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Young v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 4, 2019




         Plaintiff Carolina Young has sued Defendant Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (“WMATA”), alleging retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Young, proceeding pro se, filed her complaint in District of Columbia Superior Court. WMATA removed the case to federal court and moved to dismiss the complaint. Young has since obtained counsel to represent her and now seeks leave to amend her complaint. WMATA opposes that motion, contending that any amendment would be futile and unable to survive a renewed motion to dismiss. The Court disagrees. Because Young's proposed Amended Complaint adequately states a claim, the Court will permit her to file it.

         I. Background

         Young alleges the following facts in her proposed Amended Complaint[1]: in April 2017, she joined Mott MacDonald, a global management and engineering firm, as a Contract Specialist. Proposed Amended Complaint, ECF No. 9-2 (“Am. Compl.”) ¶¶ 3, 9. Mott MacDonald assigned her to work at WMATA. Id. ¶ 3. All her work was dedicated to WMATA and conducted on WMATA premises, using WMATA equipment. Id. ¶ 11. WMATA approved her leave, set her schedule, oversaw her timesheets, trained her, assigned her work, and supervised that work. She had a WMATA supervisor and a Mott MacDonald supervisor. Id. ¶¶ 11-12.

         Young, who is Hispanic, id. ¶ 3, further alleges that a WMATA co-worker “cornered and blocked” her and said “that he was ‘glad President Trump [was] letting the Hispanic people of Puerto Rico die, '” calling them “‘nothing but vermin sucking up the government teat.'” Id. ¶ 16. The co-worker told her “that he was a 6'2” white man, and [could] do whatever he wanted.” Id. He indicated his view that “the Neo-Nazi and White Supremacist[] incident that happened in Charlottesville, VA, was justifiable and praised President Trump's handling of the incident.” Id. In January 2018, Young reported this incident and others she perceived as discriminatory to Mott MacDonald, which in turn reported them to WMATA. Id. ¶ 18. WMATA investigated her complaint and concluded that its anti-harassment policies had not been violated. Id. ¶ 19. During the investigation, WMATA shared details about Young's complaint with parties that Young says did not need to know about it, who then questioned her. Id. ¶ 20.

         In June 2018, Young was reassigned within WMATA as a “Contract Administrator” in the Procurement and Supplies Office under the supervision of Judy Ann Davis. Id. ¶ 21. At their first meeting, Davis was “hostile and confrontational.” Id. ¶ 22. She said Young had a reputation for being “trouble” and that several employees had complained about Young's “defensiveness.” Id. Young alleges that Davis's demeanor and comments stemmed from her complaints because Davis knew about them and there was no other basis for any negative reputation. Id. ¶¶ 22-24. In mid-July, Young reported to both WMATA and Mott MacDonald that Davis was retaliating against her for her previous discrimination claims. Id. ¶ 25. She also met with an equal employment opportunity official from WMATA's Office of Civil Rights and filed an internal complaint. Id. ¶ 28.

         On August 1, WMATA terminated Young, and she was escorted out of the building. Id. ¶ 29. The same day, Mott MacDonald terminated her; she was told WMATA no longer needed her services and there were no other openings at Mott MacDonald. Id. ¶ 30. A WMATA employee told another Mott MacDonald employee who had been assigned to the same contract as Young to reapply for the position through the Sparks Group, a staffing agency. Id. ¶ 31. No. one gave Young that information. Id. In October 2018, a recruiter from the Sparks Group contacted Young to inform her of a job opening at WMATA for a “Senior Contract Administrator” in the Procurement and Supplies Office, supporting Davis. Id. ¶¶ 35-36. According to Young, the position was nearly identical to the one she held prior to her termination. Id. ¶ 35. The Sparks Group submitted Young's resume to WMATA but never heard back. Id. ¶ 37.

         II. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a) gives courts discretion whether to grant leave to amend a complaint. Fed. Rule Civ. P. 15(a). “Leave to amend a complaint should be freely given in the absence of undue delay, bad faith, undue prejudice to the opposing party, repeated failures to cure deficiencies, or futility.” Richardson v. United States, 193 F.3d 545, 548-49 (D.C. Cir. 1999). A proposed amended complaint is futile if it would not survive a motion to dismiss. When assessing whether a proposed amended complaint would survive a motion to dismiss, courts apply the same standards as they would to review such motion. See In re Interbank Funding Corp. Sec. Litig., 629 F.3d 213, 215-16 (D.C. Cir. 2010) (citations omitted). The party opposing amendment bears the burden of showing why leave to file an amended pleading should not be granted. Smith v. Café Asia, 598 F.Supp.2d 45, 48 (D.D.C. 2009).

         III. Analysis

         Here, WMATA contends that Young's proposed amendment is futile because it fails to state a claim for relief and is thus susceptible to a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See Def.'s Opp'n to Mot. Leave to File Am. Compl. (“Opp'n”), at 1-2. WMATA identifies two perceived shortcomings in the proposed Amended Complaint: (1) a failure to engage in statutorily protected activity against which Title VII outlaws retaliation and (2) a failure to allege that WMATA was Young's employer. The Court will consider each point in turn.

         A. Retaliation Claims

         WMATA contends Young's retaliation claim is not viable because she has not alleged that she engaged in statutorily protected activity. Opp'n at 2-8. “To prove unlawful retaliation, a plaintiff must show: (1) that [s]he opposed a practice made unlawful by Title VII; (2) that the employer took a materially adverse action against [her]; and (3) that the employer took the action ‘because' the employee opposed the practice.” Harris v. District of Columbia Water & Sewer Auth., 791 F.3d 65, 68 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (quoting McGrath v. Clinton, 666 F.3d 1377, 1379-80 (D.C. Cir. 2012)).

         WMATA insists that Young's allegations do not suffice because the incidents she reported do not constitute discrimination in violation of Title VII. But its briefing focuses not on Young's retaliation claim, but on a discrimination claim she does not make here.[2] Whether or not the interactions Young reported would suffice to constitute discrimination under Title VII is not relevant here. The D.C. Circuit has interpreted Title VII's anti-retaliation provision as “extending to a practice that the employee reasonably and in good faith believed was unlawful under the statute.” McGrath, 666 F.3d at 1380 (emphasis in original). In other words, Young's “retaliation claim does not rise or fall on the success of her underlying, good-faith discrimination claim, ” Nurriddin v. Bolden, 818 F.3d 751, 757 n.5 (D.C. Cir. 2016), but rather depends on whether Young reasonably and honestly thought she was opposing illegal discrimination. The facts she alleges here clear that bar: she reported an interaction in which a co-worker referred to Hispanic people as “vermin, ” ...

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