United States District Court, D. Maryland
DEBORAH K. CHASANOW, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
pending and ready for resolution in this employment
discrimination case are a motion for summary judgment filed
by Defendant TV One (“Defendant”) (ECF No. 89),
and a cross motion for summary judgment filed by Plaintiff
Nikki Webber Allen (“Plaintiff”) (ECF No. 90).
The issues have been fully briefed, and the court now rules,
no hearing being deemed necessary. Local Rule 105.6. For the
following reasons, the motions for summary judgment will be
complete recitation of the factual background can be found in
the court's prior memorandum opinion denying
Defendant's motion to dismiss. (ECF No. 27, at 1-8).
Plaintiff began working as Director of Talent Relations and
Casting for Defendant when the television network launched in
2004. (ECF Nos. 89-4, at 34, pp. 127-28, 43, p. 164; 90-5, at
Among other responsibilities, Plaintiff was charged with
booking talent for TV One shows, including TV One-on-One,
hosted by TV One's founder, chairperson, and board member
Catherine Hughes. (ECF Nos. 89-4, at 34, p. 127; 90-6, at 34,
p. 127). Ms. Hughes is also the mother of TV One Chief
Executive Officer and President Alfred Liggins. (ECF No.
90-5, at 4). Plaintiff asserts that she was subjected to a
pervasive pattern of sexual harassment and gender
discrimination by Ms. Hughes during the course of her
employment at TV One. (ECF No. 90-1, at 7). The crux of
Plaintiff's claim is that Ms. Hughes insisted repeatedly
that Plaintiff take up a romantic relationship with Mr.
Liggins. (ECF Nos. 89-4, at 45-46, pp. 173, 175-77). During a
business trip to Chicago in October 2004, Ms. Hughes
allegedly said to Plaintiff, “I'm going to be your
mother one way or another. Either you will marry [Mr.
Liggins] or I will marry your father and be your
stepmother.” (ECF Nos. 89-4, at 45, p. 173; 90-6, at
45, p. 173). On another occasion, Ms. Hughes sternly
questioned why Plaintiff had not married Mr. Liggins yet,
stating that Plaintiff was old and “[her] babies would
probably be retarded.” (ECF Nos. 89-4, at 49, p. 187;
90-6, at 49, p. 187, 54, p. 207). On various occasions, Ms.
Hughes introduced Plaintiff to others as her “future
daughter-in-law, ” fueling workplace rumors that
Plaintiff and Mr. Liggins were romantically involved. (ECF
Nos. 89-4, at 46, pp. 176-77; 90-6, at 46, pp. 176-77, 49,
pp. 188-89). When Plaintiff complained directly to Mr.
Liggins about the rumors, he responded, “at least it
makes me look good.” (ECF No. 90-6, at 32, p. 118).
Once Ms. Hughes realized that Plaintiff was not going to
marry Mr. Liggins, she began to “baselessly
attack” Plaintiff's job performance, including
publicly berating Plaintiff in front of her co-workers
(Id. at 53-54, pp. 205-06); demanding that Plaintiff
make requests for talent in a manner contrary to standard
industry protocol (Id. at 54-55, pp. 208-13); and
chastising Plaintiff for taking time off for her wedding and
honeymoon in 2012 (Id. at 56-57, pp.
214-18). At a gathering of TV One employees
in January 2014, Mr. Liggins gave a speech about the history
of TV One and screened a video demo reel. During his speech,
Mr. Liggins falsely stated that Plaintiff joined him in his
hotel room to review the video when he was on a business trip
in Los Angeles. (ECF Nos. 89-4, at 27-28, pp. 101-02; 90-6,
at 27-28, pp. 101-02). According to Plaintiff, this statement
further fueled rumors that Mr. Liggins and Plaintiff were
romantically involved. (ECF Nos. 89-4, at 27-28, pp. 101,
104-05, 31, pp. 114-15; 90-6, at 28, pp. 104-05, 31, pp.
employment was terminated in late June 2014 following a
dispute with Ms. Hughes regarding the Essence Music Festival
(the “Festival”). (ECF No. 90-19, at 2-3).
Earlier in the month, Plaintiff's supervisor informed
Plaintiff that Ayiko Broyard, an advertising agency executive
and personal friend of Ms. Hughes, wanted the R&B Divas
to perform on the McDonald's stage at the Festival. (ECF
Nos. 89-4, at 129-30, pp. 367-71; 90-6, at 129-30, pp.
367-71). However, the R&B Divas were already booked for a
performance on Walmart's stage. (ECF Nos. 89-4, at 127,
p. 366; 90-6, at 131, pp. 377-78, 132, p. 382). Concerned
about jeopardizing TV One's relationship with Walmart,
Plaintiff communicated with Denise Bennett, the talent
manager and TV One's account representative handling the
Walmart account. (ECF Nos. 89-4, at 132, pp. 383-86; 90-6 at
131, pp. 376-77). After being told by Ms. Bennett that
Walmart expected exclusivity with the R&B Divas,
Plaintiff issued instructions to notify Ms. Broyard that TV
One was unable to accommodate her request because of an
existing agreement with Walmart. (ECF Nos. 89-4, at 131, p.
