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Schmidt v. Town of Cheverly

United States District Court, D. Maryland

August 31, 2016

FRANCIS K. SCHMIDT, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
THE TOWN OF CHEVERLY, MD., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GEORGE J. HAZEL, United States District Judge

         This is a retaliation case brought by Francis Schmidt ("Ofc. Schmidt") and his wife Donna Schmidt (collectively, "Plaintiffs"), against Ofc, Schmidt's former employer, the Town of Cheverly, Maryland ("Defendant"). Ofc. Schmidt alleges that he was retaliated against because he exercised his rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VH"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., the Prince George's County Human Relations Ordinance, Prince George Cty Code §2-185 et seq., the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act ("FEPA"), [1] Md. Code Ann., State Gov't § 20-601 et seq., the Maryland Worker's Compensation Statute, Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl. § 9-1105 et seq., and the Law Enforcement Officer's Bill of Rights ("LEOBR'"), Md Code, Public Safety, § 3-101 et seq. Additionally, Plaintiffs allege the common law tort of loss of consortium.

         Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 39, came before the Court for a hearing on June 30, 2016. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons that follow, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. BACKGROUND[2]

         Having previously addressed in some depth the relevant facts when the Court considered Defendant's earlier Motion to Dismiss, or Alternatively, Motion for Summary Judgment, the Court will not repeat that discussion here. See Schmidt v. Town of Cheverly. Md., "No. GJH-13-3282, 2014 WL 4799039 (D. Md. Sept. 25, 2014) ("Schmidt I"). Rather, the Court will only summarize those facts necessary to resolve the present motion.

         Defendant, the Town of Cheverly, is a municipal government entity located in Prince George's County, Maryland. ECF No, 4 ¶ 3, Ofc. Schmidt was employed as a police officer by Defendant from sometime in 2008 until August 2012. ECF No. 42-1 ¶ 1. At all times relevant to this action, Chief Harry Robshaw had authority with regard to Cheverly Police Personnel policies. ECF No. 42-1 at 1; ECF No. 39-29 ¶ 2. In December 2008, Chief Robshaw "shoved a pool cue" under Mrs. Schmidt's dress at a Christmas party. ECF No, 42-3 ¶ 5. Mrs. Schmidt did not initially report the incident for fear that Chief Robshaw would retaliate against her husband. ECF No. 4 ¶ 15; ECF No. 42-2 ¶ 4, On September 29, 2011, Ofc. Schmidt suffered a hernia while at work. ECF No. 42-1 ¶ 13. Due to the hernia and required surgery, he was unable to work from September 30, 2011 until November 28, 2011. Id. at ¶ 14. During this time period, Chief Robshaw told Sergeant Edmund Gizinski: "As FOP [Fraternal Order of Police] Representative I am going to give you a head[s] up .. . Frank filed a worker's comp claim. Frank is out of leave so in and the Town Administrator are going to terminate Frank." ECF No. 42-5 ¶ 15; see also ECF No. 4 ¶ 37. This message was conveyed to Ofc. Schmidt shortly thereafter by another police officer, ECF No. 42-5 ¶ 17.

         Mrs. Schmidt filed a "charge of discrimination" with the Prince George's County Human Relations Commission (the "PGCHR Commission") on November 15, 2011. ECF No. 42-12. She alleged that Chief Robshaw sexually harassed her on several occasions beginning in December 2009. Id. On November 29. 2011 Ofc. Schmidt filed his own Charge of Discrimination with the PGCHR Commission asserting discrimination based on disability as well as retaliation. ECF No. 42-13. He stated that he suffered a work-related injury, namely, a hernia, that Chief Robshaw did not permit others to donate paid leave, that he had been aiding his wife in her sexual harassment complaints, and that he heard that the Chief was not going to permit him to return to work, because of his wife's actions. Id.

         When Ofc. Schmidt returned to work on December 5, 2011, he was informed that Defendant was investigating whether Ofc. Schmidt was involved in and failed to report a hit and run accident in the summer of 2011. ECF No. 39-31. In April 2012, Ofc. Schmidt was suspended based on the hit and run allegations. ECF No. 42-1 ¶ 35. When Ofc. Schmidt was eventually permitted to return to work, he was often not allowed to enter the building, and at one point, was assigned menial tasks. Id. at ¶ 36. .

