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Coclough v. Akal Security, Inc.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 29, 2018

JANICE G. COCLOUGH, Plaintiff,
v.
AKAL SECURITY, INC., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          BERYL A. HOWELL, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Janice G. Coclough brings this action against her former employer, Akal Security, Inc., and two former supervisors, Lois Epps and Josiah Eaves, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), as amended, see 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., the District of Columbia Human Rights Act (“DCHRA”), see D.C. Code §§ 2-1401.01 et seq., and the Employees of District Contractors and Instrumentality Whistleblower Protection Act (“Whistleblower Act”), see D.C. Code §§ 2-223.01 et seq. See generally Pl.'s Second Am. Compl. for Declaratory J., Injunctive Relief, and Monetary Damages, ECF No. 24. Pending before the Court are the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint, or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 25; the Plaintiff's Praecipe Requesting Entry of Default Against Defendant Lois Epps, ECF No. 27; and the Plaintiff's Motion for Entry of Default Against Defendant Lois Epps, ECF No. 28.

         Based on the defendants' representations that Epps now is represented by counsel and that she joins in their dispositive motion, see Def. Lois Epps' Opp'n to Pl.'s Mot. for Entry of Default Against Lois Epps ¶¶ 4-5, ECF No. 30, the plaintiff's motions are denied. For the reasons discussed below, the defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part, without prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Akal Security, Inc. (“Akal”) entered into a contract with the District of Columbia for security services at the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (“Superior Court”). Mem. of P. & A. in Support of Defs. Akal Security, Inc. and Josiah Eaves's Mot. to Dismiss Pl.'s Second Am. Compl., or, in the Alternative, for Summ. J. (“Defs.' Mem.”) at 2, ECF No. 25-2. The plaintiff described Akal as “one of the largest contract security companies in the country” which “provides security services and personnel to courthouses across the country including . . . the Superior Court[.]” Pl.'s Second Am. Compl for Declaratory J., Injunctive Relief, and Monetary Damages (“SAC”) ¶ 11.

         The plaintiff was an Akal employee in its Security Service Program assigned to the Superior Court from October 4, 2010, SAC ¶ 15, until her termination on July 17, 2016, Defs.' Mem., Ex. A (Charge of Discrimination No. 570-2016-01588 dated June 23, 2016 (“EEOC Charge”)) at 1. Lois Epps and Josiah Eaves were the plaintiffs supervisors. SAC ¶¶ 12-13. The “[p]laintiff was a member of a bargaining unit whose terms and conditions of employment [were] governed by a collective bargaining agreement . . . between Akal and the International Union, Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America and its Local 443, ” which agreement was in effect from October 1, 2013 through September 30, 2016. Defs.' Mem. at 3; see generally Defs.' Opp'n to Pl.'s Mot. for Leave to File Second Am. Compl., Ex. A (Collective Bargaining Agreement Between AKAL Security Corporation, Inc. and the INTERNATIONAL UNION OF SECURITY, POLICE, AND FIRE PROFESSIONAL[S] OF AMERICA (SPFPA) and [its] Local 443 (“CBA”)), ECF No. 21-1. The CBA “cover[ed] seniority, job opportunities, grievance procedures, discipline, hours of work and overtime, wages, leaves of absence, testing, training, and re-qualification, and various other employment topics for LCSOs and other bargaining unit positions.” Defs.' Mem. at 5. For some period of time, the plaintiff held the positions of In-Service Instructor and Shop Steward. See SAC ¶¶ 73, 94.

         The plaintiff described a “discriminatory and unprofessional atmosphere” pervading the courthouse. Id. ¶ 19. She allegedly began to “experience gender discrimination” in 2010. Id. ¶ 16. For example, she “was passed-over for overtime work” and, if she ever were offered overtime, it occurred only because male employees had not taken these overtime hours. Id.; see id. ¶ 28. She and other female employees would be “sent out to other sites to work on Saturdays[] so that the men could work in the main Courthouse, ” such that “the male employees were less likely to . . . work offsite.” Id. ¶ 18. Her requests in 2013 and 2014 “to switch her tour of duty to sometimes work the midnight shift in order to care for her terminally ill mother during the day” were denied, id. ¶ 26, while her “male colleagues were permitted to switch and work the evening shift, ” id. ¶ 27. Male employees would accuse the female employees of “complain[ing] when given an assignment or denied a benefit or privilege afforded to the male employees.” Id. ¶ 17.

         According to the plaintiff, “[o]n a daily basis through 2014-2016 when [she] would patrol the courthouse with a female coworker, male security personnel in the control room, ” id. ¶ 37, used cameras, id. ¶ 38, to follow her and her coworker throughout the building and made “lewd and embarrassing comments” about them over the intercom system, id. ¶ 37. “[M]ale employees would also speculate . . . that [p]laintiff and her female coworker were lesbians and in a relationship.” Id. ¶ 39. Such speculation became “common knowledge” in the workplace, causing the plaintiff to suffer embarrassment and humiliation. See id. ¶¶ 39-41. Since cameras and intercoms were placed throughout the courthouse, the “[p]laintiff could never escape [this] behavior, ” id. ¶ 38, which allegedly “continued up to the time [the p]laintiff was terminated, ” id. ¶ 42. The plaintiff complained to Eaves and Epps about this behavior, yet “no Akal employee faced any discipline in connection with [his] actions towards [the p]laintiff.” Id.

