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Bowman-Cook v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

United States District Court, D. Maryland

August 21, 2017

BELYNDA L. BOWMAN-COOK
v.
WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY,

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          DEBORAH K. CHASANOW UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Presently pending and ready for resolution in this employment case is the motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (“WMATA”). (ECF No. 52). The issues have been briefed, and the court now rules, no hearing being deemed necessary. Local Rule 105.6. For the following reasons, the motion for summary judgment will be granted.

         I. Background[1]

         A. Plaintiff Applies for a Promotion

         Plaintiff Belynda L. Bowman-Cook (“Plaintiff”) was hired by WMATA on January 20, 2000, as a traffic clerk. (ECF No. 66-2, at 1). Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff was selected to participate in a WMATA skills program, which consisted of school and on-the-job training. (ECF No. 2, at 3). Plaintiff completed the skills program in 2002 (ECF No. 66-3, at 1), and began working as a D-level Electrical Mechanic.

         In late 2007, WMATA had one or more open positions for an AA-level Electrical Mechanic (“Position 006517”). (ECF No. 66-2 ¶ 5). As a D-level Electrical Mechanic, Plaintiff was required to pass tests on the C, B, A, and AA levels to qualify for an AA-level job. (ECF No. 66-7, at 1). These tests are administered in succession; a test-taker may only take the next test after she passes the one below it. On November 13, 2007, Plaintiff took and passed the C and B tests, but failed the A test, and was not allowed to proceed to the AA test. (ECF No. 66-2 ¶¶ 5, 7). On December 3, Plaintiff went to the testing site planning to retake the A test and to take the AA test. The WMATA employee administering the tests, Rail Car Maintenance Training Instructor James Loos, told Plaintiff that she could not rely on her previous C and B-level tests, and that she would have to take all of the tests, the C, B, A, and AA tests, that day in order to be eligible for the AA-level position. (ECF No. 66-7, at 1). Plaintiff told Mr. Loos that he was mistaken and refused to retake the C and B tests. (Id.). Mr. Loos agreed to let Plaintiff take the A and AA tests on the condition that her results would be invalidated if he was correct that all of the tests had to be taken in a single session. (Id. at 2). Plaintiff passed both the A and AA tests, but her supervisor E. Rod Spencer later confirmed that Mr. Loos' understanding of the testing procedure was correct, and Plaintiff's test results were invalidated. (Id.). Thus, Plaintiff was not considered for Position 006517.

         Position 006517 was eventually awarded to Anthony Boykin. According to Plaintiff, Mr. Boykin was a C-level Mechanic before he was awarded Position 006517. (ECF Nos. 66-2 ¶¶ 5, 7; 66-17, at 1). Mr. Boykin passed the B test on April 11, 2007, the A test on October 7, and the AA test on November 13. (ECF No. 66-17, at 1). Mr. Boykin was awarded the position even though he did not pass the B, A, and AA tests during one testing period. (Id.). Plaintiff also affirmed that three other men were selected on April 19, 2008, to fill similar vacancies without having to pass the requisite tests in a single testing period as Plaintiff was required to do. (ECF Nos. 66-2 ¶ 6; 66-17, at 1-2). Plaintiff filed a grievance related to the incident, which was denied in January 2008. (ECF No. 66-6). She also engaged in WMATA's internal processes for raising discrimination issues, corresponding with various WMATA officials in May, June, and July of 2008. (ECF Nos. 66-10; 66-11; 66-17). None of Plaintiff's complaints resulted in any resolution in her favor.

         B. Plaintiff's Termination

         The union contract between WMATA and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 (the “Union”), provides that employees have the opportunity to apply for their preferred shifts twice per year, in June and December. (ECF No. 66-13, at 2). Shifts are then allocated to employees based on their preference and status within the union. Plaintiff indicated her preference for the day shift in December 2007, but the results of the December “pick” placed her on the evening shift. (ECF No. 66-18, at 1). Plaintiff requested an exception be made to move her from the evening shift to the day shift for child care reasons, and WMATA agreed to make the exception and keep Plaintiff on the day shift for the next six-month period. (ECF No. 66-16, at 2). In June 2008, Plaintiff again indicated her preference to remain on the day shift. (ECF No. 66-18, at 3). Again, the results of the “pick” placed Plaintiff on the evening shift. (ECF No. 52-1, at 2). Once again, Plaintiff requested to stay on the day shift, but, this time, WMATA denied Plaintiff's request. (Id.).

