Robinson-Douglas v. Coastal Int'l Sec., Inc.

Decision Date20 February 2018
Docket NumberCivil Case No. 16–1523 (RJL)
Citation287 F.Supp.3d 14
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

Content Robinson–Douglas, District Heights, MD, pro se.

H. David Kelly, Jr., Beins, Axelrod, P.C., Washington, DC, for Plaintiff.

John Michael Remy, Jackson Lewis P.C., Reston, VA, for Defendant.


[Dkt. # 12]

RICHARD J. LEON, United States District Judge

Plaintiff Content Robinson–Douglas ("plaintiff") brings this action against her former employer, defendant Coastal International Security, Inc. ("defendant" or "Coastal") to challenge her allegedly unlawful termination. In her amended complaint, plaintiff contends that Coastal violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. , and the D.C. Human Rights Act ("DCHRA"), D.C. Code § 2–1401.01 et seq. , by discriminating against her on the basis of sex and retaliating against her for engaging in statutorily protected activities. See generally Am. Compl. [Dkt. # 16].

Coastal counters that plaintiff was terminated not on the basis of sex or as an act of retaliation, but because plaintiff failed a security test and committed various infractions of company policy while stationed as a security guard at the Department of Commerce ("DOC"). See Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. ("Def.'s Mot.") 1 [Dkt. # 12]. Coastal has thus moved for summary judgment on all claims. Upon consideration of the parties submissions and the entire record, defendant's motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.


Coastal provides security services to government agencies including, as relevant here, the DOC. See Def.'s Mot. App. A, Decl. of Josephine Coker ("Coker Decl.") ¶ 2 [Dkt. # 12–2]. At the time of the events set out in the amended complaint, Coastal served as a subcontractor for the COGAR Group ("COGAR"), which was the DOC's prime security contractor. See Def.'s Mot. App. B, Decl. of John Spray ("Spray Decl.") ¶ 2 [Dkt. # 12–3]. Individuals from DOC, COGAR, and Coastal were together responsible for supervising the relevant security operations at DOC. Those supervisors included John Spray, Coastal's Deputy Program Manager for the DOC contract; Charles Mayfield, the Program Manager for COGAR; Ray Wallace, COGAR's Special Police Officer in charge at DOC; and William Smith, the DOC employee who served as the Contracting Officer Technical Representative. See id. ¶¶ 1, 3.

Plaintiff worked for Coastal as a special police officer at the DOC. See Def.'s Mot. App. C, Dep. of Content Robinson–Douglas ("Pl.'s Dep.") 11:8–11 [Dkt. # 12–4]. In that role, plaintiff was responsible for manning her station in accordance with the applicable regulations and policies, ensuring that individuals accessing the building had the requisite credentials, and detecting suspicious or criminal activities near her post. See Spray Decl. ¶ 5. In light of the special police officers' duties, it is no surprise that Coastal maintains written policies prohibiting officers on duty from possessing or using cell phones, reading unofficial material, or eating or drinking at their posts. Id. ¶ 8; see also id. Ex. B; id. Ex. C. Indeed, Coastal officers are subject to immediate discharge for "[v]iolations of general or specific Post Orders or directives to include, but not limited to, inattention to duty" or "[n]eglect of duty, which could cause a claim or penalty to be assessed against" Coastal. Spray Decl. ¶ 8.

To ensure that special police officers are fulfilling their security functions, the Government conducts periodic "intrusion tests" during which undercover employees attempt to gain access to the Government facility without proper credentials or while in possession of a prohibited item. Id. ¶ 9. Coastal policy provides that an officer who unintentionally fails an intrusion test is subject to a five day suspension and refresher training. See id. ; id. Ex. B, Mem. from Coastal Int'l Sec. Human Res. to Coastal Employees (Sept. 1, 2011). On the morning of March 29, 2016, the DOC Office of Security performed an intrusion test to evaluate officers' ability to "enforce access control policies" at the tunnel entrance to the DOC's Herbert C. Hoover Building, where plaintiff was then stationed. Spray Decl. ¶ 10. DOC Office of Security employee Sheryl Hollins ran the test, Spray, Mayfield, and Wallace observed the test from the DOC command center. Id. ¶¶ 10–11; see also Spray Decl. Ex. E ("Intrusion Test Report").

To say the least, plaintiff did not fare well on the intrusion test. Specifically, plaintiff granted facility access to an undercover individual with an "expired agency identification (ID) badge with a photo bearing no resemblance to the tester." Intrusion Test Report 2. Following the exercise, plaintiff was informed that she had failed the intrusion test and was immediately removed from her post. See Spray Decl. ¶ 12; Pl.'s Dep. 61.19–22. Pursuant to Coastal's policy, Spray met with plaintiff to explain that she would be suspended for five days and would need to complete a refresher training course prior to returning as a security officer. See Pl.'s Dep. 63:2–13; Spray Decl. ¶ 12.

