Strothers v. City of Laurel, Maryland
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Paul W. Grimm on 2/2/2017. (kns, Deputy Clerk)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
Case No.: PWG-14-3594
CITY OF LAUREL, MARYLAND,
Following the termination of her employment as an Administrative Assistant II in
Defendant City of Laurel, Maryland (the “City”)’s Communications Department, Plaintiff Felicia
Strothers filed suit in the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County, alleging racial discrimination
and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to
2000e-17, and claiming state-tort damages. See Compl. ¶¶ 5, 9, ECF No. 2. After the City
removed the case to this Court, ECF No. 1, I dismissed all of Strothers’s claims except for the
retaliation claim, ECF No. 21.
The City now moves for summary judgment on the sole
remaining claim, arguing that Strothers has failed to establish a prima facie retaliation case and
that she failed to demonstrate that its legitimate non-retaliatory reason to terminate her
employment for tardiness was pretextual. ECF No. 56. The Motion is fully briefed, Def.’s
Mem., ECF No 56-1; Pl.’s Opp’n, ECF No. 57; Def.’s Reply, ECF No. 58, and no hearing is
necessary, Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md.). Because Strothers’s complaints prior to her termination gave
the City no notice that she was opposing racial discrimination, I will grant the City’s Motion.
Strothers, a black woman, worked, on a probationary basis, as an Administrative
Assistant II in the City’s Communications Department from October 2013 until March 2014.
Offer Letter, J.A. 104; Termination Letter, J.A. 187–88; City of Laurel, Maryland Employee
Processing Form, J.A. 103.1 Strothers’s offer letter designated her working hours as 9:00 A.M.
until 5:00 P.M, Monday through Friday. Offer Letter, J.A. 104. City employees must comply
with a strict attendance policy, which defines more than one late arrival per quarter as an
“indicat[ion] of poor attendance habits and poor performance” and instructs an initial late arrival
to be sanctioned by a warning followed by progressive discipline for subsequent offenses. City
of Laurel, Maryland Human Resource Policy on Attendance, 4-007.01 (Feb. 5, 2003)
[hereinafter Attendance Policy], J.A. 231; see also City of Laurel, Maryland Human Resources
Policy on Disciplinary Actions, 5-003.00 (July 12, 1994) [hereinafter Disciplinary Policy], J.A.
In light of this policy, when Communications Director Peter Piringer called to offer
Strothers the job, she expressed concern about her ability to be in the office on time because her
children’s school bus did not pick up until shortly before 9:00 A.M., and it took her around ten
minutes without traffic to drive from the bus stop to the office. Strothers Dep. 28:4–11, J.A. 8;
Piringer Dep. 20:5–7, J.A. 32; Memorandum from Felicia Strothers to Peter Piringer (Dec. 13,
2013) [hereinafter Strothers Dec. 13, 2013 Memorandum], J.A. 140. Piringer gave Strothers
some initial leeway, allowing her to arrive by 9:05 A.M. and make up any missed time during
lunch. Piringer Dep. 19:19–22, J.A. 32. Strothers was instructed to report to Community
Services Officer Carreen Koubek on her first day of work, Offer Letter, J.A. 104, at which time
Citations to J.A. refer to the Joint Appendix that the parties submitted in the case, which
appears at ECF No. 59-1.
Strothers informed Koubek of her arrangement with Piringer, Strothers Dep. 29:7–12, J.A. 8;
Koubek Dep. 56:14–57:1, J.A. 119–20. Koubek did not object to the arrangement but, by her
account, indicated that Strothers would have to make alternative arrangements and begin arriving
by 9:00 A.M. within two weeks and later agreed to give Strothers an additional two weeks after
consulting with Piringer. Koubek Dep. 57:2–10. By Strothers’s account, from the beginning,
Piringer gave her until Veterans Day (November 11, 2013)—four weeks after her start date—to
make alternative arrangements. Strothers Dep. 30:8–19. Piringer and Koubek agree, however,
that they ultimately gave Strothers approximately four weeks to make the necessary
arrangements to be at work by 9:00 A.M.
At some point, Koubek began to take issue with Strothers’s tardiness and started
memorializing her arrival times in a document that she refers to as a journal. Koubek Dep.
59:13–18, J.A. 120 (“I created this document because I’d been having the tardiness issues, the
attitude issues. It was getting worse as time went on, and I was directed by HR to document.”).
