United States District Court, D. Maryland
CATHERINE C. BLAKE, District Judge.
Plaintiff Rochelle Toney ("Toney") brings this lawsuit against Defendant University of Maryland Medical Center, Inc. ("UMMC"), alleging that it violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq . Now pending is a motion for summary judgment filed by UMMC. It is fully briefed, and no oral argument is necessary. See Local R. 105.6. For the following reasons, UMMC's motion will be granted.
This dispute arose over a job opening in the Department of Health Information Management ("HIM") at UMMC. Jennifer Clinkscales has been a Senior Manager in the HIM Department since 2003, where she oversees release of information ("ROI") and document imaging. (ECF No. 25-4 at 10). She was around fifty years old during the events relevant to this case. (ECF No. 25-9 ¶ 4). In early 2011 Clinkscales posted notices for two job openings within her group: ROI Supervisor and Document Liaison Specialist, Team Lead. (Id. ¶ 5; ECF Nos. 25-10, 11). The job description for the ROI Supervisor position listed numerous qualification criteria, including the following Education requirements: "High School Diploma or equivalent (GED)... Health Information Management Credentials, Associate's Degree or higher in Health Information Technology or related field is preferred." (ECF No. 25-10 at p. 4). As for experience, the job required "Two years progressively responsible technical experience within the Health Information Management field, " and "Three years experience in a supervisory or Team Leader capacity, preferably within the Health Information field... Relevant education may substitute for supervisory experience." Id. The Team Lead job description, in contrast, only required a high school diploma (or equivalent) and did not require prior supervisory experience. (ECF No. 25-11).
Around late February or early March, two candidates applied for the ROI Supervisor position: Plaintiff Toney, forty-three years old, and Aziza Holmes-Lloyd ("Holmes-Lloyd"), thirty-two years old. (ECF No. 25-7). Toney earned an Associate's Degree in General Studies and since 2007 had been working at various temporary assignments through the Mary Kraft & Associates Staffing Agency. (ECF No. 25-15). Those temporary assignments included ROI work, but Toney's most recent supervisory experience was in 2001. As for Holmes-Lloyd, she earned a Bachelor's of Science Degree in Business/Management Science and had been an Administrative Coordinator/Supervisor in the Office of Billing Quality Assurance at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine since December 2007. (ECF No. 25-18). Holmes-Lloyd's technical expertise was in compliance billing, where she ensured medical records were properly coded to reflect which medical services had been rendered. (ECF No. 25-6 at 22-25).
Jennifer Cyran, a UMMC Human Resources Recruiter, initially reviewed Toney's and Holmes-Lloyd's applications and determined that both met the minimum qualifications for the ROI Supervisor position. (ECF No. 25-13 ¶ 4). Cyran forwarded their applications to Clinkscales, who decided to interview both women. (Id. ¶ 5-6). At no time during the process (including when she met both women during their interview) was Cyran aware of their ages. (Id. ¶ 12). Toney was interviewed first, on March 10, 2011. During her interview with Clinkscales, which Toney described as "informal, " Toney discussed her resume, Clinkscales's husband who worked at Johns Hopkins, and general expectations of the job. (ECF No. 25-5 at 69-73). The parties dispute whether the following two events occurred: first, Clinkscales claims Toney stated there were "rumors" that Clinkscales was difficult to work for. Second, Toney claims that Clinkscales asked Toney why she did not dye her gray hair, since it made her look older than she was. (ECF No. 25-5 at 77).
A few days later, Clinkscales interviewed Holmes-Lloyd. They discussed the position, Holmes-Lloyd's education, and her training. (ECF No. 25-6 at 39-40). Clinkscales thought Holmes-Lloyd had the better interview because she expressed enthusiasm about the position and touted her supervisory experience. (ECF No. 25-4 at 184-85). Holmes-Lloyd was invited back for a second interview, at the conclusion of which Clinkscales informed her that she was going to be hired for the ROI Supervisor position. (Id. at 41-42, 45). Clinkscales decided that she would offer the other open job to Toney - Document Liaison Specialist, Team Lead.
