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Golden v. Management & Training Corp.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 6, 2018

DAVID GOLDEN, Plaintiff,
v.
MANAGEMENT & TRAINING CORPORATION, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO DISMISS

          RUDOLPH CONTRERAS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff David Golden brings this suit against Management & Training Corporation (“MTC”) and Chugach Government Services, Inc. (“CGSI”) for discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621 et seq., as well as for wrongful termination. Specifically, Mr. Golden alleges that after he complained to his supervisors at MTC and CGSI that he was receiving disparate pay and treatment based on his age, he was placed on an unnecessary Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”) and then terminated. Now before the Court are MTC's and CGSI's motions to dismiss Mr. Golden's Second Amended Complaint. MTC has moved to dismiss on the ground that Mr. Golden's claims are either time-barred or insufficiently pleaded. CGSI has moved to dismiss on the ground that it never in fact employed Mr. Golden and that therefore it cannot be liable to him under the ADEA. In the alternative, it argues that Mr. Golden has failed to state a claim and that his claims are time-barred. For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that Mr. Golden has stated claims against MTC for certain acts of age discrimination and retaliation, but not for wrongful termination. It further finds that Mr. Golden has stated a claim for retaliation against CGSI, but not for wrongful termination, and that his claim for age discrimination is time-barred.

         II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND[1]

         Mr. Golden worked as a career and technical training manager at the Potomac Job Corps facility from his hiring in May 2009 until his termination in July 2015, when he was 63 years old. 2d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4, 8, ECF No. 43. The Potomac facility is one of several locations around the country at which the U.S. Department of Labor administers its Job Corps program, which offers free academic and vocational training to young, formerly incarcerated individuals. Id. ¶¶ 6, 9. Defendant CGSI has contracted with the U.S. Department of Labor to provide operations, training, management, and maintenance services at the site. Id. ¶ 5. CGSI in turn subcontracts with MTC to provide educational services to Job Corps students. Id. ¶ 6. “With the assistance and understanding of Defendant MTC, CGSI's human resources director at Job Corps' District of Columbia facility-Grace Jabril-oversaw the duties and responsibilities of MTC's hired staff including Plaintiff.” Id. ¶ 5. Correspondence from individuals working at the facility- “regardless of whether the author was an employee of CGSI or MTC-at all times contained the ‘Job Corps' logo.” Id. ¶ 7.

         MTC hired Mr. Golden in 2009, when he was 57 years old. Id. ¶ 8; 1st Am. Compl. ¶ 7, ECF No. 20. In April 2011, Mr. Golden began to “voice his concerns” to MTC and CGSI personnel that he was being discriminated against on the basis of his age. 2d Am. Compl. ¶ 11.

Specifically, he complained about (1) disparate amount of pay he was receiving as a yearly salary from Job Corps compared to other managers significantly younger than him and less credentialed; (2) younger employees being able to attend training courses that he was not allowed to attend; (3) younger managers getting their supply purchase orders approved while the orders that he made were always being delayed; and (4) younger managers received additional compensation bonuses above their salary for work performed on projects while he was unable to receive the same compensation for similar work performed.

Id. Mr. Golden alleges that he hand-delivered EEO complaints containing these allegations on April 4, 2011; December 10, 2013; July 14, 2014; February 20, 2015; and May 20, 2015. Id. ¶ 12. The recipients of each EEO complaint included employees of both MTC and CGSI. Id.

         Despite what Mr. Golden characterizes as “satisfactory performance appraisals from his supervisors throughout his entire tenure at Job Corps, ” Mr. Golden's MTC supervisors twice placed him on PIPs-once in 2012 and once in 2015. Id. ¶¶ 13, 15. Mr. Golden met the requirements of his 2012 PIP and continued to work at Job Corps. Id. ¶ 14. However, following Mr. Golden's second placement on a PIP in March 2015, he was fired in July 2015 “for allegedly not successfully completing the requirements of the 2015 PIP despite receiving a satisfactory rating from [his MTC supervisor Mr. Stroman] during the same period.” Id. ¶¶ 15-16. Mr. Golden highlights that “Dwaine Page (34 years of age) and Patricia Pryor (43 years of age)- younger managers employed by Job Corps who did not satisfactorily perform their job duties during [Mr. Golden's] tenure-were given the opportunity to cure their performance after lesser methods of discipline were imposed upon them.” Id. ¶ 19.

         Two months before his termination, Mr. Golden filed a charge with the EEOC alleging discrimination based on race, age, and disability, as well as retaliation. See MTC's Mot. Ex. 1 (“1st EEOC Charge”) at 2, ECF No. 45-3.[2] MTC received notice of this charge on or around May 26, 2015. See Id. at 1. The EEOC declined to pursue Mr. Golden's case and instead granted him a right-to-sue letter on August 5, 2015. See MTC's Mot. Ex. 2 (“1st Right-to-Sue Letter”) at 1, ECF No. 45-4. By that time, Mr. Golden had been terminated.

