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Dawson v. Washington Gas Light Company

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

February 19, 2019

KYLE DAWSON, Plaintiff,



         This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Partial Dismissal of Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6).

         Plaintiff is a self-described biracial, part Caucasian, part African American, light-skinned man. Plaintiff worked for Defendant Washington Gas, in relevant part, from the summer of 2013 to July 25, 2018. During that time, Plaintiff worked as a crew mechanic, crew leader in-training, and crew leader. Plaintiff also twice participated in the CLDP program with successful completion on the second attempt.

         Beginning in the summer of 2013 to fall of the same year, Plaintiff began to experience harsh treatment from his supervisor in the CLDP program. Plaintiff's supervisor yelled at Plaintiff, gave Plaintiff a very harsh performance review, and stated his dislike for "half-breeds" though ostensibly discussing canines. Plaintiff's supervisor also disciplined him more harshly than other employees outside of Plaintiff's protected classes. For example, Plaintiff was disciplined for a car accident that occurred while on the job for which Plaintiff was not at fault; no other employee was disciplined unless they were at-fault. Plaintiff also received a five-day suspension for hitting a water line that was not properly marked; after a grievance process, this discipline was removed from Plaintiff's record and he received backpay.

         Plaintiff was then removed from the CLDP program and his wages were reduced. Plaintiff's next supervisor began also treated him differently than other employees outside Plaintiff s protected classes. Plaintiff believed that his new supervisor also knew about the grievances Plaintiff had filed while in the CLDP program. During his time under this second supervisor, Plaintiff received a ten-day suspension for failure to immediately report a malfunctioning garage door, though through a grievance process this accident was determined to be unavoidable and that Plaintiff had reported it to his supervisor who instructed him not to worry about it. Further, Plaintiff sought to work overtime hours, but this second supervisor selected a white employee in violation of the union contract over Plaintiff.

         Plaintiff met with Defendant Washington Gas's Human Resources department to discuss the harassment he had been facing. After this meeting, 'Plaintiff did not see anything done by Human Resources to ameliorate the harassment.

         Plaintiff filed his first charge against Defendant with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in March 2014 claiming race and color discrimination and retaliation between the dates of May 1, 2013 and November 20, 2013. Plaintiff self-filed this charge and did not select the box for "Continuing Action" which typically refers to harassment as opposed to a single act of discrimination. Plaintiff's allegations in the charge, however, do mention harassment. The EEOC opened an investigation and continued to examine evidence until issuing a probable cause determination on April 20, 2018. The EEOC then provided Plaintiff with a Right-to-Sue letter on May 9, 2018.

         During the period of the investigation, Plaintiff continued to suffer harsh treatment at the hands of yet more supervisors. From November 2016 to his eventual termination, Plaintiff was under the supervision of Defendants Samuel and Gordon. During this time, Defendant Samuel frequently spoke harshly to Plaintiff and criticized his work product. Defendant Samuel also required Plaintiff to clear certain staffing decisions with him though other employees outside of Plaintiff's protected class were not subjected to this extra requirement. Plaintiff attempted to meet with Defendants Samuel and Gordon to attempt to resolve the harsh treatment and set expectations for work product. Defendant Samuel left the first meeting in anger and, at the second, stated that further meetings would cause him to "act out."

         Soon after this second meeting, Plaintiff informed Defendant Washington Gas of the EEOC determination. Defendant Washington Gas is believed to have informed Defendants Samuel and Gordon. Following notification of the EEOC's determination, Plaintiff received two separate suspensions totaling fifteen days for failure to receive approval for a day off, though Plaintiff found someone to cover his shift, and running a red light, though others outside Plaintiff's protected classes received less harsh discipline for similar actions.

         On June 6, 2018, Plaintiff filed his second EEOC charge alleging retaliation and did select the "Continuing Action" box. This second charge covered the dates from March 24, 2014 until June 6, 2018.

         On July 25, 2018, Plaintiff was terminated for unplugging his drive camera, a practice he alleges is common among his fellow employees and which does not typically receive discipline.

         Plaintiff brought this lawsuit on August 6, 2018 alleging five counts: Race Discrimination under Title VII (Count I); Color Discrimination under Title VII (Count II); Retaliation under Title VII (Count III); Race Discrimination and Creation of a Hostile Work Environment under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Count IV); and Retaliation under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Count V). Defendant has moved to partially dismiss portions of each count for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim for which relief can be granted.

         A motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of the complaint. See Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992). On a Rule 12(b) (6) motion to dismiss, a court must accept all well-pleaded facts as true and construe those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Reyes v. Waples Mobile Home Park Ltd. P'ship, 903 F.3d 415, 423 (4th Cir. 2018). The complaint must provide a short and plain statement showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), and it must state a plausible claim for relief to survive a motion to dismiss, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679; Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). While courts use the elements of a prima facie case to evaluate allegations of discrimination in a complaint, a plaintiff does not need to sufficiently establish a prima facie case at the pleading stage to survive a motion to dismiss. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N. A., 534 U.S. 506, 511-12 (2002); Woods v. City of Greensboro, 855 F.3d 639, 648 (4th Cir. 2017). In a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, a court may look beyond the four corners of the complaint in order to satisfy itself of jurisdiction. Mims v. Kemp, 516 F.2d 21, 23 (4th Cir. 1975) .

         Defendants first seek to have portions of Counts I-III dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. Defendants first argue that Plaintiff did not reallege race and color discrimination in his second EEOC charge and ...

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