United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
W. Grimm United States District Judge.
2002 until 2014, Plaintiff Deborah Harrison Khatana was
employed by Defendant Washington Metropolitan Area Transit
Authority (“WMATA”). At the time of her
termination, she worked as a garage fleet servicer at
WMATA's Bus Maintenance and Fleet Service, Western
Division (“Western”). On April 23, 2014, Harrison
Khatana struck a fuel hose with the right-side mirror of a
bus while positioning the vehicle for fueling, causing the
hose to detach from the fuel dispenser. Although Harrison
Khatana reported a problem with the fuel hose, she did not
tell her superiors that the bus she was driving had any role
in its detachment. But after reviewing video footage of the
incident, on May 19, 2014, WMATA determined that Harrison
Khatana had failed to comply with its accident-reporting
policies and terminated her employment. Following her
termination, Harrison Khatana brought suit in this Court,
alleging that the termination constituted gender
discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights
Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2
(“Title VII”) (Count I); disability
discrimination in violation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
(Count II); and retaliation in violation of the
Rehabilitation Act (Count III). Am. Compl., ECF No. 17. She also
alleges that a hostile work environment existed at Western
and that WMATA discriminated on the basis of sex when it
failed to promote her. Id. WMATA moves for summary
judgment on all of these claims. Def.'s Mem., ECF No. 38.
Harrison Khatana has filed an Opposition, Pl.'s
Opp'n, ECF No. 39, to which WMATA has replied, Reply, ECF
No. 41. No hearing is necessary. Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md.).
Because I find that Harrison Khatana has failed to produce
any evidence suggesting that WMATA's legitimate
non-discriminatory and non-retaliatory reason for terminating
her employment was pretextual nor any evidence supporting her
hostile-work-environment or failure-to-promote claims, I will
grant WMATA's Motion.
April 23, 2014, while working as a Garage Fleet Servicer at
Western, Harrison Khatana drove Bus #7112 through a service
lane, where buses are refueled, cleaned, and washed.
Arbitration Tr. 30:3-5, J.A. 15. While maneuvering the bus,
the vehicle's right-side mirror struck a fuel hose and
dragged it a short distance. Bus #7112 Video, Cameras 3 &
9, at 17:59:15-35, Jt. Ex. 1; Harrison Khatana Dep. 78:20-79:7,
J.A. 21 (acknowledging that the surveillance video shows that
the bus's mirror “touched” the fuel hose).
After parking, Harrison Khatana exited the bus and dragged
the hose to the rear of the vehicle, id. at
17:59:35-18:00:14, but found that the hose would not dispense
fuel, Arbitration Tr. 107:10-13, J.A. 34.
hose detachments occur frequently at Western. Arbitration Tr.
36:15, J.A. 16; Harrison Khatana Dep. 73:14-22, J.A. 87.
Sometimes, fuel pressure or a bad connection causes hoses to
detach from the dispenser on their own, a problem Western
personnel refer to as a “pop off.” Arbitration
Tr. 38:11-17, 102:12-14, J.A. 17, 33. Detachments also occur
when drivers pull buses forward with the fuel nozzle still
inserted into the bus's gas tank, a problem known as a
“pull off.” Arbitration Tr. 33:22-34:10,
102:20-22, J.A. 15-16, 33. On the day prior to the incident,
the Superintendent of Western Bus Maintenance, John Coleman,
issued a memorandum to all Western personnel reporting
several instances of “fuel hose breakaway couplings
[being] pulled apart and service lane personnel . . .
attempt[ing] to re-attach them.” Memorandum from John
Coleman, Jr., to Western Personnel, J.A. 142. Coleman's
memo instructed that “[a]ny time service lane equipment
is damaged, the supervisor is to be notified and any repair
actions will be scheduled and/or authorized by him or
her.” Id. Coleman issued the memo because
Western personnel cannot properly repair fuel hoses if they
are under the impression that a “pop off” rather
than a “pull off” caused a disconnection.
Arbitration Tr. 77:15-78:7, J.A. 26-27. Timely accident
reports also allow WMATA to test employees for drug and
alcohol use to ensure safe operation of equipment.
Id. at 44:18-45:14, 78:8-11, J.A. 18, 27.
struggling to fuel her bus, Harrison Khatana requested
assistance from the lead person on her lane, Jeff Winfree.
Harrison Khatana Dep. 34:1-5; Arbitration Tr. 107:13-14, J.A.
34. Harrison Khatana did not inform Winfree that the bus had
come into contact with the fuel hose. Based solely on the
hose's physical appearance, Winfree concluded that a
“pop off” had occurred. Arbitration Tr.
107:20-21, J.A. 34; Harrison Khatana Dep. 72:13-14, J.A. 87.
Winfree notified Kelvin Rufus, the lead maintenance staff
person, who then contacted the shift supervisor, James
Libscomb. Id. at 36:18-37, J.A. 16; Lipscomb
Statement, J.A. 144; Rufus Statement, J.A. 145. Rufus and
Lipscomb then inspected the fuel line, and Lipscomb ordered
line staff to reconnect the fuel hose. Lipscomb Statement,
J.A. 144. Lipscomb recalls Harrison Khatana personally
telling him that a “pop off” had occurred.
Arbitration Tr. 38:8-10. Harrison Khatana maintains that she
did not speak to Lipscomb that day, but asserts that Winfree
informed Lipscomb that a “pop off” had occurred
based on his own diagnosis of the problem. Id. at
121:8-10, J.A. 37; Harrison Khatana Dep. 74:8-12, J.A. 88.
