Lucero-Nelson v. Washington Metrop. Transit Author., No. CIV. A. 92-2401 EGS.

CourtUnited States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
Writing for the CourtSullivan
Citation1 F.Supp.2d 1
Decision Date24 February 1998
Docket NumberNo. CIV. A. 92-2401 EGS.
PartiesRosemarie LUCERO-NELSON, Plaintiff, v. WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY, Defendant.

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1 F.Supp.2d 1
Rosemarie LUCERO-NELSON, Plaintiff,
v.
WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY, Defendant.
No. CIV. A. 92-2401 EGS.
United States District Court, District of Columbia.
February 24, 1998.

Page 2

John Kovin, Edward Han, Lara Degenhart, Howrey & Simon, Washington, D.C., for Plaintiff.

Bruce Paul Heppen, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Office of General Counsel, Washington, D.C., for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

SULLIVAN, District Judge.


I. Introduction

Plaintiff, Rosemarie Lucero-Nelson, commenced this action for damages and other relief against defendant, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority ("WMATA"), alleging that WMATA subjected her to sexual harassment, national origin discrimination, and a hostile working environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e)(1988 & Supp. V 1993), and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, D.C.Code 1981, as amended, §§ 1-2501, et seq. Plaintiff also asserts a pendent common law tort claim for damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress, and a claim for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for deprivation of her rights, privileges and immunities provided by the United States Constitution and federal laws. Plaintiff seeks an award of compensatory and punitive damages, attorneys fees and equitable relief.

Pending before the Court is WMATA's motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's Title VII claims on three grounds: (1) that the plaintiff failed to timely file her claims with the EEOC; (2) that Title VII does not encompass sexual harassment claims involving members of the same gender ("same sex" claims); and (3) that plaintiff has failed to raise any issue of material fact as to her prima facie case of Title VII hostile work environment. As for plaintiff's other claims, defendant asserts its sovereign immunity as an arm of the state and federal government as grounds for rejecting plaintiff's claims arising out of the D.C. Human Rights Act, her claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and her claims for punitive damages. Finally, defendant contends that plaintiff's tort claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress is barred by the D.C. Workers Compensation Act ("WCA"), or, in the alternative, that this tort claim should be dismissed until the Department of Employment Services can assess whether WCA covers this claim.

Upon consideration of WMATA's motion for summary judgment, the points and authorities in support of and in opposition to the same, and the arguments of counsel, the

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motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part for the reasons set forth in this Opinion.

WMATA is entitled to summary judgment on plaintiff's claims under the D.C. Human Rights Act and plaintiff's § 1983 claim. The Court denies summary judgment on plaintiff's claims of sexual harassment, national origin discrimination, and hostile work environment. The Court also denies WMATA's motion for summary judgment as to plaintiff's claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress. Finally, since WMATA is a quasi-governmental entity, plaintiff is precluded from recovering punitive damages against WMATA.

II. Standard of Review

WMATA has moved for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 on all counts. Summary judgment should be granted only if defendant has shown that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Aka v. Washington Hosp. Ctr., 116 F.3d 876, 879 (D.C.Cir.), reh'g en banc granted, 124 F.3d 1302 (1997). Furthermore, the D.C. Circuit has directed that trial courts should apply "an added measure of `rigor' to motions for summary judgment in employment discrimination cases." Aka, 116 F.3d at 879-80 (finding that "the district court correctly adopted this heightened standard in its memorandum opinion"). In resolving summary judgment motions, the Court must view all of the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See id. at 879; see also Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986); Bayer v. United States Dep't of Treasury, 956 F.2d 330, 333 (D.C.Cir.1992).

