Sexual Harassment Case Dismissed; Eastern District of New York Venue Improper

In a recent case, Jane Doe[s] v. JetBlue Airways Corporation et al, 2020 WL 4605216 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 11, 2020), the court discussed and applied Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s venue provision.

The alleged facts of this case, involving the rape of female flight attendants, are horrific. However, the court did not address the merits of the case, in that it granted defendants’ motion to dismiss for improper venue, finding that venue did not properly lie in the Eastern District of New York.

The court explained that “[v]enue in a Title VII claim is not determined by the general venue statue, 28 U.S.C. § 1391, but rather is strictly governed by 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3).”

That section provides that a Title VII action

may be brought in any judicial district in the State in which the unlawful employment practice is alleged to have been committed, in the judicial district in which the employment records relevant to such practice are maintained and administered, or in the judicial district in which the aggrieved person would have worked but for the alleged unlawful employment practice, but if the respondent is not found within any such district, such an action may be brought within the judicial district in which the respondent has his principal office.

42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3).

Applying the law, the court explained:

In this case, Plaintiffs do not satisfy the first basis for venue under the statute because all of the unlawful employment practices alleged in the amended complaint occurred in Puerto Rico and Boston, not New York. Plaintiffs attempt to get around this fact by alleging that JetBlue’s “pattern and practice … of routinely ignoring employee complaints concerning sexual assault and/or sexual harassment” stems from their corporate headquarters in New York. (Am. Compl. ¶ 18.) Yet, these allegations are too vague and conclusory to satisfy Plaintiffs’ burden to establish venue. See, e.g., Cook v. UBS Fin. Servs., Inc., No. 05-cv-8842, 2006 WL 760284 (SHS), at *3-4 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 21, 2006) (finding plaintiff’s allegations that employment policies were developed in defendant’s New York headquarters insufficient to establish venue because “it d[id] not necessarily follow … that any of the specific personnel decisions affecting [plaintiffs] were made in New York”); see also Robinson v. Potter, No. 04-cv-890, 2005 WL 1151429, *4 (D.D.C. May 16, 2005) (“Mere speculation of principal office involvement does not counter the fact that in the plaintiff’s complaint, the acts committed occurred [in a different district].”). Further, JetBlue’s ensuing internal investigation was conducted by Fiske and other Boston-based JetBlue employees, and Plaintiffs and the individual Defendants were all based in Boston at the time of the incident and directly afterwards. Plaintiffs’ allegation that they each reported the incident to JetBlue’s New York headquarter is also contradicted by the Fiske Declaration, which, unlike Plaintiffs’ allegations, provides specific details (including the dates and personnel involved) showing that Jane Doe #1 reported the incident to Ms. Diorio, who was based in Boston. See Corso, 2018 WL 1513639, at *1. And, even assuming that both Plaintiffs did report the incident to JetBlue’s New York headquarters, that would be still not be enough to establish venue in this District because Plaintiffs fail to plead any New York-based involvement by JetBlue in investigating or otherwise handling Plaintiffs’ complaints. Cf. Kassman v. KPMG LLP, 925 F. Supp. 2d 453, 474 (S.D.N.Y. 2013) (venue properly laid in jurisdiction in which defendant’s headquarters located because plaintiff adequately alleged that corporate policy was “developed in [defendant’s] headquarters”). Accordingly, because Plaintiffs fail to specifically allege or otherwise present evidence of control or decision-making by JetBlue’s New York headquarters, Plaintiffs do not satisfy the first basis for venue pursuant to Section 2000e-(5)(f)(3).

Nor do Plaintiffs satisfy the other bases for venue. The second and third bases for Title VII venue are inapplicable because the amended complaint contains no allegations regarding the location of any relevant employment records, and Plaintiffs remain employed at JetBlue. And the final basis, i.e. venue based on location of the defendant’s principal office, applies only when none of the other three bases is satisfied by another district. Here, however, venue would be proper in either the District of Puerto Rico or the District of Massachusetts.

Based on this, the court concluded that venue in the Eastern District of New York is improper for Plaintiffs’ Title VII claim.

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