Although the document is dated November 25, 2013 (i.e. two weeks after Veterans Day), the
document tracks Strothers’s arrival times beginning on her October 7 start date. Memorandum
from Carreen Koubek to Peter Piringer (Nov. 25, 2013) [hereinafter Koubek Memorandum], J.A.
134–39. During the first month of Strothers’s employment, Koubek recorded two dates (October
21 and October 28) when Strothers arrived later than 9:05 A.M., and several days when she
arrived before 9:00 A.M. Id. at J.A. 134–37. At her deposition, Koubek testified that she
documented Strothers’s on-time arrivals as well as her late arrivals because she “wanted to be
fair,” Koubek Dep. 64:19–65:5, J.A. 121–22, but the journal entries appear critical of any arrival
time after 8:55 A.M., even during the grace period, see, e.g., Koubek Memorandum, J.A. 135
(“October 8, 2013 – Arrival time computer stamped at 8:59am. From Journal Entry: Spoke
with Felicia about her arrival time. . . . I told her that getting here at 9am or after can’t happen.”).
Koubek also intimated that, despite what Strothers’s offer letter stated and despite being
permitted to arrive by 9:05 until Veterans Day, she was expected to be at her desk by 8:50 A.M.
or 8:55 A.M. at the latest. Id., J.A. 135 (“I told her that neither Pete [Piringer] nor myself set the
start times for the day. That is the Administration and the Administration says if you are not at
your desk by 10 minutes before your start time you were late. I told her I had spoken with [the
City Administrator’s] Office and they had no problems with a 5 minutes prior to start time.”).
City Administrator Kristie Mills testified in her deposition that she had “an expectation” that
employees be at work five to ten minutes early. Mills Dep. 68:7–69:7, J.A. 95–95.
Strothers continued to struggle to arrive on time after Veterans Day.
Memorandum, J.A. 137–39 (documenting arrivals after 9:00 A.M. on November 12–15, 18, and
25, 2013); Strothers Dec. 13, 2013 Memorandum, J.A. 142–44 (disputing only the November 15
arrival time). Despite this, none of Koubek’s superiors took disciplinary action authorized by the
City’s Attendance Policy against her. Greene Dep. 46:5–17, J.A. 58; see also Attendance Policy,
J.A. 231 (prescribing progressive discipline for tardiness); Disciplinary Policy, J.A. 227–28
(delineating progressive discipline beginning with a written warning, escalating to one- and then
three-day suspensions, and culminating in termination). In January 2014, Koubek gave Strothers
a three-month performance evaluation in which she rated her attendance “unsatisfactory,” noting
that she was “[c]onsistently late to work” and also gave her unsatisfactory marks in other
performance categories.2 Strothers Performance Evaluation, J.A. 150–51. Strothers noted her
The record contains much discussion of dissatisfaction among Koubek and other City
employees with Strothers’s work. But the City does not assert Storthers’s substantive job
performance as a legitimate non-retaliatory reason for her dismissal. Def.’s Mem. 5 (“The City
consistently has stated the reason Ms. Strothers was released was because of her excessive
tardiness. Other reasons, including poor work performance and insubordination, arguably would
disagreement with the evaluation on the form and specifically challenged the expectation that she
arrive at work before 9:00 A.M., given that she received no written policy to that effect. Id. at
J.A. 151. The evaluation provided fields for department director review and approval that were
Strothers immediately inquired into how she could formally contest the
evaluation, and Koubek informed her that Human Resources (HR) Director Mike Greene advised
that she file a grievance with HR. Email from Carreen Koubek to Felicia Strothers (Jan. 6, 2014,
4:37 P.M.), J.A. 152. Three days later, Strothers filed a grievance contesting the evaluation in
general terms and specifically the criticisms of her substantive performance, while also noting
that the form had not been signed by the Peter Piringer. Jan. 9, 2016 Grievance, J.A. 157–59.
The City took no action in response to the grievance. Strothers Dep. 52:21–53:19.
The following month, Koubek verbally reprimanded Strothers in the hallway and within
earshot of other employees for wearing pants on a Friday that she perceived to be leggings.
