United States District Court, District of Columbia
TIMOTHY J. KELLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
2008 to 2016, Plaintiff Tiffany Washington was a sergeant in
the Metro Transit Police Department (the “MTPD”),
a component of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit
Authority (“WMATA”), which operates the public
transit system commonly known as the Metro. She worked at the
MTPD's Revenue Collection Facility in Alexandria,
Virginia, which processes fares gathered from Metro stations.
During Washington's shift on September 18, 2015, the
train transporting the fares-known informally as the
“money train”-broke down and was repaired.
Washington then left early for a medical appointment, without
ensuring that another supervisor took her place. The money
train then broke down again. Washington failed to notify any
on-duty official with supervisory authority about the
breakdown, and the two officers accompanying the train were
left without any supervisor in charge for several hours.
Following an investigation, the MTPD determined that
Washington had violated its policies and demoted her in 2016.
has sued WMATA under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of
1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et
seq., claiming that her demotion amounted to unlawful
discrimination based on her race, color and gender, as well
as unlawful retaliation for a complaint of harassment she
filed in January 2015. WMATA has moved for summary judgment
on all claims, arguing that no reasonable jury could find for
Washington on the evidence in this case. ECF No. 17. For the
reasons explained below, the Court will grant WMATA's
motion and enter judgment in its favor.
I Factual and Procedural Background
is an African-American woman. Am. Compl. ¶
WMATA hired her as an MTPD officer in 2001. Pl.'s Resp.
SoMF ¶ 1. In 2008, she was promoted to sergeant.
Id. ¶ 2. As a sergeant, she acquired new
supervisory responsibilities. That is because MTPD
“officers” (that is, those with a rank lower than
sergeant) do not have supervisory authority, while MTPD
“officials” (that is, MTPD personnel ranked
sergeant and above) supervise the officers under their
command. Id. ¶¶ 9, 12-15. As of September
2015, Washington was assigned to work at WMATA's Revenue
Collection Facility (the “Facility”) in
Alexandria. See Id. ¶ 36. Her shift ran from
9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Id. ¶ 38.
January 2016, Washington was demoted from sergeant back to
“officer.” Am. Compl. ¶ 25; Pl.'s Ex. 18
(Letter of Demotion). The asserted basis for Washington's
demotion lay in events that occurred on September 18, 2015.
See Pl.'s Ex. 18 (Letter of Demotion). That
morning, two MTPD officers (Officers Perkins and Gilani)
reported for duty at the Facility to accompany the
“money train” transporting Metro fares.
See Pl.'s Resp. SoMF ¶ 46. That morning and
early afternoon, the money train experienced mechanical
problems and broke down at least once. See Pl.'s
Opp'n at 10-11 (citing Pl.'s Ex. 4 (Gaddis Dep.) at
144:14-146:6, 152:16- 154:1). No. later than 1:15 p.m.,
Washington's supervisor, Lieutenant Biggs, left work as
per his daily schedule, leaving Washington as the only
“official” in charge of the Facility. Pl.'s
Resp. SoMF ¶¶ 39-40, 68.
around 4:15 p.m., Washington left the Facility for a medical
appointment. Id. ¶ 47. She claims that Biggs
had approved her taking medical leave earlier that day,
although the parties dispute this fact. See, e.g.,
id. ¶¶ 52, 54. Washington does not dispute
that the only other persons she notified of her departure
were two officers stationed at the Facility (Officers
Patterson and Dean). See Id. Thus, she did not
notify any official with supervisory authority (other than,
in her telling, Biggs) that she would be leaving early.
Id. ¶ 53. She instructed the senior officer at
the Facility to “check-off and secure the
building” in her absence. Id. ¶ 56.
point either shortly before or after Washington left, the
money train broke down again. Id. ¶ 51.
Washington claims that she found out about the breakdown by
way of a text message from the senior officer at the Facility
(Officer Patterson). Pl.'s Opp'n at 12 (citing
Pl.'s Ex. 3 (Washington Dep.) at 128:4-9). At around 4:45
p.m., Washington called one of the officers on the money
train (Officer Perkins) to discuss the situation. Pl.'s
Resp. SoMF ¶ 66; see also Pl.'s Opp'n
at 12 (citing Pl.'s Ex. 2 (Washington Aff.)). According
to Officer Perkins, he did not speak again to an MTPD
official for over three hours-until around 8:00 p.m., when a
different off-duty sergeant returned his call. See
Pl.'s Ex. 12 (Sepulveda Report) at 4; id.
Attach. 7 (Perkins' statement). At around 6:00 p.m.,
Washington sent Biggs, who was off duty at that time, text
messages informing him about the problem with the train.
Pl.'s Opp'n at 13 (citing Pl.'s Ex. 13 (text
messages)). Washington also claims to have spoken with a
Captain Ware, who was on duty that evening, although it is
unclear when that happened and whether Ware called her or she
him. See Pl.'s Ex. 3 (Washington Dep.) at
157:10-16, cited in Pl.'s Resp. SoMF ¶ 67.
after 8:00 p.m., the MTPD Watch Commander on duty that
evening, Captain Sepulveda, became aware that the money train
had broken down. Pl.'s Resp. SoMF ¶ 60.
