The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) pledged early this year that it was a new day in Washington, D.C. The transit agency pledged that the metro system would put safety and customer service first. D.C. commuters were largely skeptical that much would change besides rhetoric. Now WMATA finds itself in court, suing for the right to fire a mechanic involved in a January 2015 incident where a woman died after a train car filled with smoke.

In July, the Amalgamated Transit Union sued WMATA for wrongful termination on behalf of Seyoum Haile, a mechanic, arguing that Haile should instead receive a suspension without pay, as an earlier arbitrator had decided. Now, in paperwork filed with the U.S. District Court on Friday, WMATA is countersuing, arguing that the union's lawsuit should be dismissed.

The lawsuit goes back to an incident in 2015 when an “electrical arcing incident" caused a metro car near L'Enfant Plaza to fill with smoke, leading to many injuries and the death of one passenger. In the aftermath of the incident, it was discovered that a November 2014 inspection of a fan shaft near the accident site had not been properly conducted.

WMATA argues that "Mr. Haile had falsified preventive maintenance records for the fan shaft in issue...a critical fire/life-safety system" and that in subsequent interviews with Haile, he failed to provide accurate information.

The documents filed by WMATA's attorneys on Friday argue that the termination was justified "due to the egregious nature of the offenses committed by Mr. Haile." For WMATA, the lawsuit is an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to the "hard truths" and safety-first culture of new General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld, who took charge of the transit system in March. Widefeld promised then that employees who compromised on safety would be swiftly fired.

Both WMATA and the union agree that Haile was not responsible for the death and injuries sustained in the accident. However, WMATA fired Haile for not properly conducting a fan inspection in November 2014. At the time, the rail operations command center did not remotely turn on the correct fan. Haile moved on to inspect the next fan, but never returned to fix the gap.

Haile alleges that after the accident, supervisors pressured him to fill in the blank spot on his inspection report in the hours after the accident.

"They trick us. . . . They call us to fill out this paper to cover themselves," Haile said of his talk with supervisors during a testimony to arbitrators. "When we came from the field . . . [I said,] I can't remember all this. . . . We don't know this, I just guessing. But we knew right away after we left there was an accident. The lead man and the supervisor, to cover themselves, they forced us to put it."

WMATA argues that the suspension "violates the well-settled and prevailing public policies of promoting safety in public transportation and minimizing the risks faced by WMATA's transit riders, employees, and the general public" and that Haile must be removed.

"Requiring WMATA to reinstate this employee, who has on repeated occasions falsely documented and stated that he completed assigned work on critical safety equipment when in fact he had not, would compromise WMATA's ability to comply with these applicable safety laws and otherwise protect the safety of its transit riders, employees, and the general public," the agency said.

Both WMATA and the union have vowed to continue the lawsuits.

It's one uncertain step on the road to a well-functioning transit system in the nation's capital. Sadly, for those looking to avoid WMATA's mess altogether, the price of an Uber in downtown Washington just went up 20 percent.