United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
J. HAZEL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Crystal Ballinger sued Defendant Board of Education of Prince
George's County. Maryland, alleging that she had been
unlawfully sexually harassed and retaliated against in
violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42
U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. ("Title VII")
and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C.
1681, et seq. ('Title IX"). ECF No. 1.
Presently pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion
for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 28. In support of its Motion,
Defendant attaches the affidavit of Defendant's Equal
Employment Opportunity Advisor, Amana T. Simmons, who
investigated Plaintiffs allegations. ECF No. 28-6;
Defendant's relevant administrative policies, which it
relied on, ECF No. 28-2. ECF No. 28-3, ECF No. 28-4, ECF No.
28-6 at 5-13; correspondence between Plaintiff and Defendant
regarding the alleged harassment, ECF No. 28-6 at 14-18,
35-57, ECF No. 28-5; and. a number of statements made by
individuals who witnessed the alleged harassment, ECF No.
28-6 at 20-34. In opposition. Plaintiff attaches her own
affidavit, ECF No. 29-1; another teacher's affidavit, ECF
No. 29-2; and, the same witness statements that were attached
to Defendant's Motion, ECF No. 29-3. The Court held a
motions hearing on December 7, 2017. ECF No. 34. For the
following reasons, Defendant's Motion for Summary
Judgment is granted.
is an employee of Prince George's County Public Schools,
and in 2014 was working at Oxon Hill Middle School
("OHMS"). ECF No. 29-1 ¶¶ 1-2 (Plaintiffs
Affidavit).On September 19. 2014, Plaintiff attended
an OHMS staff retreat in Oakland, Maryland. Id.
¶ 4. Jeffrey Pearson, a math teacher at OHMS, was also
at the retreat. Id. ¶ 8. That evening.
Plaintiff attended a party with other OHMS staff, where
alcohol was being consumed, loud music was playing, and staff
members were dancing. Id. ¶ 14. Based on
Plaintiffs recollection, Pearson's recollection and
witness statements, it is clear that at some point in the
evening Plaintiff and Pearson fell to the ground together.
Id. ¶ 14; e.g., ECF No. 28-6 at 20 (witness
statement). The exact cause of their falling and subsequent
conduct is disputed. Plaintiff recalls that at approximately
10:30 PM, Pearson "grabbed [her] waist, " and that
she pulled away and informed him that she did not want to
dance. ECF No. 29-1 ¶ 16-17. She recalls that she was
"slammed into the floor, " and that Pearson was
"on top of [her] and proceeded to give forceful thrusts
into [her] pelvic region." ECF No. 28-6 at 16
(Plaintiffs "Statement of the Facts"). Pearson, on
the other hand, recalls that he and Plaintiff began
"dancing together' when she walked past him. and
that they began dancing "closer and closer''
with "no sign of hesitation"' from Plaintiff.
Id. at 34 (Pearson's Statement). He recalls that
they "danced lower till we fell to the floor" at
which point he "began to grind on top of her for a few
minutes." Id. Multiple witnesses remember
Plaintiff making a joke that Pearson "could [have]
bought [her] dinner first" once they stood back up.
Id. at 22; see also Id. at 20. 24.
returned to the building where the female employees were
staying and asked another employee to call OHMS Principal
Wendell Coleman. Id. at 17. When Coleman arrived.
Plaintiff explained what had occurred and informed Coleman
that her back was injured; Coleman asked if Plaintiff wanted
to go to the hospital, which she declined. Id.
Coleman then stated that he was going to "discuss the
events'" with Pearson, and left the building.
Id. Coleman returned and told Plaintiff that he
would discuss the situation with Pearson the next morning.
Id. at 38. The next morning, Coleman met with
Pearson, Plaintiff and two other staff members about the
incident the night before. Id. Plaintiff expressed
her discomfort and embarrassment regarding the incident;
Pearson explained that he "mean[t] no disrespect to
you." Id. Pearson said that "he would like
to apologize to the entire retreat for his misconduct, "
id, and during a staff breakfast that morning,
Pearson "apologized for his actions to the whole
staff." Id. at 28. Plaintiff subsequently asked
Coleman to send Pearson home; although he refused to do so.
Coleman asked Pearson to stay in his house for the remainder
of the retreat. Id. at 39. There is no evidence that
Pearson sexually harassed Plaintiff after this incident.
September 22, 2014, Plaintiff filed a Discrimination or
Harassment Incident Report with the Prince George's
Public School Equity Assurance office. Id. at 14-15.
Prince George's County Public Schools EEO Advisor, Amana
T. Simmons, corresponded with Principal Coleman that day and
arranged to interview numerous witnesses regarding the
incident; these interviews occurred the next day, on
September 23. 2014. Id. at 2-3. During her
investigation, Simmons instructed Pearson to "avoid
contact with [Plaintiff] by not venturing into the area of
the school containing [her] designated work space."
