United States District Court, D. Maryland
Catherine C. Blake, United States District Judge
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.
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].
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
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
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
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].
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].
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
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 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].
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. 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,