United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
J. HAZEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
one-count Complaint, Plaintiff Mabel Smith alleges that she
suffered retaliation in response to her complaints of age,
gender, and national origin discrimination that she raised to
her employer, the Board of Education of Prince George's
County, Maryland (the "Board" or
"Defendant"), in violation of Title VII of the
Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C.
§§ 2000e-2 et seq. Presently pending
before the Court is the Board's Motion for Summary
Judgment, ECF No. 26. No hearing is necessary to resolve the
Motion. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the
reasons that follow, the Board's Motion is granted.
is employed by the Board as a teacher in the Prince
George's County school system and was assigned to
Kettering Middle School as a classroom teacher for the
2005-2006 through 2014-2015 school years. ECF No. 26-12 at 6,
Amin Salaam is Principal of Kettering Middle School and
served as Plaintiffs immediate supervisor for the 2012-2013
through 2014-2015 school years. ECF No. 26-13 at 2. On
February 27, 2015, Salaam informed Plaintiff of an impending
disciplinary meeting related to Plaintiffs observation of,
and role in, diffusing an altercation that occurred between
two students in front of Plaintiff s classroom earlier that
day. ECF No. 26-8 at l. According to Salaam, the meeting was
necessary because Plaintiff misled Salaam during his
investigation into the altercation by erroneously informing
him that she "did not see anything." Id.
Following notification of this meeting, Plaintiff sent an
email to Dr. Kevin Maxwell, Chief Executive Officer of Prince
George's County Public Schools, on March 3, 2015,
requesting that he review Salaam's conduct, and that
Salaam harassed her, bullied her, and demeaned her character.
ECF No. 26-8 at 1-6.
Simmons, the Board's Equal Opportunity Advisor,
acknowledged receipt of Plaintiffs email to Maxwell and
informed Plaintiff that the Board would treat it as a
complaint of discrimination and/or harassment pursuant to the
Board's Administrative Procedure 4170, ECF No. 26-11 at
62-72. See ECF No. 26-11 at 73. Simmons and
Plaintiff met on March 3, 2015 to discuss Plaintiffs
concerns. Following this meeting, Salaam held the
aforementioned disciplinary meeting on March 11, 2015 with
Plaintiff, Kettering Vice Principal Secoya Muschett, and
Jimalatice Thomas, Plaintiffs union representative. ECF No.
26-2 at 4. During the meeting, Plaintiff denied that she was
aware of the altercation that occurred between two students
in front of her classroom on February 27. Id. After
Salaam played recordings taken from a security camera showing
Plaintiff breaking up the subject altercation, Plaintiff left
the meeting to seek medical attention. Id.; see also
ECF No. 26-10 (security camera recording). Salaam then
informed Thomas and Muschett that he would issue a
"Letter of Professional Counseling for Misconduct,
Willful Neglect of Duty & Insubordination" (the
"Letter") to Plaintiff for her conduct following
the altercation, ECF No. 26-2 at 4, and issued the Letter
later that day. ECF No. 26-2 at 37-39. While the Letter
primarily discussed Plaintiffs conduct related to this
altercation, Salaam also referenced two prior incidents where
Plaintiff allegedly inappropriately yelled at Salaam in front
of students and staff on September 11 and December 10, 2014.
the disciplinary meeting, Plaintiff remained absent from work
on extended medical leave through the end of the 2014-2015
school year, but her salary and benefits remained unchanged.
ECF No. 26-12 at 23-25, 29. On March 16, 2015, Plaintiff
filed a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC, alleging
national origin and age discrimination and retaliation. ECF
No. 26-3. Thereafter, on March 25, 2015, Plaintiff received a
report from an observation conducted by Salaam, stating that
her performance was "unsatisfactory." ECF No. 28-3.
Plaintiff also received an evaluation for the 2014-2015
school year with an overall score of 49.57, corresponding to
an "ineffective" rating. ECF No. 28-4.
Subsequently, the score was increased to 75.29, corresponding
to an "effective" rating. ECF No. 26-2 at 24.
Plaintiff initiated the subject action on January 21, 2016,
bringing one claim, "Title VII Retaliation." ECF
No. 1. On July 26, 2016, the Court denied Defendant's
Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 3. See ECF No. 11.
