Edwards v. Vilsak
MEMORANDUM OPINION (c/m to Plaintiff 7/7/16 sat). Signed by Judge Deborah K. Chasanow on 7/7/2016. (sat, Chambers)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
MARGUERITE E. EDWARDS
Civil Action No. DKC 15-1823
THOMAS J. VILSACK, Secretary,
U.S. Department of Agriculture
employment discrimination case is a motion for summary judgment
filed by Defendant Thomas J. Vilsack, Secretary of the United
States Department of Agriculture (“Defendant”).
(ECF No. 21).
The issues have been fully briefed, and the court now rules, no
hearing being deemed necessary.
Local Rule 105.6.
following reasons, Defendant’s motion for summary judgment will
Plaintiff Marguerite E. Edwards (“Plaintiff”).
On May 9, 2010,
Plaintiff, a fifty-nine year old, African-American woman, began
“USDA”) as a temporary program assistant.
(ECF No. 21-1, at 4).
Plaintiff was one of six 12-month temporary employees hired to
capacity of [USDA] full-time staff personnel.”
(ECF No. 21-4 ¶
Four of the five other temporary employees were African
(ECF No. 21-5, at 9).
Although Plaintiff contends
(See ECF Nos. 21-4 ¶ 14; 21-5, at 10).
employees began working in cubicles on the fourth floor.
Nos. 21-1, at 4; 28, at 3).
On approximately May 18 or 20,
Plaintiff began working in a workspace on the third floor, where
she sat in close proximity to Stephen Hood, another temporary
(ECF Nos. 21-4 ¶ 15; 28, at 4).
On May 27, Plaintiff
sent Dr. Behre and other supervisors an e-mail requesting that
either she or Mr. Hood be allowed to move because she was having
The USDA also utilized an employment agency to obtain
additional temporary contractor personnel “[w]hen the project
exceeded the capacity of the regular staff and the temporary
staff.” (ECF No. 21-4 ¶ 7).
allergy symptoms that she believed were caused by Mr. Hood.
(ECF No. 21-3, at 80).
On June 17, Plaintiff thought that Mr. Hood placed a chair
at her desk, and she confronted him and asked him to “stop
bothering around her desk.”
(ECF No. 28, at 5).
avers that Plaintiff believed Mr. Hood was “performing some sort
of witchcraft” on her.
(ECF No. 21-4 ¶ 15).
another e-mail to Dr. Behre informing him that she did not feel
safe working with Mr. Hood.
(ECF No. 21-3, at 83).
informed his supervisors that Plaintiff said, in a threatening
tone, “one of us will leave this room.”
21-8, at 2).
(Id. at 84-85; ECF No.
Dr. Behre was not in the office, so Plaintiff
spoke with Betsy Sillers, another supervisor, about her concerns
with Mr. Hood.
(ECF No. 21-3, at 82).
Plaintiff informed Ms.
Sillers that she was worried about a powder that she believed
Mr. Hood was putting on her chair.
Ms. Sillers and Dr.
Behre instructed Plaintiff to leave the third-floor room and sit
Plaintiff returned to the third-floor room the following day.
(ECF No. 21-1, at 8).
representatives met with Plaintiff and Mr. Hood to discuss the
previous day’s incident.
(Id. at 6).
According to Plaintiff,
Dr. Behre told her that she could either work in the third-floor
room or could take leave without pay.
(ECF No. 28, at 6).
Plaintiff believed that she had retained leave from a previous
federal government job and filled out a request for leave or
approved absence, noting that it was “tentative” and that she
“may or may not take leave.”
(ECF No. 28-3, at 2).
supervisors recall that they instructed Plaintiff to call Dr.
Behre if she decided not to report to work.
6; 21-3, at 86).
(ECF Nos. 21-1, at
Plaintiff did not report to work the next two
days and did not call Dr. Behre to inform him that she would not
(ECF Nos. 21-1, at 7; 28, at 6).
On the second
day, Plaintiff called Dr. Behre and asked if she could report to
Plaintiff returned to work.
(ECF No. 28, at 6).
On June 29, a USDA database administrator informed one of
Plaintiff’s supervisors that Plaintiff had made mistakes in her
(ECF Nos. 21-1, at 8-9; 21-3, at 54).
had begun utilizing a new process that she believed was faster,
but which led to formatting problems and inaccurate entries.
Plaintiff’s supervisors later discovered that Plaintiff was, on
average, completing approximately 61% of the work as the other
Plaintiff was put on administrative leave.
(ECF Nos. 21-1, at
Plaintiff was paid while on administrative leave, but
was told to not report to the office or perform any official
(ECF No. 28-8).
