr. Stanazai was continuously
discriminated against based on his national origin, age, and sex (male) and in reprisal for
participating in protected EEO activity, when as of October 7, 2016, again he was treated less
favorably than similarly situated employees when he was overlooked for all positions that
came available . . . .” Dkt. 17-1 at 3 (emphasis added). The senior editor positions were among
the positions that were available as of October 7, 2016. Dkt. 15-3 at 4–5. Plaintiff’s
accompanying declaration was even clearer: “I believe Mr. Ayazi followed his discriminatory
and retaliatory policy against me [when] he promoted junior staff to senior editor such as Hasib
Alikoza[i] and Hafiz Assefi,” and “Mr. Ayazi according to his own email . . . did reassign four
individuals of GS12 to senior editor positions which provide[d] them [with] opportunities for
future promotion to GS13.” Dkt. 17-5 at 4–5 (First Stanazai Decl.) (emphasis added); see also
Dkt. 15-3 at 4–5 (“I have asked Ahmad Sear Zia and Hafiz Assefi to serv[e] as senior editors of
the Dari team and Roshan Noorzai and Hasib Alikozai to serve as senior editors for the Pashto
Plaintiff’s response to the Board’s pending motion for summary judgment is to the same
effect. His brief, once again, asserts that he “applied for several management positions that
became available, but was denied, as reprisal for his EEO complaints” and that, “as of October 7,
2016 . . . he was treated less favorably than similarly situated employees when he was
overlooked for all positions that came available.” Dkt. 33-1 at 2 (emphasis added). Beyond that,
his brief asserts that “four other less qualified individuals were promoted from GS 12 pay scale
to GS 13 as senior copy editors while overlooking and not selecting [Plaintiff].” Id. at 11. And,
albeit without citing any record evidence, Plaintiff disputed the Board’s assertions that he
(1) “did not apply to be a senior editor as part of the reassignments,” (2) “does not have reason to
believe that he was improperly denied the position of senior editor as part of the October 2016
reassignments,” and (3) “claims only that he was retaliated against in being denied the managing
editor assignments that went to Ms. Rozbih and Ms. Lami.” Compare Dkt. 31-2 at 3 (Def.’s
SUMF ¶¶ 11–13) with Dkt. 33-2 at 1–2 (Pl.’s Resp. to Def.’s SUMF ¶ 2). Plaintiff backs up
these denials with his second declaration, which attests that he has “always sought a senior editor
assignment/position” but was “not . . . given the opportunity because” his “employer retaliated
against” him for “complain[ing].” Dkt. 33-5 at 1 (Second Stanazai Decl.) (emphasis added).
Plaintiff further attests that he “applied for positions every time they came up” and that “Mr.
Ayazi actually never even bothered to advertise or tell us about the restructuring which is the
same as new positions.” Id. at 2; see also Dkt. 15-3 at 2 (Ayazi Decl. ¶ 9) (acknowledging that
the October 2016 senior editor positions were “not advertise[d]” and were not filled via “a
competitive hiring process”). Plaintiff’s deposition testimony also reveals that he applied for a
senior copy editor position in late 2015 or early 2016 and that Ayazi “later on” assigned “people
like Roshan and Hasi[b] and As[se]fi in there” and eventually promoted them to “GS-13 through
. . . benchmarking,” while “eliminat[ing]” Plaintiff from consideration in retaliation for his
protected EEO activity. Dkt. 31-3 at 32:19–35:10 (Stanazai Dep.).
Finally, Plaintiff’s response to the Board’s interrogatory asking Plaintiff to “[i]dentify
each and every position that [he] contend[s] that [he was] passed over” for does not support the
Board’s theory of abandonment. Dkt. 31-4 at 7 (Pl.’s Resp. to Def.’s Interrogatories). Although
once again not a picture of clarity, Plaintiff responded the he “applied for several management
positions that became available, but was denied as reprisal for his EEO complaints”—the same
phrase, word-for-word, that appears in Plaintiff’s Complaint and that the Court has already
construed reasonably to encompass the senior editor position. Id.; see also Dkt. 21 at 13–14. On
balance, then, the record is shorn of the “explicit and unambiguous evidence” needed to sustain
an argument of abandonment. Lemmons, 241 F.R.D. at 31 (emphasis omitted). 3
Two words of caution are in order. First, the Court construes the parties’ statements of
material “facts” regarding Plaintiff’s pursuit of the senior-editor claim as raising legal not factual
assertions. Were it otherwise, Plaintiff’s counterstatement of “dispute”—unsupported by any
record citations—might fail to satisfy the dictates of Rule 56(c)(1), see Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)
(“A party asserting that a fact . . . is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by . . . citing
to particular parts of materials in the record . . . or showing that the materials cited do not
establish the absence . . . of a genuine dispute . . . .”), and Local Rule 7(h)(1), see Loc. Civ. R.
