United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN
PART DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Norris, an employee of Defendant Washington Metropolitan Area
Transit Authority (“WMATA”), brought this action
alleging quid pro quo sexual harassment, hostile work
environment, gender discrimination, age discrimination, and
retaliation in October 2016. After Norris's age
discrimination claim was dismissed in February 2017, WMATA
now moves for summary judgment on the four remaining claims.
Having reviewed the parties' filings, the Court grants in
part and denies in part WMATA's motion for summary
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Terri Norris is a fifty-four-year-old African-American
female, see Compl. ¶ 6, ECF No. 1; July 25,
2014 EEOC Intake Questionnaire 1, Pl.'s Ex. 2, ECF No.
19, who was employed by Defendant WMATA at all times relevant
to the claims in the complaint, see Compl. ¶
13; Answer ¶ 13, ECF No. 7. WMATA is a transit authority
created by interstate compact among the District of Columbia,
Virginia, and Maryland to provide mass transit in the
Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. See Compl.
¶ 11; Answer ¶ 11. In connection with its mission,
WMATA operates an extensive bus service system that provides
half a million rides every weekday to customers in the
Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. See WMATA
Position Statement 2, Def.'s Ex. 8, ECF No. 17. WMATA
employs Service Operations Managers (“SOMs”) in
different geographic regions in the Washington, D.C. service
area to oversee and provide direction to its 2, 500 bus
operators. See Id. The service area is divided into
four principal regions, including, as relevant to this suit,
the Four Mile Region, which covers routes serving Virginia
and the Shepherd Parkway area of Southeast D.C. See
Id. Norris joined WMATA in 1990 and became a SOM between
2000 and 2001. See Norris Dep. 9:1-9:12, Pl.'s
Ex. 1, ECF No. 19.
December 2013 Promotion and January 2014 Demotion
December 1, 2013, Norris was promoted from SOM to Assistant
Superintendent of Street Operations, with a six-month
probationary period. See Pl.'s Statement of
Facts ¶ 18, ECF No. 19. As Assistant Superintendent,
Norris was in charge of ensuring SOMs performed their duties,
handling administrative and HR requests or issues concerning
SOMs, responding to accidents, and overseeing departments in
the Bus Operation Control Center. See Norris Dep.
12:18-13:12. She was assigned to the Four Mile Division and
typically oversaw between 20 and 25 SOMs on her daily shift.
See Id. at 13:15-14:4.
Assistant Superintendent, Norris's supervisors were
Darlene Harrington, the Superintendent of Street Operations,
see Pl.'s Statement of Facts ¶ 6; Norris
Dep. 38:10-38:15, and Dana Baker, the Director, Operations
Control Center of Bus Transportation, Pl.'s Statement of
Facts ¶ 3; Walker Dep. 43:9-44:6, Pl.'s Ex. 3, ECF
No. 19. Like Norris, both Harrington and Baker are
African-American females. See Pl.'s Statement of
Facts ¶¶ 2, 5. Norris sought approval from
Harrington, sometimes copying Baker, for a variety of
communications to SOMs during her time as Assistant
Superintendent. See Norris SOM Communications,
Pl.'s Ex. 6, ECF No. 19. On one occasion, Norris was told
by Baker that she was “documenting[, ]” when
Baker needed “somebody [she] [could] trust.”
Norris Dep. 76:16-77:13. Baker told Norris on another
occasion that she did not like working with women,
see Norris Decl. ¶ 11, Pl.'s Ex. 19, ECF
No. 19, and another WMATA employee who worked with Baker when
she was Director also heard her state on multiple occasions
that she did not like working with women, see
Collins Sr. Decl. ¶ 2, Pl.'s Ex. 18, ECF No. 19.
December 2013 and January 2014, Norris was the subject of a
formal harassment complaint by a SOM, Sharron Young.
See Norris Dep. 26:21-27:13. Young's complaint
was eventually dismissed after WMATA investigated her claims.
See Suppl. Norris Dep. 28:16-29:10, Pl.'s Ex. 1,
ECF No. 21. Norris had a difficult relationship with two
other SOMs, see Id. at 36:2-36:14, 38:19-39:3,
including Claire Fenelus, a SOM who ultimately took part in a
meeting with Norris, Harrington, and Baker on January 11,
2014 to resolve her issues with Norris, see Id. at
37:1-37:17, 84:5-84:9; Fenelus Letter, Pl.'s Ex. 7, ECF
No. 19. It is unclear whether Fenelus's issues were
actually resolved at the meeting. Compare WMATA
Demotion Memo. 1, Pl.'s Ex. 10, ECF No. 19, with
Fenelus Letter. Norris also made her own complaints of
harassment against Baker and Harrington, first to Harrington
and another WMATA employee, Romaino Parahoo, on or around
January 14, 2014, and then directly to both Baker and
Harrington at a January 27, 2014 meeting. See Norris
Decl. ¶ 12-13. At the meeting, Norris informed Baker and
Harrington that she planned to file a harassment complaint
with the EEOC. See Id. at ¶ 13.
