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Hawkins v. MV Transportation, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

April 7, 2017

JOSEPHINE HAWKINS Plaintiff,
v.
MV TRANSPORTATION, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          PETER J. MESSITTE UNTTED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Josephine Hawkins has sued MV Transportation, Inc. (MV Transportation), alleging sex discrimination in employment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, el seq.. She filed her complaint (ECF No. 1), pro se. on July 24, 2015. After a number of problems with service of process, Hawkins filed a Return of Summons on June 10, 2016. showing service of the summons (and presumably the Complaint) on the Corporate Trust Company, registered agent for MV Transportation. The Court independently confirmed that the Corporate Trust Company is the registered agent for MV Transportation, and that it had in fact received the summons and forwarded it to their principal. However, MV Transportation did not answer or enter an appearance in the case. Accordingly, the Clerk of the Court entered a Default in favor of Hawkins. Hawkins has now filed a Motion for Default Judgment (ECF No. 22), seeking $24, 240 in back pay and compensatory damages, as well as $300, 000 in punitive damages.

         For the following reasons, Hawkins' Motion for Default Judgment (ECF No. 22) is GRANTED IN PART and REVISED IN PART, limiting the amount of damages she requests.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Hawkins began her employment with MV Transportation[1] in November 2005. Aff. of Hawkins, ECF No. 22-1. As of March 2012, Hawkins served as a Lead Road Supervisor, at a salary of $19 per hour over a forty hour week, plus benefits including four weeks of paid vacation per year. Id. In 2012, Hawkins began working for a new supervisor, Dwayne Hendricks. Id. At the time Hendricks became Hawkins' supervisor, there were five other Lead Road Supervisors, all of whom were male. Compl., Attachment 1. ECF No. 1-1. Aff. of Hawkins. Hawkins had the second most seniority of the six. Aff. of Hawkins.

         Hawkins alleges that Hendricks treated her differently from the other Lead Road Supervisors solely because of her sex. He treated her as if she were of a lower job position than she in fact was. Compl., Attachment 1. Aff. of Hawkins. For example, whenever Hawkins was assigned to the same shift with another Lead Road Supervisor (i.e., a male colleague), the male colleague was always placed in charge. Compl., Attachment 1. Conversely, when Hendricks assigned two males to the same shift, he would place the male with more seniority in charge. Aff. of Hawkins. Hendricks also required Hawkins to travel a great distance to pick up her work vehicle, while at the same time he allowed her male colleagues to pick up their work vehicles close to their homes. Compl., Attachment 1. Aff. of Hawkins. Additionally. Hendricks never scheduled Hawkins to the same shift as Road Supervisors (i.e., those employees she would be responsible for supervising). Compl., Attachment 1. Aff of Hawkins. In contrast, her male counterparts would often be charged with supervising four to six Road Supervisors. Compl.. Attachment 1. Aff. of Hawkins.

         Due to this mistreatment on the basis of her sex, Hawkins made several complaints to Hendricks. Aff. of Hawkins. All of these complaints were ignored, and Hendricks dismissed her concerns and acted maliciously toward her as a result. Id.

         After a year of alleged mistreatment, Hawkins brought her concerns to MV Transportation's Human Resources Department, which did nothing to alleviate the situation. Id.

         On March 17, 2013, Hawkins claims she was constructively discharged from her position at MV Transportation, being unable to continue in the discriminatory work environment. Compl., Attachment 1. Aff. of Hawkins. For approximately two weeks thereafter, Hawkins was unemployed. Aff. of Hawkins. In April of 2013, Hawkins secured employment at First Transit in Capital Heights, Maryland. Id. However, she had to take a position as Road Supervisor rather than Lead Road Supervisor. Id. Accordingly, her salary was $17 per hour (as compared to $19 per hour at MV Transportation) and she was entitled to only two weeks of paid vacation per year (as compared to four weeks per year at MV Transportation). Id.

         Hawkins filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2014. Compl., Attachment 2, ECF No. 1-2. The EEOC investigated her charge and concluded that Title VII had not been violated. Id. On April 24. 2015, the EEOC issued Hawkins a right to sue letter giving her 90 days from the date she received the letter to file suit in federal court. Compl., Attachment 4, ECF No. 1-4.

