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Thomas v. Delmarva Power & Light Company

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 28, 2017

AUGUSTA THOMAS, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
DELMARVA POWER & LIGHT COMPANY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Richard D. Bennett United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Augusta Thomas, Jr. (“Thomas” or “Plaintiff”) brings this employment discrimination action against defendant Delmarva Power & Light Company (“DPL” or “defendant”) alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq. (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (“§ 1981”), and Title 20 of the State Government Article, Md. Code Ann., State Gov't § 20-101, et seq. (“Title 20”) based on a series of events which resulted in his termination from his position at DPL.[1]

         Currently pending before this Court is defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 45) (“Defendant's Motion”).[2] 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 is GRANTED, and Summary Judgment shall be ENTERED in favor of defendant on all counts.

         BACKGROUND

         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); Hardwick ex rel. Hardwick v. Heyward, 711 F.3d 426, 433 (4th Cir. 2013).

         Plaintiff Augusta Thomas, Jr., an African-American male, began working for DPL in 1983, performing work in a series of positions including Groundsman, Lineman, Journeyman Lineman, Lead Lineman and Serviceman. (ECF No. 45-2 at ¶¶ 1-4.)

         The impetus for the instant suit was an incident that began in April 2013. That month, Thomas alleges that an employee of DPL, Amy Swanger (“Swagger”), informed DPL that he had made sexually inappropriate comments to Shelia Bednar (“Bednar”), a custodian of the building where Thomas made a service call for DPL. (ECF No. 45-2 at ¶¶ 8-10.) Thomas “asked Ms. Bednar if she ‘had a boyfriend' and stated [that] he ‘was available.'” (Id.) Bednar apparently rebuffed Thomas' advances. (Id.) Notwithstanding, Thomas later returned to the location where he had encountered Ms. Bednar and gave his personal cell phone number to another woman who worked there. (Id. at ¶ 16.)

         After being notified of the incident, Paul Simon (“Simon”), DPL's Human Resources Business Partner, and Edward Bennett (“Bennett”), Thomas' Supervisor, began an investigation into Thomas' conduct. (ECF No. 45-2 at ¶¶ 12-14.) Before the investigation concluded, DPL suspended Thomas on April 14, 2013. (Id. ¶ 17.) During the investigation, Thomas admitted he made the reported remarks to Ms. Bednar. (Id.) DPL continued to investigate Thomas' conduct and learned that four Caucasian females had accused Thomas of workplace misconduct between 2000 and 2011. (Id. at ¶¶ 20-22.) The investigation also revealed that in April 2011, DPL received a customer telephone complaint that Thomas had “flirted with [the customer's] wife, ” and made her uncomfortable. (Id. at ¶ 26.) Thomas was admonished for his conduct towards the customers and specifically warned not to discuss sexually suggestive matters with customers. (Id. at ¶ 27.)

         Based on these findings, on June 12, 2013, DPL sent Thomas a letter terminating his employment based on his inappropriate comments and conduct with employees. (Id. ¶ 34.) At some point between suspension and termination, Simon and Bennett met with Thomas's union representative to address possible personnel actions; one proposed action was to permit Thomas, who had worked for DPL for many years, to retire rather than be subject to termination. (Id. at ¶¶ 38-39.) Simon and Bennett's statements in these conversations that Thomas was “old enough to retire” form the basis of Thomas' age discrimination claim.

         Following his termination, Thomas pursued two separate remedies. First, Thomas filed a grievance through his union, asserting that DPL discharged him without following the union's progressive discipline procedure. (ECF No. 45-2 at ¶¶ 38-40.) Neither Thomas nor his union challenged the truth of the sexual harassment allegations against Thomas. (Id. at ¶ 36-37.) The grievance proceeded to an arbitrator, who concluded that discipline of Thomas for the sexual harassment was appropriate, but that termination was unwarranted under the collective bargaining agreement. (Id. at ¶ 40.) The arbitrator ordered DPL to reinstate Thomas, but without back pay. (Id.) Thomas was reinstated on June 16, 2014. (Id. at ¶ 41.) Second, and pertinent to this case, Thomas filed a charge of discrimination against DPL in September of 2013, alleging age, sex and race discrimination. (ECF No. 25 at ¶ 35.) The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) dismissed Thomas' Charge and issued him a Notice of Right to Sue on November 17, 2014. (Id.)

         Thomas filed his original Complaint in this Court on a pro se basis on February 13, 2015. (ECF No. 1.) After DPL filed its Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 6), Thomas obtained counsel, who filed on Thomas' behalf a Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint (ECF No. 17). DPL's Motion was denied, and Thomas' Motion was granted by Memorandum Opinion and Order dated February 1, 2016 (ECF Nos. 23, 24), and the now-operative Amended Complaint was docketed that day. (ECF No. 25.)

         Following discovery, DPL filed the now-pending Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 45.) This case was referred to Magistrate Judge Gesner to address the Motion to Seal filed with DPL's Motion and Thomas' Motion to Seal filed with his Response in Opposition. (ECF No. 43.) Magistrate Judge Gesner issued an Order on the Motions to Seal, and those rulings remain in effect.[3] (ECF No. 56.)

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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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