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Harris v. Anne Arundel County

United States District Court, D. Maryland

October 1, 2014



CATHERINE C. BLAKE, District Judge.

Plaintiff Joan Harris alleges she was terminated from her position in the Anne Arundel County ("the County") Executive's office in violation of the anti-retaliation provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"). Before the court are the County's motion for summary judgment, Ms. Harris's motion to strike an affidavit attached to the motion for summary judgment, and Ms. Harris's motion for sanctions. The court finds oral argument unnecessary to resolve the issues. See Local R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2011). For the reasons stated below, the motion for summary judgment will be granted, and the motions to strike and for sanctions will be denied as moot.


John Leopold was twice elected as the County Executive for Anne Arundel County, first in 2006 and again in 2010. (Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. 4, Harris Dep. 8, ECF No. 52-4.) Though Mr. Leopold "pretty much ran" his first campaign by himself, Ms. Harris, who had known Mr. Leopold "for a long time, " helped the campaign by standing "with a sign on election day." (Harris Dep. 16, 65, ECF No. 52-3.) Then, in late November or early December 2006, Mr. Leopold called Ms. Harris on the telephone to ask if she would like to work for him "as a community services person." (Harris Dep. 16, ECF No. 52-3.) She accepted the offer. ( Id. )

Mr. Leopold had sole discretion concerning appointment, promotion, and termination for Ms. Harris's position as constituent services specialist, a position that fell under the broader heading of "Executive Management Assistant I." (Burdick Aff. 1, ECF No. 52-5.) The County Code classified this position as "exempt" or "at will, " such that termination need not be for cause. ( Id. ) This position appears to have been created and compensated by the County, rather than through any discretionary budget Mr. Leopold may have had. ( See id. (quoting County Code provisions concerning appointments by the County Executive).) Ms. Harris's job duties included addressing constituent issues in the northern part of the County, working with the police and the health department, and working on gang awareness initiatives. (Harris Dep. 17, ECF No. 52-3.) She also represented Mr. Leopold at community meetings four to six times per week, and gave speeches on his behalf. (Harris Dep. 15, 17-18, ECF No. 52-4.) In addition, Mr. Leopold consulted her between 15 and 30 times for advice about government officials he was considering appointing. (Harris Dep. 67, ECF No. 52-3; Harris Dep. 10, ECF No. 52-4.)

Mr. Leopold conferred with Ms. Harris several times a week. (Harris Dep. 22-24, ECF No. 52-4.) He gave her assignments directly, but also relayed them to her through Erik Robey, Assistant to the Chief Administrative Officer, or through Mr. Leopold's secretary. (Harris Dep. 22-24, ECF No. 52-4; Robey Aff. 1, ECF No. 52-2.[1]) About a year into Mr. Leopold's first term, a lock was placed on the door of his office suite that prevented others from entering without his permission. (Harris Dep. 22, ECF No. 52-4.) Nevertheless, Mr. Leopold continued to speak with Ms. Harris over the phone one to five times per week. (Harris Dep. 23, ECF No. 52-4.)

Mr. Leopold announced his candidacy for re-election in June 2010. (Harris Dep. 33, ECF No. 52-3.) To help with this campaign, Ms. Harris set up an email account for Mr. Leopold, registered the domain for a campaign website, and put up campaign signs in the northern area of the County. (Harris Dep. 8-9, ECF No. 52-4.) Around July 2010, however, Mr. Leopold's relationship with Ms. Harris changed, and he stopped speaking to her. (Harris Dep. 33, ECF No. 52-3.) Though Ms. Harris has not provided the court with evidence concerning the source of Mr. Leopold's sudden hostility, in her complaint she alleged it stemmed from assistance she provided in a gender discrimination suit filed by Karla Hamner, a former employee of the County Executive's office. ( See Compl. ¶¶ 22, 26, 37-41, ECF No. 1.) In Ms. Harris's deposition, however, she stated Mr. Leopold became hostile because of her refusal to contribute $100 to his campaign. (Harris Dep. 35, ECF No. 52-3.) In any event, Ms. Harris began receiving fewer assignments, and was not invited to meetings of the type she had previously attended. (Harris Dep. 48, ECF No. 52-3.) She was terminated on November 3, 2010. (Termination letter, ECF No. 52-2.)

Ms. Harris filed a charge against the County with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), which provided a "Right to Sue" notice in March 2011. (ECF No. 52-1.) On May 13, 2011, Ms. Hamner sought leave to file an amended complaint in her discrimination suit, proposing to add Ms. Harris as a co-plaintiff. (Mot. for Leave to File Second Am. Compl., Hamner v. Anne Arundel Cnty., CCB-10-2485, ECF No. 40 (D. Md. May 13, 2011).) The court denied that motion on February 15, 2012, because Ms. Harris's claims did not have a sufficient relationship to Ms. Hamner's. ( Hamner v. Anne Arundel Cnty., CCB-10-2485, ECF No. 53 (D. Md. Feb. 15, 2012).) Ms. Harris then filed a complaint in this court on March 16, 2012, naming both the County and Mr. Leopold as defendants.

On March 18, 2013, the court granted in part and denied in part the defendants' motion to dismiss. The court dismissed Count Three's First Amendment claim and Count Four's claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1985 - both of which named the County and Mr. Leopold as defendants - for failure to state a claim. The court also dismissed Count One, which named only the County as defendant, for the same reason. The court denied the motion, however, as to Ms. Harris's Title VII retaliation claim against the County, leaving the County as the sole remaining defendant.

On March 2, 2014, the County filed a motion for summary judgment with five attached exhibits. On March 25, 2014, Ms. Harris moved to strike the affidavit of Erik Robey, which composed a portion of the motion's second exhibit. Also on March 25, 2014, Ms. Harris moved for discovery sanctions against the County, arguing that it had improperly delayed producing its reasons for her termination, and filed an opposition to the motion for summary judgment.


I. Motion for Summary Judgment

Summary Judgment Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that summary judgment should be granted "if the movant shows 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) (emphasis added). Whether a fact is material depends upon the substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Accordingly, "the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment." Id. at 247-48. "A party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [his] pleadings, ' but rather must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Bouchat v. Baltimore Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 522 (4th Cir. 2003) (alteration in original) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant and draw all justifiable inferences in his favor. Greater Baltimore Ctr. for Pregnancy Concerns, Inc. v. Mayor and ...

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