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Barraza v. Housing Authority of the City of Seattle

June 15, 2006

OMAR BARRAZA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
HOUSING AUTHORITY OF THE CITY OF SEATTLE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Marsha J. Pechman United States District Judge

ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

This matter comes before the Court on a motion for summary judgment by Defendant Housing Authority of the City of Seattle, also known as "Seattle Housing Authority" or "SHA." (Dkt. No. 30). Having reviewed the parties' submissions and finding that oral argument is not necessary for the disposition of this motion, the Court hereby DENIES Defendant's motion because genuine issues of material fact exist for trial. The Court further DENIES Plaintiff's request for partial summary judgment as untimely. The reasons for the Court's order are set forth below.

Background

Plaintiff Omar Barraza is a former employee of SHA. His only remaining claim in this action is for retaliation under the federal False Claims Act (FCA). Plaintiff started working for SHA in 1997. In the fall of 2000, he was promoted to the position of occupancy manager for an organization within SHA called "PorchLight," a position that he held until his termination a year later. PorchLight was directed by Kathy Roseth, who served as Plaintiff's supervisor.

SHA administers "Section 8" housing benefits in the Seattle area for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The Section 8 program provides federal housing subsidies in the form of vouchers to low-income families. The SHA administered a HUD program known as the "Welfare to Work" (WtW) program. Among other things, a family had to be on the Section 8 "wait list" to be eligible for benefits under the WtW program.

Plaintiff alleges that in May 2001, Ms. Roseth instructed another SHA employee to issue WtW vouchers to about 30 families that had been referred to SHA by the Fremont Public Association (FPA). Because some of the families referred by the FPA were not on the Section 8 wait list, Plaintiff asserts that they were not eligible for the WtW program. Plaintiff alleges that he confronted Ms. Roseth about this issue and that she "admitted it." Plaintiff states that he had Ms. Roseth sign a memo that directed him to issue the WtW vouchers to the families referred by the FPA.

On August 6, 2001, Plaintiff met with Charles Hiyashi, SHA's human resources director. Plaintiff alleges that he raised multiple complaints at this meeting, including the WtW voucher incident regarding the FPA referrals who were not on the Section 8 wait list. On August 7, 2001, Plaintiff gave Mr. Hiyashi a letter listing his complaints. The letter largely complained about Ms. Roseth's management style and allegations of discrimination, without mentioning the WtW voucher incident. However, the letter included a general allegation that Ms. Roseth "intimidated, interfered and coerced my colleagues and I from ensuring the compliance of SHA with HUD . . . obligations," requested the appointment of an outside independent investigator, and requested that SHA "provide me an escort to obtain work product for identification and for the securing of evidence directly relevant to verification of these allegations."

Plaintiff alleges that Mr. Hiyashi told him to be more specific about the FPA referral incident. Plaintiff wrote a supplement titled "additional allegations," which alleged "[t]hirty Section 8 vouchers were allocated to Fremont Public Association in June of 2001 without competition." Plaintiff claims that by "without competition," he meant that they were issued to people who did not qualify for a WtW voucher because they were not on the Section 8 wait list. On August 9, 2001, Plaintiff submitted a revised complaint, which included a section titled "Misappropriation of SHA Section 8 Resources" and repeated his complaint about the FPA referral incident.

On August 21, 2001, Plaintiff met with SHA's general counsel, where Plaintiff was allegedly told that they needed to discuss the termination of his employment. In his complaint in this matter, Plaintiff maintained that he was terminated on or about September 7, 2001. Following a hearing, Plaintiff's termination was final on October 16, 2001.

On September 12, 2001, Plaintiff sent a complaint to HUD's Office of Inspector General. The complaint raised many issues he had previously raised with the SHA, as well as a number of additional allegations. According to Plaintiff, HUD conducted an investigation based on his complaint and issued an audit report on May 29, 2003. Among other things, the report concluded that the SHA improperly issued WtW vouchers to at least 19 families that had been referred by the FPA because the families were not on the Section 8 wait list. HUD recommended that SHA be required to "[r]eimburse WtW program funds used to assist Fremont Public Association's . . . clients."

Analysis

Plaintiff is suing under the whistleblower protection provisions of the FCA. This section of the FCA ("Section 3730(h)") provides:

Any employee who is discharged, demoted, suspended, threatened, harassed, or in any other manner discriminated against in the terms or conditions of employment by his or her employer because of lawful acts done by the employee on behalf of the employee or others in furtherance of an action under this section, including investigation for, initiation of, testimony for, or assistance in an action filed or to be filed under this section, shall be entitled to all relief necessary to make the employee whole.

31 U.S.C. § 3730(h)

An employee must prove three elements in a retaliation action under section 3730(h): "(1) that the employee engaged in activity protected under the statute; (2) that the employer knew that the employee engaged in protected activity; and (3) that the employer discriminated against the employee because she engaged in protected ...


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