January 30, 2014, three days after the January 27 meeting and
two months after her promotion, Norris was demoted back to
SOM. See Pl.'s Statement of Facts ¶ 19.
Norris attended a meeting with Harrington, Baker, and another
WMATA employee, Ray Alfred, where Harrington read to Norris a
demotion memorandum stating the reasons for her demotion.
See Def.'s Resps. To Pl.'s Interrogs. ¶
13, Pl.'s Ex. 11, ECF No. 19. The memorandum, addressed
from Harrington to Norris and copying Baker, listed multiple
issues with Norris's behavior that had allegedly led to
her demotion: first, Norris had been repeatedly communicating
with staff without first clearing the communications with
Harrington, despite Harrington giving Norris a verbal warning
on the issue following a December 2, 2013 communication;
second, two complaints of harassment had been filed by two
separate SOMs against Norris in the past few weeks; third,
Norris had provided verbal approval to cover expenses for
overnight hotel accommodations for six SOMs on January 21,
2014 without first obtaining authorization; and finally
fourth, Norris had been involved in a “hostile, overly
argumentative, and inappropriate conversation with Linda
Pinkard, Assistant Superintendent of Street Operations[, ] .
. .” on January 22, 2014. See Demotion Memo.,
Pl.'s Ex. 10, ECF No. 19. Following her demotion, Norris
went on leave around March 2014 and resumed working as a SOM
around April 2014. See Norris Decl. ¶ 19-20.
July 2014 Assignment Selection
to 2013, SOMs had been selecting their work assignments and
shifts at WMATA based on seniority, in a process known as
“the pick[.]” Baker Aff. ¶ 10, Def.'s
Ex. 1, ECF No. 17. Baker eliminated the pick in June 2013,
and between June 2013 and July 2014 SOMs were assigned to
shifts and assignments based on their skills, experience, and
on WMATA's operational needs. See Pl's
Statement of Facts ¶ 8-9. During that time, Assistant
Superintendents worked together with the Superintendent of
Bus Services to identify and recommend work assignments for
each SOM. See Id. ¶ 10. Baker had final say as
to the assignments. See Id. Starting in July 2014,
SOMs were allowed to submit their preferred work assignment
choices for consideration by WMATA as part of the work
assignment process. See Id. ¶ 11.
she had been demoted back to a SOM in January 2014, Norris
participated in the July 2014 work assignment process and
submitted her work assignment preferences for consideration.
See Id. ¶ 12. Norris submitted six choices for
consideration. See Id. She indicated on her work
selection form that “if possible, [she] would like to
remain at FMTR Region[, ]” and only selected
assignments located in the Four Mile Region, Work Selection
Choices, Pl.'s Ex. 13, ECF No. 19, in order to avoid
working in another region under the supervision of one of
Baker's friends at WMATA, see Norris Decl.
¶ 22. Of the six work assignment preferences, at least
four involved “early straight” schedules,
starting in the early morning and ending in the early
afternoon every day. See Work Selection Choices;
Pl.'s Work Assignment Sheet, Pl.'s Ex. 15, ECF No.
Norris prefers an early straight schedule and the majority of
her shifts in the latter part of her career have been early
straights. See Norris Dep. 14:5-14:22.
received her sixth preferred choice in the July 2014 work
assignment, a “swing shift” from 6:00 AM to 10:00
AM and 03:00 PM to 07:00 PM daily. See Work
Selection Choices; Pl.'s Work Assignment Sheet. The work
assignment was located in the Four Mile Region. See
Pl.'s Work Assignment Sheet.
Non-Selection to Metro Way
the assignments Norris expressed an interest in as part of
the July 2014 work assignment process was Metro Way.
