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Headen v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

September 24, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ellen Segal Huvelle United States District Judge


Plaintiff Vernice Headen, proceeding pro se, has sued defendant Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority ("WMATA") for retaliation, discrimination, defamation, wrongful termination, emotional distress, and hostile work environment.*fn1 Before the Court is WMATA's motion to dismiss the complaint under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). Having reviewed the complaint, the memoranda filed by the parties, and applicable case law, the Court will grant defendant's motion and dismiss plaintiff's claims.


Plaintiff was employed as a traffic clerk at WMATA. (Compl. at 2.) In the fall of 2006, she alleges that she informed "The Department of Civil Rights within WMATA" that her supervisor had "position[ed] his crouch [sic] in her face" on three occasions and that another traffic clerk made unwanted sexual comments to her. (Id. at 2.) Plaintiff contends that the situation was investigated in October 2006. (Id.) However, she alleges that although assistant managers met with her and another employee regarding the harassment, there was no meeting with the managers, plaintiff, and the supervisor whom she had accused. (Id.) She alleges that on October 13, 2006, she received a letter from the "Director of Civil Rights at WMATA," stating that her allegations did not fall within the purview of WMATA's non-discrimination policy and that WMATA was unable to substantiate her allegations. (Id.)

On March 4, 2008, plaintiff alleges that she was suspended from work for one week for failure to follow rules and insubordination. (Id.) She alleges that the punishment she received for her violations is at odds with the December 2007 traffic clerk manual; plaintiff maintains that according to the reprimand chart in the manual, she should have received a written warning only. (Id. at 3.) On April 25, 2008, plaintiff alleges that the Acting Assistant Manager informed the Director of the Employee Assistance Program ("EAP") that plaintiff was "psychologically imbalanced and unable to continue work for WMATA." (Id.) Plaintiff states that she was subsequently evaluated and cleared to return to work by the EAP, but that the Acting Assistant Manager stated that he did not agree with the assessment and wanted plaintiff to receive an independent psychological evaluation, with plaintiff bearing the $2,600.00 cost, before WMATA would pay her for the week during which she was suspended. (Id.) Plaintiff's complaint does not state whether the evaluation occurred.

Plaintiff alleges that on May 22, 2008, she was "threatened" by the supervisor whom she accused of harassment with a post-incident drug test for not including her name on a form. (Id.) Plaintiff claims this same supervisor then sent her home for asking to take a break and to use the restroom, telling her that she would never be allowed to use the restroom while working at WMATA. (Id.) In June 4, 2008, plaintiff was terminated from employment with WMATA. (Id.) Plaintiff claims that the dismissal letter she received did not state the grounds for her termination, but only lists a series of incidents which plaintiff "supposedly had done." (Id. at 3-4.) Plaintiff claims she had not been given any form of "progressive" discipline as required by the traffic clerk manual, and that the Acting Assistant Manager admitted as much in "sworn" testimony in December 2008. (Id. at 4.) Plaintiff also claims that the list of incidents in the termination letter had been compiled by the Acting Assistant Manager while he was not in management capacity. (Id.)

Plaintiff also claims that she received investigation reports from the aforementioned supervisor in someone else's handwriting. (Id.) Plaintiff states that when she complained about the different handwriting to management, she was told that it "did not matter who wrote the information" so long as the form had been completed and signed by her supervisor. (Id.) Plaintiff next claims that her supervisor gave her "misleading directives" that required her to violate WMATA policy. (Id.) Plaintiff maintains that her supervisor threatened her with a reprimand for insubordination to force her to follow the "directives," despite the fact that by following the directives, she faced punishment for violating WMATA policies. (Id.)

Based on the above allegations, plaintiff seeks "back pay from the date of termination until the case is settled." (Id. at 6.) She also requests punitive damages and other damages related to her claims for retaliation, discrimination, defamation, and emotional distress. (Id. at 6-7.) She filed her complaint on May 14, 2010. On that day, this Court issued a Memorandum and Order Staying the Case, requiring plaintiff to produce a right to sue letter indicating a final determination of plaintiff's charge. (Mem. & Order, May 14, 2010, at 2.)

On June 10, 2010, plaintiff filed a response to the Court's Order, attaching what she claimed was the only information she had received from defendant regarding her case. (Pl. Resp. to Court Order, June 10, 2010.) Plaintiff claimed that the attached "is the only information that [she] received from WMATA informing [her] that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission would be notified of the complaint." (Id.) However, the only attachment was the October 13, 2006 letter, referenced above, from defendant to plaintiff, stating that the Office of Civil Rights acknowledged her allegations of sexual harassment and noting the meeting plaintiff had with an EEO & Dispute Resolution Officer. (Id., Ex. A.) Although the letter states that the author would forward a copy to an Employee Relations Officer at WMATA, there is no suggestion that the letter would be sent to the EEO or that an EEO complaint was being filed. (Id.)

On July 14, 2010, the Court*fn2 issued a second Memorandum Opinion, noting that although nothing in the response plaintiff submitted suggests that plaintiff had filed a claim before the EEOC, the Court would allow plaintiff's complaint to proceed. (Mem. Op. July 14, 2010, at 1-2.) The Court based its decision on plaintiff's pro se status and the ability of defendant to plead failure to exhaust as an affirmative defense. (Id. at 2.) The stay was lifted, and WMATA subsequently filed its motion to dismiss. Defendant argues that WMATA is not subject to a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and that plaintiff failed to exhaust her administrative remedies before the EEOC before filing her complaint. (Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of Def. WMATA's Mot. to Dismiss ["Def.'s Mem."] at 2-3.)



"[I]n passing on a motion to dismiss, whether on the ground of lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter or for failure to state a cause of action, the allegations of the complaint should be construed favorably to the pleader." Marsoun v. United States, 591 F. Supp. 2d 41, 43 (D.D.C. 2008) (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)); see also Atherton v. Dist. of Columbia Office of Mayor, 567 F.3d 672, 681 (D.C. Cir. 2009) ("'[W]hen ruling on a defendant's motion to dismiss, a judge must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint.'") (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007)). "In determining whether a complaint fails to state a claim [under Rule 12(b)(6) ], [courts] may consider only the facts alleged in the complaint, any documents either attached to or incorporated in the complaint and matters of which [courts] may take judicial notice." E.E.O.C. v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 117 F.3d 621, 624 (D.C. Cir. 1997).

The pleadings of pro se parties "[are] to be liberally construed, and a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson, 551 U.S. at 94(internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Nonetheless, "[a] pro se complaint, like any other, must present a claim upon which relief can be granted by the court." Crisafi v. Holland, 655 F.2d 1305, 1308 (D.C. Cir. 1981); see also McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1993) ( "[W]e have never suggested ...

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