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Miller v. Kramon & Graham PA

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

February 2, 2018

ANGELA M. MILLER, Plaintiff,
v.
KRAMON & GRAHAM PA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GEORGE J. HAZEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This is an employment discrimination action, in which Plaintiff Angela M. Miller's remaining claim alleges that she was terminated by her former employer. Defendant Kramon & Graham PA ("K&G"), based on her age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"). ECF No. 8 at 11.[1] Presently pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 37. No hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND[2]

         Plaintiff, a Caucasian female, began working at K&G in 1986. ECF No. 40-7 ¶ 2. She left the firm in 1988 and returned in 1992, and began working full time at K&G in 1999. Id. Plaintiff was hired by K&G's Office Manager, Cathy Marks, [3] as a member of K&G's administrative team. See id.; ECF No. 40-1 at 2. For the entirety of her tenure at K&G, Plaintiff worked under Marks, and her work load was managed by Marks. ECF No. 40-1 at 2. On January 31, 2012, K&G terminated Plaintiffs employment. ECF No. 40-7 ¶ 11; ECF No. 40-2 at 18. At the time she was terminated, Plaintiff was 49 years old; she was subsequently replaced by a younger Caucasian female, who was 29 or 30 years old when she was hired. ECF No. 40-1 at 5; ECF No. 40-2 at 18. The parties disagree regarding the circumstances that led up to Plaintiffs termination. as discussed below.

         In her affidavit, Plaintiff states that in January 2011, she was moved into a new office that was half the size. Id. ¶ 4. She did not receive a pay raise in 2011, and was told that she had "capped out" her salary. Id. ¶ 7. Plaintiff continued to follow up on the issue of her raise, and even emailed the managing principal, David Shuster, on December 23, 2011, asking to meet to discuss her salary. Id. ¶ 10. Rather than receiving a raise, Plaintiff was terminated on January 31, 2012; she states that "[n]o reason was given for [her] termination'" and she was "never given an exit interview." Id. ¶ 11. Plaintiff states that she never received any negative feedback regarding her work performance, and was never given an evaluation at all. Id. ¶¶ 9, 12. This fact was confirmed by Marks in her deposition, who explained that they "never did written evaluations for anyone." ECF No. 40-2 at 13. In fact, Plaintiff attests to a number of instances in which she received positive feedback regarding her work. See ECF No. 40-7 ¶ 9 (attesting that two attorneys and two principals told her that she had done a good job on work assignments). Plaintiff believes that she was fired "based on [her] age because [she] was replaced by a less experienced" and younger "staff person." Id. ¶ 14.

         The evidence submitted by K&G paints a different picture. Multiple K&G employees testified or stated that Plaintiff was terminated because of concerns with her workplace attitude and performance. See, e.g., ECF No. 40-1 (K&G interrogatory responses, stating that "Plaintiff was terminated due to her inability to cooperate with coworkers and others, insubordination, and because her conduct and demeanor were detrimental to the firm."); ECF No. 40-2 at 9 (Marks testifying that Plaintiff was terminated because "she was no longer keeping [K&G's] best interests at heart just by her demeanor, the way she treated staff'); ECF No. 37-14 (affidavit of managing principal Philip M. Andrews, describing how employees complained about Plaintiffs workplace attitude and job performance). On multiple occasions beginning in 2009, K&G principals and other employees complained about Plaintiffs behavior in the workplace and her attitude towards other employees and her responsibilities. In her deposition, Marks testified that in 2009 she began receiving verbal complaints from principals regarding Plaintiff. ECF No. 37-4 at 5. Between five and ten principals complained that Plaintiff "was very curt and very rude" and that there "were some disruptions with the way she communicated with other staff members." Id. at 5-6.

         K&G points to several instances in which Plaintiff either behaved inappropriately in the workplace, failed to adequately complete work assignments, or both. One of the principals, Geoffrey Genth, submitted an affidavit describing how Plaintiff "spent an excessive amount of time on personal phone calls throughout the workday." ECF No. 37-5 ¶ 2. The calls were "personal in nature and had nothing to do with her work." Id. These calls "were rambling, " "would often extend for more than thirty minutes per call" and often "began right after she reported to work in the morning." Id. Genth found these calls to be "distracting" and "was aware that other attorneys and assistants were also distracted by them." Id. at 3. On January 26, 2012, Andrew Jay Graham emailed the managing principal, David Shuster, and complained that

Something has to be done about [Plaintiff]. For months if not years she has been talking on the phone about personal things, having nothing to do with her work, endlessly and in a way that is both annoying and distracting to those of us who are working. Geoff has mentioned the problem in the past. ... I have the distinct impression that the other assistants are also annoyed by her attitude toward her work, if she has any to do, and her strange set of priorities. I don't like to get anyone in trouble, but the current situation is truly absurd. [Plaintiff] is being paid to chat with her friends on the phone.

