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Wright v. Hilldrup Moving & Storage

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

May 23, 2017

JEAN M. WRIGHT, Plaintiff,


          Anthony J. Trenga United States Judge

         Pro se Plaintiff Jean Wright ("Plaintiff" or "Ms. Wright") filed this action on October 27, 2016, asserting claims against her former employer, Defendant Hilldrup Moving and Storage ("Defendant" or "Hilldrup") for discrimination and hostile work environment on the basis of her race and gender in violation in Title VII, retaliation in violation of Title VII, and wrongful discharge in violation of Virginia state law. Construing her complaint liberally given her j3ro se status, Plaintiff also asserts claims for discrimination and hostile work environment on the basis of her age, as well as retaliation, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA").

         Pending before the Court are (1) Cross Motions for Summary Judgment by Defendant [Doc. No. 21] ("Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment") and Plaintiff [Doc. No. 32] ("Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment"), and (2) Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Complaint for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction and Failure to State a Claim upon Which Relief Can Be Granted [Doc. No. 9] (the "Motion to Dismiss") (collectively, the "Motions"). On Friday, May 19, 2016, the Court held a hearing on the Cross Motions for Summary Judgment, following which the Court took the Motions under advisement.

         Upon considerations of the Motions, the filings of the parties in support thereof and in opposition thereto, the arguments of counsel and Ms. Wright at the May 19, 2017 hearing, and for the following reasons, Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED and Defendant's Motions are GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. The Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED on the grounds that the Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction over any of Plaintiffs Title VII claims and is otherwise DENIED as moot; Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED as to those remaining ADEA and Virginia law claims over which the Court has subject matter jurisdiction; and this case is DISMISSED.


         The following facts are undisputed or, when disputed, taken in the light most favorable to Plaintiff:

         Hilldrup hired Ms. Wright as an administrative assistant in its Information Services Department in July 2015. She was an at-will employee. In December 2015, Ms. Wright raised an issue with her direct supervisor, Scott Fitzgerald, regarding certain flex time. On April 14, 2016, Mr. Fitzgerald and Roger Carroll, Senior Vice President of Information Services and Chief Information Officer, to whom all of the Information Service Department reported, conducted a six-month performance review with her. The review identified shortcomings in Plaintiffs performance (she was given a rating of 1.25 out of 4), to which Ms. Wright took exception.

         In early June 2016, Ms. Wright approached Beth Williams, Vice President of Human Resources, to discuss filing a complaint against Mr. Carroll for harassment. Ms. Williams told Ms. Wright that she would need to file a formal complaint and that she would provide Ms. Wright with the form to do so. On Tuesday, June 7, 2016, Ms. Williams emailed Ms. Wright the form, apologizing for the delay in providing it to her and explaining that she had a family emergency the prior week. Ms. Williams received no response to this email. She followed up on Monday, June 13, 2016. On June 14, 2016, Ms. Wright responded, telling Ms. Williams that she decided not to file a formal complaint with Hilldrup "due to the lack of concern and seriousness displayed from all parties involved here at Hilldrup." She informed Ms. Williams that she had "been advised to seek counseling elsewhere." On June 21, 2016, Ms. Williams notified Ms. Wright that she was still available to meet and discuss her concerns further, if Ms. Wright would like, and that she would move forward to investigate the complaint in any event. On Tuesday, June 28, 2016, Ms. Williams emailed Ms. Wright to tell her that she would like to meet with her to discuss the results of her investigation. Ms. Wright responded that she did not have any time that afternoon, and that she was unable to meet the following morning because she was going on vacation on Friday and would be busy until then. In the same email, Ms. Wright informed Ms. Williams that she had filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the "EEOC") instead of filing the complaint with Hilldrup's Human Resources. Also on June 28, 2016, Ms. Wright emailed Mr. Carroll, informing him that the matter was under investigation by the EEOC and that he should only communicate with her through email.[1] The next morning, June 29, 2016, Ms. Williams responded to Ms. Wright, telling her that Hilldrup was aware of the EEOC Complaint and asking her to meet with her, which Ms. Wright did. In that email, Ms. Williams advised Ms. Wright that she could not prohibit her boss, Mr. Carroll, from speaking with her.

         On August 3, 2016, Mr. Fitzgerald and Ms. Williams conducted a 12-month performance review with Ms. Wright, which again discussed Hilldrup's concerns with Ms. Wright's interpersonal issues. Mr. Fitzgerald also drafted a performance improvement plan, which included weekly meetings between Ms. Wright, Mr. Carroll, and Mr. Fitzgerald between August 12, 2016 and October 7, 2016 to provide Ms. Wright with feedback. Ms. Wright again took exception to her review and drafted a rebuttal to the criticisms. Mr. Carroll then drafted an addendum to her performance review further detailing her performance issues.

         On August 5, 2016, Ms. Wright sent Ms. Williams an email asserting that she had been subject to a hostile workplace environment. On August 15, 2016, Ms. Wright and Ms. Williams met to discuss Ms. Wright's concerns and her request to be transferred to another department at Hilldrup. In a follow-up email, Ms. Williams, noting that Hilldrup had found no evidence of wrongdoing, informed Ms. Wright that Hilldrup was nonetheless instituting provisions to keep verbal communications between Ms. Wright and Mr. Carroll to a minimum and to have a third- party present whenever interaction between Ms. Wright and Mr. Carroll was required. On September 6, 2016, Ms. Wright sent Mr. Carroll an email informing him that he violated this policy when he spoke with her without anyone else present in her section of the office. By this time, Ms. Wright was openly recording her interactions and meetings with certain Hilldrup employees, including her weekly meetings with Mr. Carroll and Mr. Fitzgerald.[2]

         In September 2016, Ms. Wright interviewed with Thomas Hinkley, Hilldrup's Senior Vice President of Commercial Sales, for another position in Hilldrup but was not selected. According to Mr. Hinkley, he did not select Ms. Wright because he selected a more qualified candidate. On October 6, 2016, Hilldrup terminated Ms. Wright. Hilldrup hired Steven Curtis to replace Ms. Wright. Mr. Curtis had retired from Hilldrup in November 2015 and is 65 years old.


         Fed. R. Civ. P. l2(b) (1)

         Hilldrup contends that the Court is without subject matter jurisdiction with respect to Plaintiffs sex and race discrimination and hostile work environment claims and all retaliation claims based on her filing of the EEOC Charge. A Rule l2(b)(1) motion is the appropriate vehicle to contest subject matter jurisdiction. The plaintiff bears the burden of establishing the court's subject matter jurisdiction when contested under Rule 12(b)(1). Trinity Outdoor, L.L.C. v. City of Rockville, 123 F.App'x 101, 105 (4th Cir. 2005) (per curiam). In analyzing motions to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the court is entitled to review materials outside the pleadings without converting the proceedings to one for summary judgment. See White Tail Park, Inc. v. Stroube, 413 F.3d 451, 459 (4th Cir. 2005); Velasco v. Government of Indonesia, 370 F.3d 392, 398 (4th Cir. 2004). Additionally, the district court analyzing the motions "should apply the standard applicable to a motion for summary judgment, under which the nonmoving party must set forth specific facts beyond the pleadings to show that a genuine issue of material fact exists." Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R. Co. v. U.S., 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991) (citations omitted). If a district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over an action, the action must be dismissed. U.S. ex rel. Vuyyuru v. Jadhav, 555 F.3d 337, 347 (4th Cir. 2009).

         Fed. ...

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