382, 359-60; 90-6, at 128, p. 366, 136, pp. 396-97). On June
22, Ms. Broyard informed Ms. Hughes that her request had been
denied, and Ms. Hughes called Plaintiff's supervisor
regarding the matter. (ECF No. 89-11, at 66, pp. 254-55, 67,
p. 257). That afternoon, Plaintiff's supervisor emailed
Plaintiff, asking her to call Ms. Hughes. (ECF Nos. 89-4, at
137, pp. 403-04, 362; 89-12, at 38, p. 141; 90-6, at 138, pp.
the remaining facts are in dispute. According to Plaintiff,
when she called Ms. Hughes in the afternoon on June 22, Ms.
Hughes “immediately started telling [her] off”
and yelled and cursed at her for not speaking with Ms.
Broyard directly regarding her request. (ECF No. 90-6, at
138, p. 405). While Plaintiff tried to speak calmly with Ms.
Hughes “to diffuse the situation, ” Ms. Hughes
“ke[pt] jumping in and yelling at [Plaintiff].”
(Id. at 138, p. 406). When Ms. Hughes demanded that
Plaintiff participate on a conference call the following day,
Plaintiff informed Ms. Hughes that she would be unavailable
and on approved leave out of town visiting her husband's
family. In response, Ms. Hughes told Plaintiff, “I
don't give a damn about your husband's family.”
(Id.). Believing that she hung up the phone on
Plaintiff, Ms. Hughes began speaking to others in her
company, referring to Plaintiff as “arrogant” and
“incompetent, ” and stating in reference to
Plaintiff, “I don't know who the hell this girl
thinks she is, but I am writing her ass up.” (ECF No.
90-6, at 139, pp. 408-10). According to Defendant, Ms. Hughes
never yelled at Plaintiff during the conversation. Rather,
Plaintiff yelled so loudly at Ms. Hughes that Plaintiff's
voice could be overheard by others through the phone. (ECF
Nos. 89-8, at 49, pp. 190-92, 63, pp. 246-48, 75, p. 294;
89-11, at 68, pp. 263-64; 89-13, at 2; 89-14, at 2-3).
According to Ms. Hughes, she told Plaintiff, “calm
down, ” “[w]e only need five minutes of your
time, ” and attempted to schedule a time for the
conference call. (ECF No. 89-11, at 68, pp. 263-64). After
Plaintiff refused, Ms. Hughes hung up the phone on Plaintiff.
(Id. at 68, p. 264)
about 9:30 a.m. on June 23, Plaintiff called TV One's
Human Resources Vice President Sharon Alston and left a voice
“I am making a complaint against Ms. Hughes for
harassment. . . . [S]he cursed me out in a phone conversation
yesterday when I told her that I was with my husband's
family in Minnesota . . . I think she wants me fired because
I told her previously that I wouldn't marry her son.
Please call me as soon as possible so I can give you more
details about my complaint.”
(ECF No. 90-11, at 2-3). Plaintiff also e-mailed Ms. Alton,
directing Ms. Alston to her voice message. (Id. at
3). Ms. Alston was not available but responded to
Plaintiff's e-mail, stating that she was available to
speak with Plaintiff in the afternoon. Plaintiff was not
available at that time and requested to speak with Ms. Alston
the following day (ECF No. 89-4, at 140, pp. 416-18, 366).
afternoon on June 23, Ms. Hughes contacted Jackie Kindall,
Radio One's Senior Vice President of Human Resources, and
told her about the call with Plaintiff. (ECF Nos. 89-8, at
29, pp. 110-11, 40, p. 155; 89-11, at 68-69, pp. 264-65). Ms.
Hughes stated that she “wants [Plaintiff] out, ”
“didn't want [Plaintiff] back in the
building” and “Kimberly Dawkins can help fill in
on the talent side for TV One when we fire
[Plaintiff].” (ECF No. 89-8, at 36-37, pp. 140-43, 38,
pp. 145-47). Ms. Kindall then contacted Ms. Alston, who
“handle[s] TV One HR issues, ” and told her that,
“[Ms. Hughes] wants [Plaintiff] on administrative
leave, ” and instructed Ms. Alston to tell Plaintiff
not to report to Los Angeles for a planned photo shoot
because she is on administrative leave. (Id. at 73,
pp. 286-87). According to Defendant, Ms. Alston and Ms.
Kindall agreed during their conversation that they would
investigate the matter between Plaintiff and Ms. Hughes. Ms.