ECF No. 37-7. In his affidavit, Genth further describes how on one occasion in late 2011 or early 2012, he needed Plaintiff to validate a "distinguished client['s]" parking ticket after "a lengthy meeting." ECF No. 37-5 ¶ 8. At the time, Plaintiff was "in the middle of a casual, personal phone conversation." Id. In response to Genth's request that Plaintiff validate the parking ticket, Plaintiff "waved [him] off' with "a dismissive hand gesture." Id. Genth found this "unacceptable, " "unprofessional, inappropriate, and offensive" and reported the incident to Shuster and Marks. Id.

         On another occasion, Plaintiff also chose to ignore the requests of her office supervisors. On January 12, 2012, Marks sent an email to the support staff with a subject line of "Purple Friday." ECF No. 37-8. Marks explained that an employee had asked "whether everyone can wear Ravens' clothing tomorrow." Id. at l.[4] In response to the request, Marks clarified that while employees were "free to wear purple" (the team color of the Baltimore Ravens), employees were not permitted to wear "Ravens jerseys, t-shirts, etc." Id. Rather than adhere to the policy, Plaintiff arrived at K&G the next day wearing a t-shirt with a Baltimore Ravens logo on it. Id. Furthermore, Plaintiff then complained about the dress code policy and Marks' email publicly to other employees. ECF No. 40-2 at 12. Marks found this behavior objectionable. Id.

         In addition to her workplace demeanor, K&G points to two instances in which principals were highly dissatisfied with Plaintiffs work. On one occasion, Marks blamed Plaintiff for an incident that occurred at K&G's Christmas party. Marks and Plaintiff worked together to select a parking lot for the staff to park at, for which the firm would hand out prepaid parking vouchers. ECF No. 40-2 at 19. According to Marks, "[Plaintiff] had done the research" into the parking lot, and then Marks "did a memo telling about how the parking would work for this party." Id. Marks sent the memo to Plaintiff to confirm the details, which Plaintiff did. Id. Once they arrived at the party, Marks pointed out to Plaintiff that the vouchers did not match the garage that Marks had parked at. Id. Rather than review the tickets, Plaintiff simply retorted that "you're at the wrong lot, " and continued to give out the same vouchers to employees. Id. It turned out that the lot described in the memo- which Plaintiff confirmed for Marks-did not match the vouchers that Plaintiff obtained; this resulted in a significant "backup at the lot" at the end of the night, with "people trying to get out without proper documentation." Id.

         On another occasion, Plaintiff failed to complete a work assignment for a principal in a timely manner. In May 2011 the principal, Cynthia A. Berman, asked Plaintiff to retrieve and deliver a file for her. ECF No. 37-9. Plaintiff failed to accomplish this task in a timely manner, and Berman had to ask another employee to retrieve the file. Id. This was brought to the attention of the managing principal. ECF No. 37-6 at 4-5.

         Finally, on January 31, 2012, Plaintiff was terminated from K&G. ECF No. 40-2 at 18. Although some previous employees who were terminated had been permitted to continue working at K&G while they sought new employment, Plaintiffs termination was effective immediately. In his affidavit, Philip M. Andrews, K&G's chairman at the time Plaintiff was terminated, explained that this occurred because Plaintiff "had access to sensitive accounting and personnel information, " and "the Firm was concerned that she would continue to conduct herself unprofessionally and continue to be a distraction." ECF No. 37-14 at 3. While K&G did not allow her to continue working while she sought new employment, K&G did offer Plaintiff a severance payment "to assist her financially during her search for work elsewhere." Id.

         After her termination, Plaintiff brought the pending claim against K&G, filing her initial Complaint on April 14, 2015, ECF No. 1, and amending it on October 13, 2015, ECF No. 8.[5] In her Complaint, Plaintiff alleged that K&G was liable for age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") (Count I), race discrimination under Title VII (Count II), race discrimination under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1981 (Count III), age discrimination under the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act ("MFEPA") (Count IV), and race discrimination under the MFEPA (Count V). ECF No. 14. On August 16, 2016, the Court granted in part K&G's Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 21, dismissing Counts II, IV and V. ECF No. 25. Following discovery, K&G moved for summary judgment on the remaining counts, ECF No. 37, which Plaintiff opposed, ECF No. 40. In her opposition, Plaintiff withdrew her ...


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