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James v. Verizon Services Corp.

August 3, 2009

DIANN B. JAMES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
VERIZON SERVICES CORPORATION ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge

Re Document No.: 5

MEMORANDUM OPINION DENYING THE DEFENDANTS'MOTION TO DISMISS;GRANTING THE DEFENDANTS'MOTION IN THE ALTERNATIVE TO TRANSFER VENUE TO THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND

I. INTRODUCTION

The plaintiff, Diann B. James, commenced this action against the defendants, Verizon Services Corp. ("Verizon") and Kenna Ashley, in the District of Columbia alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq., Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000 et seq., and the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601 et seq.*fn1 The matter is now before the court on the defendants' motion to dismiss the case for improper venue or, in the alternative, to transfer the case to the Greenbelt Division of the District of Maryland. Because the court holds that venue in the District of Columbia is improper and determines that transfer, rather than dismissal, is appropriate, the court denies the defendants' motion to dismiss and grants the defendant's motion in the alternative to transfer.

II. FACTUAL & PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The plaintiff, an African American woman formerly employed as an EEO compliance officer with Verizon, sued Verizon alleging violations of the ADA, Title VII and the FMLA. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 54-77. The plaintiff claims that Verizon terminated her "without just cause because of her disability[,]... race... [and] serious health condition."*fn2 Id. ¶¶ 57, 70, 77. The plaintiff also alleges that she was given smaller bonuses than her white counterparts and required to do tasks not assigned to white employees. Id. ¶¶ 59-66. Additionally, the plaintiff asserted an FMLA claim against her former supervisor, Ashley, claiming that Ashley "frequently and inappropriately inquired" about her health condition and ordered her to appear at work while on FMLA-approved leave for the purpose of being terminated. Id. ¶¶ 71-77. The defendants have moved to dismiss the case or, alternatively, to transfer venue to the District of Maryland. See generally Defs.' Mot. The plaintiff opposes the motion. See Pl.'s Opp'n at 4-5.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard for Transfer of Venue in Title VII Cases

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(3) states that the court will dismiss or transfer a case if venue is improper or inconvenient in the plaintiff's chosen forum. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(3). In considering a Rule 12(b)(3) motion, the court accepts the plaintiff's well-pled factual allegations regarding venue as true, draws all reasonable inferences from those allegations in the plaintiff's favor and resolves any factual conflicts in the plaintiff's favor. Darby v. U.S. Dep't of Energy,231 F. Supp. 2d 274, 277 (D.D.C. 2002); 2215 Fifth St. Assocs. v. U- Haul Int'l, Inc., 148 F. Supp. 2d 50, 54 (D.D.C. 2001). The court, however, need not accept the plaintiff's legal conclusions as true. 2215 Fifth St. Assocs., 148 F. Supp. 2d at 54. To prevail on a motion to dismiss for improper venue, the defendant must present facts that will defeat the plaintiff's assertion of venue. Id.

Venue for Title VII claims is governed by the specific provision within Title VII rather than the general venue provision of 28 U.S.C. § 1391.*fn3 See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3). That section provides that a Title VII action may be brought in [1] any judicial district in the State in which the unlawful employment practice is alleged to have been committed, [2] in the judicial district in which the employment records relevant to such practice are maintained and administered, or [3] in the judicial district in which the aggrieved person would have worked but for the alleged unlawful employment practice, [4] but if the respondent is not found within any such district, such an action may be brought within the judicial district in which the respondent has his principal office. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3). This provision indicates that Congress intended to limit venue in Title VII cases to those jurisdictions concerned with the alleged discrimination. Stebbins v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 413 F.2d 1100, 1102 (D.C. Cir. 1969) ("Stebbins I"). If the plaintiff brings suit in a jurisdiction that does not satisfy one of the venue requirements listed in 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3), venue is improper. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3); Washington v. Gen. Elec. Corp., 686 F. Supp. 361, 363 (D.D.C. 1988). When a plaintiff files an action in the wrong district, 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a) directs the court to "dismiss, or if it be in the interest of justice, transfer such case" to the proper venue. 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a). Generally, the "interest of justice" requires courts to transfer cases to the appropriate judicial district, rather than dismiss them. Goldlawr, Inc. v. Heiman, 369 U.S. 463, 466-67 (1962); James v. Booz-Allen, 227 F. Supp. 2d 16, 20 (D.D.C. 2002).

Courts can determine venue by applying a "commonsense appraisal" of events having operative significance. Lamont v. Haig, 590 F.2d 1124, 1134 (D.C. Cir. 1978); Donnell v. Nat'l Guard Bureau, 568 F. Supp. 93, 94 (D.D.C. 1983). Specifically, venue cannot lie in the District of Columbia 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." Donnell, 568 F. Supp. at 94.

B. Venue Is Improper in the District of Columbia

The defendants argue that venue is improper in this district because the case "has absolutely no connection to the District of Columbia" and that venue cannot lie in the District of Columbia under any of the four prongs of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3). Defs.' Reply*fn4 at 1, 4-10. First, the defendants point out that the alleged discriminatory employment practices occurred at the plaintiff's office in Silver Spring, Maryland. Id. at 5-6. Second, the defendants assert that "no witnesses or employment documents pertaining to the Plaintiff's performance or termination of employment... are located in the District of Columbia." Id. at 8-9. Third, the defendants observe that the plaintiff "has not made one allegation that the discriminatory acts prevented her from transferring offices [or] otherwise pursuing a position in the District of Columbia." Id. at 10.

The plaintiff counters that venue is proper in the District of Columbia under 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000e-5(f)(3) "since some of the work performance and employment practices alleged in [the] complaint took place in the District of Columbia, and documents relating to her claim are located there." Pl.'s Opp'n at 5. More specifically, the plaintiff points out that "[a]t the time of her termination, [her] employment traversed the state of Maryland, where she was physically located, [and] the District of Columbia, where many of the cases she process[ed] were located... [and that she] handled all EEO matters for defendant's Washington, D.C. ...


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