Alston would speak with Plaintiff regarding the dispute and
Ms. Kindall would speak with Tony Washington and Jody
Williams who were “witnesses to the conversation with
[Plaintiff] and Ms. H[ughes].” (ECF No. 89-8, at 47-49,
pp. 182-90). Ms. Alston then called Mr. Washington and Ms.
Williams, who corroborated Ms. Hughes' account of the
June 22 phone conversation with Plaintiff. (Id.).
According to Plaintiff, this investigation was a cover-up for
Ms. Hughes' instructions to Ms. Kindall the day before to
fire Plaintiff. (ECF No. 90-13, at 38, pp. 146-47).
Plaintiff spoke with Ms. Alston on the morning of June 24
regarding her voice message and e-mail sent on June 23,
Plaintiff recounted the phone conversation with Ms. Hughes on
June 22 and provided a full history of her treatment by Ms.
Hughes at TV One. (ECF No. 90-15, at 2-4). In response, Ms.
Alston informed Plaintiff that she was being placed on
administrative leave pending an investigation. (ECF Nos.
89-4, at 141, p. 420; 90-6, at 145, pp. 431-32).
afternoon on June 24, Ms. Alston met with Ms. Kindall, Linda
Vilardo, Radio One's Chief Administrative Officer, and
in-house legal counsel, to discuss her investigation of the
dispute between Plaintiff and Ms. Hughes. (ECF No. 89-8, at
64, pp. 250-52). According to Defendant, at that meeting, Ms.
Vilardo determined that Plaintiff's employment should be
terminated for insubordination. (ECF Nos. 89-8, at 80, pp.
314-15; 89-15, at 73, p. 283; 89-16, at 34, p. 131).
Plaintiff was not notified of the decision to terminate her
employment on June 24 because, on June 25, Ms. Kindall was
preparing a severance package to be offered to Plaintiff.
(ECF Nos. 89-8, at 91, p. 358, 95, p. 373-74, 160-61; 89-16,
at 42, pp. 163-64). On the morning of June 26, Plaintiff sent
to Ms. Alston a written complaint against Defendant for
gender discrimination and harassment. (ECF No. 89-4, at 144,
p. 434, 375; 90-18, at 2). Later that day, Plaintiff was
informed by letter that her employment had been terminated
effective June 24. (ECF Nos. 89-4, at 148, pp. 448-49,
377-389; 90-19, at 2-3).
March 13, 2017, Defendant moved for summary judgment. (ECF
No. 89). On March 27, Plaintiff filed an opposition and moved
for summary judgment with respect to Defendant's seventh
and ninth affirmative defenses asserted in its answer. (ECF
No. 90). Defendant replied and filed an opposition to
Plaintiff's motion on April 10. (ECF No. 91). Plaintiff
filed a reply and amended reply to Defendant's
opposition. (ECF Nos. 92; 93).
Standard of Review
motion for summary judgment will be granted only if there
exists no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986);
Emmett v. Johnson, 532 F.3d 291, 297 (4th
Cir. 2008). To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the
moving party generally bears the burden of showing that there
is no genuine dispute as to any material fact. Liberty
Lobby, 477 U.S. at 248-50. A dispute about a material
fact is genuine “if the evidence is such that a
reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving
party.” Id. at 249. In undertaking this
inquiry, a court must view the facts and the reasonable
inferences drawn therefrom “in the light most favorable
to the party opposing the motion, ” Matsushita
Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574,
587 (1986)(quoting United States v. Diebold, Inc.,
369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962)); see also EEOC v. Navy Fed.
Credit Union, 424 F.3d 397, 405 (4th Cir.
2005), but a “party cannot create a genuine dispute of
material fact through mere speculation or compilation of
inferences.” Shin v. Shalala, 166 F.Supp.2d
373, 375 (D.Md. 2001) (citation omitted).
faced with cross motions for summary judgment, the court must
consider “each motion separately on its own merits to
determine whether either of the parties deserves judgment as
a matter of law.” Rossignol v. Voorhaar, 316
F.3d 516, 523 (4thCir. 2003) (citation and
internal quotation marks omitted). The court reviews each
motion under the familiar standard for summary judgment
outlined above. Desmond v. PNGI Charles Town Gaming,
L.L.C., 630 F.3d 351, 354 (4th Cir. 2011).
The court must deny both motions if there is a genuine
dispute of material fact, “[b]ut if there is no genuine
issue and one or the other party is entitled to prevail as a
matter of law, the court will render judgment.” 10A
Charles A. Wright, et al., Federal Practice &
Procedure § 2720 (3d ed. 1998).
Title VII, it is unlawful for an employer “to
discriminate against an individual with respect to . . .
terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of
such individual's . . . sex.” 42 U.S.C. §
2000e-2(a)(1). In Count I, Plaintiff asserts claims of ...