Strothers Dep. 56:10–57:16, J.A. 15. Although City employees are permitted to wear jeans on
Fridays, leggings are impermissible. Koubek Dep. 86:15–18, J.A. 127. Strothers insisted that
the pants were in fact jeans and stretched the pants material to demonstrate its jeans-like
properties. Memorandum from Felicia Strothers to Peter Piringer (Feb. 26, 2014) [hereinafter
Strothers Feb. 26, 2014 Memorandum], J.A. 163; Koubek Dep. 90:7–8, J.A. 128. Without
Strothers’s consent, Koubek grabbed Strothers’s pants to feel the fabric for herself and reasserted
her belief that they were leggings. Strothers Dep. 60:2–5, J.A. 16; Koubek Dep. 90:8–19, J.A.
128 (“She did not [tell me to reach down and pull her cuff], no. No, but I figured – I wanted to
feel the material. She was feeling it. I wanted to, you know.”). Upset by Koubek’s conduct,
Strothers immediately called Piringer and left a voicemail about the incident and sent him a
have justified her release as well, but were not the reasons stated by the City.”). Accordingly, I
will not recite the facts pertaining to her job performance that are unrelated to her tardiness.
memorandum five days later in which she recounted the confrontation and said that she “did not
feel welcome by [Koubek]” since the beginning of her employment and complained that “[t]he
stress and harassment has become unbearable, making it difficult to come into the office.”
Strothers Feb. 26, 2014 Memorandum, J.A. 163–65. Although not submitted on a grievance
form, the memorandum conformed with the City’s procedures for reporting harassment. City of
Laurel, Maryland Human Resources Policy on Grievance Procedures, 6-001.03, at 2 (Nov. 2,
2010), J.A. 235 (“Employees who have job related problems, questions or complaints shall bring
their concerns, in writing, to their immediate supervisor. . . . In the event that the grievance is
about an action taken by the immediate supervisor, the grievance shall be filed with the next
higher supervisor within their chain of command that is not a subject of the grievance.”); see also
Discrimination Policy 2, J.A. 238. On the ensuing Friday, Kristie Mills reprimanded Strothers
for wearing a similar pair of pants that she deemed “too tight.” Strothers Dep. 62:14–65:10, J.A.
17; Mills Dep. 76:13–77:7, J.A. 95–96. Strothers emailed Piringer to inform him of the second
pants-related incident. Email from Felicia Strothers to Peter Piringer (Feb. 28, 2014, 1:25 P.M.),
One week later, the City terminated Strothers for tardiness. Termination Letter, J.A.
187–88. Shortly thereafter, Strothers filed formal grievance contesting her termination and
requesting reinstatement under a different direct supervisor. Mar. 12, 2014 Grievance, J.A. 189–
98. In the grievance, she again complained that Koubek had “harassed” her and recounted her
efforts to notify Piringer about Koubek’s conduct. Id. at J.A. 196. She also indicated for the first
time a belief that Koubek’s behavior towards her was motivated by racial animus. Id. at 197
(“No other employee of another race, also on probation was spoken to regarding their attire
. . . .”).
The City treated the grievance as an “Appeal of Release from Probationary
Employment” and held an appeal hearing attended by City Administrator Mills and HR Director
Greene. Letter from Kristie Mills to Felicia Strothers (Mar. 25, 2014), J.A. 199–200. Mills and
Greene upheld the release, reiterating that Strothers was terminated for tardiness. Id. at 199.
Strothers appealed the decision to Mayor Craig Moe, Letter from Felicia Strothers to Mayor
Craig A. Moe, City of Laurel, Md. (Apr. 15, 2014), J.A. 202–11, reiterating her charge of racial
harassment, id. at J.A. 203, 206, and complaining of a “hostile environment,” id. at 207. Mayor
Moe upheld the termination and also emphasized that Strothers was released for tardiness. Letter
from Mayor Craig Moe to Felicia Strothers (May 5, 2014), J.A. 212–13.
Having unsuccessfully appealed her termination, Strothers filed a complaint with the U.S.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), EEOC Compl., J.A. 201, which issued
Strothers a right-to-sue letter, EEOC Dismissal and Notice of Rights, Supp. Compl. Ex. 1, ECF
Strothers filed suit in the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County, alleging
discrimination and retaliation under Title VII and claiming state-tort damages. Compl. ¶¶ 5, 9. I
dismissed the discrimination and tort claims, leaving only the retaliation claim, ECF No. 21,
which is the subject of the City’s Motion for Summary Judgment, Def.’s Mem. 4.
Standard of Review
Summary judgment is proper when the moving party demonstrates, through “particular
parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored
information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations . . . , admissions, interrogatory answers, or
other materials,” that “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a), (c)(1)(A); see also Baldwin v.
