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July 2017

Gordon & Rees Washington, DC Team Wins Summary Judgment After Long Battle

Gordon & Rees partners, O’Kelly McWilliams III and Brian Scotti, and associate Shameka Bloyce obtained summary judgment on behalf of their client, Sidwell Friends School—an elite academic institution in Washington, DC. 

The plaintiffs, a former student and her parents, brought suit against Sidwell for retaliation under 42 U.S.C.  1981 and D.C. Human Rights Act as well as declaratory relief, breach of contract, breach of the implied obligation of good faith based on Sidwell’s alleged breach of a settlement agreement the parties previously entered into resolving a Charge of Discrimination filed with the D.C. Office of Human Rights for discrimination based on race and national origin. The plaintiffs alleged that Sidwell retaliated against the former student for engaging in protected activity (i.e., her prior administrative complaint of discrimination and subsequent complaints) by failing to advocate for her and otherwise disparaging her during the college application process to prospective universities and colleges, including the plaintiffs’ assertions that Sidwell provided negative and retaliatory letters of recommendation and falsely portraying the student’s academic achievements.  The plaintiffs further alleged that Sidwell breached the parties’ settlement agreement by purportedly failing to recalculate the former student’s math grades in good faith, provide a written explanation to her parents by a date certain and violating the non-disparagement and anti-retaliation provisions of the settlement agreement.  After a year and a half of litigation, the plaintiffs’ last settlement demand was $10 million. 

In entering summary judgment on all counts in favor of Sidwell, the court accepted Sidwell’s argument that the plaintiffs’ allegations of retaliation were merely speculation and there was no genuine issue of material fact to support the plaintiffs’ contentions that Sidwell acted with a retaliatory motive or adversely to support a claim of retaliation. The Court also noted that the plaintiffs failed to establish that Sidwell’s alleged breach of the settlement agreement was material or that the plaintiffs suffered any cognizable contract damages from the purported breach.

Brian A. Scotti