         Mr. Golden never filed a suit based on his first EEOC charge. Instead, he filed a second EEOC charge against “Potomac Job Corp” on February 18, 2016. His charge included the following allegations:

On multiple occasions, from the time period of May 2009, until the time of my discharge in June of 2015 I was subject to different and unfavorable treatment than those outside my protected class. Other younger managers, in the same position title as me, received better compensation, and educational training opportunities from my company that were not extended to me. As a result of this treatment I filed multiple internal EEO complaints that were left unaddressed. Shortly after which, I was put on a Performance Improvement Plan, and then terminated.

MTC's Mot. Ex. 3 (“2d EEOC Charge”) at 2, ECF No. 45-5. He further explained that he had “been discriminated against, and been the victim of retaliation for engaging in protected activity in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, as amended.” Id.

         After receiving his right-to-sue letter based on the second EEOC charge, see Compl. Ex. 1, ECF No. 1-2, Mr. Golden brought suit against MTC and Chugach Government Solutions, LLC (“CGS”)-not CGSI-alleging that Defendants retaliated against him in violation of Title VII by “erroneously placing Plaintiff on a PIP and terminating him despite his satisfactory ratings on his yearly performance appraisals” “as a direct and proximate result of filing an internal complaint for age discrimination and hostile work environment.” Compl. ¶ 17, ECF No. 1. After MTC and CGS filed their first motions to dismiss, see MTC's 1st Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 10; CGS's 1st Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 14, Mr. Golden moved for leave to amend his complaint to replace his claim under Title VII with a claim under the ADEA, which the Court allowed. See 1st Am. Compl.; Minute Order (Nov. 3, 2016). MTC and CGS again moved to dismiss Mr. Golden's complaint for failure to state a claim. See MTC's 2d Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 22; CGS's 2d Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 23. One of the grounds upon which CGS moved to dismiss the First Amended Complaint was that CGSI, not CGS, operated the Potomac Job Corps facility. See Mem. P. & A. CGS's 2d Mot. Dismiss at 3-4, ECF No. 23.

         In July 2017, the Court granted MTC's and CGS's second motions to dismiss, finding that Mr. Golden had “not alleged any facts that might support an inference that he held a reasonable, good faith belief that the perceived harms he reported were violations of the ADEA.” Golden v. Mgmt. & Training Corp., 266 F.Supp.3d 277, 282 (D.D.C. 2017). However, because “the Court believe[d] that the deficiencies [in the complaint might] be cured through subsequent pleading, the Court [] dismiss[ed] the complaint without prejudice and grant[ed] Golden leave to amend the complaint, ” including by adding CGSI as a defendant. Id. Once Mr. Golden filed his Second Amended Complaint, ECF No. 43, MTC and CGSI both moved to dismiss. See MTC's 3d Mot. Dismiss (“MTC's Mot.”), ECF No. 45; CGSI's Mot. Dismiss (“CGSI's Mot.”), ECF No. 46. Their motions are now ripe for decision.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a complaint contain “a short and plain statement of the claim” in order to give the defendant fair notice of the claim and the grounds upon which it rests. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); accord Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam). A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) does not test a plaintiff's ultimate likelihood of success on the merits; rather, it tests whether a plaintiff has properly stated a claim. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974), abrogated on other grounds by Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800 (1982). A court considering such a motion presumes that the complaint's factual allegations are true and construes them liberally in the plaintiff's favor. See, e.g., United States v. Philip Morris, Inc., 116 F.Supp.2d 131, 135 (D.D.C. 2000). Nevertheless, “[t]o 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)). This means that a plaintiff's factual allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56 (citations omitted). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, ” are therefore insufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A court need not accept a plaintiff's legal conclusions as true, see id., nor must a court presume the veracity of the legal conclusions that are couched as factual allegations, see Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         IV. ANALYSIS

         A. MTC's Motion to Dismiss

         Mr. Golden's Second Amended Complaint contains claims of retaliation, wrongful discharge, and age discrimination against MTC. MTC has moved to dismiss on the grounds that a portion of Mr. Golden's claims are time-barred, that he did not plead a plausible inference of retaliation, that he did not state a prima facie case for age discrimination, and that he did not state a claim for wrongful discharge. See generally MTC's Mem. Mr. Golden responds that it “is simply not the case” that his Second Amended Complaint is based off of incidents that occurred before April 24, 2015, that he has pleaded a prima facie case of age discrimination, and that his Second Amended Complaint contains sufficient facts to plead a plausible inference of retaliation. See generally Pl.'s Opp'n MTC's Mot. For the reasons given below, the Court finds that Mr. Golden's claims for retaliation and discrimination based on events occurring before April 24, 2015 are time-barred, but that Mr. Golden has pleaded sufficient facts to state timely claims for discrimination and retaliation based on his termination. However, the Court finds that Mr. Golden has failed to state a claim for wrongful termination, and therefore dismisses that claim.

