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Lawrence v. Maryland Aviation, Administration

United States District Court, D. Maryland

October 7, 2016

GREGORY C. LAWRENCE, Plaintiff,
v.
MARYLAND AVIATION, ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Richard D. Bennett United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Gregory C. Lawrence has filed a two-count complaint against the Maryland Aviation Administration (“MAA”) alleging race discrimination (Count I) and retaliation (Count II) in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act (“FEPA”) based on his non-selection for the position of Fire Chief at the Baltimore/Washington International Airport.[1] 42 U.S.C. §§2000e-2(a), 2000e-3(a); Md. Code, State Gov't §§ 20-266(a), 20-606(f). Now pending before this Court is Defendant Maryland Aviation Administration's Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 14) (“Defendant's Motion”). Also pending is Plaintiff's Rule 56(d) Motion for Stay of Consideration of Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 18) (“Plaintiff's Motion to Stay”). The parties' submissions have been reviewed, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons stated below, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 16) is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. Specifically, the motion is GRANTED as to the retaliation claim in Count II, but is DENIED as to the race discrimination claim in Count I. Plaintiff's Rule 56(d) Motion to Stay (ECF No. 18) is DENIED AS MOOT.

         BACKGROUND

         When reviewing a Motion to Dismiss, the Court accepts as true the facts alleged in the plaintiff's Complaint. See Aziz v. Alcolac, Inc., 658 F.3d 388, 390 (4th Cir. 2011). In ruling on a Motion for Summary Judgment, the Court reviews the facts and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007); see also Hardwick ex rel. Hardwick v. Heyward, 711 F.3d 426, 433 (4th Cir. 2013).

         Pursuant to the settlement of a 2003 race discrimination lawsuit filed by Lawrence against MAA, he was hired as Deputy Fire Chief at MAA's Baltimore/Washington International Airport Fire and Rescue Department (“BWI FRD”) in January 2007. (ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 16.) Plaintiff served as Deputy Fire Chief from January 2007 through December 2013 and as Acting Chief of BWI FRD from December 2013 through his March 2014 termination. (Id. at ¶¶ 20, 38.)

         While not directly relevant to plaintiff's claims in this case, the events resulting in Lawrence's termination are set forth in the Complaint and summarized herein. In July 2013, plaintiff was involved in a minor automobile collision while driving an official vehicle to complete a personal errand. (ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 22, 23.) Though it is unclear whether such use was authorized at the time, plaintiff's supervisor, Wayne Pennell, requested an audit of plaintiff's use of the official vehicle. (Id. at ¶¶ 24-26.) As a result of this inquiry, plaintiff was terminated from his position as Deputy Fire Chief in March 2014. (Id. at ¶¶ 27-28.) Plaintiff sought relief from his termination in Maryland state court, and, pursuant to the findings of a state Administrative Law Judge, MAA was ordered to reinstate plaintiff to his position as Deputy Fire Chief.[2] (ECF No. 1-8.) The ALJ's decision was affirmed by the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County, Maryland. (ECF No. 1-9.)

         Lawrence's claims in this case are premised not on his termination, but, rather, on MAA's alleged race discrimination and retaliation in the selection of the new BWI FRD Fire Chief/Director between November 2013 and March 2014.[3] (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 32-50.) The opening of the this position was announced by MAA on November 19, 2013. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 36.) Interviews before a five-person panel were conducted on January 23, 2014.[4] (Id. at ¶ 40.) Plaintiff alleges that despite his experience and “stellar qualifications” for the position, he was not hired; instead, plaintiff alleges, “[t]he person hired was a Latino male, substantially less qualified for the position than Mr. Lawrence.” (Id. at ¶¶ 45-48.) Plaintiff asserts that his non-selection for the BWI FRD Chief position was the result of MAA's race discrimination and retaliation for his 2003 lawsuit. (Id. at ¶¶ 49-50.)

         STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         I. Motion to Dismiss

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a plaintiff is required to plead “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” The purpose of this requirement is to “to give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citation and internal quotations omitted). Consequently, “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id. (citation omitted). Similarly, “an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation” is insufficient. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). Rather, to withstand a motion to dismiss, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, ” meaning the court could draw “the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the conduct alleged.” Id. (internal quotations and citation omitted).

         In the context of employment discrimination, the Supreme Court has clarified that pleadings need not “contain specific facts establishing a prima facie case of discrimination under the framework set forth” in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 508 (2002). However, in order to survive a motion to dismiss, plaintiff's “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” McCleary-Evans v. Md. Dept. of Transp., State Highway Admin., 780 F.3d 582, 585 (4th Cir. 2015) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 545).

         II. Motion for Summary Judgment

         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a court “shall grant summary judgment 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(c). A material fact is one that “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Libertarian Party of Va. v. Judd, 718 F.3d 308, 313 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Thus, summary judgment is proper “only when no ‘reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'” Monon Corp. v. Stoughton Trailers, Inc., 239 F.3d 1253, 1257 (Fed. Cir. 2001) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255)). When considering a motion for summary judgment, a judge's function is limited to determining whether sufficient evidence exists on a claimed factual dispute to warrant submission of the matter to a jury for resolution at trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

         In undertaking this inquiry, this Court must consider the facts and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Libertarian Party of Va., 718 F.3d at 312; see also Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007). However, this Court must also abide by its affirmative obligation to prevent factually unsupported claims and defenses from going to trial. Drewitt v. Pratt, 999 F.2d 774, 778-79 (4th Cir. 1993). If the evidence presented by the nonmoving party is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment must be granted. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50. On the other hand, a party opposing summary judgment must “do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986); see also In re Apex Express Corp., 190 F.3d 624, 633 (4th ...


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