         In October 2014, the plaintiff was “passed over for a promotion to [Lead Court Security Officer (‘LCSO'].” Id. ¶ 20. She complained to Epps, who told the plaintiff to “get used to it because [the p]laintiff was perceived as a complainer and Akal was going to protect the ‘old boys network.'” Id. ¶ 21. In December 2014, the plaintiff “was selected as an LCSO, ” id. ¶ 22, the first female to do so in nearly 20 years, id. ¶ 20. After her promotion, the plaintiff alleged, “the discriminatory treatment” she experienced from “her supervisors and some subordinates intensified.” Id. ¶ 22.

         By this time, because of the plaintiff's advocacy on behalf of herself and female coworkers, she “was perceived as a troublemaker by her supervisors.” Id. ¶ 25. Eaves and Epps discouraged the plaintiff from assisting other employees apply for open positions, implying that those “employees would not be selected because they received assistance from the [p]laintiff.” Id. By 2015, “[the p]laintiff's job as LCSO was made exponentially more difficult, ” id. ¶ 29, because Akal management withheld “critical information” that should have been shared during roll call, id. ¶ 30. In addition, the plaintiff “was . . . accused of improperly changing the schedules of her subordinates, and [was] verbally counselled for doing so.” Id. ¶ 34. Eaves and other supervisors allegedly “undermined [the p]laintiff's ability to manage her subordinates, ” who “were allowed to use profane language towards [her] without facing punishment, ” id. ¶ 35; see id. ¶ 44, and commit acts of insubordination, see id. ¶ 43, without consequences. Eaves took no action in response to the plaintiff's complaints. See id. ¶¶ 42-44, 47. According to the plaintiff, male employees who violated rules and security protocols faced no disciplinary action. See id. ¶¶ 45-46, 49, 51.

         In March 2015, Eaves asked the plaintiff to undertake payroll duties by learning to complete time and attendance records. Id. ¶ 52. She “informed . . . Eaves and Epps that employees were inputting their overtime without a valid code to justify overtime.” Id. ¶ 54. Eaves and Epps “took no action against [these] employees, ” the likely result of which was “the District government being overcharged on the contract with Akal.” Id. Further, Eaves took no action “[a]t some point in 2015” when the plaintiff “was not paid correctly for the hours she worked.” Id. ¶ 55. His inaction “prompt[ed the p]laintiff to file a grievance, ” which the union declined to pursue. Id. ¶ 56. “Thereafter, [the p]laintiff was locked out of the payroll system, ” id. ¶ 57, and she learned that Eaves was training a male LCSO to take over payroll duties, id. ¶ 59. The plaintiff deemed this action “retaliation for her complaining about her pay and filing a grievance with her union.” Id.

         The plaintiff arranged a meeting with Eaves and Epps “to discuss the reassignment of the payroll duties” and “insubordination issues involving her subordinates and sexual harassment by Akal employees.” Id. ¶ 60. Eaves informed the plaintiff “that payroll was LCSO Crawford's responsibility, effectively stripping [her] of . . . duties related to payroll.” Id. ¶ 61. The plaintiff also asked Eaves and Epps “to prohibit her coworkers from following her on camera and making lewd comments through the intercom system.” Id. ¶ 62. Epps was to “look into [the p]laintiff's allegations, ” id., but the plaintiff heard nothing “and the harassment continued, ” id. ¶ 63; see id. ¶¶ 64-65, 68-69. The plaintiff also arranged a meeting on February 10, 2016, “with Project Manager Lawrence Frost to discuss her concerns, ” but Frost “abruptly cancelled the meeting and never rescheduled it.” Id. ¶ 71.

         On June 10, 2016, the plaintiff attended annual in-service training conducted by LCSO Gloria Shelton. Id. ¶ 75. During the training, the plaintiff received and responded to a text message pertaining to her father's release from the hospital. Id. “LCSO Shelton ordered [the plaintiff] to turn off the phone.” Id. The “[p]laintiff attempted to explain the situation to LCSO Shelton, ” at which time LCSO Shelton left the classroom, called in an emergency to which Eaves, Epps and LCSO McLeod responded. Id. The plaintiff was directed to the supervisor's office, id., where she met with Project Manager Lawrence Frost, id. ¶ 76. Frost sent the plaintiff back to the classroom to continue the training session; plaintiff took the final test and was dismissed with the rest of the class. Id. ¶ 77. Epps called the plaintiff later that day and informed her that she had been suspended and placed on administrative leave. Id. ¶ 79. The plaintiff appealed her suspension by union grievance. Id.

         The “[p]laintiff went to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (‘EEOC') on June 10, 2016 to file a discrimination charge [.]” Id. ¶ 4; see id. ¶ 78. She completed an intake questionnaire on that day, id. ¶¶ 4, 78, and signed her EEOC Charge on June 23, 2016, id. ¶ 4. The plaintiff checked one box marked “RETALIATION, ” and indicated that the alleged act(s) of discrimination occurred between June 10, 2016 and June 17, 2016. See Defs.' Mem., Ex. A at 1. The narrative portion of the charge states:

I was employed with [Akal] since October 4, 2010, until I was terminated on June 17, 2016. My job classification was Lead Court Security Officer.
Between July 2015 to June 2016, Coworkers[] have been harassing me about having lunch with my coworker who is also female. They would make reference as to the nature of our relationship. I have not disclosed my preference; I have informed both District Supervisors about many incidents. They have not taken any actions to resolve the situation.
On June 10, 2016, I was in a training class, led by LSSO Gloria Shelton. I was checking and sending a text on my phone due to urgent family matters. Gloria Shelton, the instructor observe someone pass a phone and directed me to “Janice[.]” I have not had any problems with any other class until this one, I asked what problems are you having? She then stated to put the phone away. I informed her that I could not put the ...

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