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Taborn v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 19, 2016

Gregory Taborn, Plaintiff,
v.
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Amit P. Mehta United States District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Gregory Taborn filed this lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 against his former employer, Defendant Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (“WMATA”). This case stems from an incident that occurred on October 5, 2013, when Plaintiff, a bus operator, became involved in a verbal altercation with a number of WMATA managers and supervisors over his apparent failure to turn on the interior lights of his assigned bus. Defendant argues that Plaintiff was terminated as a result of his conduct during that altercation, which violated a number of workplace rules. Plaintiff, on the other hand, contends that he was fired for an entirely different reason: because months earlier, he had filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging that WMATA had not promoted him because of his age, race, and gender.

         The court now considers Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. Having reviewed the parties' briefing and the evidence, the court finds that no reasonable jury could conclude that WMATA unlawfully retaliated against Plaintiff. Plaintiff has produced no evidence showing that the official who fired him actually knew about his prior complaint; therefore, she could not have retaliated against him. The court therefore grants Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         Plaintiff Gregory Taborn began working as a bus operator for WMATA in December 1994. Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 14 [hereinafter Def.'s Mot.]; Def.'s Stmt. of Material Facts, ECF No. 14 [hereinafter Def.'s Stmt.], ¶ 1; Pl.'s Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 15 [hereinafter Pl.'s Opp'n]; Pl.'s Stmt. of Material Facts in Dispute, ECF No. 15 [hereinafter Pl.'s Stmt.], ¶ 1. On July 30, 2013, Plaintiff filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) alleging that WMATA had failed to promote him because of his age, race, and gender (the “July EEOC Complaint”). Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 2; Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 2.

         About two months later, on October 5, 2013, Plaintiff had a verbal confrontation with multiple WMATA managers and supervisors. The details of the confrontation are immaterial. It suffices to say for present purposes that the confrontation arose when WMATA employees accused Plaintiff of failing to turn on the interior lights of the bus that he was driving. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 4; Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 4.

         On October 22, 2013, WMATA Acting Bus Superintendent, Jessica Pitt, terminated Plaintiff's employment because of the October 5th incident. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 5; Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 5. Pitt determined that Plaintiff's conduct had violated numerous workplace rules. Among other violations, she concluded that he had failed to “perform [his] duties as expected of a professional bus operator”; had “compromised safety”; and had “displayed unprofessional conduct in the presence of customers as well as managers.” Def.'s Mot., Ex. 2, Memorandum of Dismissal from Acting Superintendent Jessica Pitt to Gregory Taborn, ECF No. 14-2 [hereinafter Memo of Dismissal], at 7. Although Plaintiff defended himself by asserting that the antagonism and “bullying tone” of the WMATA managers who were involved-rather than his own behavior- had instigated the confrontation, see Pl.'s Opp'n., Ex. 4, October 9, 2013, Letter from Gregory Taborn to Ted Harris, ECF No. 15-4 [hereinafter Taborn Letter], Pitt nevertheless dismissed him. Memo of Dismissal at 7; Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 5; Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 7. Two days after his termination, Plaintiff filed a second complaint with the EEOC (the “October EEOC Complaint”), this time claiming he was fired in retaliation for filing the July EEOC Complaint. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 8; Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 7.

         At some point, Plaintiff filed a grievance with his union representative, which resulted in an arbitration proceeding. Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 11; see also Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 2, June 12, 2015 Opinion by Arbitrator Andrew M. Strongin, ECF No. 15-2 [hereinafter Arbitration Opinion]. The Arbitrator concluded that Plaintiff's behavior constituted “serious insubordination” and was “unacceptable.” Arbitration Opinion at 15. He also found, however, that the WMATA managers involved in the incident had “instigated and [had] provoked” Plaintiff and had themselves failed to follow certain WMATA policies. Id. at 18. As a result, the Arbitrator reduced Plaintiff's discipline from termination to a 30-day suspension without pay. Id. at 20. Nevertheless, Plaintiff has yet to return to work at WMATA. Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 13.

         B. Procedural History

         On May 23, 2014, Plaintiff filed a pro se complaint in D.C. Superior Court. See Compl., ECF No. 1-4. The Complaint alleged a single claim: that Plaintiff “was terminated because he engaged in protected activity when he filed an EEOC Complaint alleging age, gender, color and race discrimination on July 30.” Pl.'s Opp'n at 5. Defendant then removed the case to this court on August 13, 2014. See Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that a court should grant summary judgment if “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and [the moving party] is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 56(a)). A material fact is one that is capable of affecting ...


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