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Quaye v. Washington Gas Light Co.

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

November 17, 2017

ALBERT QUAYE, Plaintiff,
v.
WASHINGTON GAS LIGHT COMPANY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          LEONIE M. BRINKEMA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         In this civil action, plaintiff Albert Quaye ("Quaye" or "plaintiff) alleges that defendant Washington Gas Light Company ("Washington Gas" or "defendant") violated Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 when it terminated him because of his race and national origin and in retaliation for having previously filed EEOC charges against defendant. Defendant has filed a Motion for Summary Judgment [Dkt. No. 28], to which plaintiff has responded. For the reasons stated in open court and in this Memorandum Opinion, defendant's Motion will be granted.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Quaye, an African American of Ghanaian origin, began working at Washington Gas in 1991. Def. Mem. [Dkt. No. 28-1] Statement of Undisputed Facts ("SUF") ¶ 1. When he was terminated in 2013, Quaye was working as a Service Technician, which meant that he was responsible for investigating and repairing gas leaks from Washington Gas's systems and performing various types of maintenance and construction work on Washington Gas facilities and instruments. Def. Mem. SUF ¶ 2; Def. Mem. Ex. 2.

         In July 2008, Quaye was assessed a Step 4 disciplinary violation, [1] suspended for ten days, and demoted from a Grade 7 ("Senior Operations Technician") to a Grade 5 ("Operations Mechanic") after he improperly responded to a residential gas leak. Def. Mem. Ex. 4.[2] Two months later, Quaye voluntary resigned and filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. Def. Mem. SUF ¶¶ 7-8. The parties participated in mediation and reached a settlement, under which Quaye was reinstated as a Grade 6 ("Service Technician") employee with a Step 3 discipline record. Id. ¶ 8; Def. Mem. Ex. 5.

         In February 2011, Quaye was again suspended for ten days under Step 4 of the disciplinary ladder for failing to appropriately investigate a residential gas leak. Def. Mem. Ex. 6. According to the discipline form, Quaye was dispatched to a house where a gas odor had been detected; although he completed some repairs outside the home, he improperly failed to go into the home to investigate the odor. Id. [3] In July 2012, Quaye filed a second charge with the EEOC, alleging (among other things) that the 2011 suspension was in retaliation for his filing the 2008 EEOC charge. Def. Mem. Ex. 7. The EEOC charge was transferred to the Fairfax County Office of Human Rights and Equity Programs ("OHREP"), which ultimately found that there was not sufficient evidence to support the charge. Def. Mem. Ex. 8. In January 2017, the EEOC adopted the findings of the OHREP, closed the charge, and provided Quaye with his right-to-sue letter. Def. Mem. Ex. 10. He did not file a lawsuit involving this suspension.

         In October 2013, Quaye repaired a gas leak inside a Washington Gas customer's home while he was off-duty. Def. Mem. Ex. 1 ("Quaye Dep.") 61:7-:21. The customer paid Quaye $200, which Quaye says was reimbursement for parts he bought for the repair. Id. at 69:21-70:15. Shortly after Quaye repaired the leak, the customer again detected a gas odor and called Washington Gas, which dispatched another technician to investigate the odor. Def. Mem. Ex. 11 ¶ 4. While the technician was at the customer's house, the customer told him that Quaye had recently performed work at the residence. Id. The technician reported this to Washington Gas, which launched an investigation and suspended Quaye pending the outcome of that investigation. Id. ¶¶ 4-5. During the course of Washington Gas's investigation, Quaye admitted that he had performed the work. Quaye Dep. 79:3-: 19.

         On November 20, 2013, following Washington Gas's investigation, Quaye was terminated for violating a provision of defendant's Code of Conduct, which prohibits all employees from engaging in any "transaction affecting Company business that conflicts or appears to conflict with the best interests of the Company" and from "taking opportunities for themselves personally that are discovered through the use of corporate property, information or their position." Def. Mem. Ex. 11.

         In December 2013, Quaye filed a third EEOC charge, in which he alleged that Washington Gas had suspended and then terminated him because of his race and national origin and also in retaliation for his previous EEOC complaints. See Def. Mem. Ex. 13. This charge was also transferred to the OHREP, which issued a determination in September 2017 that there was not sufficient evidence to support the charge. Def. Mem. Ex. 14. In October 2017, the EEOC adopted these findings and sent plaintiff his right-to-sue letter. See PL Response to Order [Dkt. No. 39] Ex. 2.

         On March 24, 2017, before receiving his right-to-sue letter, plaintiff filed the original Complaint in this civil action, which he amended on June 5, 2017. In the Amended Complaint, plaintiff asserts claims for "race discrimination, national origin discrimination, and retaliation" in violation of Title VII and § 1981. Am. Compl. [Dkt. No. 13] ¶¶ 13-15.[4] He seeks reinstatement, back pay, and $3 million in compensatory damages for pain and suffering and punitive damages, as well as attorney's fees and costs. Id. ¶¶ 16-21. In the instant Motion for Summary Judgment, defendant argues that it should be granted summary judgment on both the Title VII and the § 1981 claims because plaintiff has not introduced sufficient evidence to allow a reasonable jury to infer that he was suspended or terminated because of his race, national origin, or previous charges filed with the EEOC.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         A party is entitled to summary judgment if the party can show "that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine dispute of material fact exists "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby. Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). In general, bare allegations or assertions by the nonmoving party are not sufficient to generate a genuine dispute; instead, the nonmoving party must produce "significantly probative" evidence to avoid summary judgment. Abcor Corp. v. AM IntT. Inc., 916 F.2d 924, 929-30 (4th Cir. 1990) (quoting Anderson. 477 U.S. at 242). That being said, in ruling on a motion for summary judgment, a court should accept the evidence of the nonmovant, and all justifiable inferences must be drawn in her favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

         B. Section 1981 and Title VII ...


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