United States District Court, District of Columbia
N. MCFADDEN United States District Judge
the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.
Upon consideration of the entire record in this case, and in
light of my obligation to draw “all justifiable
inferences” in favor of the non-moving party,
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255
(1986), I conclude that at least two disputed issues of
material fact preclude summary judgment.
Jerry Allison, an African-American man, alleges that
Defendant Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority
(WMATA) failed to promote him to Warehouse Manager because of
his race, thus violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act,
42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2. He further contends that after he
filed discrimination complaints, WMATA retaliated by
burdening him with unfair responsibilities, placing him on a
Performance Improvement Plan, giving him poor performance
evaluations, and ultimately terminating his employment, in
violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3. Second Am. Compl. 7-8.
Following discovery, WMATA filed a Motion for Summary
VII of the Civil Rights Act makes it unlawful for an employer
to ‘fail or refuse to hire . . . any individual, or
otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect
to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of
employment, because of such individual's race, color,
religion, sex, or national origin.'” Brady v.
Office of Sergeant at Arms, 520 F.3d 490, 493 (D.C. Cir.
2008) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1)). The statute
thus establishes two elements for an employment
discrimination claim: “(i) the plaintiff suffered an
adverse employment action (ii) because of the employee's
race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”
Id. Under the second element, a plaintiff need only
show “that the motive to discriminate was one of the
employer's motives, even if the employer also had other,
lawful motives that were causative in the employer's
decision.” Univ. of Texas Sw. Med. Ctr. v.
Nassar, 133 S.Ct. 2517, 2523 (2013).
motion for summary judgment will only be granted if
“there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact
and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). At this stage,
“[c]redibility determinations, [and] the weighing of
the evidence” are not a judge's role.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. “The evidence of
the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable
inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Id.;
see also Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007)
(“[F]acts must be viewed in the light most favorable to
the nonmoving party only if there is a “genuine”
dispute as to those facts.”) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(c)). “[A] finding of actual intent to discriminate
on racial grounds” is “a pure question of
fact.” Pullman-Standard v. Swint, 456 U.S.
273, 289 (1982). “Where . . . the record contains no
direct evidence that the adverse employment action of which
the plaintiff complains was caused by prohibited
discrimination, we turn to the burden-shifting framework of
McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792,
802-05 (1973), to analyze the claim.” Holcomb v.
Powell, 433 F.3d 889, 895 (D.C. Cir. 2006). However,
[W]here an employee has suffered an adverse employment action
and an employer has asserted a legitimate, non-discriminatory
reason for the decision, the district court need not-and
should not-decide whether the plaintiff actually made
out a prima facie case under McDonnell Douglas.
Rather, in considering an employer's motion for summary
judgment . . . the district court must resolve one central
question: Has the employee produced sufficient evidence for a
reasonable jury to find that the employer's asserted
non-discriminatory reason was not the actual reason and that
the employer intentionally discriminated against the employee
on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national
Brady, 520 F.3d at 494 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (emphasis in
the original). “[A]n added measure of
“rigor”. . . or ‘cautio[n]' . . . is
appropriate” in this context, “because employment
discrimination claims center on the issue of an
employer's intent, ” and explicit documentary
evidence of such intent is rare. Aka v. Washington Hosp.
Ctr., 116 F.3d 876, 879 (D.C. Cir.) (citations omitted),
reversed on other grounds, 156 F.3d 1284 (D.C. Cir.
1998). “Courts reviewing such motions must bear in mind
that a factfinder could infer intentional discrimination even
in the absence of crystal-clear documentary evidence filed at
the summary judgment stage.” Id.
of these standards, I conclude that judgment as a matter of
law is not appropriate at this juncture, because at least two
material factual disputes preclude summary judgment.
first genuine dispute of material fact is whether Tara
Wasiak, a Caucasian woman who was the incoming Director of
Storerooms and Material Logistics, was at least partially
motivated by racial bias when the decision was made to hire
Timothy St. John, a white male, rather than Mr. Allison, who
is African-American. On this point, WMATA points to Mr.
