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Susan Sandler v. Michael B. Donley

June 8, 2011

SUSAN SANDLER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL B. DONLEY, SECRETARY
DEPARTMENT OF THE AIR FORCE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kugler, United States District Judge:

NOT FOR PUBLICATION (Doc. No. 19)

OPINION

This matter comes before the Court pursuant to the motion filed by the Secretary of the Air Force, Michael B. Donley ("the Secretary") under Local Civil Rule 72(a) objecting to an Order entered by Magistrate Judge Williams on December 20, 2010. The Secretary appeals Magistrate Judge Williams's Order transferring the matter from the District of New Jersey to the Eastern District of Missouri pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3). For the following reasons, the Court affirms Magistrate Judge Williams's ruling.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Susan Sandler is a fifty year-old Jewish female and a citizen of the United States. Between 2003 and 2006, Plaintiff was a paralegal assigned to work in the office of the Air Force General Counsel (AFGC) in Brussels, Belgium. During Plaintiff's tenure with the AFGC, her direct supervisor was Mr. Daniel Hass. During the events that gave rise to this litigation, Mr. Hass was located in Belgium with Plaintiff. Mr. Hass's supervisor was Mr. Mike Zehner. Mr. Zehner's office is located in Alexandria, Virginia.

Plaintiff alleges that during her employment in Belgium, she was subjected to various forms of religious discrimination. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Mr. Hass discriminated against her by denying her requests for compensatory time to observe certain Jewish holidays. Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant's employees discriminated against her on the basis of sex by treating her differently than other similarly situated male employees. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant's employees "refus[ed] to allow her to attend training, forc[ed] her to purchase her own office supplies, and [did] not allow[] her time off to care for her children." (Am. Compl. ¶ 62).

Plaintiff also alleges that she was subjected to various forms of retaliation. In particular, Plaintiff claims that Defendant's employees refused to acknowledge her complaints of sexual discrimination and religious discrimination, and "constructively discharged" her by forcing her to either discontinue her employment, or work in a sexually and religiously hostile environment. (Am. Compl. ¶ 73).

On July 7, 2010, Defendant moved to transfer venue to the Eastern District of Virginia. On December 20, 2010, Magistrate Judge Williams denied Plaintiff's request, and instead transferred the case to the Eastern District of Missouri. (Doc. No. 18). Magistrate Judge Williams cited Title VII's venue provision, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3), which provides that a plaintiff may bring an employment discrimination claim in the "judicial district in which the employment records relevant to such practice are maintained and administered . . .," and determined that because Plaintiff's employment records are maintained and administered at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri, the proper venue for this case is the Eastern District of Missouri.

On December 30, 2010, the Secretary appealed. (Doc. No. 19). The parties submitted their respective papers and the motion is ripe for review.

II. STANDARD

Under Local Civil Rule 72(c)(1), a party may appeal the non-dispositive order of a magistrate judge. A motion to transfer a case to another district is a non-dispositive motion. See Siemens Fin. Servs. v. Open Advantage, No. 07-1229, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15623, *6 (D.N.J. Feb. 29, 2008) (citing Lite, N.J. Federal Practice Rules 266 (Gann 2008); Hitachi Cable Amer., Inc. v. Wines, No. 85-4265, 1986 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 29278 (D.N.J. Feb. 14, 1986)). The district court must review the magistrate judge's findings to determine whether the order is "clearly erroneous or contrary to law." L. Civ. R. 72.1(c)(A); Cipollone v. Liggett Grp., Inc., 785 F.2d 1108, 1113 (3d Cir. 1986). However, a magistrate judge's legal conclusions are reviewable de novo. Doe v. Hartford Life and Accident Ins. Co., 237 F.R.D. 545, 548 (D.N.J. 2006). "The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that the magistrate judge's finding is clearly erroneous or contrary to law." Exxon Corp. v. Halcon Shipping Co., 156 F.R.D. 589, 591 (D.N.J. 1994).

II. DISCUSSION

The Secretary argues that Magistrate Judge Williams erroneously determined that the appropriate venue for litigating this dispute is the Eastern District of Missouri. Specifically, the Secretary contends that Magistrate Judge Williams incorrectly interpreted the language of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3), which authorizes suit in the judicial district where the relevant records "are maintained and administered." The Secretary contends that the terms "the judicial district where . . . employment records relevant to such practice are maintained and administered" refer to the judicial district where the records were maintained and administered at the time of the alleged discrimination. (Def.'s Br., at 6-7). The Secretary also petitions the Court to transfer venue to the Eastern District of Virginia because at least "some portion of the [events giving rise to this lawsuit] occurred in Arlington, Virginia"; namely, the allegations concerning Plaintiff's conversation with Michael Zehner. (Def.'s Br., at 3-4). Plaintiff argues that Magistrate Judge Williams did not commit clear error because she "cite[d] case law supporting a finding of venue in the forum where employment records are currently maintained and administered." (Pl.'s Br., at 1).

Venue in civil actions is generally governed by 28 U.S.C. § 1391. However, Title VII contains its own venue provision. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000-5(f)(3). The purpose of Title VII's venue provision is to "'limit venue to the judicial district concerned with the alleged discrimination . . . .'" Passantino v. Johnson & Johnson Consumer Prods., Inc., 212 F.3d 493, 504 (9th Cir. 2000) (quoting Stebbins v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 413 F.2d 1100, 1102 (D.D.C. 1969)). Title VII's venue provision is "mandatory and well-settled, thereby rendering other general venue statutes inapplicable." Vincent v. Woods Servs., No. 08-1007, 2008 WL 939190, at *1 (D.N.J. Apr. 4, 2008). Under Title VII's venue provision, a plaintiff must bring a civil action in the judicial district where [1] the unlawful employment practice is alleged to have been committed, . . . [2] the employment records relevant to such practice are maintained and administered, or [3] the aggrieved ...


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