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Gray v. Universal Service Administrative Co.

October 10, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton United States District Court Judge


On September 7, 2007, the plaintiff commenced this action challenging the defendant's, Universal Service Administrative Company ("USAC"), termination of the plaintiff's employment on the ground that the termination was based on her race and ancestry in violation of The Civil Rights Act of 1866, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (2000). First Amended Complaint ("Compl.") ¶ 1. Specifically, the plaintiff alleges that the defendant violated 42 U.S.C. § 1981 when it "discriminated against [her] by terminating her employment because of her race and ancestry without any business justification," id. ¶ 16, and "treated [her] less favorably than other employees who were not black and who did not have ethnic characteristics of someone from Jamaica.," id. Currently before this Court is USAC's motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, its motion for summary judgment ("Def.'s Mot.") with supporting memoranda. Defendant's Memorandum of Law In Support of its Motion to Dismiss, or in the alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment ("Def.'s Mem.").*fn1 For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that the defendant's motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) must be denied and its motion for summary judgment must also be denied but without prejudice.


Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the facts underlying this lawsuit are the following. In June 2004, the plaintiff, Zane Gray, was hired by the defendant, USAC, as a Senior Level Accountant. Compl. ¶ 4-6. "The plaintiff is a 43 year old black female who has the ethnic characteristics of someone who was born and raised in Jamaica." Id. ¶ 6. The plaintiff successfully completed her term of probation and in January 2005, she received a favorable performance evaluation and was awarded a pay increase. Id. ¶ 7.

As of June 2005, the plaintiff was supervised by Mike Wamganz, a Caucasian male, who was the Accounting Manager. Id. ¶ 8. In September 2005, the accounting department had fallen behind on its work due to Mr. Wagmanz's illness and inability to come to work during much of that month. Id. ¶ 9. On one Friday in October, the plaintiff worked until 8:30 p.m. in order "to complete reconciliation of a financial statement that was overdue," even though her normal workday typically ended at 6:00 p.m. Id. Before leaving for the evening, the plaintiff "informed Mr. Wamganz that [the financial statement] was ready for [his] review." Id. "Later that same evening, Mr. Wamganz sent [the plaintiff]an email expressing his annoyance that [the plaintiff] left work for the evening without getting his express approval." Id. ¶ 10. When the plaintiff viewed the email for the first time upon returning to work on Monday morning, she informed Mr. Wamganz that "she needed to get home because of how late it was and that she had two young children waiting for her at home." Id. "On Thursday of that same week, Mr. Wamganz set up a conference meeting with the plaintiff and the Human Resource Manager, Irena Munoz . . . ." Id. ¶ 11. At the meeting, the plaintiff received "a written warning for allegedly leaving work early on several occasions." Id. The plaintiff contends that "[m]ost of these" early departures had occurred after she "had requested to leave work early to pick up her children from day care." Id. However, "the plaintiff explained . . . [that] although she requested authorization to leave early on those dates, she only left early on two of the dates in question . . . [because she] was able to make alternative arrangements for the other days." Id. At the conclusion of the meeting Mr. Wamganz informed the plaintiff "that they would meet again the next day to resolve how they could work together in the future and avoid early departures, regardless of how compelling the reason." Id.

"Before the next meeting, the plaintiff learned that [the d]efendant's [Human Resource] Director, Paula Dinwiddie, [would be] attending the meeting." Id. ¶ 12. Concerned that the presence of the Human Resource Director would make her "feel intimidated," Plaintiff's Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss the First Amended Complaint and/or for Summary Judgment ("Pl.'s Mem."), Ex. 1 (Declaration of Zane Gray ("Pl.'s Decl.")) ¶ 14, the plaintiff "asked the defendant's employment counsel, Scott Brash, [whether she] could bring a co-worker to the meeting as a witness," and was allegedly told by Mr. Brash that she could, id. ¶ 15. Ms. Dinwiddie later informed the plaintiff that she would not be permitted to bring a co-worker to the meeting. Id. ¶ 16. When the plaintiff attempted to explain that she had the express permission from Mr. Brash, Ms. Dinwiddie allegedly became irate and informed the plaintiff that "she was an employee at will and that she could be terminated at any time and she was now being terminated." Compl. ¶ 13. Ms. Dinwiddie then purportedly "ordered the plaintiff to step away from her computer [and had] Ms. Munoz [collect] the plaintiff's personal belongings and to escort the plaintiff out of the building." Compl. ¶ 13.

On September 7, 2007, the plaintiff brought this civil action under The Civil Rights Act of 1866, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, alleging that the defendant had discriminated against her by "terminating her employment because of her race and ancestry". Id. ¶ 1. On September 26, 2007, the defendant filed the motion that is the subject of this opinion.


A. Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss

"A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint." Runkle v. Gonzalez, 391 F. Supp. 2d 210, 220 (D.D.C. 2005) (quoting Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002). In determining whether to dismiss a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), "the Court is able to only consider the facts alleged in the complaint, documents attached as exhibits or incorporated by reference in the complaint, and matters about which the Court may take judicial notice." Hopkins v. Women's Div., Gen. Bd. of Global Ministries, 238 F. Supp. 2d 174, 178 (D.D.C. 2002). A motion to dismiss will not be granted unless it appears "beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). "When the sufficiency of a complaint is challenged by a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the plaintiff's factual allegations must be presumed true and should be liberally construed in his or her favor." Hoey v. District of Columbia, 540 F. Supp. 2d 218, 224 (D.D.C. 2008) (citing Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics and Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164 (1993)). The plaintiff must therefore be given "the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged." Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000). However, the Court is not required to accept inferences drawn by the plaintiff if those inferences are not sufficiently supported by facts established in the complaint. Prince v. Rice, 453 F. Supp. 2d 14, 20-21 (D.D.C. 2006). Moreover, "[n]or must the court accept legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations." Id. (citations omitted).

B. Rule 56 Motion for Summary Judgment

To grant a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56(c), this Court must find that "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Bayer v. United States Dep't of Treasury, 956 F.2d 330, 333 (D.C.Cir.1992). However, the non-moving party cannot rely on "mere allegations or denials . . . , but . . . must set forth specific facts showing that there [are] genuine issue[s] for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986) (citation omitted). Under Rule 56(c), if a party fails to "establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial," summary judgment is warranted. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of establishing the absence of evidence that supports the non-moving party's case. Id.


A. The Defendant's 12(b)(6) Motion ...

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