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MIDDLEBROOKS v. ENGLAND

November 2, 2005.

LILLIE M. MIDDLEBROOKS, Plaintiff,
v.
GORDON R. ENGLAND, SECRETARY OF THE NAVY, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOHN BATES, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

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.

BACKGROUND

  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. ¶ 202.

  ANALYSIS

  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 judicial districts:
(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 employment practice.
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 (D.D.C. 1983)).

  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, ...


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