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Echols v. Living Classrooms Foundation, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Northern Division

December 2, 2014



WILLIAM D. QUARLES, Jr., District Judge.

Phyllis Echols, pro se, sued Living Classrooms Foundation, Inc., ("LCF") for race, religious, and other discrimination. ECF No. 1. Pending is LCF's unopposed[1] motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, and for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, or, for summary judgment. ECF No. 8. No hearing is necessary. Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2014). For the following reasons, LCF's motion for summary judgment on Echols's discrimination and retaliation claims, and its motion to dismiss Echols's Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act ("GINA")[2] claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, will be granted.

I. Background[3]

LCF is a nonprofit educational organization that promotes "hands-on learning"[4] for youth in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area. ECF No. 8-1 at 2. In April 2011, LCF hired Echols, an African American, as Staff Accountant. ECF No. 1-2 at 6.

On Echols's first day at LCF, Cindy Wadalavage, Grant Accountant, told Echols "that she never knew black accountants[] existed." ECF No. 1 at 5. Accounting staff refused to greet or speak to Echols; for the first three months of Echols's employment, only Deborah Zell, the Controller, would speak to her. Id.

On August 22, 2011, Echols was approached by Julie Bolster, Payroll Specialist, about Echols's changing of the payroll system password while Bolster was on vacation. Id. When prompted by the system, Echols had changed the password from "SadieCat10" to "love1GOD." Id. at 6. Offended by the religious reference, Bolster yelled at Echols, stating that she should have changed the password to "SadieCatll." Id. Bolster and Echols argued, and Bolster and Wadalavage told Echols to "shut up." Id. Bob Sandler, Chief Financial Officer, intervened to end the argument. Id. Sandler met with Echols to express his discomfort with Bolster's and Wadalavage's behavior, and said he would not tolerate such behavior. Id. Sandler also met with Bolster and Wadalavage. Id. [5]

On October 17, 2011, when Echols asked coworker, Phil Colcoh, for certain bank entries that needed reconciliation, Wadalavage interrupted to ask why Echols needed those entries. Id. at 7. Echols told Wadalavage that she was speaking to Colcoh, and Wadalavage should "attend to the affairs of her desk." Id. Wadalavage continued to challenge Echols's need for the entries, to which Echols responded, "if [Wadalavage] knew how to reconcile the bank accounts, why [were they] not reconciled in her 2 or 3 year tenure in this position[?]" Id. Echols met with Sandler to complain about Wadalavage's behavior. Id. Later that day, Wadalavage slammed a stack of folders onto Echols's desk; Echols then slammed the folders onto the desk behind her. Id.

On October 18, 2011, Echols and Wadalavage argued when Echols performed corrected computer entries while Wadalavage was entering other information into the system; Wadalavage was prevented from successfully completing her entries. Id. Wadalavage yelled at Echols to "Shut Up! Shut Up!, " to which Echols responded that she was not Wadalavage's child. Id. Bolster and Wadalavage then told Echols to "Shut Up! Shut Up!" Id. Echols reported the incident to Zell, who informed her that she "should try to remain calm or [she] may lose [her] job." Id. Wadalavage apologized to Echols, then waved her right hand at Echols stating "I have no more to say!" Id. After a break, Wadalavage told Echols "[your] black ass is out of here." Id. Echols left work early because she "felt light headed, [her] heart was beating fast[, ] and [her] hands were shaking." Id.

On October 19, 2011, Echols saw her physician. Id. She was diagnosed with high blood pressure, and placed on medical leave, which was extended until November 28, 2011. Id. at 6, 8, 43. On November 2, 2011, while Echols was absent, LCF conducted a performance evaluation. Id. at 8.[6]

On November 7, 2011, Echols filed her first Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") charge. ECF No. 1-2 at 12. On November 9, 2011, the EEOC dismissed the charge, concluding that Echols had not established any statutory violations. Id. at 38.

On November 28, 2011, Echols returned to work. ECF No. 1 at 8. She reviewed her November 2, 2011 performance evaluation, but refused to sign it because it "contained liars [sic], " and accused her "of not being a team player." Id. 8-9.[7]

Six weeks before Echols was fired, LCF hired Archie Reed-an African American - to replace Zell. Id. at 9. On January 20, 2012, before leaving LCF, Zell wrote Echols a letter of recommendation; Zell stated that Echols "always conducts herself with professionalism and as a team player with co-workers." ECF No. 1-2 at 36. Zell further stated that Echols was "a very hardworking, competent and reliable employee" who "possesses excellent accounting and analytic skills." Id.

On January 26, 2012, "based on additional information obtained, " the EEOC reopened its investigation into Echols's allegations of discrimination. Id. at 35.[8] However, on March 15, 2012, Echols withdrew the charges. ECF No. 1 at 10; ECF No. 1-2 at 33. Marika Pinkett, Director of Human Resources, had told Echols that Scott Raymond, Vice President of LCF, "was upset that [Echols] had filed the EEOC charges." ECF No. 1 at 10.[9]

On March 16, 2012, Sandler overheard Echols say "Go to hell!" while listening to the radio sermon "White Throne Judgment." Id. Sandler asked Echols to refrain from speaking those words, and Echols apologized. Id. [10]

On March 22, 2012, Sandler overheard Echols say "Amen" while softly praying. Id. Sandler spoke with Reed, who informed Echols that Sandler - who was Jewish - and other staff - who were atheists - found her religious words offensive. Id. Reed told Echols to ...

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