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Mason v. Montgomery County

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

August 23, 2016

RAFAEL S. MASON, Plaintiff,
v.
MONTGOMERY COUNTY, MARYLAND, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          PAUL W. GRIMM, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This litigation began with an employment discrimination and retaliation suit that Plaintiff Rafael Mason[1] filed in this Court against Defendants Montgomery County, Maryland (the “County”) and Montgomery County Police Department (the “Department”). Compl., ECF No. 1 in PWG-13-1077 (“Mason I”). Judge Williams, who presided over the case at the time, dismissed Mason I as to the Department, but allowing Mason to file an amended complaint as to the County. ECF Nos. 13, 14. Mason amended, ECF No. 21, and filed a second employment discrimination and retaliation suit against the County, Compl., ECF No. 1 in PWG-14-3718 (“Mason II”). In Mason II, Mason claimed, inter alia, that, after he “regularly complained, verbally and in writing, to his supervisors about the disparate treatment he was being subjected to; filed complaints with Internal Affairs about the disparate treatment; and filed charges of discrimination with the EEOC, ” including “a third EEOC Charge [that he filed] on or around September 2013 based on race, retaliation and hostile work environment, ” the County retaliated by terminating him, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., and the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act (“Maryland Act”). Am. Compl. ¶¶ 63- 82, 106-31 in Mason II. The County moved to dismiss in both cases, and I issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order consolidating the cases and dismissing all but Mason’s retaliation claims based on his termination. Mem. Op. & Order, ECF Nos. 28, 29 in Mason I.

         With regard to his retaliation claims in Mason II, the County had argued that Mason’s allegation that he “regularly complained . . . to his supervisors” was “too vague to establish a protected activity, ” and his previous two EEOC complaints were “too distant in time from his termination to provide any suggestion of a causal link.” Def.’s Reply re Dismissal 8, ECF No. 9 in Mason II. The County also contended that Mason did not allege that it knew of the one concrete, temporally proximate protected activity that he identified-his September 2013 EEOC charge-when it terminated him, and therefore, he failed to show a causal relationship between his protected activity and his termination. Id. at 10. I denied the motion, observing that in his proposed amended complaint in Mason II, ECF No. 8-3, Mason alleged that “‘the EEOC notified the Department of Plaintiff’s September 2013 Charge within ten (10) days of the Charge being filed, ’” such that it knew of the charge when it terminated him. Mem. Op. 16-17. Additionally, 1 took “judicial notice of the EEOC’s website, which states that, ‘[w]ithin 10 days, [the EEOC] will . . . send a notice and a copy of the charge to the employer, ’ to conclude that “the Amended Complaint adequately pleads notice to the County of Plaintiff’s prior protected activity.” Id. at 16 (citing http://www.eeoc.gov/employees/process.cfm; Fed.R.Evid. 201(b)).[2]

         Now pending is the County’s Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support, ECF Nos. 42, 42-1, [3] in which it asserts that Mason cannot demonstrate the causal relationship to establish a prima facie case of retaliation because, “through discovery, it has been revealed that the County did not receive notice of the September 2013 Charge until October 31, 2013, at least 8 days after the Notice of Disciplinary Action (NODA), terminating Plaintiff’s employment, was issued.” Def.’s Mem. 4. Mason insists that “management was aware of [his] filing EEOC charges, ” Pl.’s Opp’n 1, and he provides an affidavit to that effect, Thornton Aff., Jt. Ex. 19-20, ECF No. 48. But, because Mason has not identified more than a scintilla of direct evidence that Police Chief J. Thomas Manger, who ultimately authorized his termination, knew about his EEOC charges, he cannot establish a prima facie case of retaliation. Accordingly, I will grant the County’s Motion for Summary Judgment.

         Factual Background

         Mason does not challenge the County’s presentation of the material facts:

Plaintiff filed EEOC Charge No. 531-2013-02423 on September 19, 2013. On October 23, 2013, Chief Manger authorized and issued the Notice of Disciplinary Action, terminating Plaintiff’s employment effective November 19, 2013. The October 23rd Notice of Disciplinary Action served as the final decision and notice regarding Plaintiff’s employment termination. On October 30, 2013, the EEOC dismissed Charge No. 531-2013-02423. . . . [T]he first and only notice of Charge No. 531-2013-02423 sent to Defendant by the EEOC is dated October 31, 2013.[]

Def.’s Mem. 4. And, although the County states that Mason disputes whether the October 31, 2013 notice was the only notice that the EEOC sent the County, see Id. at 4 n.2, Mason neither disputes the statement in his Opposition nor offers any evidence to the contrary.

         Mason does, however, offer evidence in the form of Montgomery County Police Department Shift Supervisor Francis Thornton’s Affidavit, in which he stated that Mason “informed [him] that he would be filing charges with the EEOC, ” and that “[i]n September 2013, [Thornton] informed Lieutenant Leonard Herringa, who was in management for the Defendant, that the Plaintiff was planning on filing new charges with the EEOC.” Thornton Aff. ¶¶ 7-8, Jt. Ex. 19. Sergeant Thornton also stated that “[i]n October 2013, [he] informed Lieutenant Leonard Herringa that the Plaintiff had filed new charges with the EEOC, ” and that he “informed Lieutenant Leonard Herringa about this filing before the Plaintiff was terminated.” Id. ¶¶ 10-11, Jt. Ex. 20.

         The record also includes affidavits from Chief Manger and Rosemarie Rhodes, Director of the EEOC Baltimore Field Office. Jt. Ex. 1-3, 13-14. According to Chief Manger, the County issued the Notice of Disciplinary Action (“NODA”) to Mason on October 23, 2013, and it “served as the final decision and notice regarding Plaintiff’s employment termination.” Manger Aff. ¶ 12, Jt. Ex. 2. Significantly, Chief Manger “authorized the Notice of Disciplinary Action, ” and he did “not recall receiving any notice regarding EEOC Charge No. 531-2013-02423 at the time of or prior to the issuance of the October 23rd NODA.” Id. ¶¶ 15-16, Jt. Ex. 3. Rhodes stated that “[t]he first and only notice of Charge No. 531-2013-02423 sent to Defendant, Montgomery County, Maryland, by the EEOC is dated October 31, 2013.” Rhodes Aff. ¶ 13, Jt. Ex. 14. The notice appears as Exhibit B to Rhodes’s Affidavit. Jt. Ex. 17.

         Standard of Review

         In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the Court considers the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, drawing all justifiable inferences in that party’s favor. Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 585-86 (2009); George & Co., LLC v. Imagination Entm’t Ltd., 575 F.3d 383, 391-92 (4th Cir. 2009). Summary judgment is proper when the moving party demonstrates, through “particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations . . ., admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials, ” 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), (c)(1)(A); see Baldwin v. City of Greensboro, 714 F.3d 828, 833 (4th Cir. 2013). Significantly, a party must be able to present the materials it cites in “a form that would be admissible in evidence, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3), and supporting affidavits and declarations “must be made on personal knowledge” and “set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4).

         If the party seeking summary judgment demonstrates that there is no evidence to support the nonmoving party’s case, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to identify evidence that shows that a genuine dispute exists as to material facts. See Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). The existence of only a “scintilla of evidence” is not enough to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986). Instead, the evidentiary materials submitted must show facts from which the finder of fact reasonably could find for the party opposing summary judgment. Id. This means that the nonmovant “‘must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, ’” because “‘[w]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no “genuine issue for trial.”’” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986) (footnote omitted)).

“[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.” When opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court ...

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