United States District Court, D. Columbia
November 2, 2005.
LILLIE M. MIDDLEBROOKS, Plaintiff,
GORDON R. ENGLAND, SECRETARY OF THE NAVY, Defendant.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOHN BATES, District Judge
Plaintiff Lillie Middlebrooks brings this action against Gordon
R. England, Secretary of the Department of the Navy, pursuant to
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended,
29 U.S.C. § 2000e-2 et seq. Plaintiff alleges that defendant discriminated
against her based on her race, color, gender and national origin
when she worked at the National Naval Medical Center (NNMC) in
Bethesda, Maryland, from September 2002 to February 2003.
Presently before the Court is defendant's motion to dismiss for
improper venue or, in the alternative, to transfer to the
District of Maryland. Because the Court determines that venue is
not proper in the District of Columbia for plaintiff's claim, the
Court will transfer the case to the District of Maryland where
venue is proper.
The following facts are alleged in plaintiff's complaint.
Plaintiff, an African American female of light-brown complexion,
was hired by the Military Family Health Center of the NNMC as a
registered nurse on September 30, 2002. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 12, 13.
Plaintiff's appointment was subject to the completion of a
one-year probationary period. Id. ¶ 14. Plaintiff alleges that, over the course of her six-month tenure
with NNMC, her coworkers and supervisors repeatedly insulted her
and undermined her ability adequately to perform her duties.
During her first two months of employment, three Caucasian female
coworkers repeatedly made insulting and derogatory remarks to
her. Id. ¶¶ 23, 24, 25, 31, 35, 111, 114. Another Caucasian
female coworker falsely accused plaintiff in an e-mail of
incompetence and refusal to perform work-related duties. Id. ¶
44. In December 2002, plaintiff's Hispanic male supervisor
reassigned her to another staff team, a move that deprived her of
a leadership position. Id. ¶¶ 60, 61, 65, 70. The loss of the
leadership opportunity adversely affected plaintiff's chances for
career advancement. Id. ¶ 72. One month later, a Caucasian male
coworker made false statements concerning plaintiff by e-mail.
Id. ¶ 88.
On February 3, 2003 plaintiff's supervisors confronted her with
negative written comments from three coworkers. Id. ¶¶ 96, 98.
One write-up was authored by an African American male coworker,
who plaintiff alleges discriminated against her on the basis of
her color. Id. ¶¶ 99, 106. Following that meeting, plaintiff's
supervisors solicited additional comments from a Caucasian male
coworker, who submitted negative remarks concerning plaintiff.
Id. ¶¶ 117, 123.
Also on February 3, 2003 plaintiff treated a patient who had
been inadvertently stuck by a dirty needle during an occupational
exposure incident. Id. ¶ 121. Plaintiff apparently released the
patient without initiating post-exposure prophylaxis. Id. ¶¶
137, 138. The next day, it was discovered that the patient's
source of exposure was HIV positive. Id. ¶ 139. Plaintiff was
subsequently berated by her supervisors and her depression
worsened. Id. ¶¶ 31, 35, 142, 149.
Because of these incidents, plaintiff contacted an Equal
Employment Opportunity (EEO) counselor on February 6, 2003. Id.
¶ 153. When coworkers learned that she had contacted an EEO counselor, they circulated e-mails accusing her of
incompetence and drafted an allegedly false report concerning the
occupational exposure incident. Id. ¶¶ 156, 157, 158.
Plaintiff filed a formal complaint with the EEO office on
February 13, 2003. Id. ¶¶ 173, 174. She then faced further
harassment from coworkers, and her supervisor submitted a
termination recommendation. Id. ¶¶ 174, 178. Plaintiff alleges
an additional false memorandum was submitted at this time
concerning her job performance. Id. ¶ 181.
On February 20, 2003, plaintiff's supervisors again verbally
abused and harassed her. Id. ¶¶ 191, 194. That same day, a
coworker overheard a phone message from an EEO counselor intended
for plaintiff and informed other coworkers of its content. Id.
¶ 198. Later that day, plaintiff's supervisors formally
recommended her to the Washington Navy Yard HRO for termination.
Id. ¶¶ 199. Plaintiff was terminated five days later. Id. ¶
Defendant argues that venue is improper in the District of
Columbia for plaintiff's claim, and therefore this case should be
dismissed or, in the alternative, transferred to the District of
Maryland where venue is proper. Plaintiff counters that venue is
proper in the District of Columbia.
Venue for Title VII actions is governed by
42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3), under which venue is proper in any of three
(1) where the unlawful employment practice is alleged
to have been committed; (2) where the employment
records relevant to such a practice are maintained
and administered; or (3) where the aggrieved person
would have worked but for the alleged unlawful
If the defendant is not found in any district under those
provisions, then venue may be based on a fourth provision the
location of defendant's principal office. Id. This venue
statute governs all Title VII claims and supercedes any other venue provision
governing actions in federal court. Stebbins v. State Farm Auto.
Ins. Co., 413 F.2d 1100, 1102 (D.C. Cir. 1969).
