Where the parties, witnesses and documents in an alleged employment discrimination suit were all in the Eastern District of Virginia, and the alleged discrimination occurred in Richmond, the Title VII suit was transferred to that federal court.
Nelson Ikem has sued his former employer, Mondelez International Inc., asserting employment related claims. Mondelez has moved to transfer venue to the Eastern District of Virginia because that is where the alleged discrimination occurred and where the evidence and witnesses, including Ikem, are located.
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), a district court may “transfer any civil action to any other district or division where it might have been brough” for “the convenience of the parties and witnesses” and “in the interest of justice.” This action could have initially been brought in the Eastern District of Virginia under Title VII’s venue provision, as the Eastern District is (1) in Virginia, the state in which the unlawful employment practice allegedly occurred; (2) the judicial district “in which the employment records” relevant to this matter are “maintained and administered” and (3) the judicial district in which Ikem “would have worked but for the alleged unlawful employment practice.”
Once this threshold matter is met, courts generally turn to the following four factors: “(1) the weight accorded to plaintiff’s choice of venue; (2) witness convenience and access; (3) the convenience of the parties; and (4) the interest of justice.” The only connection between this case and the Western District of Virginia is the location of Ikem’s counsel. As the location of counsel “is not entitled to deference in a determination whether the Court should transfer venue,” this factor should be given “very slight weight.”
The second and third considerations – witness convenience and access and convenience to the parties – favor transfer to the Eastern District of Virginia. Mondelez’s facility is in Richmond, many of the witnesses and supervisors, as well as Ikem himself, live in and around Richmond, and all the relevant employment documents are stored in Richmond. Ikem argues that the distance between Roanoke and Richmond is negligible, especially as he has agreed to hold all depositions in Richmond and most evidence will be digitally produced. However, should this case go to trial, the distance between Richmond and Roanoke would burden witnesses forced to travel across the state.
Finally, the interest of justice favors transferring this case to the Eastern District of Virginia. To be sure, judges in the Eastern and Western Districts are equally well-equipped to determine issues of law in this case. However, justice is served by permitting a jury drawn from the Eastern District of Virginia to decide issues of fact as to employment discrimination alleged to have occurred in that district.
Defendant’s motion to transfer venue granted.
Ikem v. Mondelez International Inc., Case No. 7:23-cv-131, May 10, 2023. WDVA at Roanoke (Urbanski). VLW 023-3-245. 8 pp.