City of Greensboro, 714 F.3d 828, 833 (4th Cir. 2013). If the party seeking summary judgment
demonstrates that there is no evidence to support the nonmoving party's case, the burden shifts to
the nonmoving party to identify evidence that shows that a genuine dispute exists as to material
facts. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585–87 & n.10
(1986). The existence of only a “scintilla of evidence” is not enough to defeat a motion for
summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251–52 (1986). Instead, the
evidentiary materials submitted must show facts from which the finder of fact reasonably could
find for the party opposing summary judgment. Id.
Section 704(a) of Title VII “prohibits an employer from taking an adverse employment
action against any employee ‘because he has opposed any practice made an unlawful
employment practice.” EEOC v. Navy Fed. Credit Union, 424 F.3d 397, 405 (4th Cir. 2005)
(quoting Title VII § 704(a), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a)). When the record lacks direct evidence of
retaliation, as is the case here, the plaintiff may prove that retaliation occurred using the burdenshifting framework established in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973).
Price v. Thompson, 380 F.3d 209, 212 (4th Cir. 2004), abrogated on other grounds by Foster v.
Univ. of Md.-E. Shore, 787 F.3d 243 (4th Cir. 2015).
Under “the McDonnell Douglas
framework, the plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case of retaliation, whereupon the
burden shifts to the employer to establish a legitimate non-retaliatory reason for the action. If the
employer sets forth a legitimate, non-retaliatory explanation for the action, the plaintiff then must
show the employer’s proffered reasons are pretextual or his claim will fail.” Id. To establish a
prima facie case of retaliation, the plaintiff must prove: “ ‘(1) that she engaged in a protected
activity,’ as well as ‘(2) that her employer took an adverse employment action against her,’ and
‘(3) that there was a causal link between the two events.’ ” Boyer-Liberto v. Fountainebleau
Corp., 786 F.3d 264, 281 (4th Cir. 2016) (en banc) (quoting Navy Fed. Credit Union, 424 F.3d at
405–06). The City contends that Strothers has failed to meet her burden of production as to
either the first or third elements. Def.’s Mem. 22.
Protected activity includes “participating in an ongoing investigation or proceeding under
Title VII” or “opposing discriminatory practices in the workplace,” Laughlin v. Metro. Wash.
Airports Auth., 149 F.3d 253, 259 (4th Cir. 1998), only the latter of which Strothers contends
was the basis for her termination, Pl.’s Opp’n 15. To amount to protected activity, the employee
must “actually oppose employment practices made unlawful by Title VII,” which does not
include “practices the employee simply thinks are somehow unfair” or even “all unlawful
employment practices.” McNair v. Comput. Data Sys., Inc., 172 F.3d 863, 1999 WL 30959, at
*5 (4th Cir. Jan. 26, 1999). That said, “[S]ection 704(a) protects activity in opposition not only
to employment actions actually unlawful under Title VII but also employment actions an
employee reasonably believes to be unlawful” under the statute. Navy Fed. Credit Union, 424
F.3d at 406 (emphasis added). The Fourth Circuit “has articulated an expansive view of what
constitutes oppositional conduct, recognizing that it ‘encompasses utilizing informal grievance
procedures as well as staging informal protests and voicing one’s opinions in order to bring
attention to an employer’s discriminatory activities.’ ” DeMasters v. Carilion Clinic, 796 F.3d
409, 417 (4th Cir. 2015).
It is clear that Strothers did oppose Koubek’s treatment of her prior to being terminated.
See Jan. 9, 2014 Grievance, J.A. 157–59; Strothers Feb. 26, 2014 Memorandum, J.A. 163–65.
But she provides scant evidence that she believed that Koubek’s behavior towards her was rooted
in racial animus or that such a belief would have been reasonable. It certainly appears that
Koubek was on Strothers’s case from the beginning of her employment. Despite acknowledging
that Piringer allowed Strothers to arrive by 9:05 A.M. for the first month of her tenure, Koubek
Dep. 57:2–10, Koubek meticulously documented any time Strothers arrived after 8:55 A.M. but
before 9:05 A.M. in addition to two instances during the first month when she arrived after 9:05
A.M, Koubek Memorandum, J.A. 134–37. On at least one occasion, Koubek reprimanded
Strothers for arriving at 8:59 A.M. during the grace period. Id. at 134. Koubek also confronted
Strothers about her attire in an inappropriate manner, impermissibly touching Strothers’s
clothing without her consent. Koubek Dep. 90:8–19, J.A. 128. Not unreasonably, Strothers
characterizes Koubek’s admitted conduct as battery. Pl.’s Opp’n 17; see also Robinson v.