See Norris Decl. ¶ 20; Work Selection Choices;
Pl.'s Work Assignment Sheet. Metro Way was a new type of
bus service operating exclusive routes between Alexandria and
Arlington, VA, developed by Assistant Superintendent William
Proctor in conjunction with WMATA's Planning Department
and Virginia transportation officials. See WMATA
Position Statement at 7. Metro Way offered early straight
shifts. See Pl.'s Work Assignment Sheet.
was not given a Metro Way assignment, despite selecting a
Metro Way route as her second choice on her work selection
form. See Work Selection Choices; Pl.'s Work
Assignment Sheet. She reached out to Harrington after
assignments were given out to ask “[w]hy . . . Metro
Way [was] not offered to [her][.]” July 29, 2018
Harrington E-mail, Pl.'s Ex. 16, ECF No. 19. Harrington
replied on July 29, 2014 that she was not selected for the
position because “[o]ther candidate(s) were found to be
better suited[.]” See Id. The Metro Way
assignment went to two men and two women, all of whom had
significantly less experience as SOMs than Norris.
See Pl.'s Work Assignment Sheet; October 20,
2014 Pick Spreadsheet, Pl.'s Ex. 12, ECF No. 19.
Non-Selection to the Accident Investigation Team
assignment Norris sought to obtain in July 2014 was a slot on
WMATA's Accident Investigation Team (“AIT”),
a newly created unit where SOMs would exclusively focus on
investigating accidents across all regions in which WMATA
operated. See Walker Dep. 124:13-125:1; Pl.'s
Statement of Facts ¶ 14. The AIT assignment process
operated similarly to others in that Assistant
Superintendents and the Superintendent made recommendations
to Baker, who had ultimate say over the assignments.
See Pl.'s Statement of Facts ¶ 14-15.
However, SOMs did not have the opportunity to elect a
preference for the assignment on their work selection form.
See Norris Dep. 135:1-135:13. Rather, Norris was
first told that she was qualified to join the AIT in June
2014. See August 14, 2014 WMATA Formal
Discrimination Complaint, Def.'s Ex. 5, ECF No. 17; June
26, 2014 Pinkard E-mail, Pl.'s Ex. 14, Ex. 19. On June
26, Norris was included in an e-mail to 17 SOMs informing
them that they had “been identified by [their] Asst.
Supt. has [sic] a candidate for the New Accident
Investigation Team[.]” See June 26, 2014
after she learned about the AIT opportunity, Norris had a
conversation about the assignment with Assistant
Superintendent Alphonso Walton. See Norris Decl.
¶ 26. Walton was Norris's supervisor, prepared her
2014 evaluation plan, and conducted her mid-year evaluation.
See id.; Norris 2014 Performance Management Form 3,
Pl.'s Ex. 17, ECF No. 19. It is alleged that Walton was
also a known sexual harasser in the office, see
Walker Dep. 166:4-166:19; Sept. 16, 2014 EEOC Charge,
Def.'s Ex. 7, ECF No. 17, who regularly made
inappropriate and sexually explicit comments when talking to
Norris, see Sept. 16, 2014 EEOC Charge, and who was
at some point disciplined for sexually harassing another
WMATA employee, see Walker Dep. 108:15-109:4. During
the conversation between Norris and Walton, Norris alleges
that Walton told her to “trust him” and asked if
she could “keep a secret from [her] husband[.]”
Norris Decl. ¶ 27; see also Sept. 16, 2014 EEOC
Charge. Norris further alleges that Walton pointed to her
vagina and asked her to “give [him] some of that[,
]” stating that he would “make sure you get that
assignment[.]” Norris Decl. ¶ 27; see
also Sept. 16, 2014 EEOC Charge. Norris refused his
advances. See Norris Decl. ¶ 27.
was ultimately not selected for the AIT. When she reached out
to Harrington in July to ask about the Metro Way assignment,
she also asked “why . . . the accident investigation
team [was] offered to me by Mr. Walton and Ms. Pinkard then
retrieved by Mr. Walton[.]” July 29, 2014 Harrington
E-mail. Harrington replied: “[b]ased on your comment
given to Mr. Walton your preference was to remain in
Virginia, therefore you were granted your pervious [sic]
July 2014 EEOC Intake Questionnaire
25, 2014, Norris complained about discrimination she
allegedly suffered at WMATA. As part of that process, Norris
filled out an intake questionnaire with the EEOC.
See July 25, 2014 Intake Questionnaire at 1. On the
portion of the questionnaire asking the basis for her claim
of employment discrimination, Norris checked the boxes for
race, age, and discrimination, but circled the box for sex.
See Id. at 2. She checked a box on the last page
indicating that she wanted to file a charge of
discrimination. See Id. at 4.
attachment filed a few days later on July 29, 2014, Norris
indicated, inter alia, that she was “demoted
without training, corrective action, disciplinary action,
written notification or a thorough investigation.”
Id. at 5. She pointed out that “through out
[sic] [her] career [she] ha[d] been informed that [she was]
different in reference to [her] afrocentric style” and
that “Dana Baker never wanted [her] to be hired,
therefore used false information for [sic] demotion.”