Dr. Behre states that Plaintiff was
placed on administrative leave to provide time to formalize her
(ECF No. 21-3, at 44).
On July 7, Dr. Behre sent
Plaintiff a letter terminating her employment because she had
conduct” that “undermine[d] the basic employee/employer trust
and impede[d] the goals and objectives of the agency.”
28-9, at 2-3).
Dr. Behre’s letter specifically noted that
Plaintiff: interrupted coworkers with questions that should have
been directed to Dr. Behre; ignored instructions on completing
regarding avoiding the third-floor room and Mr. Hood; failed to
inform Dr. Behre that she would be absent from work; and failed
to follow proper data entry procedures.
On July 8, 2010, Plaintiff contacted an Equal Employment
Opportunity counselor at the USDA.
(ECF No. 21-3, at 13).
discrimination with the USDA, alleging that she was wrongfully
placed on administrative leave and terminated because of her age
(Id. at 9).
On October 23, 2012, an administrative
judge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”)
granted the USDA’s motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 21-9),
which was affirmed by the USDA Office of Adjudication (ECF No.
Plaintiff appealed the decision to the EEOC, which
(ECF No. 21-14).
On June 22, 2015, Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, filed a
complaint commencing this action (ECF No. 1), and the court
granted Plaintiff’s motion to proceed in forma pauperis (ECF No.
The complaint asserts two counts: discrimination based on
age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of
discrimination based on race in violation of Title VII of the
Civil Rights Act (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (Count
Following multiple extensions of time, Defendant filed the
pending motion for summary judgment.
(ECF No. 21).
was provided with a Roseboro notice, which advised her of the
pendency of the motion for summary judgment and her entitlement
Garrison, 528 F.2d 309, 310 (4th Cir. 1975) (holding that pro se
plaintiffs should be advised of their right to file responsive
material to a motion for summary judgment).
to Defendant’s motion (ECF No. 28), and Defendant replied (ECF
Standard of Review
Summary judgment is appropriate under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure Rule 56(a) when there is no genuine dispute as to any
judgment in its favor as a matter of law.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986), the Supreme Court
of the United States explained that, in considering a motion for
summary judgment, the “judge’s function is not himself to weigh
dispute about a material fact is genuine “if the evidence is
himself not whether he thinks the evidence unmistakably favors
Id. at 252.
In undertaking this inquiry, a court must view the facts
and the reasonable inferences drawn therefrom “in the light most
favorable to the party opposing the motion.”
Indus. Co. Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)
(1962)); see also EEOC v. Navy Fed. Credit Union, 424 F.3d 397,
405 (4th Cir. 2005).
sufficient to preclude an order granting summary judgment.
The mere existence of a “scintilla” of
genuine dispute of material fact through mere speculation or
compilation of inferences.”
Shin v. Shalala, 166 F.Supp.2d 373,
375 (D.Md. 2001) (citation omitted).
Indeed, this court has an
affirmative obligation to prevent factually unsupported claims
and defenses from going to trial.
See Drewitt v. Pratt, 999
Humphreys Co., 818 F.2d 1126, 1128 (4th Cir. 1987)).
Although pro se litigants are to be given some latitude,
the above standards apply to everyone.
Thus, as courts have
recognized repeatedly, even a pro se party may not avoid summary
See Smith v. Vilsack, 832 F.Supp.2d 573, 580 (D.Md.
2011) (citing cases).
Plaintiff asserts that she was discriminated against on the
basis of her race and age when she was placed on administrative
administrative leave and subsequently terminated her employment
because “she was ‘imperiling the data entry project’ that she
was hired to complete.”
(ECF No. 21-1, at 3).
Title VII prohibits discrimination based on an employee’s
personal characteristics such as “race, color, religion, sex, or
42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a); Univ. of Texas Sw.
Med. Ctr. v. Nassar, 133 S.Ct. 2517, 2525 (2013).
U.S.C. § 623(a).
The ADEA’s protections apply to individuals at
least forty (40) years of age, 29 U.S.C. § 631(a), and do not
permit “a mixed-motives age discrimination claim.”
Fin. Servs., Inc., 557 U.S. 167, 175 (2009).
employer’s adverse action.”
Gross v. FBL
Id. at 177.
asserting a Title VII or ADEA claim must provide evidence of
intentional discrimination through one of two avenues of proof:
motivated the employer’s adverse employment decision; or (2) the
McDonnell Douglas “pretext framework” that requires a plaintiff
to show that the “employer’s proffered permissible reason for
taking an adverse employment action is actually a pretext for
Management, Inc., 354 F.3d 277, 284-85 (4th Cir. 2004) (citing
McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973)).
