United States District Court, District of Columbia
ERNEST A. THOMAS, Plaintiff,
WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY, et al., Defendants.
L. FRIEDRICH JUDGE
the Court is the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit
Authority's (WMATA) Motion to Dismiss. Dkt. 3. For the
following reasons, the motion will be granted in part and
denied in part.
action, pro se plaintiff Ernest A. Thomas asserts age- and
national origin-based employment discrimination claims
against his employer, WMATA, and against his direct
supervisor Sachit Kakkar and senior WMATA managers Paul J.
Weidefeld and John T. Kuo (collectively, the Individual
Defendants). See Compl. at 2-4, Dkt. 1; Title VII of
the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§
2000e-2000e-17; Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967
(ADEA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-634. Thomas also asserts a
retaliation claim. Compl. at 4.
is a 62-year-old U.S. citizen of Liberian national origin.
Id. ¶ 1. He currently works for WMATA,
id, and he has a history of filing EEOC complaints
against his employer for discrimination based on race, age,
and national origin, and for retaliating against him because
of those claims, see Id. ¶¶ 14, 20-24. The
past complaints include at least three formal complaints to
the EEOC during a span of about fifteen months beginning in
early 2014. Id. ¶¶ 21-24.
February 2017, Thomas applied for a promotion to the open
position of Deputy Chief Vehicle Engineer. Id.
¶ 3. The next month, WMATA rejected Thomas's
application, purportedly because he lacked the requisite ten
years of management experience in transit engineering, which
was part of the job description. Id. ¶ 4. This
case arises from WMATA's decision not to promote Thomas.
asserts that his supervisor, Defendant Kakkar, made two
revisions to the Deputy Chief Vehicle Engineer job
requirements on January 11, 2017 before posting an opening
for the job. Id. ¶ 2. Under the revisions, the
Deputy Chief Vehicle Engineer position (1) now required ten
years of transit-engineering-management experience, even
though the more senior Chief Vehicle Engineer position
required only five years; and (2) no longer required
Professional Engineering qualifications. Id.
¶¶ 6, 11. Both changes allegedly disadvantaged
Thomas, who has a Professional Engineering license but lacked
ten years of experience. See Id. Citing Thomas's
failure to meet the ten-years requirement, WMATA ultimately
rejected Thomas's bid for the promotion. Id.
¶ 4. WMATA later hired Anthony Johnson, a man of
unspecified national origin who is allegedly about fifteen
years younger than Thomas. Id. ¶¶ 5, 37.
WMATA indicated that Johnson had the required ten-years'
experience, but Thomas alleges that Johnson did not meet this
requirement. Id. ¶¶ 5, 8-9.
April 13, 2017, Thomas filed employment discrimination claims
with the EEOC based on national origin and age, as well as a
retaliation claim. Thomas received a Dismissal and Notice of
Rights letter from the EEOC on April 28, 2017. See
Dkt. 7 at 2. Thomas then filed his complaint on July 27,
2017, seeking monetary and punitive damages and injunctive
relief. Compl. at 9. The case was reassigned to the
undersigned judge on December 4, 2017.
now moves for dismissal under Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of
the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, arguing that (1) Thomas
failed to exhaust administrative remedies under Title VII
before bringing this action; (2) WMATA is immune from ADEA
claims due to sovereign immunity; (3) the Individual
Defendants must be dismissed because they acted in their
official capacities; (4) Thomas failed to state a claim for
national-origin discrimination under Title VII; and (5) WMATA
is immune from punitive damages. See Mem. at 7-13,
Dkt. 3. The Court discusses each in turn.
Rule 12(b)(1), a party may move to dismiss a claim over which
the court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction. Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(b)(1). A motion for dismissal under Rule 12(b)(1)
“presents a threshold challenge to the court's
jurisdiction.” Haase v. Sessions, 835 F.2d
902, 906 (D.C. Cir. 1987). Federal district courts are courts
of limited jurisdiction, and it is “presumed that a
cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction.”
Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co., 511 U.S. 375,
377 (1994). Thus, to survive a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, a
plaintiff must demonstrate that the court has jurisdiction by
a preponderance of the evidence. Lujan v. Defs. of
Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992).
ruling on a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, the court must treat the
plaintiff's factual allegations as true and afford the
plaintiff the benefit of all inferences that can be derived
from the facts alleged.” Jeong Seon Han v.
Lynch, 223 F.Supp.3d 95, 103 (D.D.C. 2016) (quotation
marks and citation omitted). Because Rule 12(b)(1) concerns a
court's ability to hear a particular claim, “the
court must scrutinize the plaintiff's allegations more
closely when considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule
12(b)(1) than it would under a motion to dismiss pursuant to
Rule 12(b)(6).” Schmidt v. U.S. Capitol Police
Bd., 826 F.Supp.2d 59, 65 (D.D.C. 2011). Also, unlike
when evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court may consider
documents outside the pleadings to evaluate whether it has
jurisdiction. See Jerome Stevens Pharm., Inc. v.
FDA, 402 F.3d 1249, 1253 (D.C. Cir. 2005). If the court
determines that it lacks jurisdiction, the court must dismiss
the claim or action. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), 12(h)(3).
Rule 12(b)(6), a party may move to dismiss for failure to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(b)(6). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint
“must contain 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) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly,
550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A plausible claim allows the court
to “draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is
liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. The
standard does not amount to a “probability requirement,
” but it does require more than a “sheer
possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.”
evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court “must
construe the complaint in favor of the plaintiff, who must be
granted the benefit of all inferences that can be derived
from the facts alleged.” Hettinga v. United
States, 677 F.3d 471, 476 (D.C. Cir. 2012) (quotation
marks omitted). While a “pro se complaint is entitled
to liberal construction, ” Washington v.
Geren, 675 F.Supp.2d 26, 31 (D.D.C. 2009) (citing
Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972)),
“[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of
action, supported by mere conclusory statements” are
not sufficient to state a claim, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
678. “In determining whether a complaint states a
claim, the court may consider the facts alleged in the
complaint, documents attached thereto or incorporated
therein, and matters of which it may take judicial
notice.” Abhe & Svoboda, Inc. v. Chao, 508
F.3d 1052, 1059 (D.C. Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks
omitted). Finally, Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal for failure to
state a claim “is a resolution on the merits and is
ordinarily prejudicial.” Okusami v. Psychiatric
Inst. of Wash., Inc., 959 F.2d 1062, 1066 (D.C. Cir.
Thomas properly exhausted administrative remedies.
argues that Thomas failed to exhaust administrative remedies
under Title VII before suing in federal court, see
Mem. at 10, but the Court disagrees.
VII provides that a plaintiff may bring a claim in federal
court within ninety days of an EEOC dismissal. See
42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1) (“If a charge filed with
the [EEOC under Title VII] is dismissed by the Commission, .
. . the Commission . . . shall so notify the person aggrieved
and within ninety days after the giving of such notice a
civil action may be brought against the respondent named in
the charge . . . by the person claiming to be
aggrieved.”). The EEOC issued Thomas a Dismissal and
Notice of Rights letter on April 28, 2017. Dkt. 7 at 2.
Thomas then filed his ...