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Phillips v. University of Maryland, Baltimore County

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 26, 2018



          Catherine C. Blake, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Monisha Phillips ("Plaintiff) filed this action against the University of Maryland, Baltimore County ("Defendant"), alleging: (1) disparate treatment on the basis of race, retaliation, and hostile work environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"); and (2) retaliation in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et. seq. ("FMLA"). [ECF Nos. 1, 35]. Pending before this court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. [ECF No. 78]. The issues have been fully briefed [ECF Nos. 78, 81, 82], and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons stated below, Defendant's Motion will be granted.


         The facts below are taken in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the non-moving party. Defendant is a publicly-funded institution of the State of Maryland. Pl's Am. Compl., [ECF No. 35 ¶ 3]. In or about August of 2008, Plaintiff, an African-American, was hired into Defendant's Department of Psychology as a part-time Administrative Assistant II. Pl's Aff., [ECF No. 81-3 ¶ 1]. Plaintiff became a full-time Administrative Assistant II in March of 2010, and served in that position until she "was involuntarily transferred to Defendant's Enrollment Management Division" in January of 2015. Pl's Opp., [ECF No. 81-1 at 4, 8].

         As an Administrative Assistant II, Plaintiffs responsibilities included: payroll preparation, procurement, supervision of student office workers, maintaining a staff address list database and personnel files, and contributing "to other-administrative needs of the department." [ECF No. 81-12]. Plaintiff avers, however, that her duties often exceeded the scope of her position, and that she performed "higher-level job duties, " including: assisting the Department with implementing (and responding to questions regarding) business practices, managing Departmental finances and analyzing expenditures, resolving discrepancies with Defendant's vendors, and coordinating Department projects, including office renovations. Pl's Aff, [ECF No. 81-3 ¶ 5]. Moreover, Plaintiff "implemented and/or enforced Defendant's policies within [her] Department. . ., which [exceeded] the scope of the Administrative Assistant II position." Pl's Opp., [ECF No. 81-1 at 9]; Pl's Aff., [ECF No. 81-3 ¶ 6] (attesting that she introduced the policies that faculty should complete timesheets, that student workers should not receive bonuses, and that new employees had to ensure placement on payroll prior to beginning job duties). Finally, Amy Schneider, a Business Manager in the Department of Psychology, who served as Plaintiffs immediate supervisor from August 2012 through September 2013, testified that Plaintiff performed duties associated with the higher positions of Business Services Specialist and Office Supervisor III. [ECF No. 81-13 at 5, 8]; see [ECF No. 81-14] (identifying a Business Service Specialist's primary duties as including: analyzing the Department's revenues and expenditures, coordinating Department renovations, resolving discrepancies with vendors, and evaluating the effectiveness of office operations and implementing changes); [ECF No. 81-15] (identifying an Office Supervisor Ill's primary duties as including "operating] office equipment such [sic] personal computers, typewriters, calculators, facsimile machines, and photocopiers.").

         Because Plaintiff believed her job responsibilities exceeded the scope of her position, on approximately three occasions, from November of 2011 through August of 2013, she sought "a formal reclassification." Pl's Opp., [ECF No. 81-1 at 4-7]. Defendant's "reclassification" process permits the Human Resources Department ("HR") to reclassify an employee's position if his or her "mandatory duties have increased significantly and permanently to higher-levels, so that it has effectively become a new position." Def.'s Mot., [ECF No. 78-1 at 8]; see also Dominguez Dep., pp. 16-17, [ECF No. 78-7 at 7] ("[I]t's the position and whether the individual is working within the scope of the duties as assigned to the position" that determines whether a reclassification request is approved). "Reclassification requests may be initiated by the employee or the [Department." Def.'s Mot., [ECF No. 78-1 at 8]; Thomas Dep., pp. 204-05, [ECF No. 78-12 at 44], Regardless of who initiates the request, however, HR requires that a Classification Action Request ("CAR") form be submitted, outlining the employee's duties and responsibilities. Thomas Dep., pp. 206-07, [ECF No. 78-12 at 45]. If the Department chair or supervisor fails to support a reclassification request, the employee may submit the CAR form directly to Valerie Thomas, Defendant's Associate Vice President for HR, an African-American woman, who is ultimately responsible for determining whether a reclassification occurs. Thomas Dep., pp. 207-09, [ECF No. 78-12 at 45], Plaintiff was aware that, in order to obtain a reclassification, a CAR form was required. Pl's Dep., p. 232, [ECF No. 81-4 at 45] (answering "correct" to the question of whether she was aware that she needed to submit a CAR form to obtain a reclassification). Plaintiff, however, never submitted a CAR form for any of her reclassification requests. Pl's Dep., pp. 213-14, 218, 265, 275-76, 282 [ECF No. 78-6 at 32-34, 45, 47, 49] (answering "no" when asked if she submitted a CAR form regarding her 2011, 2012, and 2013 reclassification requests). Ultimately, Plaintiffs reclassification requests were denied.