Plaintiff contends that venue is appropriate in this district
under both the first and second provisions of
42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3).*fn1 The Court's first inquiry focuses on the
locus of the alleged acts of discrimination. "Courts can
determine venue by applying a `commonsense appraisal' of events
having operative significance." James v. Booz-Allen & Hamilton,
227 F. Supp. 2d 16, 20 (D.D.C. 2002) (citing Lamont v. Haig,
590 F.2d 1124, 1134 (D.C. Cir. 1978)). "Specifically, venue
cannot lie in [the District] when a `substantial part, if not
all, of the employment practices challenged in this action' took
place outside the District even when actions taken in the
District `may have had an impact on the plaintiff's situation.'"
Robinson v. Potter, 2005 WL 1151429 at *3 (D.D.C. May 16, 2005)
(citing Donnell v. Nat'l Guard Bureau, 568 F. Supp. 93, 94
Plaintiff asserts that her allegedly discriminatory termination
was ordered by the Washington Navy Yard HRO and therefore venue
is proper here. Opp'n at 2. This argument is ultimately
unpersuasive, however, because the balance of allegedly
discriminatory events, including plaintiff's actual termination
and every instance of alleged workplace discrimination, occurred
at the Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. Notwithstanding the
formal authorization for her termination then, all alleged
discriminatory events took place in Maryland. Venue is therefore
improper in this district under the first prong of
42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3) because, while the HRO's formal authorization of
plaintiff's termination had an impact on her situation, a
substantial part of the allegedly discriminatory events,
including her actual firing, took place in Maryland. See Donnell, 568 F. Supp. at 94 (holding that,
while personnel decisions made in the District of Columbia
impacted plaintiff, venue was improper there because a
substantial portion of the alleged discrimination occurred in
Turning to the second prong of the venue inquiry, defendant
states that plaintiff's employment records containing
"performance appraisals, disciplinary counseling notes, and
information about other problems" related to the alleged
discrimination are located in Bethesda, Maryland. Def. Mot. at 6.
Plaintiff responds that the Navy Yard HRO has complete control
and jurisdiction over her employment records, as evidenced by
their ability to pull the entirety of her records when asked to
do so by plaintiff's counsel. Pl. Rep. at 3; Greenberg Decl. at
1-2. Plaintiff further contends that her Official Personnel
Folder (OPF) is administered and maintained in the District by
"Using employment records to process an administrative
complaint is not considered `maintaining and administering' the
records for purposes of establishing venue under
42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3)." Saran v. Harvey, 2005 WL 1106347 at *3 (D.D.C.
May 9, 2005) (internal citations omitted). Plaintiff's employment
records cannot be considered "maintained and administered" in the
District solely because the HRO was able to process counsel's
request for records. Plaintiff requested her records from the HRO
in pursuit of her EEO claim and subsequent Title VII action and
therefore, applying the standard in Saran, the Court concludes
that the production of her records in the District is
insufficient to establish venue here. See also Lee v.
England, 2004 WL 764441 at *1 (D.D.C. Mar. 9, 2004) (holding
that establishing venue based on the administrative processing of
plaintiff's complaint through the Washington Navy Yard HRO would
"sidestep the language of [42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3)], which
deals not with administrative processing of the litigation but the maintenance
and administration of employment records relevant to the
challenged employment practice").
Furthermore, the second prong of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3)
speaks only to employment records "relevant to [the alleged
unlawful] practice." See id. Plaintiff's OPF, located in the
District, contains life insurance information, her Declaration
for Federal Employment, her oath of office and other records
pertaining to her employment generally. Greenberg Decl. at 2. But
all records relating to the alleged discrimination, including
performance appraisals, disciplinary counseling notes and
relevant internal memoranda, are maintained and administered in
her local personnel file in Bethesda, Maryland. Id. In light of
Congress' clear intent "to limit venue to the judicial districts
concerned with the alleged discrimination," Stebbins,
413 F.2d at 1102, the location of plaintiff's OPF cannot be the basis for
venue in this district. Looking only to the location of a
plaintiff's OPF would undercut clear Congressional intent by
allowing plaintiffs to establish venue not where the records
"relevant to [the alleged unlawful] practice" are kept, but in
any place where employment records of any type can be found.
Therefore, the Court concludes that the employment records
"relevant" to plaintiff's complaint are "administered and
maintained" in Bethesda, Maryland, not in the District of
Columbia. Venue is thus improper here under the second prong of
the venue inquiry.
Although venue is not proper in the District, it is proper in
the District of Maryland. As discussed, a substantial portion of
the operative events pertaining to the alleged discrimination
occurred in Bethesda, Maryland. Moreover, the employment records
relevant to the claim are maintained and administered in
Bethesda, Maryland. Finally, but for the alleged discrimination,
plaintiff would still work in Bethesda, Maryland. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a), "the district court of a
district in which is filed a case laying venue in the wrong
district shall dismiss, or if it be in the interest of justice,
transfer such a case to any district or division in which it
could have been brought." The decision whether to transfer or
dismiss is entrusted to the Court's discretion. See Stewart
Org., Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 29 (1988). In the
interest of justice, the Court will transfer this case to the
District of Maryland.*fn2
For the foregoing reasons, the Court finds that venue over
plaintiff's action does not lie in the District of Columbia.
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a), and in the interest of justice,
the Court will transfer this case to the District of Maryland. A
separate order will be issued herewith.
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