United States District Court, District of Columbia
CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER United States District Judge
Marie Masson worked for Defendant Aramark Campus LLC, which
provides cafeteria services at Catholic University, from
March 2012 until February 2015. Am. Compl. ¶¶
In November 2014, Masson was injured on the job and sought
workers' compensation. Id. ¶ 11. While out
of work due to her injury, she was terminated. Id.
¶ 12. Almost three years later, in January 2018, Masson
sued Aramark in the Superior Court of the District of
Columbia, alleging wrongful termination and sexual harassment
by her former supervisor. Id. ¶¶ 24, 26.
Aramark removed the case to federal court, based on both
federal question jurisdiction (Masson asserted a claim under
42 U.S.C. § 1983, id. ¶ 24) and diversity
jurisdiction. It then moved to dismiss Masson's complaint
under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to
state a claim. The Court will now grant its motion and
dismiss the case.
analyzing a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), the question is
whether the complaint “contain[s] 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) (citation omitted). In
so determining, the Court accepts as true the facts alleged
in the complaint and draws all reasonable inferences in favor
of the non-moving party. See, e.g., Tefera v.
OneWest Bank, FSB, 19 F.Supp.3d 215, 220 (D.D.C. 2014).
A motion to dismiss for a plaintiff's failure to exhaust
administrative remedies is “properly addressed as [a]
motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.”
Scott v. Dist. Hosp. Partners, L.P., 60 F.Supp.3d
156, 161 (D.D.C. 2014).
Masson's wrongful termination or retaliation claim. While
Masson cites 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as her cause of action,
Am. Compl. ¶ 24, she does not state a claim under that
statute. Aramark Campus LLC is a private actor, and section
1983 does not reach the actions of private parties except
when the private party is engaged in state action or acting
under color of state law, neither of which Masson alleges
here. See, e.g., Nader v. McAuliffe, 593
F.Supp.2d 95, 101 (D.D.C. 2009). As a result, the Court will
dismiss any section 1983 claims that Masson brings.
opposition contends that her unlawful discharge claim instead
arises under D.C. common law. Mem. Supp. Pl.'s Opp'n
Def.'s Mot. Dismiss (“Pl.'s Opp'n”)
at 4. Regardless of whether Masson has clearly raised such a
claim, it, too, would fail. Masson does not contest that she
was an at-will employee and thus, under D.C. law, she could
be discharged for any reason. See Adams v. George W.
Cochran & Co., Inc., 597 A.2d 28, 30 (D.C. 1991).
That said, D.C. law recognizes an exception to this rule when
a discharge is contrary to public policy. See, e.g.,
id. at 34. According to Masson, her discharge was
contrary to public policy because she was fired in
retaliation for reporting her supervisor's sexual
harassment. Pl.'s Opp'n at 5. As such, she argues her
claim falls within the public policy exception.
this argument fails as well. The D.C. Court of Appeals has
held that the public policy exception does not apply when a
statute provides adequate protection of the public interests
sought to be vindicated. See, e.g., Carter v.
District of Columbia, 980 A.2d 1217, 1225-26 (D.C. 2009)
(refusing to apply public policy exception to general at-will
discharge rule since plaintiff's allegations involved
conduct that “fell squarely under the aegis of the
District's Whistleblower Protection Act”);
McManus v. MCI Communications Corp., 748 A.2d 949,
957 (D.C. 2000) (rejecting the argument “that a public
policy exception to the at-will doctrine applies to an
alleged statutory violation” in a case involving the
D.C. Human Rights Act).
contention that she was fired in retaliation for reporting
sexual harassment falls within the ambit of the D.C. Human
Rights Act, which prohibits adverse employment decisions
taken in retaliation for an employee exercising her statutory
rights, such as by reporting sexual harassment (itself a
violation of the D.C. Human Rights Act). See D.C.
