United States District Court, District of Columbia
February 20, 2003
BOBBIE G. DE LEON PLAINTIFF,
GORDON R. ENGLAND SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY, DEFENDANT.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Emmet Sullivan, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Bobbie G. De Leon, a former Program Manager at the Naval Sea Systems Command ("NAVSEA"), an organization within defendant agency, brings this suit alleging discrimination on the basis of sex and race. In her complaint, plaintiff maintains that defendant violated the Equal Pay Act of 1963, 29 U.S.C. § 201 et. seq. ("Equal Pay Act") and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000 et. seq. ("Title VII"). Pending before the Court is defendant's Motion to Dismiss or in the Alternative for Transfer of the Equal Pay Act Claim to the Court of Federal Claims and the Title VII Claims to the Eastern District of Virginia.
The Court has considered the parties' motions, oppositions, and replies, as well as the statutory and case law governing the issues. For the reasons outlined herein, the Court concludes that defendant's motion to transfer the Equal Pay Act claim to the Court of Federal Claims and the Title VII claims to the Eastern District of Virginia is GRANTED.
Plaintiff is an African-American woman who was employed at the Naval Sea Systems Command from March 1998 until November 2000. Pl.'s Compl. ¶¶ 7-8. Plaintiff complains that she performed as the Program Manager for the General Purpose Electronic Test Equipment ("GPETE") at the GS-13 level while her predecessor, a Caucasian male, performed in that capacity at the GS-14 level. Id. ¶¶ 9-10.
In Count I of her complaint, plaintiff alleges that defendant willfully violated the Equal Pay Act of 1963 when it refused to pay her the same wages paid to her predecessor for performing the same duties. Id. ¶¶ 11-14. In Counts II and III, plaintiff contends that defendant violated Title VII by paying her less compensation, and providing her fewer benefits, for managing the same responsibilities as those handled by her predecessor. Id. ¶¶ 15-23.
Plaintiff seeks declaratory relief, injunctive relief and damages. On June 21, 2002, defendant filed the present motion.
Motion to Transfer
The venue statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1404, provides that:
(a) For the convenience of parties and witnesses,
in the interest of justice, a district court may
transfer any civil action to any other district or
division where it might have been brought.
(b) Upon motion, consent or stipulation of all
parties, any action, suit or proceeding of a civil
nature or any motion or hearing thereof, may be
transferred, in the discretion of the court, from the
division in which pending to any other division in
the same district. Transfer of proceedings in rem
brought by or on behalf of the United States may be
transferred under this section without the consent of
the United States where all other parties request
(c) A district court may order any civil action to
be tried at any place within the division in which it
(d) As used in this section, the term "district
court" includes the District Court of Guam, the
District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands, and
the District Court of the Virgin Islands, and the
term "district" includes the territorial jurisdiction
of each such court.
28 U.S.C. § 1404.
Transfers of venue to cure want of jurisdiction are governed by 28 U.S.C. § 1631 The provision holds as follows:
Whenever a civil action is filed in a court as defined
in section 610 of this title or an appeal, including a
petition for review of administrative action, is
noticed for or filed with such a court and that court
finds that there is a want of jurisdiction, the court
shall, if it is in the interest of justice, transfer
such action or appeal to any other such court in which
the action or appeal could have been brought at the
time it was filed or noticed, and the action or appeal
shall proceed as if it had been filed in or noticed
for the court to which it is transferred on the date
upon which it was actually filed in or noticed for the
court from which it is transferred.
28 U.S.C. § 1631.
Equal Pay Act Claim
The Equal Pay Act "prohibits payment of unequal wages for equal work on grounds of sex [.]" Thompson v. Sawyer, 678 F.2d 257, 263 (D.C. Cir. 1982). Claims brought pursuant to the Equal Pay Act must satisfy the jurisdictional requirements of the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1491. See, e.g. Barnes v. Levitt, 118 F.3d 404, 410 (5th Cir. 1997), cert. denied, 523 U.S. 1136 (1998); Huddleston v. Donovan, 524 F. Supp. 179, 182 (N.D. Ill. 1981). Section 1346(a)(2), commonly referred to as the "Little Tucker Act," expressly limits the jurisdiction of this Court to any non-tort civil action or claim against the United States, not exceeding $10,000 in amount, founded either upon the Constitution, or any Act of Congress." 28 U.S.C. § 1346(a)(2). See, e.g. Doe v. Dep't of Justice, 753 F.2d 1092, 1101 (D.C. Cir. 1985).