Id. at 40. Simmons ultimately issued a Letter of
Determination, which found that both Plaintiff and Pearson
'"engaged in inappropriate conduct, " that the
"initial interaction between [Plaintiff] and Mr. Pearson
dancing was consensual, " and "recommended that
both parties receive a Memorandum of Counsel respecting such
behavior." Id. at 46. No such Memorandum of
Counsel was ever issued. Following the incident. Plaintiff
applied for "Assault Leave"; however, in a letter
dated October 23, 2014. Defendant denied her request because
she had "failed to consult with a physician or emergency
room at a hospital within twenty-four (24) hours of the
alleged complaint, " as required under Administrative
Procedure 4154. ECF No. 28-5 at 1; see also ECF No.
28-3 (Administrative Procedure 4154).
also presents evidence that the September 2014 incident was
not the first time that Pearson engaged in sexually
inappropriate behavior at a work event, and that OHMS Vice
Principal Ashanti Foster witnessed the prior alleged
misconduct. In her affidavit, Plaintiff recalls that on March
17, 2014, she was in Foster's office with Pearson. ECF
No. 29-1 at 3. Plaintiff recalls Pearson inviting Plaintiff
to "feel free to touch me at any time .. . you know
where I am." Id. at 4. Plaintiff also attaches
the affidavit of Elizabeth Tedder, a former employee of OHMS,
who recalls another incident involving Pearson behaving
inappropriately towards female coworkers at an OHMS event.
Tedder recalls that at an OHMS staff event on March 17, 2014,
Pearson approached her while she was in a hot tub, and sat
next to her. ECF No. 29-2 ¶ 5. He made sexual advances
towards her, made sexual comments about her body and invited
her to his room; Tedder asked him to stop. Id.
¶¶ 6-7. At one point, Pearson touched Tedder's
thigh and buttocks. Id. ¶ 9. Later that
evening, Pearson continued to make sexual advances and
comments. and again asked Tedder to go to his room.
Id. ¶ 13. Tedder felt uncomfortable, and moved
next to Vice Principal Ashanti Foster. Id. ¶
16. Pearson began dancing in front of Tedder and Vice
Principal Foster, eventually attempting to give Foster a lap
dance. Id. ¶¶ 17-21. Tedder and Foster
tried to avoid Pearson, and Foster told him to return to his
room. Id. ¶ 23.
her denial of assault leave, and the issuance of
Defendant's Letter of Determination, Plaintiff filed a
Complaint against Defendant in this Court on December 10,
2015. ECF No. I. Plaintiff alleges that (1) she was sexually
harassed, and that Defendant is liable for the harassment
under Title VII and Title IX because "[s]chool officials
condoned Mr. Pearson's harassing behavior and failed to
take corrective action, " ECF No. 1 at 10 (Count I), and
(2) Defendant retaliated against her in violation of Title
VII and Title IX after she filed a Discrimination or
Harassment Incident Report. Id. at 12 (Count II). On
April 3, 2017, Defendant submitted the pending Motion for
Summary Judgment, ECF No. 28, and the Court heard arguments
from the parties on December 7. 2017, ECF No. 34.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
[Federal Rule of Civil Procedure] 56(c), summary judgment is
proper if the pleadings, depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the
affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to
any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a
judgment as a matter of law.'" Celotex Corp. v.
Cairett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (1986)
(quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). The party moving for summary
judgment bears the burden of demonstrating that no genuine
dispute exists as to material facts. Pulliam Inv. Co. v.
Cameo Props., 810 F.2d 1282, 1286 (4th Cir. 1987). If
the moving party demonstrates that there is no evidence to
support the non-moving party's case, the burden shifts to
the non-moving party to identify specific facts showing that
there is a genuine issue for trial. See Celotex, 477
U.S. at 322-23. Importantly, at the summary judgment stage,
it is not the Court's function to weigh the evidence but
simply to decide if there is a genuine issue for trial.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. 477 U.S.
242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505 (1986). A dispute of material fact
is genuine if the contlicting evidence creates "fair
doubt." Cox v. Cnty. Of Prince William, 249
F.3d 295, 299 (4th Cir. 2001), such that "a reasonable
jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party."
Anderson, All U.S. at 248.
ruling on a motion for summary judgment, "ft]he evidence
of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable
inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Id.
at 255. Nevertheless, a "mere scintilla of proof is not
enough to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Peters v.
Jenney, 327 F.3d 307, 314 (4th Cir. 2003) (citing
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252). To defeat the motion,
the party opposing summary judgment must submit evidentiary
materials showing facts on the basis of which the finder of
fact could reasonably decide the case in its favor.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. If a party fails to make
a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an
essential element on which that party will bear the burden of
proof at trial, summary judgment is proper. Id.
Court first considers whether Defendant is entitled to
summary judgment on Plaintiff s sexual harassment claim, and
then turns to whether it is entitled to summary judgment on
her retaliation claim.