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Battles v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 21, 2019

SHELDON BATTLES Plaintiff,
v.
WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Emmet G. Sullivan United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Sheldon Battles (“Mr. Battles”), proceeding pro se, brings this action against defendant Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (“WMATA”), arising out of the termination of his employment. In November 2015, WMATA terminated Mr. Battles from his supervisory position as Assistant Superintendent of Bus Service Operations at the West Ox Bus Division after determining that he violated: (1) WMATA's Nepotism/Favoritism Policy for engaging in a consensual sexual relationship with a female subordinate; and (2) WMATA's Sexual Harassment Policy for inappropriate conduct with a female employee in 2009. An internal investigation revealed that two other female subordinates accused him of sexual harassment in 2015. While he denies those allegations, Mr. Battles admits to engaging in a consensual sexual relationship with a female subordinate. He contends that his termination was both false and pretextual.

         Pending before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. Upon careful consideration of the parties' submissions, the applicable law, and the entire record herein, the Court concludes that there are no material facts in dispute, and WMATA lawfully terminated Mr. Battles for cause. Therefore, the Court GRANTS WMATA's motion for summary judgment and DENIES Mr. Battles' cross-motion for summary judgment.

         I. Background

         The material facts in this case are undisputed. See, e.g., Def.'s Statement of Material Facts (“SOMF”), ECF No. 33-1 at 1-3; Pl.'s SOMF, ECF No. 34 at 9-11; Def.'s Reply to Pl.'s SOMF, ECF No. 38-1 at 1-4.[1] The Court will only refer to those facts as necessary to resolve the cross-motions because the Court assumes the parties' familiarity with the factual background and procedural history. The Court summarized the factual allegations in this case in greater detail in its prior opinion. See Battles v. Wash. Metro. Area Transit Auth., 272 F.Supp.3d 5 (D.D.C. 2017).

         A. Factual Background

         Between 2007 and 2015, Mr. Battles earned a series of promotions at WMATA. Compl., ECF No. 1 ¶ 8. He became Assistant Superintendent of Bus Services Operations in the West Ox Bus Division on March 22, 2015. Def.'s SOMF, ECF No. 33-1 at 1 ¶ 1. He served in that supervisory position for more than eight months. Id. In that role, Mr. Battles supervised Rhonda Gaines-Kelsey, a female employee. See Compl., ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 9, 16-17. Beginning in May 2015 and ending in July 2015, Mr. Battles and Ms. Gaines-Kelsey engaged in a consensual sexual relationship. See Investigative Report, ECF No. 33-9 at 2, 6. During the two-month long relationship, they exchanged nude pictures. Id. at 6.

         At some point in September 2015 or October 2015, Mr. Battles imposed a five-day suspension on Ms. Gaines-Kelsey because she violated WMATA's Absenteeism Policy. Id. On October 1, 2015, Ms. Gaines-Kelsey lodged an internal complaint of sexual harassment against him in WMATA's Office of Civil Rights, alleging that Mr. Battles retaliated against her after she refused to welcome his advances. Def.'s SOMF, ECF No. 33-1 ¶ 6; see also Gaines-Kelsey's Formal Compl., ECF No. 33-8 at 2-3. Soon thereafter, WMATA's Office of Equal Employment Opportunity (“OEEO”) conducted an investigation into Ms. Gaines-Kelsey's allegations, and the OEEO investigator, Devin Walker, interviewed Mr. Battles, Ms. Gaines-Kelsey, and seven other WMATA employees, including Antoinette White and Renee Duren. Def.'s SOMF, ECF No. 33-1 ¶ 7.

         On November 9, 2015, the OEEO investigator issued a seven-page investigative report, finding that “[t]here [was] insufficient evidence to support a probable cause finding of sexual harassment in [Ms. Gaines-Kelsey's] complaint.” Investigative Report, ECF No. 33-9 at 6. In fact, Ms. Gaines-Kelsey admitted that her sexual relationship with Mr. Battles was consensual, and she “welcome[d] the receipt of the nude, sexual picture from Mr. Battles[.]” Id. The report also found that Ms. Gaines-Kelsey's five-day suspension was warranted. Id.

         The investigation, however, revealed that Ms. White and Ms. Duren accused Mr. Battles of sexual harassment. Id. At 4-5, 7. The report stated that those “two female Bus Operators . . . alleged that they were regularly subjected to sexual propositions and personal compliments from Mr. Battles.” Id. at 7. The investigation also revealed another incident:

[T]he evidence shows that on February 23, 2009, OEEO found that Mr. Battles, who was a Street Supervisor at that time, violated WMATA's Sexual Harassment policy when he asked a female employee what type of underwear she was wearing. OEEO recommended that Mr. Battles be suspended for two days for his actions and to register for WMATA's Sexual Harassment Training course.

