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Reed v. Innovative Management Strategists, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

January 18, 2017



          DEBORAH K. CHASANOW United States District Judge.

         Presently pending and ready for resolution in this employment case are: (1) a motion to transfer filed by Defendant Innovative Management Strategists, Inc. (“IMS”) (ECF No. 19); (2) a motion to dismiss or for summary judgment filed by IMS (ECF No. 20); and a motion to dismiss filed by Defendant Management Solutions Consulting Group, Inc. (“MSCG”) (ECF No. 32).[1] The issues have been briefed, and the court now rules, no hearing being deemed necessary. Local Rule 105.6. For the following reasons, the motions to dismiss or for summary judgment will be granted for both Defendants, and IMS's motion to transfer will be dismissed as moot.

         I. Background[2]

         Plaintiff Andrea Reed, a Virginia resident, began working as a Logistics Coordinator for MSCG in in January 2013. (ECF No. 14 ¶¶ 13-14). MSCG is a Maryland corporation whose principal office is in Glenn Dale, Maryland. (Id. ¶ 10). Plaintiff worked at MSCG's office in Lanham, Maryland, which is in Prince George's County. (Id. ¶ 15).

         In October 2014, MSCG President Kelly Burks talked to Plaintiff about moving to a new role as a Logistics Coordinator for IMS. (Id. ¶ 20). MSCG and IMS had developed a joint venture, and IMS would be opening an office in Woodbridge, Virginia, which was much closer to Plaintiff's Virginia home. (Id. ¶¶ 19-20). Plaintiff agreed to the transfer and, according to her employment letter, was scheduled to start with IMS on Monday, November 3, 2014. (ECF No. 32-3, at 2).

         On Friday, October 31, Plaintiff received an email from IMS's Human Resources Consultant Joanna Vasconi stating that information on IMS's employee benefits package would be forthcoming. (ECF No. 14 ¶ 27). Plaintiff and her husband wanted to start a family in the near future, and she became concerned that the transfer to IMS would cause her to lose more than 30 hours of paid leave that she had accrued with MSCG, as well as maternity leave, disability benefits, and life insurance benefits. (Id. ¶¶ 25, 26). Plaintiff emailed Ms. Burks and IMS President Latonya Dunlow the next day asking to delay her move to IMS because of her concerns and requesting a meeting to discuss her benefits. (Id. ¶ 28). Ms. Dunlow set the meeting for 8:30 a.m. Monday morning, Plaintiff's first day with IMS, at a Panera Bread restaurant in Woodbridge, a location where she frequently held meetings because IMS was not yet able to move into its Woodbridge office space. (Id. ¶¶ 29-30). At the meeting, Plaintiff expressed concerns about losing her MSCG benefits and what options she would have if she became pregnant. According to the complaint, Ms. Dunlow “became visibly concerned” and stated, “Well, are you pregnant now? If you're not pregnant now, then there is no real rush or worry to have the benefits right now.” (Id. ¶ 32). Ms. Dunlow denied Plaintiff's request to postpone her start date. (Id. ¶ 33).

         Plaintiff began work for IMS that day, but continued to work in MSCG's Lanham office. She alleges that she continued to report to the same direct supervisor, MSCG's Logistics Manager Ramona Davis. (Id. ¶ 23). On November 5, Plaintiff asked Ms. Dunlow if she could telework until the Woodbridge office opened because all of her duties could be fulfilled remotely and her roundtrip commute to Lanham was between three and four hours per day. (Id. ¶ 35). Although Ms. Dunlow had allowed other employees to telework until the Woodbridge office opened, she denied Plaintiff's request. (Id. ¶¶ 34, 37, 38). The following week, Plaintiff submitted requests to telework on specific days during November and December to accommodate her holiday plans. (Id. ¶ 39). Ms. Dunlow approved some of these dates but denied others. (Id. ¶ 40). Plaintiff asked for reconsideration with regard to the other days she had requested because she wanted to travel out of town, but Ms. Vasconi responded that IMS did not have a telecommuting policy and that it was “a benefit based on the needs of the job, work group, and company at the time of the request.” (ECF No. 32-6, at 2).[3]

         On December 9, Plaintiff took an at-home pregnancy test which indicated that she was pregnant. (Id. ¶ 43). She began to suffer from fatigue, nausea, and vomiting due to her pregnancy and, on December 23, left work early because she was feeling unwell. (Id. ¶¶ 45-46). Linda Martin, her onsite supervisor that day, approved her request to leave early. (Id. ¶ 46). Plaintiff then emailed Ms. Dunlow to inform her that she had left early and to request permission to work from home the following day; Ms. Dunlow again denied her request. (Id. ¶¶ 47-48). Plaintiff responded to Ms. Dunlow, stating that she felt she was being treated unfairly with regard to teleworking. (Id. ¶ 49).

         On December 29, Ms. Dunlow requested a meeting with Plaintiff later that day in Woodbridge and fired Plaintiff at that meeting. (Id. ¶¶ 51-52). IMS has stated that Plaintiff had been fired for leaving the office early without supervisor permission on December 23. (Id. ¶ 53). Plaintiff maintains that Ms. Martin was her supervisor under the terms of the IMS employee handbook and had approved her early departure. (Id. ¶ 40).

         Plaintiff timely filed a charge of discrimination with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), which issued a Dismissal and Notice of Rights on March 31, 2016. (Id. ¶ 6). She filed the instant suit on June 29, alleging claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., for (1) discrimination on the bases of her sex and pregnancy and (2) retaliation for engaging in protected activity. (ECF No. 1). After Plaintiff filed an amended complaint to add counts under the Prince George's County Human Rights Ordinance for (1) discrimination based on her sex, (2) discrimination based on her familial status, and (3) retaliation (ECF No. 14), IMS filed the pending amended motions to transfer[4] and to dismiss on September 15, and Plaintiff responded on October 3. (ECF Nos. 19; 20; 28; 29). MSCG filed its pending motion to dismiss on October 17; Plaintiff responded and MSCG replied. (ECF Nos. 32; 33; 34).

         II. Title VII Claims

         A. Standard of Review

         IMS and MSCG (together, “Defendants”) both have filed motions to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The purpose of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) is to test the sufficiency of the complaint. See Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006). A plaintiff's complaint need only satisfy the standard of Rule 8(a), which requires a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). At this stage, all well-pleaded allegations in a complaint must be considered as true, Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268 (1994), and all factual allegations must be construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, see Harrison v. Westinghouse Savannah River Co., 176 F.3d 776, 783 (4th Cir. 1999) (citing Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993)). In evaluating the complaint, however, unsupported legal allegations need not be accepted. See Revene v. Charles Cty. Comm'rs, 882 F.2d 870, 873 (4th Cir. 1989). “Rule 8(a)(2) still requires a ‘showing, ' rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 n.3 (2007). That showing must consist of more than “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” or “naked assertion[s] devoid of further factual enhancement.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal citations omitted). Legal conclusions couched as factual allegations are insufficient, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, as are conclusory factual allegations devoid of any reference to actual events, see United Black Firefighters v. Hirst, 604 F.2d 844, 847 (4th Cir. 1979).

         B. Failure to State a Claim ...

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