Plaintiff requested to view the video footage of the test, but was denied permission to do so by DOC. Spray Decl. ¶ 13. Her request, however, prompted Smith and Mayfield to review the footage themselves. Id. ; see also Spray Decl. Ex. G ("Mayfield Statement"). Their review of the morning's events showed that, in addition to failing the intrusion test, plaintiff had committed numerous violations of DOC, COGAR, and Coastal policy while at her post. Plaintiff's violations included: 1) using her cell phone for over seven minutes; 2) exchanging money for food; and 3) standing with her back to the tunnel entrance, which prevented her from facing approximately fifty-seven employees who entered the building during that time period. Mayfield Statement 1; Spray Decl. ¶ 14. According to DOC and COGAR, plaintiff's conduct was so neglectful that it amounted to her post being "open" or unstaffed on the morning in question. Spray Decl. ¶ 15; see also Mayfield Statement 1–2. As a result, DOC refused to pay Coastal for staffing plaintiff's post and further requested (along with COGAR) plaintiff's immediate removal from the DOC contract. Spray Decl. ¶¶ 15–16; id. Ex. H.

On April 5, 2016, Coastal suspended plaintiff indefinitely while it investigated plaintiff's conduct and evaluated DOC and COGAR's request to remove plaintiff from the contract. See Spray Decl. ¶ 17; id. Ex. J. Spray reviewed the surveillance video and a statement from COGAR employee Mayfield, in which Mayfield catalogued plaintiff's numerous violations and requested plaintiff's removal from the contract. Spray Decl. ¶ 18, see generally Mayfield Statement. Spray's review of those documents, along with the fact that DOC had penalized Coastal for an open post based on plaintiff's conduct, led Spray to conclude that plaintiff should be terminated. See Spray Decl. ¶ 18; see also id. Ex. K. At the time of that conclusion, Spray states that he was "not aware that Plaintiff had filed any Charge of Discrimination" with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). Spray Decl. ¶ 19.

Spray submitted his termination recommendation to Coastal's parent corporation, The Akal Group ("Akal"), which had the ultimate responsibility for finalizing all termination decisions. See id. ¶ 18; Coker Decl. ¶ 3. The matter was assigned to Josephine Coker, an Akal human resources manager. Coker Decl. ¶¶ 1, 4. After reviewing Spray's report, Coker agreed that plaintiff should be terminated and recommended that course of action to Janet Gunn, Akal's Chief Administrative Officer. Id. ¶¶ 3–5. On April 12, 2016, Gunn approved plaintiff's termination pending Coker's personal review of the surveillance video. Id. ¶ 5. One week later, after Coker's review of the video, Gunn gave the final approval to terminate plaintiff. Id. ¶ 6. Plaintiff was informed of that decision by letter dated April 20, 2016. See id. Ex. C.

According to Coker, neither she nor Gunn had any knowledge of any DOC EEOC charge filed by plaintiff at the time of the termination decision. See id. ¶ 12. Rather, Coker asserts that the termination decision was based on "violations of policies and procedures, including but not limited to: Negligence; Neglect of duty; Inattention to duty; Failure to follow security procedures; Personal cellular telephone on post; Disregarding orders; Socializing/fraternizing on duty; Food/drink on post; Failure to be alert to [the] environment or surroundings. Loss of confidence." Id. ¶ 6; see also id. Ex. B. Since January 2014, Coker states that Coastal has terminated nine other employees—four males and five females—for similar violations. See Coker Decl. ¶ 16.

Plaintiff tells a different story—or stories, more accurately—regarding her termination. At her deposition and in a charge she filed with the National Labor Relations Board ("NLRB"), plaintiff stated that her termination occurred because of her union steward activities and, specifically, a confrontation she had with Wallace on the morning of the intrusion test. See Pl.'s Dep. 109:11–110:3, 110:14–21; see also id. Ex. 1 (NLRB charge alleging that termination occurred because of plaintiff's "activities on behalf of the union"). By contrast, plaintiff's amended complaint alleges that her termination was based on retaliation for an EEOC charge allegedly filed on April 15, 2016, but of which there is no record. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 14, 25. Finally, plaintiff asserts that her termination was an act of sex discrimination, alleging that she was treated more harshly than male Coastal employees who failed intrusion tests. Id. ¶¶ 13, 19.

On April 26, 2016, six days after her termination, plaintiff filed a formal complaint with the EEOC. Id. ¶ 16. She received a right to sue letter that same day. See Pl.'s Dep. 126:1–5. Plaintiff then filed her...

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