BETHESDA, Md. (WUSA9) -- A WUSA9 investigation has identified WMATA files documenting complaints of train and bus workers flipping off Metro customers - including one documented with photos - and a discipline policy that allows employees to flip riders off and keep their jobs.
Metro did not respond to our investigation until we found the same employee captured on camera still working at the same station manager booth where she extended her middle finger long enough for the customer to take two photos.
"I think the difficulty with photographs is they only show a snapshot in time," said Metro Spokeswoman Caroline Laurin. "We don't know exactly what happened preceding the picture."
The Metro worker who is recorded extending the obscene gesture told WUSA9 she didn't know why the customer was flipped off, then ordered us out of the station, and said she was calling Metro Transit Police to report our presence.
Our review identified ten complaints of middle finger incidents since 2013, but it is only a partial accounting obtained by interviews and a WUSA9 review of customer comments included in Metrobus red light running complaints
WMATA has denied a WUSA9 open records request for all 2012 and 2013 complaints containing the terms "finger," "bird," "obscene," flipped" and "gesture," saying a response would be "unreasonably burdensome," saying it would "generate approximately 722 records," "take 35 hours of staff time" and cost $2,556.
For months, WMATA did not respond to our initial inquiries about the February case caught on camera at Medical Center Station in Bethesda where a station manager flipped the customer off.
UnsuckDCMetro originally posted the photo on its Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/unsuckdcmetro.
When UnsuckDCMetro first posted the finger waving photo, WUSA9 immediately emailed Metro a copy of the picture and asked the agency to confirm whether it was a Metro worker and whether they were or would investigate.
Metro did not respond.
After we recorded the woman still on the job, in an email titled "your appearance at Medical Center", Metro Spokesman Dan Stessel stated "please be advised that Metro front-line employees are not authorized to speak to the media."
Shortly after WMATA dispatched Laurin to Medical Center Station to respond.
"It's our goal to make sure that our customers feel welcome and well treated," Laurin said. . "Absolutely this isn't something we want to have happening."
UnsuckDCMetro put us in touch with the customer who took the photo, a Man named Fred, who asked us not to use his last name.
He acknowledges he became irate when he went to the station manager asking for help after his Redline train flew past his Bethesda stop without stopping.
With no return trains in sight at Medical Center he says he asked the station manager for help.
"How do you want me to accommodate you," is how he quotes the worker, stating she didn't explain whether shuttle buses or trains would be working. "That's when I said, are you serious, I'm just trying to get home."
"Yeah, yeah, yes, yeah I was mad," Fred says he raised his voice and pushed the conversation to the point of getting rude. "At that point my boiling point started rising."
In WUSA9 open records request limited to 2013 Metrobuses running red lights ten cases where consumers complained WMATA drivers ran red lights then:
were "giving them the middle finger," "stuck his middle finger up, "flipping him off with the bird," "flip me off," "put up what looked like her middle finger, "flipping them off," "flip me off" "give me the middle finger," "inappropriate hand gesture" or "gave me the finger."
When WUSA9 pointed out the pattern of obscene gestures and her hesitation to apologize in Fred's case, Laurin said Metro doesn't want this sort of incident to occur.
"We carry over one millino passenger trips a day." Laurin said. "The vast majority of those interactions go very well."
WUSA9 again pointed out that Fred had never received an apology, and Metro had offered no apology during the interview.
"I would say we are sorry this incident occurred," Laurin said. "This is never something we want any metro customer to experience. It is not something we find acceptable. Action was taken."
Metro says their records only document four apologies for flipping customers off, but other apologies are possible.
WMATA says discipline is handled on a case by case basis, determined by previous performance. but acknowledges there are circumstances where workers can flip customers off and keep their jobs.