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Montgomery v. STG International

January 30, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard W. Roberts United States District Judge


Plaintiffs Cheryl Montgomery and Gregory Bigelow bring age and race discrimination claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, the District of Columbia's Human Rights Act ("Human Rights Act"), and common law against their former employer, defendant STG International ("STG"). STG has moved to transfer the action to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, and has moved to sever the plaintiffs asserting that they are improperly joined. The plaintiffs oppose a transfer and severance. Because STG has shown that transfer to the Eastern District of Virginia is in the interest of justice, STG's motion to transfer will be granted. However, because the record has not been developed through discovery, severance is premature and the motion to sever will be denied without prejudice.


Bigelow and Montgomery allege that during their employment at STG, they were discriminated against and ultimately terminated due to their race and age. Montgomery worked as a Program Manager on STG's federal contract with the Department of Health and Human Service's Division of Immigration Health Services ("DIHS") while Bigelow worked as an Assistant Controller overseeing many of STG's contracts, including the one with DIHS. (Compl. ¶¶ 7, 8.) During her tenure at STG, Montgomery worked primarily in Washington, D.C. at her client's office, but would travel to STG's Virginia headquarters once a week for meetings. (Pls.' Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. to Sever & Transfer ("Pls.' Opp'n"), Montgomery Decl. ("Montgomery Decl.") at 1.)*fn1 Bigelow worked solely at STG's Virginia headquarters.*fn2 (Def.'s Mem. P. & A. in Supp. of Mot. to Sever & Transfer ("Def.'s Mem."), Ellen Duncan Aff. ("Duncan Aff.") ¶ 14.) Montgomery and Bigelow are both residents of Virginia. (Compl. ¶¶ 4, 5.) STG is a Virginia corporation, headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, where personnel records are maintained. (Duncan Aff. ¶¶ 1, 3, 13, 17.)

The plaintiffs allege that Michelle Lee, STG's Chief Executive Officer, their supervisors, Ann Kenny and Judy Krocker, and human resource representatives Cyndi Fischer, Ellen Duncan, and Marcia Euwema, discriminated against them by falsely reporting the quality of plaintiffs' work performance, limiting career advancement, and removing job responsibilities or titles. (Compl. ¶¶ 11, 12, 14, 15, 19, 22, 23, 28.) Moreover, Bigelow asserts that STG employees made racially based comments to him or in his presence (id. ¶¶ 10, 15, 18), while Montgomery claims that STG retaliated against her for filing administrative discrimination complaints. (Id. ¶¶ 22, 25.) The relevant witnesses work in the District of Columbia or Virginia. (Def.'s Mem. at 14; Bigelow Decl. ¶ 4; Montgomery Decl. at 1.) Bigelow and Montgomery were terminated on January 17, 2007 and March 5, 2007, respectively. (Compl. ¶¶ 26, 28.)

Montgomery and Bigelow allege race discrimination, hostile work environment, and unlawful termination in violation of § 1981; hostile work environment, race discrimination, and age discrimination in violation of the Human Rights Act; and wrongful termination. Montgomery also alleges retaliation in violation of § 1981 and the Human Rights Act. STG has moved under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) to transfer the action to the Eastern District of Virginia, and has moved under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 21 to sever the plaintiffs claiming they are improperly joined under Rule 20(a).



A case may be transferred to another venue under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) "[f]or the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice[.]" 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). See Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno, 454 U.S. 235, 253 (1981). The moving party has the burden of establishing that a transfer is proper. Onyeneho v. Allstate Ins. Co., 466 F. Supp. 2d 1, 3 (D.D.C. 2006). As a threshold requirement, the transferee court must be in a district where the action "might have been brought."*fn3 See 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). If it is, then a court uses its broad discretion to balance case-specific factors related to the public interest of justice and the private interests of the parties and witnesses. Stewart Org. Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 29-30 (1988); Trout Unlimited v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., 944 F. Supp. 13, 16 (D.D.C. 1996). In the balancing, a "[p]laintiff's choice of forum is given paramount consideration and the burden of demonstrating that an action should be transferred is on the movant." Air Line Pilots Ass'n v. E. Air Lines, 672 F. Supp. 525, 526 (D.D.C. 1987); see also DeLoach v. Phillip Morris Cos., 132 F. Supp. 2d 22, 24 (D.D.C. 2000). Ultimately, if the balance of private and public interests favors a transfer of venue, then a court may order a transfer.

A. Venue in the Eastern District of Virginia

Where, as here, jurisdiction is not founded only on diversity of citizenship,*fn4 venue is proper in "(1) a judicial district where any defendant resides, if all defendants reside in the same State, [or] (2) a judicial district in which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred . . . ." 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b). See also Payne v. Giant of Md., L.L.C., Civil Action No. 05-897 (GK), 2006 WL 1793303, at *2 (D.D.C. June 28, 2006). STG is headquartered in the Eastern District of Virginia and many of the alleged events complained of occurred in or involved employees in the transferee district. Therefore, this action could have been brought in the transferee district.

B. Private Interests

The private interest factors typically considered include:

1) the plaintiff's choice of forum, 2) the defendant's choice of forum, 3) where the claim arose, 4) the convenience of the parties, 5) the convenience of the witnesses, particularly if important witnesses may actually be unavailable to give live trial testimony in one of the districts,*fn5 and 6) the ease of access to sources of proof. Akiachak Native Cmty. v. Dep't of Interior, 502 F. Supp. 2d 64, 67 (D.D.C. 2007). Courts ordinarily give deference to plaintiffs' choice of forum. Schmidt v. Am. Inst. of Physics, 322 F. Supp. 2d 28, 33 (D.D.C. 2004). However, if the plaintiffs are not residents of the forum and "most of the relevant events occurred elsewhere," this deference is weakened. Hunter v. Johanns, 517 F. Supp. 2d 340, 344 (D.D.C. 2007). See also Kafack v. Primerica Life Ins. Co., 934 F. Supp. 3, 6-7 (D.D.C. 1996) (stating in support of a transfer that "the material events that constitute the factual predicate for the plaintiff's claims occurred" in the transferee district); Trout Unlimited, ...

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