         After being told that she would have to work the evening shift, Plaintiff wrote a letter to her supervisor Sam Prather, on June 26, 2008, stating if WMATA would not move her to a day shift, she would have “no alternative but to request a leave of absence without pay.” (ECF No. 52-1, at 3). WMATA responded by once again denying her request to change shifts and notifying Plaintiff that it would not allow her to take a leave of absence. (Id. at 4). When her new shift schedule began on June 30, Plaintiff reported that she was sick and stopped coming to work. (Id. at 4-5). On July 10, Plaintiff's shift supervisor James Thompson directed her to provide medical documentation to explain her absence. (Id. at 5). Plaintiff did not provide him with the medical documentation he requested. Instead, in late July, Plaintiff's daughter attempted to submit a “Return to Duty” form on Plaintiff's behalf. (ECF No. 66-16, at 3). In the blank prompting Plaintiff to “describe briefly” her illness, Plaintiff had written, “I am tormented by the Management @ Greenbelt Annex all the time it NEVER STOPS! It[']s one thing after another with these managers.” (ECF No. 66-21). Mr. Thompson refused to sign the form, which did not meet WMATA's criteria for proper medical documentation under its absence policies. (ECF Nos. 66-16, at 3; 66-25, at 2). On August 29, Mr. Spencer sent a letter to Plaintiff, informing her of the medical absentee reporting requirements, directing her again to provide documentation, and warning her that failure to comply would be grounds for dismissal. (ECF No. 52-1, at 6-7). On September 5, Mr. Spencer emailed Plaintiff the same warning. (Id. at 8). Plaintiff received the email, and she responded on September 8, telling Mr. Spencer not to call or e-mail her again because she was in treatment and was unaware of a return date. (Id. at 9). On September 19, Mr. Spencer issued Plaintiff a final warning giving her another opportunity to provide medical documentation. (Id. at 10). Plaintiff failed to respond and was fired on September 29. (Id. at 11-12). According to Mr. Spencer, Plaintiff was fired because she “fail[ed] to comply with the established procedures of [WMATA], the Collective [B]argaining Agreement between [the Union] and [WMATA, ] and reasonable ongoing instructions to support [her] continued absence from duty.” (Id.).

         Plaintiff filed a charge with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on October 6, 2008, for retaliation and discrimination on the basis of sex and disability. (See ECF No. 52-1, at 13). In her EEOC charge, Plaintiff stated that she had applied for a promotion to the position of AA mechanic in December 2007, and that, in January 2008, the candidates were posted. Eventually, five of her male co-workers were selected ahead of her despite her seniority over them. (Id.). She further stated that she was denied her shift pick in June 2008. (Id.). Lastly, Plaintiff stated her belief that WMATA fired her in retaliation for filing a union grievance. (Id.). The EEOC concluded its investigation on March 24, 2012, and Plaintiff was issued a Notice of Right to Sue on December 20, 2013. Plaintiff filed suit against the Union and WMATA in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County on March 18, 2014, and WMATA removed the case to this court on June 12, 2014. (ECF Nos. 1; 2).

         The complaint asserts claims for: sex discrimination (Count I) and race discrimination (Count II) under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq.; disability discrimination (Count III) under the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 710, et seq., as amended by the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 29 U.S.C. § 791; age discrimination (Count IV) under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 621; retaliation (Count V) under Title VII and the ADEA; wrongful discharge (Count VI); hostile work environment under Title VII, the ADEA, and the Rehabilitation Act (Count VII); denial of promotion and employment opportunities (Count VIII); denial of reasonable accommodation (Count IX); violations of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, (Count X); and breach of contract (Count XI). On March 12, 2015, Plaintiff and the Union stipulated to the voluntary dismissal, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(a)(1)(A)(ii), of all claims against the Union. (ECF No. 30).

         WMATA moved for summary judgment on October 14, 2016. (ECF No. 52). After the court granted Plaintiff three extensions of time to file an opposition (ECF Nos. 55; 57; 59), Plaintiff's counsel sought a sixty-day stay so that she could withdraw from representing Plaintiff and allow Plaintiff to secure new counsel. (ECF No. 60). WMATA consented to the stay and the court stayed the case. (ECF Nos. 60; 61). On February 3, Plaintiff's counsel filed a motion to withdraw, and Plaintiff filed a motion for further extension of time either to find counsel or to proceed pro se. (ECF Nos. 62; 63). The court granted the motions. (ECF No. 64). On May 8, Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, filed her opposition (ECF No. 66), and WMATA replied (ECF No. 67).

         II. Standard of Review

         WMATA moves for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Summary judgment will be granted only if there exists no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986); Emmett v. Johnson, 532 F.3d 291, 297 (4th Cir. 2008). A dispute about a material fact is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 249. In undertaking this inquiry, a court must view the facts and the reasonable inferences drawn therefrom “in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion, ” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (quoting United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962)); see also EEOC v. Navy Fed. Credit ...


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