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Johnson v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

United States District Court, District of Columbia

July 11, 2018

ANDREA JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JAMES E. BOASBERG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Andrea Johnson is a former employee of Defendant Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which, she charitably alleges, operates the “always dependable transit service in the Washington metropolitan area.” Amend. Compl., ¶ 4. Her suit, however, does not depend on the punctuality of Metro; it instead alleges that WMATA unlawfully discriminated against her on the basis of race and sex when it demoted her from a supervisory role in January 2015. Now seeking summary judgment, WMATA contends that no reasonable jury could find that its proffered non-discriminatory reasons for Plaintiff's demotion were pretextual. Agreeing, the Court will grant the Motion.

         I. Background

         As an initial matter, Defendant points out that Plaintiff has not fully complied with Local Civil Rule 7(h)(1) in her Statement of Disputed Genuine Issues of Material Fact by failing at times to reference the relevant part of the record that supports certain factual assertions, submitting legal conclusions, and not appropriately responding to Defendant's specific assertions. As a result, it asks that its own facts be deemed admitted. See ECF No. 23 (Reply) at 2. Although Johnson has been somewhat loose in her Statement, her errors are not so egregious that the entirety of Defendant's Statement of Material Facts should simply be admitted. The Court will not, however, accept facts that do not cite support from the record or conclusions masquerading as facts. With this in mind, the Court sets out the facts in the light most favorable to Johnson.

         Plaintiff, who is a black woman, started work at WMATA in October 2008. See Amend. Compl., ¶ 3; ECF No. 16-2 (Def. SMF), ¶ 1. Johnson became a Supervisor of Recruitment Operations in the Department of Human Resources/Talent Acquisition in 2012. See Def. SMF, ¶ 2. In 2014, she made “salary errors in offering and hiring two employees” within WMATA and oversaw three more salary errors for hired employees from WMATA's elevator/escalator apprenticeship program, which together resulted in five employees receiving incorrect salaries. Id., ¶¶ 10-11, 36. Additionally, Johnson's clients - internal WMATA departments such as access services and those responsible for escalator/elevator hiring - complained of her “lack of responsiveness and failures to promptly communicate.” Id., ¶¶ 12, 18; ECF No. 20 (Deposition of Ethel Roy) at 20:15-18, 21:3-6. Johnson and her supervisor, Rod Dones, had meetings and exchanged emails about Johnson's job performance in which Dones outlined his concerns regarding these communication issues. See Def. SMF, ¶¶ 13-16, 18; MSJ, Exhs. L, M, N. Johnson was similarly informed of these concerns by the Director of Talent Acquisition, Ethel Roy. Id., ¶ 17. In January 2015, WMATA demoted Johnson from her supervisory role to Senior Sourcing Specialist, citing “very serious concerns in [her] ability as a Supervisor . . . to lead/manage [her] staff and provide quality services to [her] customers.” MSJ, Exh. T (Demotion Memorandum) at 4.

         Johnson subsequently filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and received a right-to-sue notice in February 2017. See Notice (attached to Complaint). She then brought this suit against WMATA on May 19 of that year and filed an Amended Complaint on September 5. See ECF Nos. 1, 8. Johnson's one count alleges that WMATA, in its “discriminatory demotion, ” engaged in unlawful disparate treatment on the basis of race and sex in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e. See Amend. Compl. at 1, ¶¶ 23-27. Defendant now moves for summary judgment.

         II. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment may be granted if “the movant shows that 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); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986); Holcomb v. Powell, 433 F.3d 889, 895 (D.C. Cir. 2006). A fact is “material” if it is capable of affecting the substantive outcome of the litigation. See Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 248; Holcomb, 433 F.3d at 895. A dispute is “genuine” if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007); Holcomb, 433 F.3d at 895. “A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion” by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record” or “showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1).

         When a motion for summary judgment is under consideration, “[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255; see also Mastro v. PEPCO, 447 F.3d 843, 850 (D.C. Cir. 2006). On a motion for summary judgment, the Court must “eschew making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence.” Czekalski v. Peters, 475 F.3d 360, 363 (D.C. Cir. 2007).

         The non-moving party's opposition, however, must consist of more than mere unsupported allegations or denials and must be supported by affidavits, declarations, or other competent evidence setting forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). The non-movant, in other words, is “required to provide evidence that would permit a reasonable jury to find” in her favor. See Laningham v. U.S. Navy, 813 F.2d 1236, 1241 (D.C. Cir. 1987).

         III. Analysis

         WMATA moves for summary judgment on the ground that it demoted Johnson for “nondiscriminatory reason[s]” - namely, for failing to properly communicate with employees and clients and for salary-code errors. See MSJ at 2, 5-6; Def. SMF, ¶¶ 10-18. After articulating this “[l]egitimate, [n]ondiscriminatory [r]eason” for demoting her, Defendant argues that “Plaintiff cannot produce sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find that WMATA's asserted nondiscriminatory reason for Plaintiff's demotion was not the actual reason, ” and that the real reason was sex or race discrimination. See MSJ at 5, 9. Johnson counters that there is still a jury question as to whether WMATA's stated reasons for her demotion are pretext for discrimination, alleging that Defendant deviated from its internal policies and treated similarly situated employees of different classes more favorably. See Opp. at 1.

         Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer 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.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). The Supreme Court established the three-part burden-shifting framework that governs claims of employment discrimination in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-05 (1973). Under this framework, the plaintiff carries the initial burden of establishing a prima facie case of discrimination. When a plaintiff “meets this burden, ‘[t]he burden then must shift to the employer to articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason' for its action. If the employer succeeds, then the plaintiff must ‘be afforded a fair opportunity to show that [the employer's] stated reason . . . was in fact pretext' for unlawful discrimination.” Chappell-Johnson v. Powell, 440 F.3d 484, 487 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802, 804) (citation omitted).

         When, however, “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.” Brady v. Office of Sergeant at Arms, 520 F.3d 490, 494 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (emphasis added). The Court's task in such cases is to “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 origin?” Id. If, even crediting the employee's evidence as true, no reasonable ...


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