Plaintiff provides no direct evidence of discrimination for her
Title VII or ADEA claims.
Accordingly, she must rely on the
McDonnell Douglas framework.
Under McDonnell Douglas, once a plaintiff meets her initial
burden of establishing a prima facie case for discrimination,
“the burden shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate,
Id. at 285.
Once the employer meets this burden of production,
preponderance of the evidence that the employer’s stated reasons
Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 143 (2000)).
“The final pretext
inquiry merges with the ultimate burden of persuading the court
discrimination, which at all times remains with the plaintiff.”
Merritt v. Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc., 601 F.3d 289, 294
(4th Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted).
discipline, Plaintiff must show that: (1) she is a member of a
protected class; (2) the prohibited conduct in which she engaged
was comparable in seriousness to misconduct of employees outside
against her (i.e., administrative leave) were more severe than
those enforced against other employees.
Jenkins v. Baltimore
City Fire Dep’t, 862 F.Supp.2d 427, 452 (D.Md. 2012) (citing
Cook v. CSX Transp. Corp., 988 F.2d 507, 510 (4th Cir. 1993)).
must be clearly established” by Plaintiff.
Lightner v. City of
Wilmington, N.C., 545 F.3d 260, 265 (4th Cir. 2008).
standards and . . . engaged in the same conduct without such
distinguish their conduct or the employer’s treatment of them
Williams v. Silver Spring Volunteer Fire Dep’t, 86
F.Supp.3d 398, 420 (D.Md. 2015) (quoting Haywood v. Locke, 397
F.App’x 355, 359 (4th Cir. 2010)).
Here, Plaintiff has failed to identify a similarly situated
Although Plaintiff alleges that other employees made
mistakes and yet were not placed on administrative leave, there
is no evidence that any other employee repeatedly failed to
procedures, or had issues working with colleagues that “created
(ECF No. 21-4 ¶ 15).
Plaintiff cannot establish a prima facie
case of discriminatory discipline because she cannot show that
any other employee had similar performance and conduct issues.
See Martin v. Montgomery Cty. Public Schools, 223 F.Supp.2d 742,
744 (D.Md. 2002) (granting summary judgment for the defendant
because the “plaintiff . . . presented no objective evidence
that a similarly situated [person outside his class], i.e., one
differently than he”).
Accordingly, Defendant is entitled to
summary judgment on Plaintiff’s discriminatory discipline claims
under Title VII and the ADEA.
discharge, Plaintiff must show that: (1) she is a member of a
which is satisfied by her termination; (3) she was performing
her job duties at a level that met her employer’s legitimate
expectations at the time of the adverse employment action; and
Leavitt, 629 F.3d 369, 386 (4th Cir. 2011) (citing Hill, 354 F.3d
Here, Plaintiff has provided no evidence supporting
Behre’s legitimate expectations.
“It is the perception of the
decision maker which is relevant, not the self-assessment of the
Hawkins v. PepsiCo, Inc., 203 F.3d 274, 280 (4th
Cir. 2000) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
Plaintiff, particularly given the scale and short duration of
the Accreditation Project.
Accordingly, Plaintiff has failed to
establish a prima facie case of discriminatory discharge.
Even assuming Plaintiff could establish a prima facie case
of discriminatory discipline or discharge, she has failed to
show that Defendant’s nondiscriminatory reasons for placing her
on administrative leave and for terminating her employment were
pretext for discrimination.
Dr. Behre terminated Plaintiff’s
“undermine[d] the basic employee/employer trust and impede[d]
the goals and objectives of the agency.”
(ECF No. 28-9, at 2-
Dr. Behre was also concerned that Plaintiff’s conduct might
put Mr. Hood or other employees in danger.
(ECF No. 21-3, at
Federal courts do “not sit as a kind of super-personnel
department weighing the prudence of employment decisions made by
[employers] charged with employment discrimination.”
v. Corning Inc., 133 F.3d 293, 299 (4th Cir. 1998) (citation and
internal quotation marks omitted).
A court’s role is not to
“decide whether the reason was wise, fair, or even correct,
Id. (citation and internal quotation
supporting Plaintiff’s conclusory assertions that Dr. Behre’s
decision was motivated by discriminatory animus.
Thus, even if
Plaintiff was meeting Dr. Behre’s job performance expectations
or could point to similarly-situated comparators, she has not
shown that Dr. Behre’s belief that her performance and conduct
Project was pretext for discrimination.
For the foregoing reasons, the motion for summary judgment
DEBORAH K. CHASANOW
United States District Judge
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