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Barrett v. Pepco Holdings

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 17, 2017

DEBORAH ANN BARRETT, Plaintiff,
v.
PEPCO HOLDINGS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Amit P. Mehta, United States District Judge

         In this discrimination case, Plaintiff Deborah Barrett claims that Defendant Pepco Holdings discriminated against her on the basis of her race, gender, and age, as well as retaliated against her for exercising her protected statutory rights. Before the court are the following motions: (1) Plaintiff's Motion for Default Judgment; (2) Defendant's Motion to Dismiss; and (3) Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to Amend. For the reasons herein, the court denies Plaintiff's Motion for Default Judgment and grants in part Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to Amend. Given that portions of the Second Amended Complaint are now the operative pleading in this matter, the court denies as moot Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint.

         Because the court here writes primarily for the parties, the court assumes their familiarity with this matter and will reference the procedural history and factual allegations only as necessary to resolve their disputes.

         I. PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR DEFAULT JUDGMENT

         Plaintiff moves for entry of a “default judgment” on the ground that Defendant filed its responsive pleading late. See Pl.'s Mot. for Default J., ECF No. 6, at 1-2. A default judgment is appropriate only when a party is “essentially unresponsive.” Jackson v. Beech, 636 F.2d 831, 836 (D.C. Cir. 1980).

         Defendant plainly has not been “essentially unresponsive, ” as it engaged with Plaintiff shortly after receiving the Amended Complaint and made an appearance in this matter soon thereafter. Defendant received the Amended Complaint on January 25, 2017, and agreed to accept service, even though Defendant deemed it defective, on the condition that Plaintiff would consent to an enlargement of time for Defendant to respond. See Def.'s Opp'n to Pl.'s Mot. for Default J., ECF No. 8 [Def.'s Opp'n to Mot. for Default J.], at 1. Defendant drafted a motion for an extension of time, sought Plaintiff's input concerning the language, made the adjustments Plaintiff requested, and then filed its motion on February 15, 2017, which the court granted. See Id. at 1- 2; Def.'s Consent Mot. for Ext. of Time, ECF No. 3; Minute Order, Feb. 16, 2017. Pursuant to that extension, Defendant filed its opposition to Plaintiff's Motion for Default Judgment on March 15, 2017. See Def.'s Opp'n to Mot. for Default J. Although there may have been some breakdown in communication concerning the consent motion for an extension of time, see Id. at 2-3, that fact does not render Defendant an “essentially unresponsive” party in this litigation. To the contrary, the record reflects that Defendant has actively participated in this litigation from the time it received the Amended Complaint.

         Accordingly, the court denies Plaintiff's Motion for Default Judgment.

         II. PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR LEAVE TO AMEND

         Plaintiff originally filed this matter pro se, but later retained counsel. With counsel's assistance, Plaintiff filed an opposition to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint, but before that Motion became ripe, she sought leave of court to amend her complaint once more. See Pl.'s Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 20 (filed June 16, 2017); Pl.'s Mot. for Leave to Am. Compl., ECF No. 22 [hereinafter Pl.'s Mot. to Am.], at 1 (filed June 20, 2017). Defendant opposes Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to Amend on the ground that amendment would be futile because Plaintiff's proposed Second Amended Complaint still fails to assert any claims upon which relief can be granted. See Def.'s Reply in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss & Opp'n to Pl.'s Mot. for Leave to Am., ECF No. 24 [hereinafter Def.'s Reply & Opp'n], at 2.[1]

         Although the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure instruct courts “to freely give leave” to a party who wishes to amend a pleading, leave need not always be given. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2); Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962). A court can deny a plaintiff leave to amend her complaint if granting leave would be “futile, ” meaning the proposed pleading would not survive a motion to dismiss. See Greer v. Bd. of Trs. of Univ. of D.C., 113 F.Supp.3d 297, 312 (D.D.C. 2015).

         Plaintiff's proposed Second Amended Complaint alleges that Defendant discriminated against Plaintiff on account of her age, race, and gender; denied her a promotion; created a hostile working environment; and retaliated against her for complaining about her working conditions. The proposed complaint avers that Plaintiff is a 60-year-old African-American woman, who, during the relevant time period, worked as a “Design Technician-B” for Defendant. Pl.'s Mot. to Am., Proposed Second Am. Compl., ECF No. 22-2 [hereinafter Second Am. Compl.], ¶ 10. In or around August 2014, Plaintiff's supervisor, Travis Groff, a 35-year-old white man, purportedly “directed” Plaintiff to mentor and train her younger, white male colleagues. Id. ¶ 12. In light of her increased responsibilities, Plaintiff asked Groff for a promotion to a “Design Technician-A” position. Id. ¶¶ 13-14. He allegedly laughed at her and rejected her request, telling her that it takes 20 years to get promoted. Id. ¶ 15. Groff then removed Plaintiff from her mentoring duties; “segregated [her] from her colleagues by instructing them not to ask her any questions”; “chastised and intimidated” Plaintiff by frequently commenting on her attendance, to the point that she was fearful to leave her desk; and limited Plaintiff to two, 15-minute breaks, while allowing her younger, white male colleagues to take breaks of an hour or more. Id. ¶¶ 17, 25. The Design Technician-A position remained open, and Defendant continued to evaluate younger, white men for the position. Id. ¶ 16. In early October 2014, Plaintiff complained to Human Resources (“HR”) that Groff was discriminating against her and creating a hostile work environment. Id. ¶ 19. At a meeting with HR, Groff purportedly again denied Plaintiff's request for a promotion and mocked her qualifications. Id. ¶ 20. A few weeks later, Plaintiff repeated her complaints to Groff's supervisor. Id. ¶ 21. In May 2015, Groff gave Plaintiff a low evaluation score, which Plaintiff attributes to her filing a complaint about Groff with HR. Id. ¶ 22. In April 2016, another of Plaintiff's supervisors, Jerry Simms, called Plaintiff a “bitch” for complaining about Groff and “threatened physical intimidation or violence against her.” Id. ¶ 26.

         The court addresses, in turn, the claims presented in Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint. For the reasons discussed below, the court will grant Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to Amend in part, thereby making portions of the Second Amended Complaint the operative pleading in this matter and rendering moot Defendant's Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint. See Dover v. Medstar Wash. Hosp. Ctr., Inc., 989 F.Supp.2d 57, 62 & n.2 (D.D.C. 2013).

         A. Age-Based Discrimination Claims

         To begin, the court denies Plaintiff leave to amend her Amended Complaint to clarify her age-based discrimination claims because those claims are procedurally barred. Plaintiff cannot recover on her claim of discrimination (Count 3), hostile work environment (Count 5), or retaliation (Count 7) under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) because she did not exhaust her administrative remedies as to any of those claims. See Achagzai v. Broad. Bd. of Governors, 170 F.Supp.3d 164, 172 (D.D.C.), reconsideration denied, 185 F.Supp.3d 135 (D.D.C.), appeal ...


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