Neither candidate was hired immediately because of a temporary hiring freeze. Clinkscales offered Toney a temporary position at UMMC as an ROI Tech I through Spherion Staffing, which Toney accepted. (ECF No. 25-5 at 75, 78). She began working under Clinkscales in early April 2011. Id. After the hiring freeze was lifted a few weeks later, Holmes-Lloyd was formally offered and accepted the ROI Supervisor position. About two weeks later, Toney was offered the Document Liaison Specialist, Team Lead position and also accepted.
Toney started working in the Team Lead position a few weeks after Holmes-Lloyd began as ROI Supervisor, and Toney claims she became frustrated with the amount of backlogged work that she was responsible for in addition to answering questions from Holmes-Lloyd, her supervisor, on what Toney states was "a daily basis." (ECF No. 25-5 at 126-27). Holmes-Lloyd acknowledges that Toney trained her on the "day-to-day little things" regarding the technical aspects of the ROI work. (ECF No. 27-9 at 147). As for Clinkscales, Toney alleges she made additional comments about Toney's hair similar to the one made during her interview. (ECF No. 25-5 at 146-47). Clinkscales allegedly asked Toney why she did not dye her hair or wear a wig, since the gray color made Toney look older than she actually was. Toney was not the only HIM Department employee to face comments like these from Clinkscales, who was "unprofessional" toward "a lot of the employees" according to Holmes-Lloyd. (ECF No. 25-6 at 75:16-76:6). Toney also observed Clinkscales being rude to "a mixture" of younger and older employees. (ECF No. 25-5 at 223). Indeed, Toney claims that Clinkscales made several women cry in the office due to comments about their "hair... makeup... attire and [their] size." (Id. at 206:12-207:13).
Toney submitted a letter of resignation (to Holmes-Lloyd, her immediate supervisor) on August 5, 2011. (ECF No. 25-23). Holmes-Lloyd struggled as the ROI Supervisor and after UMMC issued several corrective actions it terminated her employment on November 4, 2011. (ECF No. 25-24). Toney filed a timely charge of discrimination against UMMC with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), and after receiving a Dismissal and Right to Sue notice, filed a timely complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland on November 21, 2013. (ECF No. 1).
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) (emphases added). "A dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'" Libertarian Party of Va. v. Judd, 718 F.3d 308, 313 (4th Cir.) (quoting Dulaney v. Packaging Corp. of Am., 673 F.3d 323, 330 (4th Cir. 2012)), cert. denied, 134 S.Ct. 681 (2013). "A fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.'" Id. (quoting 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[.]" Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48. The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1866 (2014) (per curiam), and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor, Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007) (citations omitted); see also Jacobs v. N.C. Admin. Office of the Courts, ___ F.3d ___, No. 13-2212, 2015 WL 1062673, at *4 (4th Cir. Mar. 12, 2015). At the same time, the court must "prevent factually unsupported claims and defenses from proceeding to trial." Bouchat v. Balt. Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 526 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting Drewitt v. Pratt, 999 F.2d 774, 778-79 (4th Cir. 2003)).
Under the ADEA, a plaintiff must "demonstrate that the employer engaged in disparate treatment because of the employee's age and, accordingly, age must be the but-for cause of such treatment." EEOC v. Baltimore Cnty., 747 F.3d 267, 273 (4th Cir. 2014) (citing Gross v. FBL Fin. Serv., 557 U.S. 167, 177-78 (2009)) (internal quotation marks omitted). There are two methods by which a plaintiff can prove that age was the but-for cause of the adverse employment action: the burden-shifting framework outlined in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973); and producing direct or circumstantial evidence that "discrimination motivated the employer's adverse employment decision." Hill v. Lockheed Martin Logistics Mgmt., Inc., 354 F.3d 277, 284-85 (4th Cir. 2004). Here, Toney argues that she has sufficient evidence under both methods to withstand UMMC's motion for summary judgment. Because Toney cites the ...