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Calobrisi v. Booz Allen Hamilton, Inc.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

July 23, 2014




Plaintiff Carla Calobrisi was demoted at the age of 55 after spending 11 years rising through the ranks of Booz Allen Hamilton's legal department. She claims that her demotion and resulting constructive discharge were based on her age and gender. Arguing that none of the events that led to Calobrisi's demotion took place in Washington, D.C., Booz Allen moved to dismiss Calobrisi's claims or transfer them to the Eastern District of Virginia, where both Calobrisi and her supervisors worked. The parties have conducted jurisdictional discovery to determine whether any decisions surrounding Calobrisi's demotion took place in the District of Columbia. While Calobrisi contends that discovery has not foreclosed the possibility that the decisions to demote and constructively discharge her occurred in D.C. and, regardless, that these decisions arose from general discriminatory practices that emanated from Booz Allen's D.C. offices, the Court finds that Calobrisi has failed to meet her burden to establish that venue is appropriate in D.C. The Court therefore will dismiss Calobrisi's D.C. law claims and transfer the remainder of the case to the Eastern District of Virginia.

I. Background

Calobrisi, a resident of Maryland, brought suit in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia alleging gender and age discrimination and retaliation in violation of the District of Columbia Human Rights Act ("DCHRA"), D.C. Code § 2-1401, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621. After removing the case to this Court, Booz Allen moved to dismiss Calobrisi's Title VII and DCHRA claims for lack of venue and lack of subject matter jurisdiction, respectively, and to transfer her remaining ADEA claims to the Eastern District of Virginia. Before ruling on the motions, Judge Wilkins, who was previously assigned to this case, permitted Calobrisi to take limited jurisdictional discovery on the material events leading to her alleged discriminatory demotion and constructive discharge. Order at 1-2 (Dec. 5, 2013). Upon concluding that discovery, the parties submitted supplemental memoranda and the Court held a hearing on July 2, 2014. Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are drawn from the allegations in Calobrisi's complaint, which the Court accepts as true unless contradicted by evidence in the record.

Calobrisi worked as a lawyer in Booz Allen's legal department for over a decade, rising to the level of "team lead" for the department's real estate, commercial transactions, and infrastructure practice groups. Compl. ¶¶ 11, 20. Calobrisi and the other senior members of the legal department worked in the company's McLean, Virginia office. On January 26, 2011, in that office, Calobrisi met with Booz Allen's then-General Counsel CG Appleby, Vice President William Meyers, and incoming General Counsel Robert Osborne, who informed her that she would be demoted to senior associate and work solely in the real estate group starting at the beginning of the next fiscal year. Id . ¶ 41. Calobrisi repeatedly requested to be reinstated to her former position and to discuss her concerns about discriminatory treatment with human resources, but Booz Allen declined to reverse the demotion. Id . At a subsequent meeting on April 5, 2011, also in the McLean office, Meyers told Calobrisi to sign a memorandum stating that her demotion was voluntary or else she would be terminated. Id . ¶ 59. Calobrisi signed the letter but resigned later that year. Id . ¶ 62-63. Calobrisi alleges that being coerced to sign the letter, along with management's refusal to reconsider the decision to demote her, constituted constructive discharge.

Although Calobrisi and her supervisors worked in Virginia and her demotion was communicated to her in Virginia, Calobrisi alleges in her complaint, upon information and belief, that the decision to demote her was made during an "off site" meeting at the Cosmos Club in Washington, D.C., which she says took place before she was told of her demotion on January 26. Id . ¶¶ 43-44. In response to that allegation, Booz Allen submitted sworn declarations from Calobrisi's supervisors and another senior lawyer in the department stating that (1) they decided to demote Calobrisi at a January 20, 2011 meeting in McLean; (2) the only Cosmos Club meeting they attended occurred on February 15, 2011, after the demotion was conveyed to Calobrisi on January 26; and (3) the Cosmos Club meeting focused on the "strategic vision" for the legal department and did not involve any discussion of specific personnel, including Calobrisi. Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss Ex. 1, Declaration of William Meyers ("Meyers Decl.") ¶¶ 9, 11-12, Ex. 2, Declaration of Douglas Manya ("Manya Decl.") ¶¶ 5, 7-8, Ex. 3 Declaration of CG Appleby ("Appleby Decl.") ¶¶ 11, 14-15, Ex. 4 Declaration of Robert Osborne ("Osborne Decl.") ¶¶ 5, 7-8. Her supervisors confirmed these facts in depositions taken during jurisdictional discovery. Def.'s Supplemental Mem. Ex. 3, Deposition of Meyers ("Meyers Dep.") 45:21-22 & Ex. 4, Deposition of Osborne ("Osborne Dep.") 45:5-6.

Recognizing that the pivotal Cosmos Club meeting took place after her demotion, Calobrisi argues that the leadership of the legal department "made decisions to favor younger, male attorneys" at the February 26th meeting and that those decisions effectively sealed Calobrisi's fate, which was still a "work in progress" at that time. Pl.'s Supplemental Mem. 11. Calobrisi also attributes her demotion and constructive discharge to "a corporate culture that prevents older, female employees from advancing within the firm." Id. at 8. She alleges that this institutional "glass ceiling" emanated from Booz Allen's D.C. offices. Id.

