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Huckstep v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

United States District Court, District of Columbia

October 24, 2016

SANDRA MARIE HUCKSTEP, Plaintiff,
v.
WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY, Defendant. Re Document No. 9

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          RUDOLPH CONTRERAS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Granting Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Sandra Marie Huckstep is a former employee of Defendant Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (“WMATA”). WMATA terminated Ms. Huckstep following an accident between a WMATA bus that she was operating and a passenger vehicle. Ms. Huckstep sued WMATA, alleging that her termination was motivated by gender discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Because no reasonable jury could find that WMATA unlawfully discriminated against Ms. Huckstep due to her gender, however, the Court will grant WMATA's motion for summary judgment.

         II. FACTUAL & PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         A. Ms. Huckstep's Employment with WMATA

         Defendant WMATA provides transit services in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. See Compl. ¶ 2, ECF No. 1. WMATA hired Ms. Huckstep as a Bus Operator Trainee on October 15, 2013, and she completed bus operator training on December 15, 2013, as part of a trainee class of thirty-five individuals. See Def.'s Statement of Material Facts Not in Dispute ¶¶ 1-3, ECF No. 9-13 [hereinafter “Def.'s SOMF”]; Pl.'s List of Genuine Issues ¶ 1, ECF No. 10-1 [hereinafter “Pl.'s LGI”]; see also Student Bus Operator Chart at 1-2, Def.'s Ex. 1, ECF No. 9-2 (listing Ms. Huckstep and her fellow training class members). WMATA then hired Ms. Huckstep as a permanent bus operator and assigned her to the Four Mile Run Bus Garage under the supervision of Jeffrey Thompson. Huckstep Acc. Rep. at 1, Def.'s Ex. 3, ECF No. 9-4 [hereinafter “Huckstep Acc. Rep.”]; Def.'s SOMF ¶ 3-4. Upon her assignment, Ms. Huckstep became a member of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 (“Local 689”). Def.'s SOMF ¶ 5.

         B. WMATA Standard Operating Procedures and Accident Protocol

         As a member of Local 689, Ms. Huckstep is subject to the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) between WMATA and the union. See Affidavit of Dolores Proctor ¶ 5 [hereinafter “Proctor Aff.”]; Def.'s SOMF ¶ 6; Pl.'s LGI ¶ 1. Section 108 of the CBA governs the “Probationary Period” during which WMATA may take certain actions against new employees. See Def.'s SOMF ¶ 6; see generally WMATA Probationary Period Policy, Def.'s Ex. 4, ECF No. 9-5. The probationary period lasts for ninety calendar days or forty-five work days, whichever is longer. See WMATA Probationary Period Policy at 1. During the probationary period, WMATA may, “at its own discretion, discipline or discharge any new employee, . . . and no grievance may be claimed” by Local 689. Id. When a probationary bus driver is involved in an accident, WMATA retains the discretion to terminate the driver. See Def.'s SOMF ¶ 7 (“There is no rule that a bus operator is automatically terminated for having any accident within the 90 day probationary period.”); Proctor Aff. ¶ 6 (“At all times relevant, there was no rule that states that a new bus operator is subject to automatic termination for having any accident within their 90-day probationary period.”); Pl.'s Answers to Interrog. at 2, ECF No. 10-2 (“For the first 90 days following completion of training, all new WMATA bus drivers are on probation and any accident may result in immediate termination.”).[1]

         WMATA employs a set of Standard Operating Procedures (“SOPs”) that govern how bus operators should behave in specific situations. Cf. WMATA Guide to Determining Preventable Accidents, Def.'s Ex. 6, ECF No. 9-7 [hereinafter “Guide to Preventable Acc.”] (directing interviewers to use the Metrobus Standard Operating Procedures when assessing the severity of accidents). For example, the Defensive Driving SOP directs drivers to “avoid all accidents in spite of the actions of others or the presence of adverse driving conditions.” See Huckstep Mem. of Dismissal at 2, Def.'s Ex. 2, ECF No. 9-3 [hereinafter “Mem. of Dismissal”]. According to the Intersections SOP, drivers must practice active driving techniques when crossing intersections, including “mak[ing] complete observations, ” keeping hands on the wheel at all times, and scanning the intersection. Id. The Operations SOP states that drivers must give themselves “ample opportunity” to react to changing road conditions. Id.

         If one of its bus drivers is involved in an accident, WMATA implements a standard evaluation and disciplinary process. Proctor Aff. ¶ 7; WMATA Disciplinary Policy for Preventable Accidents at 1, Def.'s Ex. 5, ECF No. 9-6 [hereinafter “Disciplinary Policy”]. After performing an investigation into the accident, WMATA rates the accident as either “Non-Preventable” or “Preventable.” Disciplinary Policy at 1. Non-Preventable accidents “occur[] despite every reasonable action by the operator to avoid involvement in an accident.” Id. After three Non-Preventable Accidents, an employee must attend one day of training. Id. at 2. Preventable accidents happen “because the employee failed to do everything reasonably expected of a trained professional to avoid involvement in an accident.” Id. at 1.

