United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION RE DOCUMENT NO. 4
RUDOLPH CONTRERAS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
in Part and Denying in Part Defendant's Motion to Dismiss
Karen Klotzbach-Piper brought this suit against Defendant the
National Railroad Passenger Corporation
(“Amtrak”) on July 20, 2018, claiming that she
was discriminated against on the basis of her gender, age,
and disability while working at Amtrak between 2014 and 2018.
Amtrak now moves to dismiss five of the ten claims
Klotzbach-Piper brings in her complaint. Amtrak argues that
Klotzbach-Piper's claims of hostile work environment
based on gender and age are time-barred, that Klotzbach-Piper
failed to exhaust her administrative remedies on any claims
for retaliation occurring after August 2016, and that her
claim of discrimination on the basis of disability should be
dismissed both as time-barred and for failure to exhaust
administrative remedies. The Court grants the motion to
dismiss as to retaliation occurring after August 2016 because
it finds that Klotzbach-Piper did not properly exhaust her
administrative remedies as to any such claim. However,
because Defendants have failed to meet their burden on both
their timeliness and exhaustion arguments, the Court denies
the motion to dismiss the hostile work environment and
disability discrimination claims.
Klotzbach-Piper's Work at Amtrak
Klotzbach-Piper is a 56-year-old female employee of Amtrak.
Compl. ¶¶ 7, 10, ECF No. 1. Klotzbach-Piper first
joined Amtrak in 1986. Id. ¶ 10. Between 1998
and 1999, Klotzbach-Piper was employed as a locomotive
engineer for the company. Id. ¶ 11. From 1999
to March 2014, she worked in a management position with
Amtrak in Delaware. Id. ¶ 12. In March 2014,
Klotzbach-Piper resigned her management position in order to
return to her previous work as a locomotive engineer.
Id. ¶ 13. Klotzbach-Piper asked for a transfer
to Jacksonville, Florida, id. ¶ 14, and was
warned prior to the transfer that “she would not be
welcome the[re] due to her age and gender.”
Id. ¶ 15.
order to obtain an up-to-date engineer's license,
Klotzbach-Piper completed locomotive engineer training school
on May 19, 2014. See Id. ¶¶ 17-18. She
then reported to the Jacksonville Amtrak crew base on May 26,
2014 for orientation and to continue the process of obtaining
her full engineer certification. Id. ¶ 18. As
part of that process, Klotzbach-Piper would “receive
daily evaluations by a peer engineer that was specially
trained to handle student engineers[, ]” and would
ultimately complete qualifying trials on specific track
segments to obtain the certification. Id. ¶ 21.
the very start, Klotzbach-Piper alleges that she was
subjected to various and repeated acts of discrimination by
other Amtrak employees. See generally Id.
Klotzbach-Piper alleges that an employee she worked alongside
between June and July 2014 called her a “carpet
bagger” and said she should “rent a house instead
of buying because she wouldn't be staying that
long.” Id. ¶ 26. After changing routes in
August 2014, Klotzbach-Piper worked alongside two other
employees who, she alleges, proceeded to subject her to
“a constant barrage of degrading and mean treatment
because she was a woman and older than they were.”
Id. ¶ 31. That treatment included creating
distractions to break her concentration while she was
operating the train, id., repeated sexist and ageist
comments, id. ¶¶ 31, 33, 36, unwanted
touching, id. ¶ 33, and sometimes kicking,
id. ¶ 40. Between June and December 2014,
Klotzbach-Piper reported the behavior to both her union
representative, id. ¶ 32, a road foreman,
Richard Nunziato, id. ¶ 34, and an assistant
superintendent, id. ¶ 36, to no avail.
January 2015, Klotzbach-Piper lodged a formal complaint with
her union representative. Id. ¶ 42. She alleges
that the employees she complained about retaliated against
her as a result. Id. ¶ 43. The same month, she
was placed on a new schedule with a different locomotive
engineer, Sharif Ahmed, who “did not allow talking in
the locomotive, ” id. ¶ 45, did not
answer her questions, id. ¶¶ 45, 47, and
did not allow her to operate with any notes, id.
¶ 51. She alleges that Ahmed treated her differently
because of her sex, id. ¶ 46, and that she
complained about “the ‘silent'
treatment” to both her union representative and the
assistant superintendent, id. ¶¶ 48-49.
1, 2015, Klotzbach-Piper rode with and was evaluated by road
foreman Matt Reinert. Id. ¶ 52. Reinert told
Klotzbach-Piper she was “right on target to qualify,
” but that she “needed to humble herself when
operating with Ahmed because he didn't appreciate her
attitude.” Id. Around that time,
Klotzbach-Piper came to learn that Reinert was a registered
sex offender. Id. ¶ 53. She brought the matter
to the attention of the general chairman of her union, who
confirmed Reinert's status but told her that Reinert was
“allowed to be only in the locomotive” and did
not have any contact with passengers. Id. ¶ 57.
At some point between May and July 2015, Klotzbach-Piper
reported to Nunziato that she had seen Reinert on a platform
“with a young man about the age of 14-15 years
old.” Id. ¶ 59. Nunziato “told her
it was best if she just kept her mouth shut because Reinert
would be the road forem[a]n to qualify her.”
12 and July 14, 2015, Reinert rode with Klotzbach-Piper again
to evaluate her for certification on her assigned route.
Id. ¶¶ 61-62. On July 12, Reinert was
“agitated . . . for no apparent reason.”
