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Woodland v. Viacom

August 5, 2008

ANTOINETTE WOODLAND, PLAINTIFF,
v.
VIACOM, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Friedman United States District Judge

OPINION

Plaintiff brings suit under the District of Columbia Human Rights Act ("DCHRA"), alleging discrimination on the basis of her sex. See Complaint ("Compl.") ¶¶ 81-86; D.C. CODE § 2-1401.01 et seq. This matter is before the Court on defendant's motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.*fn1 After considering all the papers filed by the parties and the relevant case law, the Court will grant summary judgment for the defendant.*fn2

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Antoinette Woodland worked at Black Entertainment Television ("BET") in the District of Columbia from December 2001 until at least the date of her deposition on June 15, 2007. See Compl. ¶ 8; Deposition of Antoinette Woodland ("Woodland Dep.") at 250. Plaintiff's title in 2001 was Property Manager. See Woodland Dep. at 250. In 2003, plaintiff was promoted to Senior Logistics Manager. See Compl. ¶ 9. Plaintiff alleges that she was effectively demoted in October 2004 by Edward Gilmore, her supervisor, despite having received good performance evaluations. See id. ¶¶ 15, 17, 48. Plaintiff alleges that her job responsibilities, prior to this de facto demotion, were extensive. See id. ¶ 45. She alleges that her subsequent job responsibilities were negligible. See id. ¶ 46. Plaintiff also alleges that the demotion "coincided" with Gilmore's hiring of a male to fill her position. See id. ¶¶ 39-44. She alleges that Gilmore previously had made "negative, disparaging and/or slanderous remarks about Plaintiff's job performance to BET employees." Id. ¶ 18.

Viacom moves for summary judgment, arguing that it is not plaintiff's employer. The facts relevant to a ruling on this motion, therefore, surround the corporate status of BET and its parent company Viacom, Inc. Viacom is an incorporated entity chartered in the state of Delaware. See Compl. ¶¶ 1, 4; Declaration of Betty A. Panarella ("Panarella Decl.") ¶ 3. BET Holdings LLC is a subsidiary of Viacom, and BET Television LLC is a subsidiary of BET Holdings LLC. Id. ¶ 3. Rather than name BET as a defendant, plaintiff chose to name only Viacom, Inc.

Despite the entities' legally separate status, plaintiff asserts that defendant and BET operate as a single integrated entity and that defendant Viacom therefore is liable for the actions of the BET employees who allegedly discriminated against her. See Opp. at 9. In support of this proposition, plaintiff alleges that BET and Viacom have a combined payroll system. See Pl.'s SMF ¶¶ 1, 5, 8. Plaintiff further asserts that defendant controlled BET's labor relations through such elements as a Business Conduct Manual, a policy memorandum issued by the then co-chief operating officers of Viacom. See id. ¶¶ 2-4, 6-8. Finally, plaintiff alleges that the common ownership of the two corporations and the alleged financial control that defendant had over BET makes them a "single employer." In support of her allegations of financial control, plaintiff notes that 500 stock options, for Viacom stock, were offered to plaintiff in recognition of plaintiff's job performance. See id. ¶ 9; Pl.'s Ex. 1; Pl.'s Ex. 2.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment "should be rendered if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits [or declarations] show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986); Holcomb v. Powell, 433 F.3d 889, 895 (D.C. Cir. 2006). "A fact is 'material' if a dispute over it might affect the outcome of a suit under the governing law; factual disputes that are 'irrelevant or unnecessary' do not affect the summary judgment determination." Holcomb v. Powell, 433 F.3d at 895 (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 248). An issue is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 248; Holcomb v. Powell, 433 F.3d at 895. When a motion for summary judgment is under consideration, "the evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [her] favor." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 255; see also Mastro v. Potomac Elec. Power Co., 447 F.3d 843, 849-50 (D.C. Cir. 2006); Aka v. Washington Hosp. Center, 156 F.3d 1284, 1288 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (en banc); Washington Post Co. v. Dep't of Health and Human Servs., 865 F.2d 320, 325 (D.C. Cir. 1989). On a motion for summary judgment, the Court must "eschew making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence." Czekalski v. Peters, 475 F.3d 360, 363 (D.C. Cir. 2007).

The non-moving party's opposition, however, must consist of more than mere unsupported allegations or denials and must be supported by affidavits, declarations or other competent evidence, setting forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). She is required to provide evidence that would permit a reasonable jury to find in her favor. Laningham v. U.S. Navy, 813 F.2d 1236, 1242 (D.C. Cir. 1987). If the non-movant's evidence is "merely colorable" or "not significantly probative," summary judgment may be granted. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 249-50; see Scott v. Harris, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 1776 (2007) ("where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is 'no genuine issue for trial.'") (quoting Matsushita Elec. Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)). To defeat a motion for summary judgment, a plaintiff must have more than "a scintilla of evidence to support [his] claims." Freedman v. MCI Telecomm. Corp., 255 F.3d 840, 845 (D.C. Cir. 2001).

The District of Columbia Human Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of "race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, family responsibilities, genetic information, disability, matriculation, or political affiliation of any individual." D.C. CODE § 2-1402.11. "The elements for proving discrimination . . . under the DCHRA are directly analogous to those required under Title VII, and District of Columbia courts borrow from federal Title VII case law in interpreting the DCHRA." Bagenstose v. District of Columbia, 503 F. Supp. 2d 247, 260 (D.D.C. 2007). The elements for discrimination, therefore, are: (1) that plaintiff suffered an adverse employment action (2) because of, in this case, her sex. See Brady v. Sergeant at Arms, 520 F.3d 490, 493 (D.C. Cir. 2008) ("This statutory text establishes two elements for an employment discrimination case: (i) the plaintiff suffered an adverse employment action (ii) because of the employee's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.").

III. DISCUSSION

In order to find liability under the DCHRA, the Court must determine first that the named defendant, Viacom, Inc., is the plaintiff's "employer" within the meaning of the statute. See Zuurbier v. MedStar Health, Inc., 306 F. Supp. 2d 1, 6 (D.D.C. 2004). In the absence of an unambiguous direct employer-employee relationship, the Court in some circumstances may find DCHRA liability by a parent company for the acts of its subsidiary under the "single employer" doctrine. See Hunter v. Ark Rest. Corp., 3 F. Supp 2d 9, 18 (D.D.C. 1998).

In order to determine whether two separate corporate entities can be considered a "single employer," courts examine four factors: (1) interrelation of operations; (2) common management; (3) centralized control of labor relations and personnel; and (4) common ownership or financial control. See Hunter v. Ark Rest. Corp., 3 F. Supp 2d at 18 (using "single employer" test for DCHRA actions); see also Radio & Television Broad. Technicians Local Union 1264 v. Broad. Serv. of Mobile, 380 U.S. 255, 256 (1965) (Supreme Court endorsed the "single employer" test for Title VII cases); Tewelde v. Albright, 89 F. Supp. 2d 12, 17 (D.D.C. 2000).*fn3 "Although the absence or presence of any single factor is not conclusive, the control over the elements of labor relations is a central concern." E.E.O.C. v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 928 F. Supp. 29, 33 (D.D.C. 1996) (citing Armbruster v. Quinn, 711 F.2d 1332, 1337 (6th Cir. 1983)), rev'd on other grounds, 117 F.3d 621 (D.C. Cir. 1997). Furthermore, as Judge Harris explained:

Plaintiff must make a substantial showing to warrant a finding of "single employer" status. There must be "sufficient indicia of an interrelationship between the immediate corporate employer and the affiliated corporation to justify the belief on the part of an aggrieved employee that the ...


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