         If an accident is classified as Preventable, the incident is further classified as either “Preventable-Minor” or “Preventable-Major, ” which determines the range of possible disciplinary actions. See id. at 1-2. WMATA has published an internal memo that assists supervisors in further classifying Preventable accidents.[2] See generally Guide to Preventable Acc. The guide lists examples of Preventable-Minor and Preventable-Major accidents for different types of accidents. Id. at 3. For example, if another vehicle strikes a Metrobus that is proceeding through an intersection with the right of way, the accident will be rated Preventable-Minor. Id. If a Metrobus strikes another vehicle as a result of failure to follow street signs or control its speed, however, the accident will be rated Preventable-Major. Id. While WMATA specifies minimum disciplinary actions to be taken against drivers involved in each type of accident, supervisors may take “more severe action based on specific circumstances.” Disciplinary Policy at 2; cf. WMATA Department of Bus Services Employee's Handbook at 15, Def.'s Ex. 7, ECF No. 9-8 [hereinafter “Employee's Handbook”] (stating that some violations of WMATA policy are “more serious than others and may result in suspension or even dismissal upon the first offense” (emphasis added)).

         C. Ms. Huckstep's Accident [3]

         On January 29, 2014, during her probationary period, Ms. Huckstep was driving Metrobus #2519 eastbound on Lee Highway in Virginia. See Huckstep Acc. Rep. 2. Video footage from a camera in the Metrobus showed Ms. Huckstep approaching the intersection of Lee Highway and Kirkwood Drive, traveling down an incline at a speed of 30 miles per hour. See Mem. of Dismissal at 1; Huckstep Acc. Rep. at 2. As she drove closer to the intersection, Ms. Huckstep stated that she observed a line of cars on the westbound side of the street waiting to make a left hand turn across the path of her bus. See Huckstep Acc. Rep. at 2. Ms. Huckstep asserted that the light turned from green to yellow as her bus approached the intersection, but WMATA concluded during its investigation that she had time to make a safe stop. See Mem. of Dismissal at 1; cf. Huckstep Acc. Rep. at 2 (citing Ms. Huckstep's statement that the light was yellow “by the time [she] got to the stop bar”). Although Ms. Huckstep reacted to the changed traffic light by initially lowering her speed to 25 miles per hour, she then accelerated to 37 miles per hour to try to cross the intersection before the light turned red. See Mem. of Dismissal at 1. WMATA found that, as Ms. Huckstep accelerated through the intersection, she did not look left or right to check for oncoming cars. See Huckstep Acc. Rep. at 2.

         As Ms. Huckstep's bus crossed the intersection, Brian Mahoney, the driver of one of the westbound vehicles waiting to turn left, made a left turn in his Ford Explorer and entered the southbound lane of Kirkwood Drive, crossing the path of Ms. Huckstep's bus. See Id. at 2, 13-14. Ms. Huckstep says that she determined that she could not make a quick stop without throwing her passengers from their seats and therefore attempted to avoid the accident by swerving, although her accident report states that she “knew some part of his vehicle was going to get hit.” See Id. at 2, 5.

         Ms. Huckstep's attempt was unsuccessful. The right front corner bumper of the Metrobus collided with the right rear side and tire of Mr. Mahoney's vehicle. See Id. at 3, 14. The Metrobus incurred “minor damage” (including damage to the signal light and bumper of the Metrobus) and Mr. Mahoney's vehicle suffered “moderate damage” (including two deployed airbags, flat tires, broken windows, and a bent frame). See Id. at 3. Mr. Mahoney complained of stomach and back pain, but no other injuries were reported at the scene. See Id. Arlington County Police responded and cited Mr. Mahoney for “failure to yield the right [of] way”; Ms. Huckstep was not issued a ticket. See Id. at 3; Pl.'s LGI ¶ 5. Mr. Mahoney's vehicle was towed and Ms. Huckstep was transported for a Post Incident Medical Examination, see Huckstep Accident Report at 16, 17-19. WMATA immediately placed her on paid leave pending its investigation. See Id. at 11.

         At the conclusion of the investigation, WMATA rated the accident as Preventable-Major, citing Ms. Huckstep's violation of several Standard Operating Procedures.[4] See Mem. of Dismissal at 1; see also Huckstep Acc. Rep. at 3-4 (specifying violations of SOPs governing defensive driving, intersection operation, and observations); Def.'s SOMF ¶¶ 11, 12 (describing the accident and stating that Ms. Huckstep violated three SOPs). The investigation found that Ms. Huckstep failed to operate the Metrobus in accordance with the SOPs governing general operations, operations at intersections, and defensive driving. See Mem. of Dismissal at 2; Huckstep Acc. Rep. at 3. Based on this finding, WMATA informed Ms. Huckstep that she “failed to meet the high standards of WMATA employees in the area of performance and safety.” Def.'s SOMF ¶ 14; see also Mem. of Dismissal at 2. Because of “her performance during her probationary period, ” which included her accident, and the violation of three SOPs during her accident, WMATA terminated Ms. Huckstep's employment on February 11, 2014. Mem. of Dismissal at 2; see also Def.'s SOMF ¶ 13.

