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Stroud v. Greystar Management Services, LP

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 10, 2014

CAROLINE STROUD, Plaintiff,
v.
GREYSTAR MANAGEMENT SERVICES, LP, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ROGER W. TITUS, District Judge.

On March 18, 2011, Plaintiff Caroline Stroud ("Stroud") filed suit against Defendants, Greystar Management Services, LP ("Greystar") and JPI Management Services, LP, ("JPI") alleging retaliation under the Family Medical leave Act ("FMLA").[1] See Compl., ECF No. 1. JPI was dismissed as a party because Stroud "failed to demonstrate that [JPI] took any actions as Plaintiff's employer that were in violation of the FMLA." ECF No. 18 at 5. On April 1, 2013, Greystar filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 30.[2] For the reasons stated below, its motion will be granted.

Background

Stroud began work as a Resident Services Management employee for JPI on June 7, 2007. Compl. ¶ 4. On December 23, 2008, Stroud wrote a letter of complaint to JPI's Human Resource Department expressing her belief that co-worker Deyvis Reyes had been mistreated through denial of a leave request and termination. ECF No. 1-1; Opp., ECF No. 36, Ex. 5. In the letter, she stated that Reyes had "asked the maintenance manager, Angel Rodriguez, and the community manager, Joi Ervin, if he could take time off (using his sick & vacation leave), " further stating that Reyes "wanted this time off (two weeks to be exact) to return to his country in order to get medical treatment for a preexisting condition." ECF No. 1-1. Stroud asserted that the company's denial of Reyes's request for leave was "[a] wrongdoing[] completely defy[ing] [JPI's] principles and creed." ECF No. 1-1. She also expressed a number of other human resources concerns to JPI, including allegations about the mistreatment of a groundskeeper and allegations about a worker who "comes to work visually intoxicated, and smelling like alcohol quite often." ECF No. 1-1. Stroud ended her letter saying, "[W]e all deserve to work in a workplace that's fair, safe, and respectable to all." ECF No. 1-1. Stroud explained in an affidavit that she wrote the letter "to make [JPI] aware of [her] concerns that fellow employees were... involved in activities that contradicted the company's creed." Stroud Aff. ¶ 14, ECF No. 36-4, Ex. 32.

In response, JPI's Human Resources Coordinator had a telephone conversation with Stroud on January 6, 2009, and wrote a letter to Stroud on January 7, 2009, stating that with respect to Reyes's leave request and termination, JPI "believes we have handled this situation consistently with all JPI policies and procedures, and applicable employment laws." ECF No. 1-4. The Human Resources Coordinator instructed Stroud to "redirect" any coworkers that come to her "with an associate relations issue... to their manager or Joi Ervin, Director of Community Operations as appropriate." ECF No. 1-4. Stroud was also directed to address any of her own "concerns regarding other associates" with her "manager, Joi Ervin or Human Resources as needed." ECF No. 1-4. That January, Greystar assumed management of the facility at which Stroud worked, and Stroud's employment position and duties remained substantially the same. Vickory Aff. ¶¶ 3-5, ECF No. 30-3.

Two months after the January 7th letter from the Human Resources Coordinator, a warning was issued to Stroud on March 19, 2009, stating that "[Stroud]... [had] participate[d] in inappropriate conversations regarding employee related concerns." ECF No. 1-5. The warning explained that Stroud had divulged medical information of another employee, Amada Lucero, which was against company policy. ECF No. 1-5; Ervin Aff. ¶¶ 12-15, ECF No. 30-4. The report also referenced the January conversation between Stroud and human resources and reiterated the need for her to refer employee-related matters to management. ECF No. 1-5. On March 27, 2009, Stroud provided a written response to the March 19th warning report, which she described as "inaccurate and incomplete." ECF No. 1-6. With respect to the December 23, 2008 complaint letter regarding Reyes, Stroud asserted that she "was merely relaying information... about [her] concerns that fellow employees were witnessing, or involved in activities that contradicted the company's creed." ECF No. 1-6. Stroud "view[ed] [the March 19th] incident... as retaliation/harassment for [her] previous involvement in trying to get justice and equality for [her]self, as well as others on the team." ECF No. 1-6.

In September 2009, Stroud's supervisor's position (Operations Manager) became vacant. Pl.'s Dep. 57-58, ECF No. 30-2. Her co-worker, Celedo Kemngang, was selected for the position based on his long service with the company and the recommendation of the departing supervisor. Ervin Aff. ¶ 17. Stroud believed "because of the [March 19] warning[, ] [she] was not eligible to apply for a promotion." Compl. ¶ 13. Stroud, however, did not ask anybody if she could be promoted, Pl.'s Dep. 78, and she did not submit an application for the position. Ervin Aff. ¶ 17. Nevertheless, she believed her credentials to be superior to those of Kemngang. Pl.'s Dep. 78-79.

Over the following eight months, Stroud's relationship with Kemngang became "very strained." Ervin Aff. ¶ 18. On October 29, 2009, Stroud filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), alleging that she was subjected to retaliatory treatment for her actions in January and March of 2009.[3] ECF No. 38-4. Stroud and various members of the Greystar management team frequently disagreed over work assignments, new duties, and Stroud's willingness to cooperate. See Vickory Aff. ¶¶ 11-16; Ervin Aff. ¶¶ 17-27. On June 7, 2010, Greystar terminated Stroud's employment for refusal to recognize the authority of her supervisors. See Ervin Aff. ¶ 27-29; Compl. ¶ 4.

Standard of Review

Summary judgment should be rendered if "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); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). "A material fact is one that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.'" Spriggs v. Diamond Auto Glass, 242 F.3d 179, 183 (4th Cir. 2001) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). Disputes of material fact are genuine if, based on the evidence, "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

To avoid summary judgment, the nonmoving party "may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. at 256. While the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, Francis v. Booz, Allen & Hamilton, Inc., 452 F.3d 299, 302 (4th Cir. 2006), it must also "prevent factually unsupported claims and defenses from proceeding to trial, " Drewitt v. Pratt, 999 F.2d 774, 778-79 (4th Cir. 1993) (quoting Felty v. Graves-Humphreys Co., 818 F.2d 1126, 1128 (4th Cir. 1987)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

Discussion

Stroud alleges a claim of retaliation for opposing practices made unlawful by the FMLA. Compl. ¶ 15. The opposition clause of section 2615(a)(2) of the FMLA makes it unlawful for an employer to "discharge or in any other manner discriminate against any individual for opposing any practice made unlawful" by the FMLA. 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(2). Courts analyze FMLA claims under the familiar burden-shifting framework of claims under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act found in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), because Title VII and FMLA claims are analogous. Yashenko v. Harrah's NC Casino Co., 446 F.3d 541, 550-51 (4th Cir. 2006); Nichols v. Ashland Hosp. Corp., 251 F.3d 496, 502 (4th Cir. 2001).

To establish a prima facie claim of retaliation under the FMLA, a plaintiff must show that "[1] he [or she] engaged in protected activity, [2] that the employer took adverse action against him [or her], and [3] that the adverse action was causally connected to the plaintiff's protected activity." Yashenko, 446 F.3d at 551 (citing Cline v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 294, 301 (4th Cir. 1998)). Because Stroud fails to establish the first and third elements of a prima facie case, her FMLA claim fails. Even if she had ...


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