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Mack v. Aspen of D.C., Inc.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 31, 2017

YOLONDA MACK, Plaintiff,
ASPEN OF DC, INC. et al, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [Dkt. #8]


         Plaintiff Yolonda Mack ("plaintiff or "Mack") brings this action against Aspen of DC ("Aspen"), Brandy R. Butler ("Butler"), the District of Columbia Department of General Services ("DC DGS") and DC DGS Acting Director Christopher Weaver ("Weaver"). She alleges discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. against all four defendants, and failure to pay wages in violation of D.C. Code § 32-1012 et seq. against Aspen and Butler.

         Defendants DC DGS and Weaver ("DGS defendants") filed a Motion to Dismiss the claims against them. [Dkt. # 8]. Upon consideration of the pleadings and relevant law, I will GRANT defendants' motion and dismiss the claims against them without prejudice.


         According to the allegations in the Amended Complaint, Mack was employed from 2011 to 2014 by Aspen, a company that provides contract employee management and staffing to government and commercial clients. Am. Compl. ¶ 5 [Dkt. #1]. Defendant Butler was (and is) Aspen's President and CEO. Id. ¶ 6. DC DGS is the District agency that manages District-owned facilities, including oversight of "lease administration and rent collection" at the District-owned Eastern Market facility. Id. ¶ 7. Defendant Weaver is DC DGS's Acting Director. Id. ¶ 8.

         Mack worked as Eastern Market's North Hall Event Space Coordinator, pursuant to a contract between Aspen and DC DGS. Id. ¶ 4. During her employment, Mack alleges that she was repeatedly sexually harassed by Katrina Cufffey, a fellow Aspen employee who also worked at Eastern Market. Id. ¶¶ 9-13. She alleges that she and Cuffey were both supervised on a daily basis by DC DGS employee Barry Margeson. Id. ¶ 9.

         Mack alleges that she complained about Cuffey's sexual harassment to Butler and Margeson, but neither stopped the harassment. Id. ¶¶ 13-14. She also alleges that the she filed a formal complaint about the harassment with Aspen in February 2014. Id. at 15. As a result, she alleges Aspen conducted an internal investigation that concluded that Cuffey sent "sexually explicit communications" that Mack found "uninvited and harassing in nature, " advised Cuffey that the alleged behavior violated company policy, and recommended sexual harassment training for both Mack and Cuffey. Id. 16-17. Because Cuffey was neither terminated nor meaningfully disciplined, Mack alleges that the internal investigation was a "sham designed to minimize Aspen's liability and reach a predetermined outcome . . . ." Id. ¶ 16.

         Mack alleges that Aspen and DC DGS retaliated against her after she complained about the sexual harassment. Id. ¶ 16. She alleges that Aspen falsely claimed in its investigation written report that the investigation uncovered evidence suggesting the Mack was using illegal drugs at work. Id. She also alleges that her contractor position was eliminated in September 2014, that she was not given the chance to compete for a fulltime position with DC DGS, and that Aspen withheld her final paycheck, in retaliation for reporting sexual harassment. Id.


         When ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss a complaint, the Court must determine whether the plaintiffs complaint contains "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). The Court must read the complaint's factual allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, Bell Atlantic Co v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), but the Court is not required to accept "a legal conclusion couched in the form of a factual allegation" or "threadbare recitals of a cause of action's elements, supported by mere conclusory statements." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. In addition, a claim that is based on an incorrect legal theory must be dismissed, "without regard to whether it is based on an outlandish legal theory or on a close but ultimately unavailing one." Nietzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989).


         Mack alleges that Aspen and DGS "intentionally discriminated against [her] in violation of Title VII by retaliating against her for opposing unlawful sex discrimination." Compl. ¶ 28. To establish a prima facie Title VII claim for discrimination, the plaintiff must show "(1) she is a member of a protected class; (2) she suffered an adverse employment action; and (3) the unfavorable action gives rise to an inference of discrimination." Stella v. Mineta, 284 F.3d 135, 145 (D.C. Cir. 2002). For a retaliation claim, a plaintiff must show "that she engage in protected activity, that she suffered an adverse employment action, and that there was a causal link between the former and the latter." Allen v. Johnson, 795 F.3d 34, 39 (D.C. Cir. 2015).

         As an initial matter, Mack sued the wrong defendants. Mack names DC DGS, a subordinate agency in the District's government, as one of the defendants. However, the District of Columbia is the proper defendant in a Title VII case, rather than any subordinate government agencies or departments. Hunter v. D.C. Child & Family Servs. Agency, 710 F.Supp.2d 152, 157 (D.D.C. 2010) ("[I]n a Title VII case against the District of Columbia, the District is the proper defendant, not its agencies."). Furthermore, Mack sues DC DGS Acting Director Weaver in his official capacity. The Supreme Court has noted that "[t]here is no . . . need to bring official-capacity actions against local government officials, for . . . local government units can be sued directly for damages or injunctive relief." Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 167 n. 14 (1985). As a result, the proper defendant here is the District of Columbia.

         Mack asks the Court to construe defendants' motion as a motion to substitute the proper parties, and she is correct that courts of this District have chosen to substitute the District as a defendant when a plaintiff erroneously names a District agency as a defendant. See, e.g., Sampson v. D.C. Dep't of Corrections,20 F.Supp.3d 282, 285 (D.D.C. 2014) (construing motion to dismiss as motion to substitute and substituting the District as the proper defendant). However, I decline to do so here ...

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