United States District Court, D. Maryland
Timothy J. Sullivan United States Magistrate Judge
Royster (“Royster”) filed this lawsuit against
Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler (“the
Sheriff”), her former employer, for age discrimination
and retaliation in violation of the Age Discrimination in
Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 623,
and the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act
(“MFEPA”), Md. Code, State Gov't §
20-606. The Sheriff's motion for summary judgment (ECF
No. 58) is now pending before the Court. Having considered
the submissions of the parties (ECF Nos. 58, 61 & 62), I
find that no hearing is necessary. See Loc. R.
105.6. For the reasons stated below, the Sheriff's motion
for summary judgment will be denied.
Royster (“Royster”) was born in 1970. She was
hired by the Harford County Sheriff's Office
(“HCSO”) in 1995. Beginning in 2013, while she
was employed as the HCSO's Crime Analyst Manager, Royster
voiced several complaints about a perceived hostile work
environment and perceived discriminatory treatment. On or
about October 11, 2014, at 44 years of age, Royster was
passed over for what was effectively a promotion. The
employee who received the promotion was a 23 year old female
named Kathleen (Kate) Mack (“Mack”). At the same
time, Royster was reassigned to work at the local detention
center, which she considered a less favorable work location.
Royster claims that she was discriminated against because of
her age and retaliated against for voicing complaints about
the perceived discriminatory conduct of her supervisors.
Additional facts, many of which are in dispute, will be
second amended complaint (ECF No. 43) contains two counts.
Count I alleges that the Sheriff discriminated against
Royster, in violation of the ADEA and the MFEPA.
(Id. ¶¶ 147-154.) Count II alleges that
the defendants retaliated against Royster because she engaged
in a protected activity, in violation of the ADEA and the
MFEPA. (Id., ¶¶ 155-165.) The Sheriff
moves for summary judgment as to both counts.
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(a). The burden is on the moving party to
demonstrate the absence of any genuine dispute of material
fact. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144,
157 (1970). If sufficient evidence exists for a reasonable
jury to render a verdict in favor of the party opposing the
motion, then a genuine dispute of material fact is presented
and summary judgment should be denied. See Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). However,
the “mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in
support of the [opposing party's] position” is
insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment.
Id. at 252. The facts themselves, and the inferences
to be drawn from the underlying facts, must be viewed in the
light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Scott v.
Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007).
Count I: Age Discrimination
plaintiff in an age discrimination case brought under the
ADEA has “two avenues” to prove that she was
discriminated against in employment because of age. Hill
v. Lockheed Martin Logistics Mgmt., Inc., 354 F.3d 277,
284 (4th Cir. 2004). She may offer direct or circumstantial
evidence of discrimination under “ordinary principles
of proof.” Burns v. AAF-McQuay, Inc., 96 F.3d
728, 731 (4th Cir. 1996). Or she may use the McDonnell
Douglas burden-shifting method. Id. In this
case, Royster employs the McDonnell Douglas
the McDonnell Douglas approach, a plaintiff must
first establish a prima facie case of discrimination.
Id. To establish a prima facie case of age
discrimination, a plaintiff must show that: (1) she is at
least 40 years old; (2) she suffered an adverse employment
action; (3) she was performing at a level that met her
employer's legitimate expectations at the time; and (4)
similarly-situated employees younger than 40 years of age
received more favorable treatment. Houston v.
Kirkland, No. GJH-15-2507, 2016 WL 7176580, at *10 (D.
Md. Dec. 7, 2016).
a plaintiff makes this prima facie case, [s]he creates a
presumption of discrimination, and the burden of production
shifts to the defendant to articulate a legitimate,
non-discriminatory reason for its adverse employment
decision.” Laber v. Harvey, 438 F.3d 404, 430
(4th Cir. 2006). If the defendant articulates a legitimate,
non-discriminatory reason for its decision, “the
presumption disappears and the plaintiff must show that the
articulated reason is a pretext for age
discrimination.” Id. To prove that the
defendant's articulated reason is a pretext for age
discrimination, the plaintiff must prove both that the
articulated reason is false and that the employer
discriminated against her on the basis of age. Id.;
see also Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prod.,
Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 134 (2000) (noting that “once
the employer's justification has been eliminated,
discrimination may well be the most likely alternative
explanation”); King v. Rumsfeld, 328 F.3d 145,
154 (4th Cir. 2003) (explaining that to survive summary
judgment on pretext, plaintiff “must cast sufficient
doubt upon the genuineness of Defendant's explanation to
warrant a jury's consideration of possible alternative
and discriminatory motivations for the firing.”).
Sheriff does not dispute that Royster is over 40 years of age
and thus in a protected class, or that she suffered an
adverse employment action when Mack was promoted with a
salary increase and Royster was reassigned to work at the
detention center. (See ECF No. 58-1 at 34.) Rather,
the Sheriff argues that Royster cannot prove that she was
meeting the Sheriff's legitimate expectations at the time
of the adverse action or that the Sheriff was aware of the
age difference between Royster and Mack. Without this, the
Sheriff argues, Royster cannot make out a prima facie case of
plaintiff's burden of establishing that she was meeting
her employer's legitimate expectations at the time of the
adverse action “is not onerous.” Brown v.
Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics, Inc., No.
DKC-11-0769, 2012 WL 3136457, at *7 (D. Md. July 31, 2012)
(quoting Tex. Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine,
450 U.S. 248, 253 (1981)). To make this showing,
[a] plaintiff need not show perfect performance or even
average performance. . . . [She] need only show that [her]
performance was of sufficient quality to merit continued
employment, thereby raising an inference that some other
factor was involved in the decision to discharge him. . . .
[P]roof of competence sufficient to make out a prima facie
case of ...