A. Allegations of Sexual Harassment

Plaintiff, a white Mexican-American woman, alleges that her employer, WMATA, subjected her to sexual harassment and sex discrimination in violation of Title VII and the D.C. Human Rights Act. Plaintiff was hired by WMATA as an EEO Compliance Specialist in the Office of Civil Rights ("CIVR") and began working on September 25, 1989. Plaintiff worked under the direct supervision of Ms. Joan Lewis ("Lewis"), an African-American woman EEO Officer in CIVR. Lewis' supervisor was Claude Swanson ("Swanson"), who was director of CIVR at the time. According to plaintiff, Lewis began questioning plaintiff about her sexual habits and experiences and her racial preferences in sexual partners during her first month on the job. In her complaint, plaintiff recites a number of incidents in which Lewis made disparaging comments about plaintiff's clothing and makeup, and accused plaintiff of "not being a Christian." The first incident occurred on October 12, 1989 and incidents allegedly continued until February 9, 1990. On September 30, 1991, Lewis spent approximately two hours reviewing plaintiff's wedding pictures, commenting repeatedly that plaintiff looked "virginal." She also asked plaintiff if she was a virgin when she married. Lewis discussed plaintiff's looks in front of others and asked co-workers to admire plaintiff's legs.

B. Allegations of National Origin Discrimination

Plaintiff alleges that the harassment was not only sexual in nature but also was directed toward her because of her national origin. Plaintiff contends that the actions of Lewis and Swanson created a racially hostile work environment for employees of Mexican-American descent, and for plaintiff in particular, and constituted national origin discrimination in violation of Title VII and the D.C. Human Rights Act.

According to plaintiff, the first indication of Lewis' discriminatory animus toward Latinos occurred three months after plaintiff began working for WMATA, on December 13, 1989, when Lewis told plaintiff that, despite the fact that she was the Hispanic Coordinator, plaintiff had no right to attend WMATA Latino community meetings. Plaintiff also alleges that Lewis accused plaintiff of conspiring with other Latinos to slander Lewis and cause her trouble. Plaintiff also maintains that Lewis stated that plaintiff's support of the Hispanic community was "degrad[ing][to]

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her as a Black woman." On or about January 30, 1990, Lewis accused plaintiff of considering herself superior to Black women because she is Latino. On February 9, 1990, despite plaintiff's "above average" work performance, Lewis said that she was "disgusted" with plaintiff. Lewis allegedly complained that plaintiff was unable to express herself correctly and that plaintiff should attend English classes. Lewis demanded that plaintiff refrain from speaking Spanish in the hallways at work.

C. Allegations that WMATA Knew of The Alleged Misconduct and Failed to Act

Plaintiff argues that WMATA was aware of Lewis's propensity for engaging in unwelcome and offensive conduct of a sexual nature even before it hired plaintiff in 1989 and references a number of alleged incidents involving Lewis at page 7 of plaintiff's complaint. Further, plaintiff argues that defendant knew or, with the exercise of reasonable diligence, should have known, of the sexually hostile work environment at WMATA as early as 1989, but took no action to control, reduce or eliminate this hostile work environment. Plaintiff contends that from October 1989 to February 1991, she complained to Swanson about Lewis' inappropriate and abusive behavior. According to plaintiff, Swanson admitted that Lewis' behavior was inappropriate, yet he excused Lewis' actions by stating that this was just "the way she is." On February 15, 1990, Swanson temporarily removed plaintiff from Lewis' direct supervision. From February 15, 1990 to October 9, 1991, plaintiff reported directly to Swanson. Plaintiff alleges that the incidents of harassment abated to some degree, but by no means disappeared.

Plaintiff reported each of the following subsequent incidents to Swanson. On January 7, 1991, Lewis accused plaintiff of talking too loudly and of gossiping about her in Spanish. Lewis reprimanded plaintiff saying that "this [is] not a fiesta." On September 30, 1991, Lewis made comments about plaintiff appearing "virginal." On that same day, plaintiff was called into Lewis' office to speak with another Hispanic employee, who Lewis encouraged not to speak Spanish because it was "rude." In response to plaintiff's complaints, Swanson continued to suggest that plaintiff ignore Lewis' behavior.

On October 5, 1991, Swanson explained to plaintiff that he would be placing her back under Lewis' supervision. According to plaintiff, Swanson said that Lewis would "receive her judgment from a higher being" and recommended to the plaintiff that she "tell [Lewis] off." On October 10, 1991, plaintiff met with an EEOC Federal Investigator to discuss filing a complaint, but decided not to file the complaint at that time because she wanted to resolve the situation internally. In late October 1991, plaintiff met with WMATA officials John Potts, Alma Esparza, and Dr. Warren Eisenhower to discuss attempts to relocate her employment assignment. Plaintiff discussed Lewis' harassment and Swanson's failure to address the problem. On November 18, 1991, when the situation still was unresolved, plaintiff met with EEOC investigator Melvin Bean and signed an affidavit, officially filing her complaint with the EEOC.

