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Breck v. Maryland State Police

United States District Court, D. Maryland

June 5, 2017

SHEILA BRECK, Plaintiff,
v.
MARYLAND STATE POLICE, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          THEODORE D. CHUANG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Sergeant Sheila Breck ("Sgt. Breck") is a former employee of Defendant Maryland State Police ("MSP"), which she is suing for gender discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e (2012). Pending before the Court is the MSP's Motion to Dismiss. Having reviewed the pleading and the briefs, the Court finds no hearing necessary. See D. Md. Local R. 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         BACKGROUND

         Sgt. Breck began her career with the MSP in 1991. By 2011, she was a sergeant in the MSP's Prince Frederick Barrack. For the majority of her career, Sgt. Breck received uniformly positive performance reviews. In her capacity as a sergeant, she was required to complete evaluations of her subordinates. Sgt. Breck's subordinates were all men, including Trooper Everett West. In January 2011, Sgt. Breck was approached by the Barrack Commander, Lieutenant ("Lt.") Randolph Stephens, and her immediate supervisor, First Sergeant ("First Sgt.") David Ruel, who "pressured" her to rewrite her evaluations. Compl. ¶ 6, ECF No. 1. Lt. Stephens and First Sgt. Ruel told Sgt. Breck that she had been harder on her subordinates than her male counterparts had been. Sgt. Breck refused to rewrite her evaluations.

         In response to Sgt. Breck's refusal, Lt. Stephens and First Sgt. Ruel began to retaliate against her. Sgt. Breck's requests for leave were rejected while those of male colleagues were granted, and Sgt. Breck was punished for arriving late due to inclement weather when male colleagues were not disciplined for the same infraction. In February 2011, Sgt. Breck complained to Lt. Stephens that she was being mistreated because of her gender and warned him that she was considering filing a complaint with MSP's Fair Practices Office ("FPO"). After this conversation, her supervisors' conduct became openly abusive, including berating her in a manner not used on male colleagues and other forms of "hazing and harassment." Id. ¶ 10.

         This abusive atmosphere "culminated" in an incident in November 2011. Id. While Sgt. Breck was on leave, the deadline passed for the Barrack to submit a report about Driving While Intoxicated incidents. When Sgt. Breck returned to duty, First Sgt. Rule informed her of the missed deadline. Trooper West volunteered to submit the report. After the report was submitted, however, First Sgt. Ruel cited Sgt. Breck for filing a false report because, unbeknownst to her, Trooper West had not been on duty during the reporting period. In January 2012, Sgt. Breck was suspended, formal disciplinary charges were instituted, and she was temporarily reassigned to the Facilities Management Division.

         In March 2012, Sgt. Breck filed a complaint with the FPO alleging gender discrimination and harassment. In October 2012, the FPO found her complaint groundless but did not provide its reasons for that determination. That same month, Sgt. Breck's transfer from the Prince Frederick Barrack to the Facilities Management Division was made permanent.

         Meanwhile, hearings were held on Sgt. Breck's disciplinary charges in May and June of 2012. In February 2013, Sgt. Breck was informed that the Hearing Board had found her not guilty of four alleged infractions and guilty of one, on the basis that she bore some responsibility for the false report because she was Trooper West's supervisor. The Hearing Board recommended that Sgt. Breck lose some of her leave, that a fine be imposed, that she be transferred, and that she be made ineligible for promotion for an unspecified period. Despite that recommendation, that same month, the MSP Superintendent informed Sgt. Breck that, unless she resigned, she would be terminated in May 2013. For his part in the filing of the false report, Trooper West was docked two days of vacation leave.

         Sgt. Breck was not terminated in May 2013, nor did she resign at that point. Instead, over the ensuing three years, she pursued a series of challenges to the results of the February 2013 disciplinary decision. During those three years, Sgt. Breck was passed over for promotion. Meanwhile, on April 19, 2013, Sgt. Breck filed a Charge of Discrimination with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") and the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights. In that Charge, she asserted that she had been discriminated against on the basis of sex, that she had been subjected to retaliation, that the discrimination was a continuing action, and that the action had started on January 1, 2011 and continued to February 14, 2013. Although the Charge contained a few additional details about the disciplinary process and recommended sanctions, it largely tracks the allegations she now makes in her Complaint. On March 18, 2016, the EEOC issued Sgt. Breck a right-to-sue letter. On May 1, 2016, Sgt. Breck retired in order to avoid being terminated. As a result of her forced early retirement, she was unable to maximize her retirement benefits, resulting in a loss of $300, 000 to $400, 000.

         DISCUSSION

         On June 14, 2016, Sgt. Breck filed suit in this Court, alleging two causes of action, (1) gender discrimination, in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2, and (2) retaliation, in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3. MSP now moves to dismiss one of Sgt. Breck's claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and seeks to dismiss her remaining claims under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim.

         As to subject matter jurisdiction, MSP argues that any constructive discharge claim arising from Sgt. Breck's May 2016 retirement has not been administratively exhausted because Sgt. Breck's EEOC Charge, filed in 2013, makes no reference to that May 2016 retirement. Under the precedent of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, a failure to exhaust administrative remedies under Title VII should be addressed by way of a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1).[1] Jones v. Calvert Grp., Ltd., 551 F.3d 297, 300-01 (4th Cir. 2009). On a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, a defendant may assert either (1) a facial challenge that the allegations as stated in the complaint are not sufficient to establish subject matter jurisdiction, or (2) a factual challenge that the allegations establishing jurisdiction are not true. See Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co., 166 F.3d 642, 647 (4th Cir. 1999); Kerns v. United States, 585 F.3d 187, 192 (4th Cir. 2009). MSP asserts a factual challenge, arguing that Sgt. Breck did not, in fact, exhaust her administrative remedies.

         Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), MSP argues that Sgt. Breck's claims are untimely because the events about which she complains all took place more than 300 days before Sgt. Breck filed her Charge with the EEOC. See Edelman v. Lynchburg Coll., 300 F.3d 400, 404 (4th Cir. 2002) (holding that the question whether an administrative claim was timely filed with the EEOC is not jurisdictional). Alternatively, MSP argues that Sgt. Breck fails to allege sufficient facts to state a claim for either gender discrimination or retaliation. To defeat a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the complaint must allege enough facts to state a plausible claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A claim is plausible when the facts pleaded allow "the Court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. Legal conclusions or conclusory statements do not suffice. Id. The Court must examine the complaint as a whole, consider the factual allegations in the complaint as true, and construe the factual allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268 (1994); Lambeth v. Bd. of Comm 'rs of Davidson Cty., 407 F.3d 266, 268 (4th Cir. 2005).

         I. Exhaustion of ...


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