         Plaintiff believes that the denials of her reclassification requests were on the basis of race and as retaliation for engaging in protected activity under Title VII. Pl's Opp., [ECF No. 81-1 at 15-17, 27-34]. Specifically, Plaintiff attests that, shortly after beginning her job as a part-time Administrative Assistant II, she overhead Ms. Schneider (Caucasian) state that she "needed to pick up her 'kids' (referring to her niece and nephew) from school because she did not want them to take the school bus with African American children." Pl's Aff., [ECF No. 81-3 ¶ 2]. Plaintiff reported the comment to her then-supervisor, Dr. Linda Baker (Caucasian), but Ms. Schneider was not reprimanded. Id. Further, because of the increased complexity of her job duties, Plaintiff first sought reclassification via email on November 30, 2011 from Dr. Baker and Marie E. Dominguez, the Assistant Dean of the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, which encompasses the Department of Psychology. Id. ¶ 3; [ECF No. 81-5]. While the request was pending, in December of 2011, Dr. Baker informed Plaintiff that she "would not get into trouble for making payroll errors because [she is] African-American and a single mother." Pl's Aff, [ECF No. 81-3 ¶ 4], In April of 2012, Dr. Baker and Ms. Dominguez denied Plaintiffs request, relying on the analysis of Patricia Jarkowski (Caucasian), HR's Classification/Compensation Manager. Pl's Aff., [ECF No. 81-3 ¶ 3]; [ECF No. 81-5]. Ms. Jarkowski explained that she:

conducted a review of the duties assigned to Administrative Assistant II, [Plaintiff], with the Psychology Department. [Plaintiff] was hired into this position in August of 2008 to work part-time . . . and manage the department's payroll and enrollment related processes. This office evaluated these duties before [Plaintiff] was hired, and determined that Administrative Assistant II was the appropriate classification. The position provided the type of complex administrative support to the department appropriate to the Administrative Assistant II title.
In early 2010, when the department planned to increase the position to full-time, the duties were again evaluated. The position was primarily responsible for payroll preparation and had taken on responsibility for procurement and student supervision. Again it was determined that Administrative Assistant II was the appropriate classification. There are-other Administrative Assistant II positions on campus that are responsible for preparing the payroll, procurement, and supervising student workers.
[Plaintiffs] duties continue to be appropriate to the Administrative Assistant II classification. Her duties have not significantly changed since her position was evaluated two years ago.

[ECF No. 81-5 at I].[1]

         Thereafter, Plaintiff spoke with Ms. Thomas, stating her belief "that race played a part in the denial" of the reclassification. Pl's Dep., p. 231, [ECF No. 81-4 at 44]. Within days, Ms. Dominguez then "chastised Plaintiff for complaining to Ms. Thomas, told Plaintiff that she would never be reclassified or promoted" and that, because the Department of Psychology did not support reclassification, HR would not support it either. Pl's Opp., [ECF No. 81-1 at 5-6]; Pl's Dep., pp. 259-61, [ECF No. 81-4 at 59-61]. Upon reporting those comments to Ms. Thomas, she told Plaintiff to simply "disregard [Ms. Dominguez's] reaction." Pl's Opp., [ECF No. 81-1 at 6]; Pl's Dep., p. 263, [ECF No. 81-4 at 62].