Id. (emphasis added). The OEEO investigator forwarded the findings regarding the sexual relationship between Mr. Battles and Ms. Gaines-Kelsey to Robert Potts, Acting Assistant General Manager, with a recommendation that “appropriate disciplinary action be taken against Mr. Battles for engaging in an inappropriate, personal relationship with [a female subordinate] of a sexual nature.” Id.

         Mr. Battles received a letter, dated November 10, 2015, from the OEEO informing him that the investigation found that “[t]here was insufficient evidence to support a probable cause finding of sexual harassment in [Ms. Gaines-Kelsey's] complaint.” Pl.'s Ex. 1, ECF No. 34-1 at 1. As stated in the letter, the evidence showed that his personal relationship with Ms. Gaines-Kelsey was “inconsistent with WMATA's Policy/Instruction 7.8.2 ‘Nepotism/Favoritism,' Section 5.01 and 5.02.” Id. The letter explained that Mr. Battles, who was in a “supervisory position, ” “demonstrated poor judgment by engaging in an inappropriate, personal relationship of a sexual nature[.]” Id. at 2-3. The letter informed him of the sexual harassment allegations made by Ms. White and Ms. Duren, and the OEEO's findings regarding his sexual relationship with Ms. Gaines-Kelsey were being forwarded to Mr. Potts. Id.

         On November 27, 2015, WMATA terminated Mr. Battles. E.g., Def.'s SOMF, ECF No. 33-1 ¶ 11; Pl.'s SOMF, ECF No. 34 ¶ 10. The termination letter explicitly cited Mr. Battles' violation of WMATA's Sexual Harassment Policy as to the sexual harassment of a female employee in 2009, and his violation of WMATA's Nepotism/Favoritism Policy as to his sexual relationship with Ms. Gaines-Kelsey. Letter from Summon Cannon, Superintendent, West Ox Division, to Mr. Battles (Nov. 27, 2015), ECF No. 33-3 at 1-2 (hereinafter “Term. Ltr.”).

         On December 16, 2015, Mr. Battles challenged his termination through WMATA's grievance process by filing an Employee Dispute Resolution Adverse Action Grievance to the Department of Human Resources pursuant to WMATA's Policy/Instruction 7.3.4 (the “Employee Dispute Resolution Policy”) and WMATA's Policy/Instruction 7.8.5 (the “Disciplinary Actions Policy”). See, e.g., Battles' Grievance, ECF No. 33-10 at 1-10; Letter from Tawnya Moore-McGee, Chief Human Res. Officer, to Battles (Jan. 21, 2016), ECF No. 33-11 at 1; Disciplinary Actions Policy, ECF No. 33-6 at 4 (referencing the Employee Dispute Resolution Policy); Employee Dispute Resolution Policy, ECF No. 33-7 at 1-6.

         To review, investigate, and respond to Mr. Battles' grievance, WMATA appointed a reviewing officer, Shiva K. Pant, on January 21, 2016. Def.'s SOMF, ECF No. 33-1 ¶ 13. The reviewing officer upheld WMATA's termination decision because, inter alia: (1) Mr. Battles' sexual relationship with Ms. Gaines-Kelsey was “unacceptable for an individual in a supervisory position”; (2) “[p]rior sexual harassment allegations . . . were acknowledged by Mr. Battles”; (3) “Mr. Battles was found to be in violation of [WMATA's] Nepotism/Favoritism Policy”; and (4) he “had earlier also been found to be in violation of WMATA's Sexual Harassment Policy.” Mem. from Shiva Pant to Tawnya Moore-McGee, Chief Human Res. Officer (Feb. 19, 2016), ECF No. 33-12 at 1.

         B. Procedural History

         On August 16, 2016, Mr. Battles filed this action against WMATA and two of its employees, Summon Cannon and Devin Walker (the “Individual Defendants”), asserting claims for wrongful termination (breach of contract), wrongful termination in violation of public policy, defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. See generally Compl., ECF No. 1.[2] On September 28, 2017, this Court granted the Individual Defendants' motion to dismiss. Battles, 272 F.Supp.3d at 17. Id. The Court granted in part and denied in part WMATA's motion to dismiss the complaint. Id. In doing so, this action proceeded against WMATA as the sole defendant. Id. The remaining claim was Mr. Battles' wrongful-termination (breach of contract) claim. Id. Thereafter, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Those motions are ripe and ready for the Court's adjudication.

         II. Legal Standard

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, “[t]he court shall 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); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). In ruling on cross-motions for summary judgment, the court shall grant summary judgment only if one of the moving parties is entitled to judgment as a matter of law upon material facts that are not genuinely disputed. See Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Wash. v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 658 F.Supp.2d 217, 224 (D.D.C. 2009) (citation omitted). Summary judgment will be granted, therefore, if the plaintiff fails to submit ...


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