         According to several police officers, during staff meetings between 2008 and 2011, Chief Robshaw regularly stated that he would punish anyone who attempted to exercise their right to report unfair or unlawful practices by him or the police department. ECF No. 42-4 at ¶ 8; see also ECF No. 4. ¶ 11-12. He further stated that he would "stack the trial board"-the entity responsible for handling internal disciplinary actions- and would seek to "terminate" any such employees. ECF No. 42-4 ¶¶ 8-9.

         A hearing before a trial board was held in July 2012 on a total of 26 charges relating to the damage to the police car and Ofc. Schmidt's alleged failure to report the accident involving the police vehicle. ECF No. 39-26 at 1. The trial board found Ofc. Schmidt guilty of making false statements to investigators and failing to disclose damage to the car. ECF No. 39-26 at 13-14. The trial board recommended a 40 hour suspension, a $1, 000 fine and removal from the police car take home program. ECF No. 39-26 at 20. On August 28, 2012, Chief Robshaw increased the punishment and terminated Ofc. Schmidt's employment. ECF No. 39-27 at 5. Chief Robshaw indicated that he considered Ofc. Schmidt's past job performance and the entire record of the hearing in making his decision. ECF No. 39-27 at 1. Additionally, in consultation with the State Attorney's Office, Chief Robshaw found that because there had been a determination that Ofc. Schmidt had been deceitful, testimony he gave in court on police matters would be discredited, meaning that he could no longer fulfill his duties. Id. at 2.

         On September 21, 2012, the PGCHR Commission dismissed Ofc. Schmidt's November 29, 2011 charge of discrimination. ECF No. 13-10. The EEOC adopted the PGCHR Commission's determination and sent Ofc. Schmidt a right-to-sue letter on May 15, 2013. ECF No. 13-12. Meanwhile, Ofc. Schmidt filed another charge of discrimination on October 2, 2012 (after he was terminated in August 2012) alleging that he was retaliated against for filing the November 29, 201.1 charge. ECF No.- 42-14. He contended that because he filed the charge in November 2011, he was (1) given a written warning for violation of department policy on January 24, 2012; (2) suspended from police duty from April 2012 until August 2012; (3) reassigned to the Code and Photo Enforcement Unit; and (4) terminated on August 13, 2012."[3] Id.

         Plaintiffs initiated this action on August 22, 2013 in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, Maryland. ECF No. 1. On November 4, 2013 Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint to; reflect receipt of the second-right to sue letter that they received from the EEOC regarding the October 2, 2012 discrimination charge. ECF No 4. On November 4, 2013, Defendant filed a Notice of Removal to this Court. ECF No. 1. On September 25, 2014 the Court issued an Order granting in part and denying in part Defendant's Motion to Dismiss or Alternatively, Motion for Summary Judgment.[4] See Schmidt A 2014 WL 4799039.

         Following discovery. Defendant filed the presently pending Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 39. Subsequently, Plaintiff filed an Opposition motion. ECF No. 42. and Defendant filed their reply, ECF No. 43. On June 30, 2016, the Court heard oral argument on the motion.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is appropriate if "materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials, " Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c), show 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); see also Celotex Corp. v. Calrefl, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of demonstrating that no genuine dispute exists as to material facts. Pulliam Inv. Co. v. Cameo Props., 810 F.2d 1282, 1286 (4th Cir. 1987). If the moving party demonstrates that there is no evidence to support the non-moving party's case, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to identify specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. A material fact is one that "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Spriggs v. Diamond Auto Glass, 242 F.3d 179, 1 83 (4th Cir. 2001) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). A dispute of material fact is only "genuine" if sufficient evidence favoring the non-moving party exists for the trier of fact to return a verdict for that party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. However, 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. 1986). The Court may only rely on facts supported in the record, not simply assertions in the pleadings, in order to fulfill its "affirmative obligation ... to prevent 'factually unsupported claims or defenses' from proceeding to trial." Felty v. Grave-Humphreys Co., 81 8 F.2d 1126, 1128 (4th Cir. 1987) (quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324-25). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, "[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Count II: Equal Employment Opportunity ...


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