         Thereafter, between June and the Fall of 2012, in response to her second request for reclassification (made orally), Ms. Dominguez advised Plaintiff that her request "would not be approved." Pl's Opp., [ECF No. 81-1 at 6]; Pl's Dep., p. 288, [ECF No. 81-4 at 73]. During this period, in August or September of 2012, "Dr. Baker told [Plaintiff] that African Americans are often 'defensive' and 'sensitive.'" Pl's Aff., [ECF No. 81-3 ¶ 9]. Subsequently, in January or February of 2013, Plaintiff orally directed her third reclassification request to Ms. Thomas, who informed Plaintiff that she would speak with Ms. Jarkowski about the reclassification, and that a desk audit could be required. Pl's Opp., [ECF No. 81-1 at 6]; Pl's Dep., p. 300, [ECF No. 81-4 at 79]. Ms. Thomas, however, never sought a CAR form from Plaintiff, and Plaintiff did not follow up regarding the request until August of 2013. Pl's Dep., pp. 300-02, 304, [ECF No. 81-4 at 79-82].

         Between February, 2013 and August, 2013, prior to Plaintiff following-up with Ms. Thomas regarding her reclassification, Plaintiff attests that she was the victim of further discriminatory conduct. See Pl's Opp., [ECF No. 81-1 at 6-7]. First, in March or April, 2013, Dr. Bernard Rabin (Caucasian), a Psychology Professor, requested that Plaintiff join the Laboratory Animal Caretaker Search Committee "because she is a minority." Id. at 6; Pl's Aff, [ECF No. 81-3 ¶ 11]. Additionally, on April 23, 2013, the manner in which Ms. Schneider handled a potential overpayment received by Joy Thompson, an African-American employee, caused Plaintiff to "complain[] to upper management about the 'hostile work environment' she was experiencing in the Department. . . ." Pl's Opp., [ECF No, 81-1 at 7]; [ECF No. 81-6], Moreover, in approximately June, 2013, in response to Plaintiffs question why Dr. Christopher Murphy[2] could not serve as her immediate supervisor instead of Ms. Schneider, Dr. Murphy stated: "God Dammit. Blacks are burdens, you are bringing all of this on yourself." Pl's Opp., [ECF No. 81-1 at 7]; Pl's Dep., pp. 315-17, [ECF No. 81-4 at 85-87]. Plaintiff reported Dr. Murphy's comments to Ms. Thomas, who apologized for the comment, informed Plaintiff she (Ms. Thomas) would look into the matter, but "did not [further] address Plaintiffs complaint of discrimination or hostile work environment." Pl's Opp., [ECF No. 81-1 at 7]; Pl's Dep., p. 318, [ECF No. 81-4 at 88].

         In or about August of 2013, Ms. Thomas finally denied Plaintiffs January/February reclassification request, without explanation. Pl's Opp., [ECF No. 81-1 at 7]; Pl's Dep., pp. 304-05, [ECF No. 81-4 at 82-83]. On or about September 20, 2013, in response to a grievance filed by Plaintiff, the union representative, Mr. George Poo van, indicated to HR that Plaintiff believed that the Department "was treating her differently because of the 'color of her skin.'" Pl's Opp., [ECF No. 81-1 at 7]; [ECF No. 81-7]. Mr. Poovan also explained that Ms. Schneider was "strongly bullying" Plaintiff. [ECF No. 81-7]. Plaintiff then filed her EEOC charge on September 24, 2013, alleging that, between March 1, 2011 and September 23, 2013, she was denied reclassification on the basis of race and was subjected to retaliation and a hostile work environment.[3] EEOC Charge, [ECF No. 78-31 at 2]. Thereafter, on October 3, 2013, Ms. Schneider "chastised" Plaintiff for "filing complaints and charges, " which Plaintiff contends constituted harassment and retaliation. Pl's Opp., [ECF No. 81-1 at 7]; [ECF No. 81-8 at 1]. In December of 2013, in a statement witnessed by Dr. Murphy, Ms. Schneider called Plaintiff an "Angry Black Woman." Pl's Aff., [ECF No. 81-3 ¶ 13]. No disciplinary action was taken. Id. In February and July of 2014, Plaintiff again complained to management regarding a hostile work environment caused by Ms. Schneider. Pl's Opp., [ECF No. 81-1 at 8]. Specifically, Plaintiff contends that Ms. Schneider was "badgering" her and "fostering combative relations." [ECF Nos. 81-9, 81-10]. In January of 2015, ...

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