Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Royster v. Gahler

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 24, 2017

ANGELA ROYSTER, Plaintiff,
v.
JEFFREY R. GAHLER, et al., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Timothy J. Sullivan United States Magistrate Judge

         Angela 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.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Angela 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 supplied below.

         Royster's second amended complaint (ECF No. 43) contains two counts. Count I alleges that the Sheriff[1] 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.

         II. DISCUSSION

         “The 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).

         A. Count I: Age Discrimination

         A 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).[2] 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 burden-shifting method.

         Under 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).

         “Once 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.”).

         The 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.[3] Without this, the Sheriff argues, Royster cannot make out a prima facie case of age discrimination.

         A 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 ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.