Subsequently, the money train was repaired, and the two
officers aboard ultimately went off duty at 1:00 a.m. the
following morning. See Pl.'s Ex. 12 (Sepulveda
Report) at 4; id. Attachs. 7-8 (officers'
statements). Captain Sepulveda then investigated the events
of September 18. Pl.'s Resp. SoMF ¶¶ 61-62.
Sepulveda interviewed Washington, Biggs, and the two officers
who accompanied the money train, and also had Washington and
Biggs complete a written questionnaire. Id.
¶¶ 63-64; see Pl.'s Ex. 3 (Washington
Dep.) at 247:18-20. Washington claims that another WMATA
official, Captain Brown, also participated in the
investigation by asking her questions during her interview.
Pl.'s Resp. SoMF ¶¶ 61-64. Brown's
participation was improper, she suggests, because she had
previously filed a claim of harassment against Brown with
WMATA's Office of Employee Relations in January 2015.
See Id. ¶¶ 24-27, 64.
on this investigation, Sepulveda concluded that Washington
had violated two MTPD policies. See Pl.'s Ex. 12
(Sepulveda Report) at 5-6. First, he found that Washington
improperly failed to contact any on-duty MTPD
“official” regarding the breakdown of the money
train, leaving the two officers accompanying the train
unsupervised for several hours. Id. She thereby
“abandoned her supervisory duties, ” violating an
MTPD policy requiring supervisors to be accountable for their
direct reports. See Id. He also found that
Washington, by failing to ensure that the officers were
relieved during their ordeal, had exercised poor judgment
inconsistent with her position and “failed to
adequately staff and maintain proper coverage.”
Id. at 6. He declined to find, however, that
Washington had improperly failed to request leave. See
Id. at 6-7. He noted that Biggs and Washington disputed
whether she had timely requested leave, and concluded that
this reflected a “communication breakdown”
between them. Id. at 7.
on Sepulveda's report, the MTPD's Chief ordered
Washington demoted in January 2016. See Pl.'s
Resp. SoMF ¶¶ 73, 76. Washington sought and
obtained several internal levels of review of the Chiefs
decision. Id. ¶¶ 78-79. The final review
was conducted by WMATA's Assistant General Manager for
Bus Services, who upheld the decision based on the following
1) [Washington] admitted she left work early based on an
informal agreement with Lt. Biggs; conversely, Lt. Biggs
stated he did not grant [Washington] leave; 2) [Washington]
failed to notify an on-duty official that she was leaving her
shift early and failed to arrange for supervisory coverage;
and 3) [Washington] was negligent in her responsibilities to
her Officers, who were left unsupervised without an effective
means of communicating with [Washington].
Id. ¶ 80.
29 or June 30, 2016, Washington filed a charge with the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”),
bringing claims of discrimination and retaliation.
Id. ¶¶ 28, 30. On July 6, 2016, EEOC
issued a right-to-sue letter. Id. ¶ 32. On
October 10, 2016, Washington filed this lawsuit. Id.
¶ 34. Her operative complaint brings four counts against
WMATA. The first three allege that her demotion in January
2016 was motivated by unlawful discrimination based on her
race, color and gender. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 41-76. The
fourth count alleges that the demotion was in retaliation for
having previously engaged in protected activity. Id.
¶¶ 77-92. After discovery closed, WMATA filed the
instant motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 17.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, a court must grant
summary judgment “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). “Summary judgment is appropriately granted when,
viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the
non-movants and drawing all reasonable inferences
accordingly, no reasonable jury could reach a verdict in
their favor.” Lopez v. Council on Am.-Islamic
Relations Action Network, Inc., 826 F.3d 492, 496 (D.C.
Cir. 2016). Courts “are not to make credibility
determinations or weigh the evidence.” Id.
(quoting Holcomb v. Powell, 433 F.3d 889, 895 (D.C.
Cir. 2006)). “[T]he mere existence of some
alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat
an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment;
the requirement is that there be no genuine issue
of material fact.” Id. (alteration in
original) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986)). “The movant bears
the initial burden of demonstrating that there is no genuine
issue of material fact.” Montgomery v. Risen,
875 F.3d 709, 713 (D.C. Cir. 2017). “In response, the
non-movant must identify specific facts in the record to
demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue.”
argues, first, that Washington failed to properly exhaust
administrative remedies, see Def's Br. at 10-11,
and second, that the evidence is insufficient to demonstrate
either a discrimination or retaliation claim, see
Id. at 11-25. “[T]he Court is not required to
decide the exhaustion issue first; failure to exhaust
administrative remedies under Title VII . . . does not raise
a jurisdictional hurdle, but rather constitutes an
affirmative defense.” Nichols v. Young, 248
F.Supp.3d 1, 5-6 (D.D.C. 2017). Here, the Court will proceed
past WMATA's exhaustion argument to the merits, because
it is clear that there is no genuine issue of material fact
supporting Washington's claims of discrimination and
retaliation in violation of Title VII.
Race, Color and Gender Discrimination
VII discrimination cases are adjudicated under a
burden-shifting framework. First, the plaintiff must make out
a “prima facie case of racial
discrimination.” Wheeler v. Georgetown Univ.
Hosp.,812 F.3d 1109, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2016). If she
does, the employer must “articulate a legitimate,
nondiscriminatory reason for its action.” Id.
at 1114. The plaintiff then “must be afforded a fair