Id. ¶ 61. And after the July 14 ride, Reinert
told Klotzbach-Piper that she would need another few trips
before receiving her certification. Id. ¶ 62.
Klotzbach-Piper discussed the two rides with her union
representative, who told her he would talk to Reinert.
Id. ¶ 63. On July 23, 2015, Klotzbach-Piper
attended a meeting with Reinert and Nunziato, where she
received a letter letting her know that she had failed her
qualification trip on July 12, 2015, that she had exceeded
the number of qualifying attempts to be certified on her
route, and that she would be given 30 days to qualify,
without pay. Id. ¶¶ 67-68. Nunziato told
her at the meeting that he and Reinert would be willing and
able to assist her in getting qualified, as well as to
“rein in some of the ‘nonsense' that the
crews had been inflicting upon her.” Id.
¶ 71. However, Klotzbach-Piper was also told that
“these types of incidents were to be expected and in no
way should have ‘affected' her the way she felt
they had.'” Id. Klotzbach-Piper was told
to report back on July 25, 2015 to set up a schedule for her
qualification. Id. After the meeting ended, Reinert
walked past Klotzbach-Piper and told her “[y]ou should
have just kept your mouth shut.” Id. ¶
72. Klotzbach-Piper talked again with the general chairman of
her union, who told her the issue “would be
straightened out.” Id. ¶ 73.
the next month and a half, Klotzbach-Piper was unable to find
a manager able to assist her in setting a schedule.
Id. ¶ 74. She was told Reinert and Nunziato
were unavailable to ride with her. Id. As a result,
she worked without pay or reimbursement for hotels for
several weeks while the union and Amtrak worked on resolving
the issue. Id. ¶ 75. On August 26, 2015,
Klotzbach-Piper rode with Nunziato for an evaluation.
Id. ¶ 78. Nunziato told her that “the
union did not run the base, he did, ” id., and
to “enjoy departing Jacksonville On-time because it
would be her last, ” id. ¶ 79. During the
ride, Klotzbach-Piper alleges that Nunziato used a pretext to
“take her out of the seat and to allow Ahmed to operate
the rest of the trip” after she allegedly made a
mistake in a speed-restricted zone. Id. ¶ 80.
After the ride, Nunziato told Klotzbach-Piper he would
“contact her when he figured out what he wanted to do
with her.” Id. ¶ 81.
August 28, 2015, Klotzbach-Piper was diagnosed with PTSD and
anxiety and took a medical leave of absence from Amtrak
pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act
(“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq.
Id. ¶ 83-84. In September 2015, she received a
letter stating that she had not worked for pay enough in
August and thus that her medical insurance benefits would be
terminated. Id. ¶ 84. After Klotzbach-Piper
talked to the superintendent for her region, he told her that
her medical insurance would be reinstated and that she was
not removed from service. Id. ¶ 85. In November
2015, Klotzbach-Piper sent Nunziato paperwork to forward to
Amtrak, seeking to extend her medical leave. Id.
¶ 86. The paperwork was never received. Id.
December 3, 2015, Klotzbach-Piper was given clearance to
return to work and was advised to report back on December 10,
2015. Id. ¶ 87. On December 10, 2015, Nunziato
emailed her that “he was evaluating her situation and
would notify her when it was complete.” Id.
¶ 88. Klotzbach-Piper filed a complaint regarding her
treatment with the Amtrak president on December 17, 2015,
id. ¶ 89, following which she received a letter
from Amtrak's Equal Employment Opportunity Compliance
Office on January 11, 2016 indicating that the office was
investigating the complaint, id. ¶ 90. Just two
days later on January 13, 2016, Klotzbach-Piper received a
letter from Amtrak letting her know that she “had not
demonstrated the necessary skills to retain certification as
an engineer with Amtrak.” Id. ¶ 91.
Klotzbach-Piper was not terminated, id., but between
receiving the letter and filing suit in July 2018 she
“applied for dozens of other jobs with Amtrak,
including positions that she previously held, ” and was
rejected from all of them, id. ¶ 96.
8, 2016, Klotzbach-Piper filled out an intake questionnaire
with the EEOC. EEOC Intake Questionnaire 5, ECF No. 10-1. On
the questionnaire, she alleged that she had been the victim
of gender discrimination, age discrimination, and
retaliation. Id. at 2. Klotzbach-Piper indicated
that she did not have a disability and that she was not
claiming discrimination on the basis of disability.
Id. at 2, 3. However, she filled out the portion of
the questionnaire specifically directed at claims for
discrimination on the basis of disability. Id. at 4.
Klotzbach-Piper indicated that she had “[n]o disability
but [Amtrak] treats me as if I am disabled.”
Id. She noted that she had taken time off work after
developing an anxiety disorder, for which she was still
taking the medication Fluoxitine, and that she was
discriminated against as a result when she returned.
Id. And she specifically indicated that she had
asked Nunziato for an accommodation because of her
disability, which he had refused. Id. On the last
page of the intake questionnaire, Klotzbach-Piper indicated
that she wanted to file a charge of discrimination.
Id. at 5.
September 12, 2016, Klotzbach-Piper filed a formal charge of
discrimination. EEOC Charge 1, Defs' Reply Ex. A, ECF No.
8-1. Klotzbach-Piper checked the boxes for discrimination on
the basis of sex, age, and retaliation on the EEOC charge
form. Id. She also checked the box indicating that
the discrimination was a continuing action. Id. In
support for the charge, Klotzbach-Piper stated that she was
subjected to both verbal and physical harassment, and that
she was ...