United States District Court, District of Columbia
KATRINA L. WEBSTER, Plaintiff,
RICHARD V. SPENCER, Secretary, U.S. Department of the Navy, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
L. FRIEDRICH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court is a Motion to Dismiss filed by three of the
defendants in this case. Dkt. 13. For the following reasons,
the Court will grant the motion and direct that this case
proceed against the remaining defendant.
plaintiff Katrina Webster is an employee of Strategic Systems
Programs (SSP), a division within the Department of the Navy.
See Compl. ¶¶ 9, 18, 25-26, Dkt. 1. Her
complaint names four defendants: (1) Richard Spencer, the
Secretary of the Navy, in his official
capacity;(2) Kevin Keefe, Associate General Counsel
for SSP, in his individual capacity; (3) James Lee, Deputy
General Counsel of the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission, in his individual capacity; and (4) Jack Rickert,
Assistant General Counsel of the National
Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, in his individual capacity.
Id. at 1, ¶¶ 8-12.
general, Webster alleges that the defendants discriminated
against her due to her race and retaliated against her for
filing numerous EEOC complaints. See Id.
¶¶ 15, 308-16. More specifically, she alleges that
she has not been promoted since the early 2000s because the
defendants colluded to deny her promotion, training, and
bonuses. Id. ¶¶ 18-21, 25-26, 309. And in
doing so, the defendants allegedly intended to subject
Webster to so much financial hardship that her security
clearance would be revoked. See, e.g., id.
¶¶ 18-21, 312. Based on these allegations of
discrimination and retaliation, the complaint asserts three
claims under Title VII, id. ¶¶ 308-10
(Count I); 42 U.S.C. § 1983, id. ¶¶
311-12 (Count II); and 42 U.S.C. § 1981, id.
¶¶ 313-16 (Count III).
January 12, 2018, the Secretary of the Navy answered the
complaint on behalf of himself, the Department of the Navy,
and SSP, Dkt. 12, but the other three defendants-Keefe, Lee,
and Rickert-moved to dismiss the claims against them, Dkt.
13. The Court then issued an order pursuant to Fox v.
Strickland, 837 F.2d 507 (D.C. Cir. 1988), directing
Webster to respond to the partial motion to dismiss. Dkt. 14.
Webster filed an opposition brief on January 31, 2018, Dkt.
15, then an “amendment” to the brief one week
later, Dkt. 17. The motion to dismiss is now fully briefed.
12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows a
defendant to move to dismiss the complaint for failure to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(b)(6). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a complaint must
contain factual matter sufficient to “state a claim to
relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A facially
plausible claim is one that “allows the court to draw
the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556
U.S. 662, 678 (2009). This standard does not amount to a
specific probability requirement, but it does require
“more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has
acted unlawfully.” Id.; see also
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557 (“Factual allegations
must be enough to raise a right to relief above the
speculative level.”). A complaint alleging facts that
are “merely consistent with a defendant's liability
. . . stops short of the line between possibility and
plausibility.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678
(internal quotation marks omitted).
factual allegations are “entitled to [an] assumption of
truth, ” id. at 679, and the court construes
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) (internal
quotation marks omitted). Although a pro se complaint is
generally entitled to a liberal construction, see
Washington v. Geren, 675 F.Supp.2d 26, 31 (D.D.C. 2009),
the assumption of truth does not apply to a “legal
conclusion couched as a factual allegation, ”
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quotation marks omitted). An
“unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me
accusation” is not credited; likewise,
“[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of
action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not
suffice.” Id. When deciding a Rule 12(b)(6)
motion, the court may consider only the complaint itself,
documents attached to the complaint, documents incorporated
by reference in the complaint, and judicially noticeable
materials. EEOC v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial
Sch., 117 F.3d 621, 624 (D.C. Cir. 1997). Finally, a
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. 1992).
complaint asserts claims under Title VII, § 1981, and
§ 1983. See Compl. ¶¶ 308-16; see
also Id. ¶ 1 (“This is an action . . .
seeking redress for violations [of] 42 U.S.C. § 1981,
§ 1983, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.”).
With respect to Keefe, Lee, and Rickert, the complaint fails
to state claims upon which relief can be granted. And to the
extent that the complaint can be read to assert an Age
Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) claim and a
Bivens claim, those claims fail also.
Lee, and Rickert move to dismiss the Title VII claims against
them. See Defs.' Mot. at 9-11, Dkt. 13. Title
VII protects federal employees from workplace discrimination
by providing a cause of action against “the head of the
[federal] department, agency, or unit, as appropriate.”
42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(c). Indeed, “the
only proper defendant in a Title VII suit is the
head of the department, agency, or unit in which the
allegedly discriminatory acts transpired.” Webster
v. Mattis, 279 F.Supp.3d 14, 18 (D.D.C. 2017)
(alterations omitted and emphasis added) (quoting Hackley
v. Roudebush, 520 F.2d 108, 115 n.17 (D.C. Cir. 1975));
accord Davis v. Califano, 613 F.2d 957, 958 n.1
(D.C. Cir. 1979). “Title VII does not impose liability
on individuals in their personal capacities.”
Coulibaly v. Kerry, 213 F.Supp.3d 93, 135 (D.D.C.
2016); see also Gary v. Long, 59 F.3d 1391, 1399
(D.C. Cir. 1995). In this case, therefore, the only
appropriate Title VII defendant is the Secretary of the Navy
in his official capacity. Keefe, Lee, and Rickert are not
proper Title VII defendants because they are sued in their
individual capacities and they do not head any department,
agency, or unit in which discrimination allegedly occurred:
Keefe is an Associate General Counsel for SSP; Lee is Deputy
General Counsel of the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission; and Rickert is an Assistant General Counsel for
the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Compl. at 1,
¶¶ 8- 12. Count I thus fails to state a Title VII
claim against Keefe, Lee, and Rickert. See Webster,
279 F.Supp.3d at 18 (dismissing Title VII claims brought by
Webster's husband against nonhead federal employees,
including Lee and Rickert).
42 U.S.C. ...