Cutchin, 140 F. Supp. 2d 488, 492 (D. Md. 2001) (“A battery is the intentional touching of a
person without that person’s consent. Touching includes the intentional putting into motion of
anything which touches another person . . . [in a manner that] offends the other person’s
reasonable sense of personal dignity.” (quoting Maryland Civil Pattern Jury Instructions 15:2
(4th ed. 2013))).
But Strothers’s only evidence for a racial motive for this conduct is that Piringer told her
that Koubek favored a white candidate named Mary Blankenship for the position that the City
ultimately offered to Strothers, information that led her to conclude “that it was because of my
race that [Koubek] was hostile to me.” Strothers Dep. 47:6–11. But Koubek testified in her
deposition that she preferred Blankenship because she “had been working with the City for a
number of years” and because she believed Blankenship to be “a better applicant.” Koubek Dep.
20:13–14, 17. A hiring decisionmaker’s preference for one candidate who happens to be white
over another candidate who happens to be black, by itself, cannot support a reasonable inference
of racial bias, and Koubek articulated legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for her
preference—namely, Blankenship’s prior work for the City and her belief that Blankenship was a
superior candidate for the position. Strothers attempts to bolster her inferential reasoning by
offering a Declaration from Teresa Lewis, another black woman who was once supervised by
Koubek. Lewis Decl., J.A. 242–43. Lewis declares that Koubek was “very rude and shorttempered” towards her and “treat[ed] other employees of color poorly” but did not “act rudely to
. . . white employee[s] or treat any white employees poorly.” Id. ¶¶ 5–6, J.A. 242. But Lewis’s
conclusory observations about her time working with Koubek shed little light on whether and
why Strothers believed that Koubek’s actions were racially motivated at the time that she
But even assuming that Strothers established the first element of her prima facie case by
demonstrating that she reasonably believed that she was the victim of unlawful discrimination,
Strothers has not shown a causal connection between her engagement in protected activity and
her termination. “[S]ince, by definition, an employer cannot take action because of a factor of
which it is unaware, the employer’s knowledge that the plaintiff engaged in protected activity is
absolutely necessary to establish the third element of the prima facie case.” Dowe v. Total
Action Against Poverty in Roanoke Valley, 145 F.3d 653, 657 (4th Cir. 1998).
Strothers’s complaints failed to notify the City that she was opposing conduct outlawed
by Title VII rather than merely generic unfair treatment.
Although her post-termination
grievance specifically alleges racial harassment, Mar. 12, 2014 Grievance, J.A. 197 (“No other
employee of another race, also on probation was spoken to regarding their attire . . . .”), neither
of her pre-termination grievances do, see Jan. 9, 2014 Grievance, J.A. 157–59; Strothers Feb. 26,
2014 Memorandum, J.A. 163–65. Plainly, her post-termination grievance could not have been
causally related to her release. Nor can it serve to retroactively put the City on notice that
The City also disputes that Koubek was Strothers’s supervisor as defined by Vance v. Ball State
Univ., 133 S. Ct. 2434 (2013). Def.’s Opp’n 25–26. But because Strothers failed to inform the
City that her complaints were based on alleged race discrimination, see infra, it is unnecessary
that I determine whether Koubek was Strothers’s supervisor.
Strothers’s pre-termination complaints were based on a belief that Koubek’s conduct was the
product of racial animus. Strothers contends that her complaint about the leggings incident
described Koubek’s conduct towards her as “harassment,” which she argues gave the City notice
that she was complaining of unlawful discrimination.
Def.’s Opp’n 17, 20 (quoting Strothers
Feb. 26, 2014 Memorandum, J.A. 165).
In my Memorandum Opinion addressing the City’s Motion to Dismiss, I held that
Strothers’s allegation that she complained of “harassment” to superiors stated a retaliation claim
for pleading purposes by reference to Fourth Circuit case law in which generalized complaints of
harassment qualified as protected activity. Strothers v. City of Laurel, Md., 118 F. Supp. 3d 852,
865–66 (D. Md. 2015) (citing Burgess v. Bowen, 466 F. App’x 272, 282–83 (4th Cir. 2012);
Okoli v. City of Balt., 648 F.3d 216, 223–24 & nn. 8–9 (4th Cir. 2011)). But, as the City
correctly notes, the records in those cases contained abundant evidence that the employers either
understood or should have understood that that employees were complaining of discriminatory
conduct. Def.’s Reply 6–9.
