United States District Court, District of Columbia
N. MCFADDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Esau Muhammad claims four violations of Title VII of the
Civil Rights Act of 1964: race discrimination, national
origin discrimination, hostile work environment, and
retaliation. ECF No. 1. Before the Court is the Washington
Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's (WMATA's)
Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 15. Upon consideration
of the entire record, and in light of the obligation to draw
“all justifiable inferences” in favor of the
non-moving party, Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986), the Court concludes that summary
judgment is warranted only on the race discrimination count.
On each of the three remaining counts, at least one genuine
issue of material fact precludes summary judgment.
VII of the Civil Rights Act 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.” Brady v. Office
of Sergeant at Arms, 520 F.3d 490, 493 (D.C. Cir. 2008)
(quoting 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1)) (internal quotation
marks omitted). Title VII also “makes it unlawful to
‘discriminate against'-i.e., retaliate against-an
employee ‘because he has opposed any practice made an
unlawful employment practice by this subchapter.'”
McGrath v. Clinton, 666 F.3d 1377, 1380 (D.C. Cir.
2012) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a)). Mr. Muhammad is
an African American male who identifies as Trinidadian. Am.
Compl. (Compl.) ¶¶ 14, 59. He claims that WMATA
violated Title VII by discriminating against him based on
race and national origin, creating a hostile work
environment, and retaliating against him when he blew the
motion for summary judgment will only be granted if
“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). At this stage,
“[c]redibility determinations, [and] the weighing of
the evidence” are not a judge's role.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. “The evidence of
the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable
inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Id.;
see also Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007)
(“[F]acts must be viewed in the light most favorable to
the nonmoving party only if there is a “genuine”
dispute as to those facts.”) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P.
[W]here 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.
Rather, in considering an employer's motion for summary
judgment . . . the district court must 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
Brady, 520 F.3d at 494 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (emphasis in
the original). “[A]n added measure of
“rigor”. . . or ‘cautio[n]' . . . is
appropriate” in this context, “because employment
discrimination claims center on the issue of an
employer's intent, ” and explicit documentary
evidence of such intent is rare. Aka v. Washington Hosp.
Ctr., 116 F.3d 876, 879 (D.C. Cir.) (citations omitted),
reversed on other grounds, 156 F.3d 1284 (D.C. Cir.
Muhammad wholly fails to mention his race discrimination
claim in his Opposition, suggesting that he may have
abandoned this claim. Pl.'s Opp. 15-30. Although that
fact alone does not justify summary judgment, Winston
& Strawn, LLP v. McLean, 843 F.3d 503, 507-08 (D.C.
Cir. 2016), the Court is independently satisfied that summary
judgment is warranted. A race discrimination claim has two
elements: (1) “an adverse employment action, ”
(2) “because of the employee's race.”
Brady, 520 F.3d 493. A plaintiff need only show
“that the motive to discriminate was one of the
employer's motives, even if the employer also had other,
lawful motives that were causative in the employer's
decision.” Univ. of Texas Sw. Med. Ctr. v.
Nassar, 570 U.S. 338, 343 (2013). The Amended Complaint
contains broad allegations of race-based discrimination, Am.
Compl. 8-10, but the record is nearly devoid of supporting
evidence. The manager with whom Mr. Muhammad most frequently
clashed-Patrick Elam-is himself African American. ECF No.