Following completion of discovery, Defendant now moves for
summary judgment. ECF No. 26.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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). "This standard provides that the
mere existence of some alleged factual dispute
between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly
supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is
that there be no genuine issue of material
fact." Anderson, Ml U.S. at 247-48 (1986)
(emphasis in original). Thus, "[t]he party opposing a
properly supported motion for summary judgment 'may not
rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [his] pleadings,
' but rather must 'set forth specific facts showing
that there is a genuine issue for trial.'"
Bouchat v. Baltimore Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346
F.3d 514, 525 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e))
(alteration in original).
motion for summary judgment, the Court must "view the
evidence in the light most favorable to ... the nonmovant,
and draw all inferences in her favor without weighing the
evidence or assessing the witness' credibility."
Dennis v. Columbia Colleton Med. Ctr., Inc., 290
F.3d 639, 644-45 (4th Cir. 2002). The moving party bears the
burden of showing that there is no genuine issue as to any
material fact. No genuine issue of material fact exists if
the non-moving party fails to make a sufficient showing on an
essential element of her case as to which she would have the
burden of proof. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477
U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). Therefore, on those issues on which
the non-moving party has the burden of proof, it is her
responsibility to confront the summary judgment motion with
an affidavit or other similar evidence showing that there is
a genuine issue for trial.
Complaint identifies two actions that form the primary basis
for her claim of retaliation under Title VII: (1) the March
11. 2015 Letter of Professional Counseling received by
Plaintiff on March 18, 2015, ECF No. 1 ¶ 49, and (2)
Salaam's ratings of Plaintiff as "ineffective"
in interim and annual job performance reviews issued on March
25, 2015 and June 19, 2015, respectively, id.
¶¶ 50, 52. Title VII prohibits employment
discrimination based on "race, color, religion, sex, or
national origin, " 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a), and its
anti-retaliation provision serves to "prevent an
employer from interfering (through retaliation) with an
employee's efforts to secure or advance enforcement of
the Act's basic guarantees." Burlington N. &
Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53, 63; see
also 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a).
establish & prima facie claim of retaliation
under Title VII, a plaintiff must demonstrate three elements:
"(1) [s]he engaged in a protected activity, (2) [her]
employer acted adversely against [her], and (3) the protected
activity was causally connected to the adverse action."
Clarke v. DynCorp Int'l LLC, 962 F.Supp.2d 781,
789 (D. Md. 2013) (citations omitted). Once a plaintiff
demonstrates a prima facie claim, the burden shifts
to the employer to show that there was a legitimate
non-retaliatory reason for the adverse action. Foster v.
Univ. of Md.-Eastern Shore, 787 F.3d 243, 250 (4th Cir.
2015) (citing the burden-shifting framework set forth in
McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792
(1973)). Thereafter, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff
to rebut the employer's explanation and show that it was
merely a pretext for discrimination. Id.
argues that Plaintiff cannot establish that there was an
adverse action, and that even if there was such an action, it
was not causally related to a protected activity. As
explained by the Court in resolving Defendant's earlier
Motion to Dismiss, Title VII's protections against
discrimination and retaliation are not coterminous. Smith
v. Board of Ed Of Price George's Cnty., No.
GJH-16-206, 2016 WL 4014563, at *4 (D. Md. July 26, 2016)
(citing Burlington TV., 548 U.S. at 67). While a
plaintiff alleging discrimination must show that she was
subject to an adverse employment action that altered the
terms or conditions of employment, a plaintiff alleging
retaliation need only show that a reasonable employee would
find "the challenged action materially adverse, which in
this context means it well might have dissuaded a reasonable
worker from making or supporting a charge of
discrimination." Burlington N., 548 U.S. at 68
(citation and internal quotation marks omitted); see also
Hinton v. Virginia Union Univ., 185 F.Supp.3d 807, 827
(E.D. Va. 2016) ("Under [Burlington Northern],
effect on terms or conditions of employment can certainly be
a factor in the fact-based determination of material
adversity, ... however, effect on terms or conditions of
employment is no longer necessary to state
actionable misconduct in a retaliation claim.")
(internal citations and quotation marks omitted) (emphasis in
original). The Court addresses each of the alleged
retaliatory actions in turn.
Letter of ...