7(h)(1) (“An opposition to [a motion for summary judgment] shall be accompanied by a separate
concise statement of genuine issues setting forth all material facts as to which it is contended
The Court recognizes that it might be possible to read Plaintiff’s concessions at his
deposition as raising not a legal question, but a factual one—whether, as a matter of fact,
Plaintiff was improperly denied the position of senior editor. But that reading is hardly
compelled. Accordingly, a reasonable jury could conclude that Plaintiff’s statements related to
the legal nature of his claim, and the question of legal abandonment is for the Court, not the jury.
The Court must, accordingly, reject the Board’s contention that Plaintiff’s deposition testimony
requires the entry of summary judgment. Were the questions at deposition posed in
unmistakably factual terms—for example, “did you ever express an interest in assignment to a
senior editor position” or “why do you believe that you were denied a senior editor position
because of your protected EEO activity”—the Board would stand on firmer ground. But as
framed, and particularly given the Board’s counsel’s reliance on the Complaint to guide the
deposition, Plaintiff could have (and likely did) understand the questions to inquire about what
legal claims he was asserting in the Complaint, and, for the reasons explained above, a legal
there exists a genuine issue necessary to be litigated, which shall include references to the parts
of the record relied on to support the statement.”), notwithstanding the testimony and
declarations discussed above. Second, to the extent Plaintiff relies on his second declaration to
contradict any statement made in his deposition, Plaintiff is reminded that “[c]ourts have long
held that a party may not create a material issue of fact simply by contradicting its prior sworn
testimony.” Pyramid Sec. Ltd. v. IB Resolution, Inc., 924 F.2d 1114, 1123 (D.C. Cir. 1991).
This rule, to be sure, applies only if the contradiction is “clear;” a later attempt to ‘“clarify
confusing or ambiguous [prior] testimony’” does not implicate the rule. Johnson v. Shinseki, 811
F. Supp. 2d 336, 344 (D.D.C. 2011) (quoting St. Paul Mercury Ins. Co. v. Capitol Sprinkler
Inspection, Inc., 573 F. Supp. 2d 152, 160 (D.D.C. 2008) (subsequent history omitted)). But
when the conflict is clear, unless a “party can offer persuasive reasons for believing the” new
testimony—for example, that the new testimony “is more accurate than the prior testimony,”
Shinseki, 811 F. Supp. 2d at 341, or that “new evidence” has come to light, St. Paul Mercury,
573 F. Supp. 2d at 161—the prior testimony controls, Shinseki, 811 F. Supp. 2d at 341. A
plaintiff, in short, “cannot receive Defendant’s motion for summary judgment and then go in
search of new evidence with which to attack Defendant’s arguments. This contradicts the very
notion of a discovery process.” Galvin v. Eli Lilly & Co., 488 F.3d 1026, 1029 (D.C. Cir. 2007).
claim is not so easily abandoned, particularly where there is good reason to believe that the
witness has not made an informed decision, in consultation with counsel, to abandon the claim.
Prima Facie Case
The Court must also consider whether the Board is entitled to summary judgment as a
substantive matter. Without deciding whether the Board would be able to make the requisite
showing on the existing factual record, the Court concludes that the Board’s cursory discussion
of the question does not suffice to dispose of Plaintiff’s claim.
To succeed on a retaliation claim based on non-selection, a plaintiff “must show that he
engaged in protected conduct; that his employer took an adverse personnel action; and that a
causal connection existed between the two.” Dkt. 21 at 12 (quotation marks omitted).
