Metro is fighting back against a discrimination lawsuit filed by track inspectors who were fired for allegedly falsifying inspection records.
The transit agency filed a legal response in U.S. District Court on Monday, asking a judge to partially dismiss the lawsuit for technical reasons, and countering some of the allegations made by the terminated employees.
In the documents, Metro’s lawyers maintained that the transit agency was justified in firing 21 employees in the track inspection department. Those track walkers and inspectors were terminated, Metro said, for “knowingly violating WMATA’s culture and practice regarding track inspection and supervision.”
In the case of one terminated track walker supervisor, Christopher Bell, Metro’s attorneys outlined his alleged wrongdoings, saying that he completed or approved track inspection reports that listed the same set of measurements over and over again — evidence of falsification, according to the attorneys.
From Metro’s legal filing:
“Bell was found to have signed Turnout Inspection Forms three times (twice in 2013 and once in 2014) as a Track Walker where various track measurements never changed, and in addition was found to have signed the Turnout Inspection Forms eleven times in 2015 as a Supervisor, where various track measurements never changed, some from as far back as 2013, and further found that Bell failed to oversee the documentation process required of a Track Inspection Supervisor, which involves (among other things) holding track walker employees accountable to provide accurate track measurements and make reliable safety observations.”
Still, Metro’s lawyers acknowledged in their legal response that none of the fired inspectors were terminated for wrongdoings that directly led to the derailment at East Falls Church station that took place last July — conceding a point that has long been argued by union officials representing the terminated employees. In the legal filing, Metro affirmed the allegation that “neither [General Manager Paul] Wiedefeld nor WMATA terminated any employee in Track Maintenance as a result of the investigation” into the East Falls Church derailment.
Metro’s legal defense came in response to a lawsuit filed in April by five former employees who asserted that they were wrongfully terminated as part of an effort to place blame for the Silver Line derailment on rank-and-file workers — most of whom are black — rather than on upper-level managers and administrators at the agency, who are largely white.
The employees sued on one count of racial discrimination and one count of a hostile work environment.
“Senior WMATA officials, who are predominantly Caucasian, willfully neglected job functions, including but not limited to, maintenance oversight and approval of safety measures, but were not disciplined,” the original lawsuit alleged.
“Instead,” the lawsuit continued, “trackwalkers and other Inspection Department employees, who are predominantly African-American, were targeted for discipline as scapegoats for issues that resulted from the willful neglect of senior WMATA officials.”
The lawsuit pointed out that, of 21 track walkers and supervisors terminated in a slew of firings after the derailment, all but one are black.
“WMATA has a pattern and practice of treating African-American employees differently than similarly-situated non African-American employees through, including but not limited to, disciplinary actions such as suspensions and terminations based on fabricated allegations,” the workers’ lawsuit said.
In their response, Metro said the firings had nothing to do with race.
“All employment decisions regarding or affecting [the terminated workers] were based on legitimate, non-discriminatory, non-retaliatory, and reasonable business justifications,” Metro’s lawyers wrote. The transit agency, they added, “is an equal opportunity employer that does not discriminate against employees on any prohibited basis.”
Metro also disputed examples of unequal treatment that had been raised in the workers’ lawsuit. In one instance, the original lawsuit alleged that a track maintenance manager, Leon Myers, was disciplined after he had logged an area that needed a repair for defective concrete.
“The concrete section was not properly repaired, and Myers was accused of poor craftsmanship, despite the fact that he was not the one who performed repairs on the defective concrete area,” the workers’ original lawsuit alleged.
But Metro says that Myers, as a manager, should have checked to ensure that the problem was properly addressed — even if he wasn’t the person who performed the repair.
“The craftsmanship was so unacceptable that the concrete had to be replaced again,” Metro’s lawyers wrote. “As a Maintenance Manager, Myers was expected to ensure Quality Control Inspections are completed in areas where Myers planned work, and when the initial work was completed, Myers failed to document the issues in the area and failed to take the appropriate action immediately to fix the problem.”
And Myers wasn’t singled out for punishment, Metro added: “Various Track Maintenance employees had likewise erred in properly documenting and fixing the problem and were disciplined as well,” Metro wrote in its legal filing.
Despite that argument, Metro’s motion to partially dismiss the lawsuit was actually centered on a technical defense: Attorneys argued that the transit agency is immune from being sued for racial discrimination and hostile work environment, at least on a local level, because it is an interstate entity and therefore not subject to the District of Columbia’s anti-discrimination employment law.
They cited previous cases in which judges ruled that Metro was immune to similar lawsuits.
“WMATA … cannot be subjected to the laws of one of its member states without the express consent on the other states,” Metro’s attorneys wrote, quoting a federal judge’s decision in a 2015 lawsuit.