While plaintiff's complaint lacks specificity as to the dollar amount of her Equal Pay Act claim, a comparison of her GS-13 salary for the relevant period with that she would have received at the GS-14 level shows that her claim "is well in excess of $10,000." Def.'s Mot. at 4.*fn1 See, e.g., Doe, 753 F.2d at 1101 (holding that "[a]lthough Doe did not specify the precise amount of the back pay she sought, we conclude that her complaint should be read to seek more than $10,000 in back pay because Doe, a GS-14 attorney earning approximately $45,000 a year, was discharged over two years before she brought this lawsuit and alleges that she has not been able to secure comparable employment in her field."). Moreover, as defendant aptly notes, plaintiff in this case fails to address, and thus arguably concedes, defendant's allegation that her Equal Pay Act claim is for an amount greater than $10,000.
In light of the fact that plaintiff's claim under Count I is for an amount in excess of $10,000, this Court lacks jurisdiction over the claim pursuant to the Tucker Act. In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 1631, and in the interest of justice, the Court may transfer plaintiff's Equal Pay Act claim to the Court of Federal Claims, the only court in which the claim could properly have been brought.
Title VII Claims
Title VII prohibits covered employers from discriminating on the basis of sex, race, color, religion and national origin. The Title's jurisdictional provision appears at 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3), which provides that Title VII claims may be brought only (1) where the "unlawful employment practice is alleged to have been committed"; (2) where "the employment records relevant to such [unlawful employment] practice are maintained and administered"; (3) where plaintiff "would have worked but for the allegedly unlawful employment practice"; or (4) where defendant "has his principal office" (but only when defendant "is not found" in any of the three preceding districts).
The Court finds that none of the four conditions for venue outlined in 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3) are satisfied in the present case and that, accordingly, venue is not proper in the District of Columbia. During the period in question, plaintiff was employed at NAVSEA, which was then headquartered and located in Crystal City, Virginia. Furthermore, plaintiff's employment records, including her personnel file, are currently located in Indianapolis, Indiana. While plaintiff maintains that Human Resources Office Personnel at NAVSEA in Washington, DC maintains a copy of her file, this fact is irrelevant for venue purposes. See Washington v. General Electric Corp., 686 F. Supp. 361, 363 (D.C. 1988) (holding that the fact that copies of plaintiff's records are available in this district does not provide a basis for venue). With respect to the third prong, plaintiff currently works for Defense Information Systems Agency ("DISA") and has done so since December 31, 2000. There is no indication that, by the time NAVSEA began relocating to the Washington Navy Yard in the District of Columbia in January 2001, plaintiff remained an employee of the agency. Finally, because defendant is "found" within a district covered by prongs one-three of the venue analysis, the fourth prong is not applicable. See Stebbins v. State Farm Mut. Ins. Co., 413 F.2d 1100, 1003 (D.C. Cir. 1969) ("Only where the putative employer cannot be brought before the court in one of those districts may the action be filed in the judicial district in which he has `his principal office'"). The defendant in the case at bar is "found," and is thus subject to suit, in the Eastern District of Virginia. See Katz v. Lewis, 26 Fair Empl. Prac. Cases (BNA) 1402, 1981 WL 27103, at *1 (D.C. 1981).
Though plaintiff cites myriad reasons why venue is most appropriate in the District of Columbia, including the presence of witnesses currently employed at NAVSEA in Washington, DC, the Court is persuaded that, even if venue were proper in this district, the case should nevertheless be transferred to the Eastern District of Virginia. Each of the conditions provided for in the venue statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a), is fulfilled in the instant case. First, the Title VII claim could and, as noted above, should, have been brought in the Eastern District of Virginia. Second, plaintiff herself, arguably the most important witness, lives and works in that district and did so during her entire tenure at NAVSEA. Finally, the jurisdictional and convenience factors referenced by the Court militate in favor of transferring the claim in question in the interests of justice. Plaintiff has failed to provide compelling reasons why the claim should be adjudicated in the District of Columbia rather than the Eastern District of Virginia.
For the foregoing reasons, defendant's motion to transfer the Equal Pay Act claim to the Court of Federal Claims and the Title VII claims to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia is GRANTED. Having thus disposed of the jurisdictional questions raised by defendant, this Court need not address defendant's motion to dismiss.