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Pendergrass v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

United States District Court, District of Columbia

October 11, 2018




         Galen Pendergrass sues the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), claiming discrimination and retaliation in hiring practices due to his race and previous lawsuit related to WMATA's Criminal Background Check Policy. Mr. Pendergrass alleges violations of multiple federal statutes, as well as the District of Columbia Human Rights Act. WMATA moves to dismiss all but Mr. Pendergrass's Title VII claims for lack of jurisdiction and failure to state a claim. The Court will grant WMATA's motion.

         I. FACTS

         Mr. Pendergrass is an African-American male. He applied for a position as a Bus Operator with WMATA in the fall of 2017 and received a contingent offer of employment from WMATA on October 6, 2017. Pl. Resp. to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss Compl. in Part (Opp'n) [Dkt. 9] at 2. In October 2017, Mr. Pendergrass communicated with First Choice Background Company to complete his background check. On November 17, 2017, WMATA notified Mr. Pendergrass that he was ineligible for employment due to his prior conviction for a non-violent offense. Compl. [Dkt. 1] ¶ 4. The November 17 letter contained a description of the individualized assessment process that Mr. Pendergrass could initiate to request that WMATA reevaluate his denial of employment. Id. Mr. Pendergrass submitted a request for an individualized assessment on November 29, 2017, which included “approximately 50 pages of documents that showed why he should not be permanently excluded” from employment with WMATA. Id. ¶ 5. Mr. Pendergrass alleges that WMATA's Criminal Background Check Policy has a disparate impact on African-American candidates due to the historically higher rate of criminal convictions of African Americans. See Id. ¶¶ 14-16.

         A. Background of WMATA's Criminal Background Check Policy

         WMATA was created by an Interstate Compact among Washington, D.C., Virginia, and Maryland, and approved by Congress, to be the primary public transit agency for the D.C. metropolitan region. Id. ¶ 2. “The Compact confers broad powers on WMATA to ‘create and abolish offices, employments and positions provide for the qualification, appointment, and removal of its employees, and establish, in its discretion, a personnel system based on merit and fitness.'” Beebe v. Washington Metro. Area Transit Auth., 129 F.3d 1283, 1287 (D.C. Cir. 1997) (quoting D.C. Code Ann. § 1-2431(12)(g) and (h)).

         WMATA adopted a revised Criminal Background Check Policy (Policy 7.2.3) in December 2011, which took effect on February 23, 2012. Policy 7.2.3 applies to all external candidates for positions with WMATA. If WMATA learned a candidate has a disqualifying conviction, it mailed a letter to the candidate explaining the results and stating that s/he had ten days to dispute the results. Under Policy 7.2.3, candidates could dispute the accuracy of the background check, but a candidate could not ask for an exception to Policy 7.2.3.

         WMATA further revised policy 7.2.3 and adopted Policy 7.2.3/2 in July 2017. Opp'n at 1. Policy 7.2.3/2 added a procedure for individuals to request an individualized assessment of their convictions to determine if the applicant should not be disqualified from employment based on the conviction. See Compl. ¶ 6

         B. Procedural Posture

         Mr. Pendergrass filed a Charge of Discrimination with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on December 4, 2017 and received a Notice of Right to Sue letter on December 7, 2017. Id. ¶¶ 7-8. Mr. Pendergrass filed the immediate Complaint on March 7, 2018, alleging claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), 15 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq., the District of Columbia Human Rights Act (DCHRA), D.C. Code § 12-1401 et seq., and the “Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Background Screening Policy/Instruction (PI) 7.2.32 et seq.” Id. at 1. WMATA moved to dismiss all claims except those arising under Title VII.[1] The motion is ripe for review.[2]

         C. Jurisdiction and Venue

         The Court has jurisdiction over Mr. Pendergrass's Title VII and FCRA claims under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1342.[3] See also 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(c); 15 U.S.C. § 1681p. Title VII and the FCRA are laws of the United States, which gives original jurisdiction to the federal district courts. The Court has supplemental jurisdiction over Mr. Pendergrass's DCHRA claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). Venue is proper in this Court because the events took place in Washington, D.C. and the WMATA Compact specifies the United States District Court for the District of Columbia as the proper venue for litigating disputes with WMATA. See WMATA Compact, D.C. Code § 9-1107.01(81).


         A. Motion to Dismiss - ...

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