Id. She also suggested that “[w]orking a shift
at another division could possibility [sic] result in
retaliation since I was demoted on January 27, 2014, after
working as an Assistant Superintendent for 7 weeks.”
Id. at 6.
discussing potential age discrimination in the failure to
assign her to Metro Way, Norris noted in the penultimate
paragraph of the attachment: “in addition to this age
discrimination, I also experienced sexual harassment but I
refused to support the claim at this time because victims of
sexual harassment are victimized[.]” Id. at 7.
Norris did not otherwise mention sexual harassment in the
attachment. See id.
September 16, 2014, Norris filed an official charge of
discrimination with the EEOC, alleging discrimination on the
basis of age and sex as well as retaliation. See
September 16, 2014 EEOC Charge. She filed her complaint with
this Court on October 24, 2016, alleging quid pro quo sexual
harassment, hostile work environment, gender discrimination,
age discrimination, and retaliation. See Compl.
¶¶ 102-71. After WMATA moved to dismiss the age
discrimination claim for lack of jurisdiction and Norris
consented, the Court dismissed the age discrimination claim
on February 6, 2017. See February 6, 2017 Minute
Order; Def.'s Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 3; Pl. Notice to
Court, ECF No. 5. WMATA filed its answer on February 22,
2017, see Answer, and the parties began discovery.
December 8, 2017, WMATA moved for summary judgment on all
remaining claims. See Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., ECF
No. 17. On January 23, 2018, Norris filed her opposition to
the motion, contesting summary judgment on all claims.
See Pl.'s Mem. Opp'n Summ. J., ECF No. 19.
WMATA submitted its reply on February 6, 2018. See
Def.'s Reply to Opp'n, ECF No. 20.
Motion for Summary Judgment
may grant summary judgment when “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). A “material” fact is one
capable of affecting the substantive outcome of the
litigation. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477
U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is “genuine” if
there is enough evidence for a reasonable jury to return a
verdict for the non-movant. See Scott v. Harris, 550
U.S. 372, 380 (2007).
principal purpose of summary judgment is to streamline
litigation by disposing of factually unsupported claims or
defenses and determining whether there is a genuine need for
trial. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317,
323-24 (1986). The movant bears the initial burden of
identifying portions of the record that demonstrate the
absence of any genuine issue of material fact. See
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323.
In response, the non-movant must point to specific facts in
the record that reveal a genuine issue that is suitable for
trial. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. In considering
a motion for summary judgment, a court must “eschew
making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence[,
]” Czekalski v. Peters, 475 F.3d 360, 363
(D.C. Cir. 2007), and all underlying facts and inferences
must be analyzed in the light most favorable to the
non-movant, see Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.
Nevertheless, conclusory assertions offered without any
evidentiary support do not establish a genuine issue for
trial. See Greene v. Dalton, 164 F.3d 671, 675 (D.C.
Title VII Employment Discrimination
VII of the Civil Rights Act makes it unlawful for an employer
to discriminate against its employees on the basis of race,
color, religion, sex, or national origin, 42 U.S.C. §
2000e-2(a), and prohibits employers from retaliating against
an employee who has “opposed any practice made an
unlawful employment practice by[, ]” or otherwise
“made a charge” under, Title VII, id.
§ 2000e-3(a). To prevail on an employment discrimination
claim, a plaintiff must show that she suffered an adverse
employment action because of her race, color, religion, sex,
or national origin. See Baloch v. Kempthorne, 550
F.3d 1191, 1196 (D.C. Cir. 2008). To prevail on an unlawful
retaliation claim, a plaintiff must establish that she made a
charge or opposed a practice made unlawful by Title VII, that
the employer took a materially adverse action against her,
and that the employer took the action because of the
protected conduct. See Holcomb v. Powell, 433 F.3d
889, 901-02 (D.C. Cir. 2006).
evidence of discrimination usually entitles the plaintiff to
a jury trial. Vatel v. All. of Auto Mfrs., 627 F.3d
1245, 1247 (D.C. Cir. 2011). If there is no direct evidence
of discrimination, Title VII claims are assessed under the
McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework. See
McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-04
(1973). Under that framework, the plaintiff bears the initial
burden of establishing a prima facie case of
discrimination. See Id. The burden then shifts to
the employer to provide a “legitimate,
non-discriminatory reason” for the adverse employment
action. Wiley v. Glassman, 511 F.3d 151, 155 (D.C.
Cir. 2007) (citations omitted). If the employer can make such
a showing, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to show
that “the legitimate reasons offered by the ...