II. Standard of Review

When ruling on a motion to dismiss for lack of venue or subject matter jurisdiction, the Court generally must accept as true the plaintiff's well-pled allegations and draw all reasonable inferences in her favor, e.g., McQueen v. Harvey , 567 F.Supp.2d 184, 186 (D.D.C. 2008), but may consider material outside of the pleadings, e.g., United States v. Smithfield Foods, Inc. , 332 F.Supp.2d 55, 59 (D.D.C. 2004). The Court need not accept as true the allegations in the complaint when "directly contradicted by affidavit." DSMC, Inc. v. Convera Corp. , 273 F.Supp.2d 14, 20 (D.D.C. 2002). A defendant prevails on a motion to dismiss for lack of venue by presenting "specific facts that defeat a plaintiff's assertion of venue." McQueen, 567 F.Supp. at 186 (citing Darby v. Dep't of Energy , 231 F.Supp.2d 274, 277 (D.D.C. 2002)). The plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that venue is proper. E.g., Williams v. GEICO Corp. , 792 F.Supp.2d 58, 62 (D.D.C. 2011). Additionally, when a defendant brings a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, "the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that the Court possesses jurisdiction." Boland v. Fortis Const. Co. , 796 F.Supp.2d 80, 86 (D.D.C. 2011) (quotation marks and brackets omitted) (quoting Hollingsworth v. Duff , 444 F.Supp.2d 61, 63 (D.D.C. 2006)).

III. Venue under Title VII

Title VII includes a specific venue provision, which requires that any action under the statute be brought in either: (1) the state in which the unlawful employment practice allegedly occurred; (2) the district in which relevant employment records are located; (3) the district in which the plaintiff would have worked; or (4) if the respondent is not found within any such district, in the district in which the respondent has its principal office. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3). Both parties agree that only the first avenue-where the unlawful employment practice occurred-is at issue here, as Calobrisi's employment records are in Virginia, and she would have continued to work at Booz Allen's McLean, Virginia office had she not resigned. To determine where the unlawful employment practice occurred, courts apply a "commonsense appraisal" of events having operative significance. Taylor v. Shinseki, 13-1416, 2014 WL 350261, at *2 (D.D.C. Jan. 31, 2014) (citing James v. Booz-Allen & Hamilton , 227 F.Supp.2d 16, 20 (D.D.C. 2002)). The inquiry "focuses on the locus of the alleged discrimination." James , 227 F.Supp.2d at 22. "[T]he Court must look to the place where the decisions and actions concerning the employment practices occurred.'" Jones v. Hagel , 956 F.Supp.2d 284, 288 (D.D.C. 2013) (quoting Hayes v. RCA Serv. Co. , 546 F.Supp. 661, 663 (D.D.C. 1982)) (emphasis in original). "[V]enue cannot lie in the District of Columbia when a substantial part, if not all, of the employment practices challenged in th[e] action took place outside the District even when actions taken in the District may have had an impact on the plaintiff's situation.'" Id . (quoting James , 227 F.Supp.2d at 20).

The significant events that resulted in Calobrisi's demotion and alleged constructive discharge all took place in Virginia, where she and the other senior members of the legal department worked. Calobrisi's supervisors swear in affidavits that they decided to demote her at a January 20th meeting in Virginia. Meyers Decl. ¶¶ 9, 11-12; Manya Decl. ¶¶ 5, 7-8; Appleby Decl. ¶¶ 11, 14-15; Osborne Decl. ¶¶ 5, 7-8. The January 26th meeting, in which Calobrisi's supervisors told her she would be demoted, and the April 5th meeting, in which she was allegedly forced to sign a memorandum accepting the demotion, also took place in Virginia. And Calobrisi does not allege that any of her conversations with supervisors and human resources employees regarding the demotion occurred in the District.

Calobrisi provides no evidence to contest Booz Allen's sworn affidavits and deposition testimony establishing that no discussions regarding her demotion took place in D.C. Retreating from the allegation in her complaint that the decision to demote her was made at an earlier Cosmos Club meeting in January 2011, Calobrisi speculates instead that her supervisors declined to reverse her demotion due to a discriminatory strategy that was outlined at the February meeting. Pl.'s Supplemental Mem. at 25.[1] But this contention is insufficient to meet Calobrisi's burden to demonstrate that the alleged unlawful employment practices-which are the actual demotion and constructive discharge-occurred in D.C. Even assuming for the sake of argument that the Cosmos Club meeting influenced later employment decisions regarding Calobrisi, the locus of the alleged unlawful employment practice remains Virginia because all events that directly bear on Calobrisi's demotion occurred there. At most, then, the Cosmos Club meeting might have encouraged her supervisors to continue down the path they had already chosen. But "a substantial part, if not all, of the employment practices challenged in this action" occurred in Virginia and the Cosmos Club meeting, at best " may have had an impact on the plaintiff's situation." Jones , 956 F.Supp.2d at 288 (internal quotation omitted) (emphasis added); accord James , 227 F.Supp.2d at 22 (finding that the "locus of the alleged discrimination" was not D.C. because the decision to fire the plaintiff and the act of firing the plaintiff took place in other states).

Calobrisi also argues that her demotion resulted from general discriminatory practices that emanate from Booz Allen's Washington, D.C. offices, which she says have created a "glass ceiling" for older women at the firm. Pl.'s Opp. to Mot. to Dismiss at 7-8. But these pattern and practice allegations are not relevant to venue because, as other courts in this Circuit have previously determined, individual plaintiffs such as Calobrisi cannot bring a pattern or practice claim under Title VII. See Marcus v. Geithner , 813 F.Supp.2d 11, 20 (D.D.C. 2011) ("myriad rulings from members of this court and elsewhere have unanimously affirmed the proposition that an individual plaintiff may not bring a standalone pattern or practice' claim outside the context of a class action") (collecting cases). Pattern and practice evidence remains relevant to proving that facially legitimate justifications for termination were pretextual. Id. at 20-21. But a pattern and practice of discrimination is not an "unlawful employment decision" with respect to Calobrisi, and thus she cannot obtain venue in D.C. based on ...

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