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Braxton v. First Transit

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 20, 2018

TEAIRRA BRAXTON, Plaintiff,
v.
FIRST TRANSIT, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          TREVOR N. MCFADDEN, U.S.D.J.

         Teairra Braxton alleges that First Transit, Inc. fired her for complaining about a supervisor's sexual harassment, failed to provide her proper union representation, and defamed her. First Transit seeks dismissal of her claims or, alternatively, an order directing Ms. Braxton to provide a more definite statement of her claims. Because Ms. Braxton has not adequately pled her improper representation and defamation claims and because all of her claims are untimely, the Court will grant First Transit's motion to dismiss and will dismiss as moot First Transit's alternative motion for a more definite statement.

         I.

         First Transit operates the D.C. Circulator bus system. Compl. Ex. 301 at 3 (ALJ Order dated April 18, 2016). Ms. Braxton began working as a bus operator for First Transit on August 26, 2014. Compl. 2. First Transit terminated her on January 28, 2016, six days after an incident between Ms. Braxton and a disruptive passenger on her bus.[1] See Compl. 2; id. Ex. 102 (Operator's Accident/Incident Report dated January 22, 2016). According to Ms. Braxton's incident report, the disruptive passenger told her and the other passengers that bus rides should be free to African-Americans because of slavery and racial inequality. Id. at 1-2.[2] When the passenger asked Ms. Braxton if she agreed and confronted her about working for white people as an African-American, Ms. Braxton said that she was happy with her job. Id. at 2. The passenger then chastised her in vulgar terms and told her that she would never accomplish anything or get anywhere by working for “the white man.” Id. She told him that he could not tell her that, adding that she did not care who she worked for and was happy with her life. Id.

         After another passenger posted a recording of the incident on Twitter, First Transit placed Ms. Braxton on unpaid administrative leave pending an investigation into what it described as “an aggressive verbal confrontation with [a] passenger while operating the vehicle.” Id. Ex. 101 (Notice of Personnel Action dated January 22, 2016). Six days later, First Transit terminated Ms. Braxton for “inappropriate behavior towards a passenger, in addition to [a] safety violation which is against First Transit policy.” Id. Ex. 200 (Letter to Ms. Braxton from First Transit dated January 28, 2016). First Transit's termination letter cited four alleged violations of company policy:

• 11.01 (Disloyalty) - Conducting oneself in such a manner that the conduct would be detrimental to the interest or reputation of the Company.
• 11.01 (Safety) Violation of any safety rule or practice, or violation of operating rule or procedures that could put an employee or others in imminent danger or could result in bodily injury or damage to Company property. (State and federal regulations prohibit the operation of transit buses when passengers are forward of the white or yellow line).[3]
• 11.02 (Personal Conduct) - Discourteous or inappropriate attitude or behavior to passengers, other employees, or members of the public. Disorderly conduct during working hours.
• 10.03 (Vehicle Operation) - Driving the bus with only one hand on the wheel while engaging in a heated verbal debate with a passenger while other passengers were on the [vehicle] is considered “reckless operation[.]”

Id.

         Ms. Braxton alleges that this explanation of her firing hides First Transit's real motive to retaliate against her for two complaints that she made against a former supervisor who allegedly asked her to sleep with him many times and promised to look out for her if she did. Compl. at 2; id., Exs. 203-204 (Operator's Accident/Incident Reports dated October 27, 2015 and October 30, 2015, respectively).[4] She tried to get help from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but the Commission sent her a letter explaining that it was closing her case because her charge “was not timely filed with EEOC” and because she “waited too long after the date(s) of the alleged discrimination to file [her] charge.” Id. Ex. (Dismissal and Notice of Rights, EEOC Charge No. 570-2017-01910, dated September 6, 2017).

         Ms. Braxton also went before an Administrative Law Judge who reviewed First Transit's termination decision to determine Ms. Braxton's eligibility for unemployment benefits. Id. Ex. 301 at 2 (ALJ Order dated April 18, 2016). He noted that “[t]he fact that an employee's discharge appears reasonable from the employer's perspective does not necessarily mean that the employee engaged in misconduct” and decided that First Transit had not proven any misconduct by Ms. Braxton that would disqualify her from receiving unemployment benefits. Id. at 7.

         Ms. Braxton filed a Complaint against First Transit in this Court on December 4, 2017. Although the Complaint is sparse, the Court liberally construes it as a claim of race discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, improper representation by a union representative under Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, and defamation under District law. See Compl. at 1.[5] In evaluating these claims, the Court also considers the allegations in Ms. Braxton's Opposition to First Transit's Motion to Dismiss, including the section that she has entitled A More Definite Statement. See Pl.'s Opp. to ...


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