In Okoli, the plaintiff’s supervisor propositioned her, inquired about her underwear,
regaled her with stories of his past sexual exploits, fondled her leg under a table, forcibly kissed
her, and asked her to sit on his lap and join him in a Jacuzzi, among other things. 648 F.3d at
217–18. Okoli filed two complaints with superiors complaining of “harassment.” Id. at 218–19.
Although “it might have been more ideal for [Okoli] to detail the sexual incidents,” the court
held that the complaints provided sufficient notice that she was complaining of unlawful
discrimination because “[c]ourts and employers generally understand ‘harassment’ to be a term
of art” and because Okoli’s supervisor “based on his alleged conduct . . . surely would have
known that Okoli was complaining of sexual harassment.” Id. at 224. Here, the record contains
no comparable record of overt and pervasive racial harassment from which Koubek and the City
could have inferred that Strothers’s unadorned mention of “harassment” referred to conduct
prohibited by Title VII.
In Burgess, Ginger Cruz supervised the plaintiff and her administrative assistant, Patricia
Redmon, both black women. 466 F. App’x at 274. When Cruz informed Burgess that she was
terminating Redmon’s employment, Burgess verbally told Cruz that she felt that she and
Redmon were being “targeted.” Id. at 275. In a follow-up email, she questioned the “fairness
and equality” of the decision to terminate Redmon and requested a meeting to discuss the matter.
Id. In response, Cruz contacted her superior to arrange a meeting to discuss “EEO [Equal
Employment Opportunity]” matters. Although Burgess’s references to being “targeted” and to a
lack of “fairness and equality” did not spell out that she was complaining of racial
discrimination, the court found that Cruz’s reference to “EEO” matters showed that the employer
“either understood, or at the very least should have understood, that Burgess was complaining of
discriminatory conduct.” Id. at 283. Here, Piringer’s correspondence with Strothers about her
complaint that followed the leggings incident evinces no comparable awareness that Strothers
was complaining of racial discrimination rather than generic unfairness. See Email from Peter
Piringer to Felicia Strothers (Feb. 28, 2014, 1:19 P.M.), J.A. 166–67. Indeed, Piringer apparently
responded to the complaint by offering to investigate the matter, but Strothers described the
investigation in follow-up correspondence as focusing on the various types of clothing that City
employees wear on casual Fridays, not on discriminatory conduct. See Email from Felicia
Strothers to Peter Piringer (Mar. 5, 2014, 6:14 A.M.), J.A. 168 (“I thought about what you
offered last night and I change [sic] my mind. I would like you to conduct an investigation
regarding the jeans I wore . . . . As I mentioned, several employees came to me with jeans that
were tight like leggings and looked at mine and replied, ‘Those are not tight and they’re not
leggings, those are jeans.” (emphasis added)).
Even if I assume that Strothers reasonably believed that Koubek’s actions towards her
were rooted in racial animus, I cannot conclude from the evidence before me that the City knew
or should have known that Strothers intended to engage in protected activity by opposing
conduct prohibited by Title VII. And the City could not have terminated Strothers for engaging
in protected activity if it was unaware that she intended to do so. Accordingly, Strothers has
failed to establish a prima facie case of retaliation, and the City is entitled to summary
Because Strothers has failed to provide evidence sufficient to establish a prima facie case
of retaliation under Title VII, I will GRANT the City’s Motion. Judgment will be entered in the
City’s favor, and the Clerk will close the case.
A separate Order follows.
Dated: February 2, 2017
Paul W. Grimm
United States District Judge
Strothers also argues that the City’s asserted reason for terminating her employment—
tardiness—was pretextual because, by the City’s count, she was tardy at least 38 times prior to
her termination, but the City did not give her a written warning or suspend her prior to
terminating her, as its disciplinary policies dictate, and finally decided to terminate her just over
a week after she filed her complaint about the leggings incident. Pl.’s Opp’n 23–24. I find
Strothers’s argument persuasive, but because she has failed to establish a prima facie retaliation
case, it does not matter that the City has offered what appears to me to be a pretextual reason for
terminating Strothers’s employment.
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?