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Karol v. Board of Education of Calvert County

United States District Court, D. Maryland

December 22, 2017

VICTORIA KAROL, Plaintiff,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF CALVERT COUNTY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Paula Xinis, United States District Judge

         Pending before the Court in this employment discrimination case are two motions: a motion to dismiss filed by Defendant Board of Education of Calvert County (“the Board”) (ECF No. 3), and a motion for leave to amend the Complaint filed by Plaintiff Victoria Karol (“Karol”) (ECF No. 8). The issues are fully briefed and the Court now rules pursuant to Local Rule 105.6 because no hearing is necessary. The Court GRANTS the Board's motion, ECF No. 3, and DENIES Karol's motion, ECF No. 8.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Karol brings this action against her employer, the Board, alleging gender discrimination under a theory of disparate treatment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII) (Count I), age discrimination under a theory of disparate treatment in violation of the Age Discrimination Employment Act (ADEA) (Count II), retaliation in violation of Title VII (Count III), and discrimination under a theory of hostile work environment in violation of Title VII (Count IV).

         According to the Complaint, Karol, who was born in 1956, was hired by the Board in 1978. ECF No. 1 (“Compl.”) at ¶¶ 9, 10. In May 2013, the Board selected Karol as the Acting Director of Human Resources, and in May 2014, she became Director of Human Resources. Karol remained in that position until she became Director of Strategic Partnership Community Engagement. Compl. ¶¶ at 10, 45.

         The Complaint centers on the actions of Karol's supervisor, Anthony Navarro, and her second-level supervisor, Dr. Daniel Curry. See Compl. at ¶ 13. Karol alleges that Navarro harassed and intimidated her by: (1) seeking the input of a retired Maryland State Policeman and detective about Human Resources' new-hire fingerprinting procedure instead of adopting Karol's recommended course of action; (2) denying Karol's request to attend a conference on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), even though attendance would enhance her job performance; (3) relying on an outside consultant instead of Karol regarding ACA compliance issues; (4) denying Karol's staffing requests; and (5) requiring Karol to attend bi-weekly staff meetings without making subordinate male employees do the same. Id. at ¶¶ 16, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23. Karol also asserts that Navarro “fabricated” complaints about the quality of her work and one time yelled at her, “Do you see this, do you see this? What about this don't you understand?” while pounding his fists on the table. Id. at ¶ 17. As to Dr. Curry, Karol asserts that she was told by Curry that if she complained of Navarro's treatment, she would be reassigned to a different position without Karol having input as to the new position. Id. at ¶ 26. Karol also claims that Curry refused to consider her re-application to be Director of Human Resources after her transfer. Id. at ¶ ¶ 27, 45.

         The Board moved to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that the complained-of treatment, even if true, fails to make out adverse employment action under Title VII or the ADEA discrimination or retaliation claims. Nor was the treatment, as pleaded, motivated by gender. ECF No. 3-1 at 7, 11, 16. Karol has opposed the motion and, in the alternative, moved to amend her Complaint. ECF Nos. 7, 8. The Court addresses each motion in turn.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) properly is granted when the complaint does not include sufficient factual allegations to render the plaintiff's claims facially plausible or permit reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009). In so assessing, the Court takes as true all well-pleaded factual allegations and makes all reasonable inferences in the favor of the plaintiff. Phillips v. Pitt Cty. Mem. Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 1999). The Court does not credit conclusory statements or a plaintiff's legal conclusions, even when the plaintiff purports them to be allegations of fact. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. 678-79; Giarrantano v. Jonson, 520 F.3d 298, 302 (4th Cir. 2008). From the facts averred, the Court must be able to infer “more than the mere possibility of misconduct”; the complaint must contain factual pleadings that show the plaintiff is entitled to relief. See Ruffin v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 126 F.Supp.3d 521, 526 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).[1]

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Disparate Treatment (Counts I, II)

         To sustain disparate treatment claims under Title VII and the ADEA, a plaintiff must show that she was a member of a protected class (or is over the age of 40), that her employer took an adverse employment action against her, that her job performance was satisfactory, and that similarly situated employees outside the protected class (or under 40) received more favorable treatment. See Cepada v. Bd. Of Educ. of Baltimore Cty., 814 F.Supp.2d 500, 510, 512 (D. Md. 2011). Adverse employment actions are those which affect the terms, conditions, or benefits of employment. See Munday v. Waste Mgmt. of N. Am., Inc., 126 F.3d 239, 243 (4th Cir. 1997). Notably, not all undesirable employment actions are considered adverse under the law. In the context of job transfer, “absent any decrease in compensation, job title, level of responsibility, or opportunity for promotion, reassignment to a new position commensurate with one's salary level does not constitute an adverse employment action even if the new job does cause some modest stress not present in the old position.” Holland v. Wash. Homes, Inc., 487 F.3d 208, 219 (4th Cir. 2007) (quoting Boone v. Goldin, 178 F.3d 253, 256-57 (4th Cir.1999); Johnson v. Aluminum Co. of Am., 397 F.Supp.2d 688, 697 (M.D. N.C. 2005), aff'd, 205 Fed.Appx. 152 (4th Cir. 2006) (imposition of additional duties is not an adverse employment action).

         The Board is correct that Karol's claims must fail because she has not alleged a sufficiently adverse employment action.[2] Perhaps the closest factual averment is her reassignment from the position of Director of Human Resources to another director-level position. But in no way does Karol assert this reassignment was adverse. She has not, for example, alleged facts supporting a decrease in pay, diminished opportunities for promotion, adverse working conditions, or decreased responsibility as a result of the transfer.

         Similarly, the actions preceding her transfer, such as not sending Karol to a job-related conference, compelling her attendance at staff meetings, or soliciting advice of others, cannot plausibly be construed as affecting the terms, conditions or benefits of her employment. Karol, therefore, has failed to sufficiently plead that the ...


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