Code § 2-1402.61(a). In addition, Masson has statutory
remedies under federal law: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act
of 1964 also prohibits retaliatory discharge. See 42
U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). As a result, the proper avenue for
seeking relief is the statutory one, not the public policy
exception to the at-will doctrine. See, e.g.,
Hoskins v. Howard Univ., 839 F.Supp.2d 268, 281
(D.D.C. 2012) (refusing to apply public policy exception
where Title VII and the D.C. Human Rights Act provided
adequate remedies for alleged retaliatory
discharge). The Court must therefore dismiss
Masson's unlawful discharge claim.
Masson's claims of sexual harassment. While Masson does
not identify a statutory cause of action for her claim in her
complaint, she argues in her opposition that it would arise
under Title VII or the D.C. Human Rights Act. But since
Masson failed to administratively exhaust any Title VII claim
and failed to file any D.C. Human Rights Act claim within the
applicable one-year statute of limitations, the Court will
dismiss any such claims as well.
Title VII, prior to bringing suit a plaintiff must exhaust
her administrative remedies. See, e.g., Park v.
Howard Univ., 71 F.3d 904, 907 (D.C. Cir. 1995). The
first step to exhaustion is to file a charge of
discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission (“EEOC”) within 300 days of the
alleged discriminatory action. 42 U.S.C. §
2000e-5(e)(1). Masson concedes that she did not file any
charge with the EEOC. Pl.'s Opp'n at 6. She appears
to argue that the Court should apply the doctrine of
equitable estoppel to excuse such failure. Id. But
Masson presents no facts to support the application of that
doctrine and the burden is on her to point to affirmative
actions or misleading statements by Aramark that prevented
her from exhausting administrative remedies. See,
e.g.., Byrd v. District of Columbia, 807
F.Supp.2d 37, 62 (D.D.C. 2011). Her sole argument is that she
was terminated from her employment before she could file an
EEOC charge. But it is unclear why her termination somehow
prevented her from being able to file an EEOC charge-indeed,
one would expect her termination to provide her more of an
incentive and ability to do so since she no longer had to
worry that filing an EEOC charge could lead to further
adverse action by her employer. Because Masson provides no
basis to excuse her failure to exhaust remedies, dismissal of
any Title VII claim she raises is warranted.
the D.C. Human Rights Act does not require exhaustion of
administrative remedies, it does have a one-year statute of
limitations. D.C. Code § 2-1403.16(a). The most recent
adverse action Masson alleges was her termination in February
2015-which came nearly three years before she filed suit in
January 2018, well after the one-year statute of limitations
had run. Though the limitations period can be tolled if a
plaintiff elects to pursue her administrative remedies,
id, Masson does not allege that she filed a
complaint with the applicable D.C. regulatory body. And as
discussed above, Masson points to no other ground to excuse
her failure to file suit within the statutory period.
Consequently, dismissal of any D.C. Human Rights Act claim
she raises is also proper.
Masson argues that the Court should at least grant her leave
to file an amended complaint that more clearly asserts her
statutory causes of action and clarifies her factual
allegations. As an initial matter, Masson's request fails
to comply with Local Civil Rule 15.1, which requires
plaintiffs to submit a proposed amended complaint with any
such motion. But amendment would be futile in any case. As
discussed above, Masson concededly failed to exhaust her
administrative remedies under Title VII or to file suit
within the statute of limitations for the D.C. Human Rights
Act. Given this, the Court will deny any motion for leave to
file an amended complaint. See, e.g., James
Madison Ltd. by Hecht v. Ludwig, 82 F.3d 1085, 1099
(D.C. Cir. 1996) (“Courts may deny a motion to amend a
complaint as futile . . . if the proposed claim would not
survive a motion to dismiss.”).
accepting her allegations as true, Masson has not adequately
pled a D.C. common law unlawful discharge claim, exhausted
her Title VII claim, or filed her D.C. Human Rights Act claim
within the applicable statute of limitations. For these
reasons alone, the Court will grant Defendant's motion
for dismissal. A separate Order shall accompany this