         1. Statute of Limitations

         MTC contends that all of Mr. Golden's statutory claims except those based on his termination are time-barred. See MTC's Mem. at 11-12. In particular, it first argues that any claims that were contained in both Mr. Golden's first EEOC charge and his second EEOC charge are barred because he did not file suit on those twice-alleged claims within 90 days of the issuance of the EEOC's first right-to-sue letter. Id. Similarly, it argues that any claim based on actions that occurred before April 24, 2015, are time-barred because Mr. Golden did not file his second EEOC charge until February 18, 2016. Id. at 12. Mr. Golden responds that the actions about which he has sued occurred after April 24, 2015, because “the retaliatory conduct that serves as a basis for his administrative and judicial complaints stem from (1) being placed on a second PIP that should have never happened because it was not warranted; and[] ultimately (2) being terminated for it in July 2015 for allegedly not successfully completing the requirements of a PIP despite receiving a satisfactory rating from his supervisors during that particular rating period.” Pl.'s Opp'n MTC's Mot. at 7. The Court finds that claims based on allegedly discriminatory or retaliatory actions that occurred prior to April 24, 2015, are time-barred, including Mr. Golden's placement on the second PIP in March 2015. However, it should be noted that this limitation on Mr. Golden's ability to sue for his placement on the PIP does not mean that he cannot use his placement on the PIP as evidence that his ultimate termination was discriminatory or retaliatory. See Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 113 (2002) (“Nor does the statute bar an employee from using the prior acts as background evidence in support of a timely claim.”).

         “An individual who wishes to challenge an employment practice under the ADEA must first file a charge with the EEOC.” Faison v. District of Columbia, 664 F.Supp.2d 59, 64 (D.D.C. 2009). “In the District of Columbia, where there is a local anti-discrimination agency, this charge must be filed within 300 days of the occurrence of the allegedly unlawful practice.” Id. If an EEOC charge is not filed within that period, a plaintiff cannot challenge the unlawful practice in court. Schuler v. PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLC, 595 F.3d 370, 373 (D.C. Cir. 2010) (citing 29 U.S.C. § 626(d)(1)). If the EEOC elects not to pursue the complainant's case, it issues a right-to-sue letter. See 29 U.S.C. § 626(e). Upon receipt of that letter, a complainant has 90 days to bring suit. Id.; 29 C.F.C. § 1614.407(a); see also Colbert v. Potter, 471 F.3d 158, 160 (D.C. Cir. 2006).

         Mr. Golden submitted his second EEOC charge on February 18, 2016. See 2d EEOC Charge at 2. Three-hundred days before February 18, 2016, is April 24, 2015. Mr. Golden was placed on a second PIP in March 2015 and was terminated in July 2015. 2d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 15- 16. Therefore, Mr. Golden's claims based on his placement on his second PIP in 2015 are undeniably untimely unless it and another timely action, such as his termination, can be found to constitute a single, coherent employment practice.

         The Supreme Court has “repeatedly interpreted the term ‘[employment] practice' to apply to a discrete act or single ‘occurrence,' even when it has a connection to other acts.” Morgan, 536 U.S. 111. “A discrete retaliatory or discriminatory act ‘occurred' on the day that it ‘happened.'” Id. at 110. The Court has also repeatedly held that “discrete acts that fall within the statutory time period do not make timely acts that fall outside the time period.” Id. at 112; see also Nono v. George Washington Univ., 245 F.Supp.3d 141, 147 (D.D.C. 2017) (“[P]laintiffs must file charges that are timely as to each discrete alleged discriminatory act, and prior discriminatory acts that occurred outside the time period are not actionable.”)

         For example, in Delaware State College v. Ricks, 449 U.S. 250, 259 (1980), the Court found that a claim based on an allegedly discriminatory decision to deny a professor tenure was time-barred, even though the effect of that tenure denial was the professor's placement on a yearlong terminal contract that resulted in his termination, within the limitations period, upon the expiration of the contract. The Court explained that “[t]he proper focus is upon the time of the discriminatory acts, not upon the time at which the consequences of the acts became most painful, ” Id. (quoting Abramson v. Univ. of Hawaii, 594 F.2d 202, 209 (9th Cir. 1979)). Because the professor had not alleged that “the manner in which his employment was terminated differed discriminatorily from the manner in which the College terminated other professors who also had been denied tenure, ” but instead had simply alleged that his denial of tenure, which occurred outside of the limitations period, was discriminatory, his complaint failed to state a timely claim for employment discrimination. Id. at 258.

         Mr. Golden's case is distinguishable from Ricks because Mr. Golden has called into question the propriety of his termination itself, explaining that he “was terminated by Job Corps for allegedly not successfully completing the requirements of the 2015 PIP despite receiving a satisfactory rating from Mr. Stroman, ” his supervisor who had instituted the PIP, “during the same time period.” 2d Am. Compl. ¶ 16 (emphasis added). He has, in effect, alleged two discriminatory or retaliatory acts: his placement on the PIP and his “unjustifiabl[e]” termination. Id. ¶ 18. Additionally, as MTC has also highlighted, Mr. Golden had already complained about his placement on the second PIP in his first EEOC charge and did not file suit based on that charge for 197 days, far more than the 90 days permitted under the statute. See MTC's Mem. at 11; 1st Right-to-Sue Letter, ECF No. 45-4. Accordingly, while Mr. Golden's claims based on his placement on the PIP are untimely for two reasons and are thus not actionable, his claims based on his termination are, and therefore remain.

         2. ...


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