III. Discussion

A. Plaintiff's Title VII Claims

Title VII makes it...

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34 practice notes
  • Maryland v. Wash. Metro. Area Transit Auth., MV Transp., Inc., Civil Action No. TDC-14-3397
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
    • July 13, 2015
    ...burdens on the compact absent the concurrence of the other signatories"); accord Lucero-Nelson v. Wash. Metro. Area Transit Auth., 1 F. Supp. 2d 1, 7 (D.D.C. 1998) ("[O]ne signatory [of the WMATA Compact] may not impose its legislative enactment upon the entity created by it without the exp......
  • Kilpatrick v. Riley, No. Civ.A. 98-3180(RMU).
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • April 27, 2000
    ...continuous chain" of discriminatory acts. See Macellaro v. Goldman, 643 F.2d 813, 815 (D.C.Cir.1980); see, e.g., Lucero-Nelson v. WMATA, 1 F.Supp.2d 1, 4-5 (D.D.C.1998) (employee made out continuing violation where first alleged incident of discrimination took place in October 1989, most re......
  • Thomas v. Wash. Metro. Area Transit Auth., Civil Action No. 17–1508 (DLF)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • April 9, 2018
    ...damages in the WMATA Compact and we will not imply one, given the settled state of District of Columbia law." Lucero–Nelson v. WMATA , 1 F.Supp.2d 1, 11 (D.D.C. 1998) (quoting Petticolas v. WMATA , No. 87-cv-2516, 1988 WL 30754, at *3 (D.D.C. Mar. 22, 1988) ); see also Wainwright v. WMATA ,......
  • James v. Washington Metropolitan Area Trans. Auth., Civil No. PJM 08-2821.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
    • August 11, 2009
    ...a § 1983 count "as to WMATA because it is not a `person' and therefore cannot be sued under the statute"); Lucero-Nelson v. WMATA, 1 F.Supp.2d 1, 7 (D.D.C.1998) ("as an arm of the state WMATA is not a `person' within the meaning of" § Assuming, arguendo, a Section 1983 claim could be stated......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
34 cases
  • Maryland v. Wash. Metro. Area Transit Auth., MV Transp., Inc., Civil Action No. TDC-14-3397
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
    • July 13, 2015
    ...burdens on the compact absent the concurrence of the other signatories"); accord Lucero-Nelson v. Wash. Metro. Area Transit Auth., 1 F. Supp. 2d 1, 7 (D.D.C. 1998) ("[O]ne signatory [of the WMATA Compact] may not impose its legislative enactment upon the entity created by it without the exp......
  • Kilpatrick v. Riley, No. Civ.A. 98-3180(RMU).
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • April 27, 2000
    ...continuous chain" of discriminatory acts. See Macellaro v. Goldman, 643 F.2d 813, 815 (D.C.Cir.1980); see, e.g., Lucero-Nelson v. WMATA, 1 F.Supp.2d 1, 4-5 (D.D.C.1998) (employee made out continuing violation where first alleged incident of discrimination took place in October 1989, most re......
  • Thomas v. Wash. Metro. Area Transit Auth., Civil Action No. 17–1508 (DLF)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • April 9, 2018
    ...damages in the WMATA Compact and we will not imply one, given the settled state of District of Columbia law." Lucero–Nelson v. WMATA , 1 F.Supp.2d 1, 11 (D.D.C. 1998) (quoting Petticolas v. WMATA , No. 87-cv-2516, 1988 WL 30754, at *3 (D.D.C. Mar. 22, 1988) ); see also Wainwright v. WMATA ,......
  • James v. Washington Metropolitan Area Trans. Auth., Civil No. PJM 08-2821.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
    • August 11, 2009
    ...a § 1983 count "as to WMATA because it is not a `person' and therefore cannot be sued under the statute"); Lucero-Nelson v. WMATA, 1 F.Supp.2d 1, 7 (D.D.C.1998) ("as an arm of the state WMATA is not a `person' within the meaning of" § Assuming, arguendo, a Section 1983 claim could be stated......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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