         D. Accidents of Other WMATA Drivers

         Because the accidents of several comparator WMATA employees feature prominently in Ms. Huckstep's opposition to summary judgment, the Court briefly recounts the circumstances surrounding those accidents.

         Dan Davis, Jr. is a male WMATA bus driver based out of the Four Mile Run Garage (the same as Ms. Huckstep) and was a member of Ms. Huckstep's training class. See Dan Davis, Jr., Accident Report at 1-2, Def.'s Ex. 9, ECF No. 9-10 [hereinafter “Davis Acc. Rep.”]; Def.'s SOMF ¶ 19; Pl.'s LGI ¶ 1. On December 19, 2013, as he was driving westbound on Good Hope Road S.E. just south of 14th Street, Mr. Davis made contact with the mirror of a stopped Circulator bus. See Davis Acc. Rep. at 2. Unaware of the accident, Mr. Davis continued driving. See Id. Mr. Davis returned to the scene after Central Communication contacted him and informed him of the contact with the Circulator bus. See Id. Both buses sustained minor damage and the police took an accident report, but no charges were filed. See Id. After an investigation, WMATA rated the accident “Preventable-Minor, ” citing Mr. Davis' failure to follow SOPs governing “Observation” and “Passing Parked Vehicles or Fixed Objects.” See Id. at 1-2. WMATA issued Mr. Davis a written reprimand and required him to attend one day of training. See Id. at 1-3.[5]

         On December 30, 2013, Michael Coates, another male WMATA bus driver based out of the Four Mile Run Garage and member of Ms. Huckstep's training class, was driving a bus down Broad Street on a route on which he had not been trained. See Michael Coates Accident Report at 3, Def.'s Ex. 8, ECF No. 9-9 [hereinafter “Coates Acc. Rep.”]; Def.'s SOMF ¶ 18; Pl.'s LGI ¶ 1. Mr. Coates missed his turn and attempted to turn around. Coates Acc. Rep. at 3. As Mr. Coates was backing up, he “misjudged [his] clearance” and made contact with a lamp pole, knocking it over and causing a minor scratch on the Metrobus. Id. Police responded and took a report, although there were no injuries recorded at the scene. Id. After an investigation, WMATA rated the accident “Preventable-Minor, ” citing Mr. Coates's failure to operate the bus in accordance with SOPs relating to “Passing Parked Vehicles or Fixed Objects, ” “Backing and Parking, ” and “Observations.” Id. at 3-4. WMATA issued Mr. Coates a written reprimand and required him to attend one day of paid training. Id. at 1, 4. In its accident report, WMATA noted that if Mr. Coates was “involved in another accident while in his [90-day] probation [period], ” he would be terminated from employment. Id. at 4.

         On December 22, 2013, Marc Farmer, a male WMATA bus driver assigned to the Montgomery Bus Division, and also a member of Ms. Huckstep's training class, attempted to make a U-turn on a side street after inadvertently going off-route. See Marc Farmer Accident Report 2, Def.'s Ex. 11, ECF No. 9-12 [hereinafter “Farmer Acc. Rep.”]; Def.'s SOMF ¶ 22; Pl.'s LGI ¶ 1. During the attempted U-turn, the Metrobus tore sod on the front lawn of a residence. See Farmer Acc. Rep. at 2. The Metrobus sustained no damage and no one was injured. Id. Police responded, but no report was taken. Id. After an investigation, WMATA rated the accident “Preventable-Minor, ” directed Mr. Farmer to review SOPs governing “Defensive Driving” and “Making Proper Observations, ” issued him a written reprimand, and assigned him training. Id. at 1-2.

         Finally, on January 11, 2014, another member of Ms. Huckstep's training class, Jordan Butler, who was based out of the Bladensburg Bus Division, was driving southbound on Massachusetts Avenue south of E Street. Jordan Butler Accident Report at 2, Def.'s Ex. 10, ECF No. 9-11 [hereinafter “Butler Acc. Rep.”]; Def.'s SOMF ¶ 21; Pl.'s LGI ¶ 1. Another Metrobus was servicing the stop that Mr. Butler's bus was to service, so he pulled ahead of the other Metrobus to access the stop. Butler Acc. Rep. at 2. As he attempted to pull into the stop, the right rear window of his bus made contact with the left front mirror of the stopped Metrobus. Id. Each bus sustained minor damage, but police were not called to the scene. Id. After an investigation, WMATA ...


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