16-2 at 9. Mr. Elam showed evidence of anti-immigrant bias,
but not racial bias. And Jordan Worley, another
African-American, used a racial slur against Mr. Muhammad in
a dispute that resulted in a suspension for Mr. Muhammad, but
Mr. Worley was ultimately suspended (albeit for subsequent,
related misconduct) and he was not Mr. Muhammad's
supervisor. No. other race-based allegations appear in the
record. I conclude that no reasonable jury could find that
WMATA or its employees intentionally discriminated against
Mr. Muhammad on the basis of race.
at least two genuine issues of material fact preclude summary
judgment on the national origin discrimination claim. First,
a reasonable jury could conclude that Mr. Elam harbored
animus against people from other countries, ECF Nos. 15-2 at
9, 16-4 at 3, and that he therefore only told Mr. Muhammad
about a promotion test four days before the relevant date,
causing him to earn a score below eligibility
levels. Second, a reasonable jury could conclude
that the suspension Mr. Muhammad received for his altercation
with Mr. Worley was caused by Mr. Elam's national origin
discrimination. Mr. Elam was the supervisor who observed the
incident, and Mr. Muhammad received a three-day suspension,
while Mr. Worley allegedly received no suspension at all for
the altercation, and only a five-day suspension for gathering
associates that evening to intimidate and threaten Mr.
Muhammad as he left work. Compare ECF No. 16-5 at 33
(testimony indicating that Mr. Worley's suspension was
only for the second altercation) with ECF No. 16-12
(investigation report giving a five-day suspension for
“involvement in the workplace violence [rule]
violates Title VII for an employer to create a “hostile
work environment, ” subjecting an employee to
“‘discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and
insult' that is ‘sufficiently severe or pervasive
to alter the conditions of the victim's employment and
create an abusive working environment.'” Baloch
v. Kempthorne, 550 F.3d 1191, 1201 (D.C. Cir. 2008)
(quoting Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17,
21 (1993)). The conduct must be “severe or pervasive
enough . . . that a reasonable person would find [it] hostile
or abusive, ” and the victim must subjectively perceive
it as such. Harris, 510 U.S. at 21. For Mr.
Muhammad's hostile work environment claim, a reasonable
jury could look to several parts of the record, or the whole
record, to conclude that Mr. Muhammad met his burden. A
reasonable jury could particularly rely on the evidence of
Mr. Elam's offensive comments about foreigners, his
refusal to give Mr. Muhammad a performance evaluation for an
entire year, Mr. Muhammad's intimidation by Mr.
Worley's gang in the parking lot, Mr. Elam's role in
the resulting suspension decisions, and the allegation the
Mr. Elam made it hard for Mr. Muhammad to be promoted,
particularly in the April 2018 test date incident.
at least one genuine dispute over a material fact precludes
summary judgment on the retaliation claim. “To prove
unlawful retaliation, a plaintiff must show: (1) that he
opposed a practice made unlawful by Title VII; (2) that the
employer took a materially adverse action against him; and
(3) that the employer took the action ‘because' the
employee opposed the practice.” McGrath, 666
F.3d at 1380. A “materially adverse” action
“means that the employer's actions must be harmful
to the point that they could well dissuade a reasonable
worker from making or supporting a charge of
discrimination.” Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry.
Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53, 57 (2006). Retaliation must
be the but-for cause of the challenged action. Univ. of
Texas Sw. Med. Ctr. v. Nassar, 570 U.S. 338, 360 (2013).
A reasonable jury could conclude that Mr. Muhammad's May
12, 2016 letter to Mr. Williams-which alleged Title VII
discrimination, ECF No. 16-10-was known to Mr. Elam shortly
thereafter, since Mr. Williams testified that he responded to
the letter by having “a conversation with Mr.
Elam.” ECF No. 16-6 at 16-17. In August 2016, Mr. Elam
allegedly told Mr. Muhammad he would receive no performance
evaluation for 2015-2016, because he “did not deserve
one, ” ECF No. 16-4 at ¶ 13, and WMATA's only
counterargument is that another supervisor gave Mr. Muhammad
a performance evaluation in January 2017. Def.'s Mem. in
Support of Mot. Summ J. 13. A reasonable jury could find that
receiving no performance evaluation, with its impact on
morale, accountability, and promotion potential, could
dissuade a reasonable employee from reporting discrimination.
it is hereby ORDERED that the
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is
GRANTED as to Count I of the Amended
Complaint, and DENIED as to the remaining