         On July 24, 2015, Hawkins, pro sef filed a Complaint in this Court raising the same allegations that she made before the EEOC. ECF No. 1. She seeks monetary damages in the amount of $300, 000. Id. at 4.

         After a number of problems with service of process, Hawkins filed a Return of Summons on June 10. 2016. ECF No. 16. According to the Return, the Summons was served personalty on June 9. 2016 on Matthew Bartynski of the Corporate Trust Company, MV Transportation's Resident Agent. Id. MV Transportation failed to file an answer within 20 days and has not done so since. Just to verify, the Court called MV Transportation's Resident Agent and spoke to a representative in the Service of Process department who confirmed that Corporation Trust had received the Complaint and Summons and forwarded it to MV Transportation. The Court then attempted to phone MV Transportation at the location listed in Hawkins' Complaint, but there was no answer. The Court also called other MV Transportation offices in the United States and spoke with an employee at one franchise who suggested that all Maryland locations may no longer be in operation. The Court then obtained the name and telephone number of the General Manager of MV Transportation's Baltimore location and left multiple voicemails that he should contact the Court, but never received a response.

         On August 12, 2016, the Court sent a letter to Hawkins, informing her that she might be entitled to seek default judgment and instructing her to advise the Court if she would like for the Court to appoint an attorney to assist her with this process. Hawkins requested that the Court appoint an attorney to assist her (ECF No. 17) and the Court appointed Jeremy R. Feldman, Esquire, as counsel (ECF No. 18). Hawkins, through Feldman, subsequently filed a Motion for Clerk's Entry of Default (ECF No. 20). The Clerk of the Court entered a Default in favor of Hawkins on November 4, 2016 (ECF No. 21), and Hawkins filed a Motion for Default Judgment (ECF No. 22) on March 21. 2017, seeking $24, 240 in back pay and compensatory damages as well as $300, 000 in punitive damages.

         H. LEGAL STANDARD

         Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(a), "[w]hen a party against whom a judgment for affirmative relief is sought has failed to plead or otherwise defend, and that failure is shown by affidavit or otherwise, the clerk must enter the party's default." A defendant's default does not automatically entitle the plaintiff to entry of a default judgment; rather, that decision is left to the discretion of the court. See Baltimore Line Handling Co. v. Brophy. Ill. F.Supp.2d 531, 540 (D. Md. 2011). The Fourth Circuit has a "strong policy that cases be decided on the merits." United States v. Shaffer Equip. Co., 11 F.3d 450, 462 (4th Cir. 1993). Nevertheless, default judgment may be appropriate where the ""adversary process has been halted because of an essentially unresponsive party." S.E.C v. Lawbaugh, 359 F.Supp.2d 418. 421 (D. Md. 2005) (citing Jackson v. Beech. 636 F.2d 831, 836 (D.C. Cir. 1980)).

         The Court takes as true the well-pleaded factual allegations in the Complaint as to liability, but not as to damages. See Ryan v. Homecomings Fin. Network, 253 F.3d 778, 780 (4th Cir. 2001). In order to determine the appropriate damage award, the court may hold a hearing to prove damages, but it is not required to do so: it may rely instead on "detailed affidavits or documentary evidence to determine the appropriate sum." Adkins v. Teseo. 180 F.Supp.2d 15, 17 (D.D.C. 2001) (citing United Artists Corp. v. Freeman, 605 F.2d 854, 857 (5th Cir. 1979)); see also Laborers' Dist. Council Pension v. E.G.S., Inc., Civ. No. 09-3174, 2010 WL 1568595, at *3 (D. Md. Apr. 16, 2010) ("[O]n default judgment, the Court may only award damages without a hearing if the record supports the damages requested."); DirecTV Inc. v. Yancey, 2005 WL 3435030, at *2 (W.D. Va. Dec. 12, 2005) (concluding that plaintiff "presented sufficient evidence to support its claim for damages, costs and fees by way of uncontradicted affidavits").

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(c) limits the type of judgment that may be entered based on a party's default: "A default judgment must not differ in kind from, or exceed in amount, what is demanded in the pleadings." Thus, where a complaint specifies the amount of damages sought, the plaintiff is limited to entry of a default judgment in that amount. "When a complaint demands a specific amount of damages, courts have generally held that a default judgment cannot award additional damages . . . because the defendant could not ...


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