Metro Rail managers cleared of allegations, but workplace is ‘disrespectful and unprofessional’
Littler Mendelson releases independent investigation of Metro's Rail Operations Control Center
Following a three-month investigation into Metro’s Rail Operations Control Center (ROCC), the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority announced Friday that complaints of racial discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation by senior rail officials were unsubstantiated — but that disrespect and unprofessional conduct is commonplace there.
San Francisco-based law firm Littler Mendelson PC conducted the independent investigation into allegations of “toxic culture” at ROCC. Allegations in the 2020 Washington Metropolitan Safety Commission pertained to Lisa Woodruff, WMATA senior vice president for rail services, and Deltrin Harris, former ROCC director.
“The culture fostered by ROCC and [Office of Rail Transportation] leadership is toxic and antithetical to safety and other standards,” says the audit, according to The Washington Post, which obtained a copy of the original report. Littler was tasked with investigating whether the two had “contributed to the hostile work environment by either engaging in or condoning unprofessional behavior.”
Allegations included that ROCC managers engaged in racial, sexual and other forms of harassment, used profanities and threats against controllers, threatened termination and instances of unwanted physical contact.
During the investigation, Littler reviewed files ranging from safety reports to personnel files and conducted 12 ROCC employees including trainees, controllers and senior management. While the report did not substantiate direct claims against Woodruff and Harris, interviewees agreed that “disrespectful and unprofessional conduct is commonplace in the ROCC,” according to Littler’s report.
“This report exonerates Lisa Woodruff and Deltrin Harris of the charges contained in the WMSC report and repeated in dozens of media accounts,” General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld said in a statement. “While this bell cannot be unrung, the record must be set straight to restore the good names of transit professionals whose reputations were unfairly tarnished.”
After the WMSC Audit was released in September, WMATA Board Chair Paul C. Smedberg and Wiedefeld in a letter committed to overhaul the rail control center.
“Metro’s Board of Directors welcomes the conclusions of the independent counsel and regrets that Ms. Woodruff and Mr. Harris were unjustly portrayed in WMSC’s report and subsequent news accounts,” Smedberg said in a statement. “We also note that the WMATA inspector general reported to us his conclusion that there was no credible evidence that a ROCC supervisor was intoxicated while on duty, as reported by the WMSC.”
The overhaul is “ongoing,” according to a Friday statement from WMATA. It includes training, procedures and processes, staffing and supervision improvements, according to WMATA.
“Our work to transform the ROCC will continue under the new leadership that we have in place and we are on track to make short- and long-term improvements that go above and beyond required corrective actions,” Wiedefeld said in a statement. “We are committed to making our rail control center safety the standard-bearer and envy of the transit industry.”