Allison's so-so performance during the first round of
interviews, after which Vyron Johnson-an African-American man
who at the time served as the hiring manager, Mr.
Allison's second-line supervisor, and the Director of
Storerooms and Material Logistics-told Mr. Allison,
“Jerry, that wasn't your best interview, ”
and his poor performance in the second round, when he scored
the lowest of three candidates. Mot. Summ. J. 7, WMATA's
St. Mat. Facts. However, a reasonable jury could potentially
find that Mr. Allison was better-qualified for the Warehouse
Manager role that Mr. St. John: although Mr. St. John had
extensive experience in logistics and a bachelor's
degree, Mr. Allison had extensive experience in the specific
field of warehouse management for transit authorities, and
had even served as WMATA's acting Warehouse Manager. Mot.
Summ. J. ECF # 20-27, 20-28. Even more importantly, I cannot
say as a matter of law that a reasonable jury could not draw
an inference of discrimination from the optics of the hiring
process. After the two African-American members of the hiring
panel (Mr. Johnson and Raphael “Ray” Alfred, an
African-American man) prepared and signed Mr. Allison's
selection letter, the panel's only white member did not
sign the letter and thereby select Mr. Allison, then the
highest-scoring interviewee. Instead, Ms. Wasiak waited until
Mr. Johnson retired, whereupon she became the hiring manager,
and opened the interview process to outside candidates. After
interviewing these candidates with a two-member panel-in
violation of a WMATA policy requiring consistent panels, Opp.
Ex. J-Ms. Wasiak ultimately selected Mr. St. John. Although
Ms. Wasiak has a track record of hiring minority candidates,
a reasonable jury could draw an adverse inference from the
fact that Ms. Wasiak denies knowledge of the selection memo
that both Mr. Johnson and Mr. Alfred remember,
compare Opp. Ex. G 48:09-11 with Opp. Ex. E
34:19-35:05 and Opp. Ex. R at 24:10-13, and from the fact
that another WMATA employee has filed race, religion, age,
and national origin discrimination claims against Ms. Wasiak.
Mot. for Leave to File, Exs. AB, AC.0f In sum, WMATA has
not shown that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law
on this issue.
second genuine dispute of material fact is whether
WMATA's actions in assigning Mr. Allison the Midlife
Overhaul Program, giving him negative performance reviews,
placing him in a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP), and
ultimately terminating him were motivated by a desire to
retaliate for his discrimination claims. “To prove
retaliation, the plaintiff generally must establish that he
or she suffered (i) a materially adverse action (ii) because
he or she had brought or threatened to bring a discrimination
claim.” Baloch v. Kempthorne, 550 F.3d 1191,
1198 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (citations omitted). A factfinder could
easily find that these were innocent decisions, reasoning
that the Midlife Overhaul Program was a reasonable
assignment, and that Mr. Allison was terminated for poor job
performance. But I cannot say that a reasonable jury could
not also conclude that Mr. St. John (and Ms. Wasiak) were
already aware of Mr. Allison's allegations, and they
retaliated by building a case against Mr. Allison that would
provide cover for firing him. Before Mr. St. John became his
supervisor, Mr. Allison had consistently received positive
performance reviews. Opp. Ex. A. But after Mr. Allison filed
race discrimination claims with both WMATA and the federal
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in November
2014, Mr. St. John assigned Mr. Allison to manage the Midlife
Overhaul Program in February 2015, Mr. Allison began
receiving consistently poor performance reviews, and he was
eventually terminated in June 2016. Mot. Summ. J. Exs. 15,
particular, it is unclear at this stage whether Mr. St. John
and/or Ms. Wasiak were aware of Mr. Allison's pending EEO
complaints at the time of the assignment of the Midlife
Overhaul Program. Mr. Allison testified that when he spoke
with Mr. St. John about the EEOC complaint, Mr. St. John said
that “he was already aware, ” Opp. Ex. B at
130:15-131:9, and that the only justification Mr. St. John
gave for the assignment at the time, was that “Tara
[Wasiak] supports me giving this to you.” Id.
at 129:18-21. Although significant evidence supports a