Moreover, “[w]here, as here, the plaintiff claims that the retaliation took the form of a failure to
hire [or promote], the plaintiff must also show . . . that he applied for an available job; and . . .
that he was qualified for that position.” Morgan v. Fed. Home Loan Mortg. Corp., 328 F.3d 647,
651 (D.C. Cir. 2003). If the plaintiff succeeds in making this prima facie showing, the burden
then shifts to the employer to provide a “legitimate, nondiscriminatory or non-retaliatory reason
for the challenged action.” Morris v. McCarthy, 825 F.3d 658, 668 (D.C. Cir. 2016). “Once the
employer proffers a non-retaliatory reason for the challenged employment action, the burdenshifting framework falls away, and the ‘central question’ becomes whether ‘the employee
produced sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find that the employer’s asserted
nondiscriminatory [or non-retaliatory] reason was not the actual reason and that the employer
intentionally discriminated [or retaliated] against the employee.’” Allen v. Johnson, 795 F.3d 34,
39 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (quoting Brady v. Office of Sergeant at Arms, 520 F.3d 490, 494 (D.C. Cir.
Here, the Board does not contest that Plaintiff “engaged in protected conduct,” Dkt. 21 at
12, or that he was “qualified for th[e] position” of senior editor, Morgan, 328 F.3d at 651. Nor
does the Board’s motion dispute that Plaintiff suffered “an adverse personnel action.” Dkt. 21 at
12. What remains of the prima facie case, then, is (1) whether “a causal connection existed
between” Plaintiff’s non-selection and his protected activity, id. (quotation marks omitted), and
(2) whether Plaintiff “applied for an available job,” Morgan, 328 F.3d at 651. The Board
contends that Plaintiff’s retaliation claim faulters on both prongs. It fails to offer a convincing
account, however, on either.
First, the Board challenges causation, but merely asserts: “because Stanazai does not
claim that he was not assigned to the senior editor positions for retaliatory reasons . . . he cannot
make out a prima facie case of retaliation.” Dkt. 31-1 at 10. There may be some reason to doubt
whether Plaintiff can establish the required causal connection, but the single sentence offered by
the Board is not it. As explained above, the Court concludes that Plaintiff has alleged—and
maintains—that Ayazi failed to offer him one of the senior editor positions in retaliation for his
protected EEO activity. Of particular relevance here, both of Plaintiff’s declarations affirm his
belief that Ayazi declined to promote him to a “senior editor” position in retaliation for his EEO
activity. Dkt. 17-5 at 4 (First Stanazai Decl.); Dkt. 33-5 at 1 (Second Stanazai Decl.). Although
it is unclear whether Plaintiff has a factual basis for that belief sufficient to defeat summary
judgment, that is not the argument that the Board has made.
Second, the Board—in two sentences—contends that Plaintiff never sought “to be placed
in the senior editor positions.” Dkt. 31-1 at 10. Again, the Board’s argument fails. Plaintiff
attests that he “always sought a senior editor assignment/position,” Dkt. 33-5 at 1 (Second
Stanazai Decl.); was “always seeking management position[s],” id. at 3; and could not apply for
the October 2016 senior editor positions because they were never advertised, id. at 2, a point
which the Board admits, see Dkt. 15-3 at 2 (Ayazi Decl. ¶ 9) (October 2016 senior editor
positions were “not advertise[d]” and were not filled via “a competitive hiring process”). In
addition, Plaintiff testified during his deposition that he had made clear—before October 7,
2016—that he was interested in a senior editor position. See Dkt. 31-3 at 32:19–35:4 (Stanazai
Dep.). When weighed against the minimal evidence offered by the Board, these assertions—
made under the penalty of perjury—are sufficient to create a triable issue of fact about whether
Plaintiff meaningfully expressed his interest in the senior editor positions, and, indeed, did all
that he could because the positions were never advertised.
The Court, accordingly, is unpersuaded by either of the two arguments that the Board
makes on the merits. The Court recognizes that Plaintiff has done little to show that he is
entitled to prevail. But, at this stage of the proceedings, the burden is the Board’s, and the
slender arguments that it makes—amounting to three sentences of analysis—do not justify the
entry of summary judgment in its favor.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court DENIES the Board’s motion for reconsideration or,
in the alternative, for summary judgment, Dkt. 31. The parties shall appear for a telephonic
status conference on October 29, 2020 at 2:00 p.m. to discuss further proceedings.
/s/ Randolph D. Moss
RANDOLPH D. MOSS
United States District Judge
Date: October 16, 2020
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