Harrison Khatana never filed an incident report with Lipscomb
nor informed him that her bus had come into contact with the
fuel hose. Harrison Khatana Dep. 72:5-7.
informed Superintendent Coleman, based on the information
that he had at the time, that a “pop off” had
occurred. Email from James Lipscomb, to John O. Coleman (Apr.
23, 2014, 6:11 P.M.), J.A. 143. Coleman requested that
Lipscomb gather closed-circuit video of the incident.
Arbitration Tr. 71:19-21, J.A. 25. It is standard WMATA
procedure to review video of fuel-hose-detachment incidents.
Id. at 41:7-9, J.A. 17. Coleman reviewed the video
and concluded that a “pull off” rather than a
“pop off” caused the fuel-hose detachment.
Id. at 72:4-8, J.A. 25. Coleman reviewed the video
with Lipscomb, who agreed that a “pull off” had
occurred. Id. at 41:10-42:10, 72:18, J.A. 17-18, 25.
Coleman determined that Harrison Khatana was aware of the
“pull off” because of the hose's distance
from its normal storage spot when she picked it up to fuel
the bus and because she looked at the garage ceiling as she
dragged the hose to the rear of the bus. Id. at
93:7-94:5, J.A. 33-34. In view of the discrepancy between
Lipscomb's contemporaneous understanding of what happened
and what the video depicted, the two men decided to interview
Harrison Khatana. Id. at 72:19-22, J.A. 25. The
interview occurred on May 14, 2014, and Harrison Khatana
maintained that she did not realize that the bus caused the
detachment and signed a statement to that effect.
Id. at 73:5-7, J.A. 25; Harrison Khatana Statement,
J.A. 146 (“I Harrison Khatana have no knowledge of the
alleged accident that occurred on 4/23/14 . . . .”).
days after the interview, WMATA suspended Harrison Khatana
for having two accidents in a single calendar year, Accident
Report Form, J.A. 4-5, and terminated her employment,
Memorandum from John Coleman, to Deborah Harrison Khatana
(May 19, 2014), J.A. 2-3. Harrison Khatana's suspension never
took effect due to her termination. Arbitration Tr. 85:19,
J.A. 28. Harrison Khatana filed a grievance regarding the
termination through her union, and a neutral arbitrator
upheld the termination, determining that Harrison Khatana
“deliberately failed” to report the contact
between the bus she was driving and the fuel hose “when
she only informed [Winfree] of the problem with the fueling
rather than explaining the circumstances leading up to that
problem” and that she “knew an accident/incident
occurred.” Arbitration Decision 7-8, J.A. 153-54. On
June 14, 2014, Harrison Khatana also filed a Charge of
Discrimination with the D.C. Office of Human Rights and the
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Charge of
Discrimination, J.A. 156-57. The EEOC issued Harrison Khatana
a right-to-sue letter, Def.'s Mem. 8, and she filed suit
in this Court, Compl., ECF No. 1. WMATA now seeks summary
judgment on all of Harrison Khatana's claims.
judgment is proper when the moving party demonstrates,
through “particular parts of materials in the record,
including depositions, documents, electronically stored
information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations . . .,
admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials,
” 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), (c)(1)(A); see
also Baldwin v. City of Greensboro, 714 F.3d 828, 833
(4th Cir. 2013). If the party seeking summary judgment
demonstrates that there is no evidence to support the
nonmoving party's case, the burden shifts to the
nonmoving party to identify evidence that shows that a
genuine dispute exists as to material facts. See
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475
U.S. 574, 585-87 & n.10 (1986). The existence of only a
“scintilla of evidence” is not enough to defeat a
motion for summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986). Instead, the
evidentiary materials submitted must show facts from which
the finder of fact reasonably could find for the party
opposing summary judgment. Id.
Khatana asserts that WMATA terminated her (1) because of her
sex; (2) because of her alleged disability; and (3) in
retaliation for her efforts to secure reasonable
accommodation for that disability. Am. Compl. ¶¶
96, 111, 117. Title VII prohibits employers from
“discriminat[ing] on the basis of . . . sex, ” 42
§ 2000e-2(a)(1), and the Rehabilitation Act prohibits
recipients of federal funding, such as WMATA, from
discriminating against an “otherwise qualified
individual with a disability . . . solely by reason of her or
his disability.” 29 U.S.C. § 794(a). The
Rehabilitation Act also incorporates the American with
Disability Act (ADA)'s anti-retaliation provision, 29
U.S.C. § 794(d), which prohibits “discrimination
against any individual because [she] has opposed any act or
practice made unlawful by” the ADA, 42 U.S.C. §
12203(a). Under all three wrongful-termination theories, when
the record contains no direct evidence of discrimination or
retaliation, as is the case here, the plaintiff may prove
that the employer acted with an unlawful motive by indirect
evidence through the McDonnell Douglas
burden-shifting framework. See Guessous v. Fairview Prop.
Invs., LLC, 828 F.3d 208, 216-17 (4th Cir. 2016). Under
(1) the plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case of
employment discrimination or retaliation; (2) the burden of
production then shifts to the employer to articulate a
non-discriminatory or non-retaliatory reason for the adverse
action; (3) the burden then shifts back to the plaintiff to
prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the stated
reason for the ...