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Engler v. Harris Corporation

United States District Court, D. Maryland

April 7, 2014

SUSAN ENGLER, Plaintiff,
v.
HARRIS CORPORATION, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GEORGE L. RUSSELL, III, District Judge.

Plaintiff Susan Engler ("Engler") brings this action against Defendant Harris Corporation ("Harris"), alleging she was fired because of her gender and in retaliation for complaining about discrimination in the workplace, both in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 2000e et seq. (2012). Currently pending before the Court is Harris's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 92), Motion for Sanctions Against Engler (ECF No. 79), and Second Motion to Compel Full and Complete Discovery Responses from Engler (ECF No. 78). The Court finds that no hearing is necessary. See Md. Loc. R. 105(6) (D.Md. 2010). For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant Harris's Motion for Summary Judgment and deny as moot Harris's Motion for Sanctions and Second Motion to Compel Full and Complete Discovery Responses.

I. BACKGROUND

Engler was hired by Harris on September 5, 2006, as a firstlevel contracts manager based in a satellite office of Harris's RF Communications Division ("RFCD") located in Columbia, Maryland (the "Columbia office"). Engler was hired to support the Communications Security Products ("CSP") group within RFCD. She reported to Paul Wilson, a contracts director located at RFCD's main office in Rochester, New York (the "Rochester office"). As a contracts manager, Engler was expected to interact with customers and work closely with Harris personnel in developing, negotiating, and administrating bid efforts and contracts. Engler was the first and only contracts manager to be located in the Columbia office.

During Harris's fiscal year 2009 an anticipated expansion of the CSP group did not materialize, and as a result of the projected decrease in revenue Harris ultimately determined a reduction-in-force ("RIF") was necessary. Harris considered 1, 900 employees for inclusion in the RIF by utilizing a process known as Banding Analysis. The Banding Analysis organized the considered employees according to job function and assigned scores associated with specific criteria such as anticipated business needs, customer and program experience, job performance, skill criticality and versatility, technical and professional knowledge, and leadership skills. After the Banding Analysis determined the initial layoff selections, Harris conducted an additional statistical analysis known as Adverse Impact Analysis for the purpose of assessing and preventing adverse impact on any protected class.

A total of 179 employees across various Harris offices, including Rochester, Columbia, and Woodlake, Florida, were selected for inclusion in the June 2009 RIF. Of those employees, ninety-seven were involuntarily released, including seventy-one men and twenty-six women. Engler was one of six people, four men and two women, in the Columbia office who were included in the RIF.

Engler was one of two RFCD contracts managers considered for inclusion in the RIF. In addition, a male senior contracts manager based in the Rochester office was also considered. Harris states several factors in selecting Engler for inclusion in the RIF over the male senior contracts manager. In addition, Harris asserts it determined that as a result of the anticipated decrease in CSP business there was no longer justification for Engler's contracts position in the satellite office and that Engler's work could be absorbed by existing employees in RFCD's Rochester office.

Engler, however, believes she was selected for inclusion in the RIF because she raised concerns throughout her employment about gender discrimination occurring in the Columbia office and participated in Harris's 2009 investigation into those allegations. In support of her contention, Engler relies on a number of events that occurred during the course of her employment at Harris that she believes exemplifies continuing discriminatory and retaliatory animus on the part of her male colleagues and Harris management. Furthermore, Engler asserts that she was performing at a level substantially higher than the male senior contracts manager retained by Harris, and that her performance rating of "Low Contributor" was pretextual.

On December 15, 2009, Engler filed an Intake Questionnaire with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") alleging she was included in the RIF because of her age and gender, and in retaliation for participating in an internal investigation concerning gender discrimination in the Columbia office. The EEOC dismissed Engler's charge and issued a right to sue letter. On December 14, 2011, Engler filed this action. (ECF No. 1). On August 28, 2012, the Court dismissed Engler's age discrimination and hostile work environment claim, leaving only her claims of gender discrimination and retaliation. (See ECF Nos. 31, 53). On November 12, 2013, Harris moved for summary judgment on the remaining claims. Engler filed a Response in Opposition (ECF No. 109) and was granted leave to file a Corrected Opposition to Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 112). Harris filed a Reply. (ECF No. 113). The Motion is now ripe for disposition.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, the Court must grant summary judgment if the moving party demonstrates that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).

In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the Court views the facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986) (citing Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co. , 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970)). Once a motion for summary judgment is properly made and supported, the opposing party has the burden of showing that a genuine dispute exists. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp. , 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986). "[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson , 477 U.S. at 247-48.

A "material fact" is a fact that might affect the outcome of a party's case. Id. at 248; see also JKC Holding Co. v. Wash. Sports Ventures, Inc. , 264 F.3d 459, 465 (4th Cir. 2001) (citing Hooven-Lewis v. Caldera , 249 F.3d 259, 265 (4th Cir. 2001)). Whether a fact is considered to be "material" is determined by the substantive law, and "[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson , 477 U.S. at 248; Hooven-Lewis v. Caldera , 249 F.3d 259, 265 (4th Cir. 2001).

A "genuine" issue concerning a "material" fact arises when the evidence is sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson , 477 U.S. at 248. Rule 56(c) requires the nonmoving party to go beyond the pleadings and by its own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). The nonmoving party "cannot create a genuine issue of material fact through mere speculation or the building of one inference upon another." Beale v. Hardy , 769 F.2d 213, 214 (4th Cir. 1985) (quoting Barwick v. Celotex Corp. , 736 F.2d 946, 963 (4th Cir.1984).

B. Analysis

1. Gender Discrimination Under Title VII

Harris moves for summary judgment on Engler's Title VII gender discrimination claim, arguing that the evidence does not establish a prima facie case of discrimination. The Court will grant Harris's Motion for Summary Judgment on Engler's discrimination claim because she fails to establish a prima facie case of discrimination and further fails to produce sufficient evidence to rebut as mere pretext, Harris's legitimate and non-retaliatory reason for her termination.

Engler catalogs a number of statements and events that occurred during her tenure at Harris. She argues these statements and events evidence a discriminatory attitude toward women at Harris and reflect direct evidence of gender discrimination against her. "Direct evidence of discrimination is evidence which, if believed, would prove the existence of a fact without any inference or presumptions." See O'Connor v. Consol. Coin Caterers Corp. , 56 F.3d 542, 548 (4th Cir. 1995) (quoting Bodenheimer v. PPG Indus., Inc. , 5 F.3d 955, 958 (5th Cir. 1993)) (internal quotation marks omitted), rev'd on other grounds, 517 U.S. 308 (1996). Here, the isolated and ambiguous statements and events Engler catalogs are too abstract to establish direct evidence of gender discrimination and retaliation. Thus, the Court will analyze Engler's claims under the proof scheme articulated in McDonnell Douglas Corporation v. Green , 411 U.S. 792 (1973). See Hill v. Lockheed Martin Logistics Mgmt., Inc. , 354 F.3d 277, 284-86 (4th Cir. 2004) (employing the McDonnell Douglas framework to analyze a discrimination claim based principally on circumstantial evidence).

Under the McDonnell Douglas standard, Engler must first establish a prima facie case of discrimination. Id. at 285. If she meets this burden, Harris can rebut the presumption of discrimination raised by Engler's prima facie case by establishing a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for her termination. Id . If Harris succeeds in doing so, Engler must then "prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the legitimate reasons offered by [Harris] were not its true reasons, but were a pretext for discrimination." Tex. Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine , 450 U.S. 248, 253 (1981). Engler "bears the ultimate burden of proving that ...


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