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Brown v. Housing Authority of Baltimore City

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 1, 2018

INSHALLAH BROWN Plaintiff
v.
HOUSING AUTHORITY OF BALTIMORE CITY, et al. Defendants

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER RE: SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Marvin J. Garbis United States District Judge.

         The Court has before it Defendant Housing Authority of Baltimore City's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 47] and the materials submitted relating thereto. The Court finds that a hearing is not necessary.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Asserted Claims

         Plaintiff Inshallah Brown (“Brown” or “Plaintiff”) filed a Complaint [ECF No. 1] asserting federal and state law claims[1]against the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, the Housing Authority of Baltimore City (“HABC”), and two individual Defendants, Dwayne and Alicia Johnson (“the Landlords”).

         Claims against Defendants Mayor and City Council of Baltimore have been dismissed, see ECF No. 15, and the majority of Plaintiff's claims against HABC were also dismissed in this Court's Memorandum and Order of July 26, 2017. See Memorandum and Order at 24-25, ECF No. 29 (dismissing Counts I, II, IV, and VI).

         Accordingly, there are only two remaining claims in this case: retaliation (Count III) asserted against HABC, and tortious interference (Count VI) asserted against the Landlords.

         B. Factual Background

         Plaintiff was employed by HABC for nine years until she was terminated on April 15, 2015. Brown Aff. ¶¶ 2-3, ECF No. 48-3; Def.'s Mot. Ex. 1A, ECF No. 47-4. At the time of termination, she was working as a “Program Specialist I” in the Housing Choice Voucher Program (“HCVP”). Brown Aff. ¶ 2.

         i. Job Performance Prior to 2014

         Plaintiff's performance evaluations for years 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 indicated that she “met expectations” for her position. Pl.'s Opp. Ex. 3, ECF No. 48-4.

         Starting in April 2014, her supervisor was David Harper (“Harper”).[2] Pl.'s Opp. Ex. 10, ECF No. 48-5. On August 8, 2014, Mr. Harper purportedly wrote a letter of recommendation to an unspecified “Hiring Manager” stating his belief that

[Ms. Brown] has proven to be hard working, reliable and fully committed to exceeding customer expectations. She has a team player mindset, as well as the ability to work with minimal supervision. Ms. Brown has consistently demonstrated all of these qualities and more. I heartily endorse her for any endeavor she pursues and she has my highest recommendation.

Pl.'s Opp. Ex. 1, ECF No. 48-4.

         Mr. Harper denies ever having written this letter, although he admits that the signature on the letter “looks like” his signature. Pl.'s Opp. Ex. 8, ECF No. 48-5; Harper Dep. Tr. 115-116, ECF No. 47-8. He expressed concerns about the authenticity of the letter because he cannot recall ever writing a letter for Ms. Brown, because there is no formal heading on the letter, and because he usually writes reference letters that are specific to a position or company, not one that is addressed generally to a “Hiring Manager.” Harper Dep. Tr. 116-117, ECF No. 47-8.

         ii. Charge of Race Discrimination

         On September 18, 2014, Ms. Brown filed a charge of race discrimination with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights (“MCCR”) against HABC. Brown Aff. ¶ 4. The charge related to certain disputes with the Defendant Landlords, Dwayne London and Alicia London, which threatened her employment position at HABC.[3]

         On December 2, 2014, she was notified by letter that MCCR had received her charge of discrimination (“MCCR Notice Letter”). Brown Aff. ¶ 5. The MCCR Notice Letter contained a Certificate of Service indicating that it had also been served on HABC on December 2, 2014. Pl.'s Opp. Ex. 2, ECF No. 48-4. There is little to no evidence in the record indicating when Ms. Brown's supervisors learned of her charge of racial discrimination. The deputy chief for the Housing Choice Voucher Program, Corliss Alston (“Alston”), cannot remember when she learned of the charge by Ms. Brown.[4] Ms. Brown admits she does not know when (or if) any of her supervisors actually learned of her charge. Brown Dep. Tr. 54-57, ECF No. 47-6.

         iii. 2014 Evaluation and Subsequent Termination

         Three weeks after the MCCR Notice Letter, on December 24, 2014, Ms. Brown received an unfavorable performance evaluation (“2014 Evaluation”).[5] Brown Aff. ¶ 7. This was the first evaluation she had received since 2006 indicating a score of “improvement needed.” Pl.'s Opp. Ex. 3, ECF No. 48-4. The 2014 Evaluation, signed by Ms. Peterson, indicated that Ms. Brown needed to improve in several areas, including file review and completing the quality control checklist, completing tasks in a timely manner and meeting various deadlines, ensuring her work is accurate and supported by tools provided to her, managing files consistently, and communication with colleagues by email. Pl.'s Opp. Ex. 7, ECF No. 48-5.

         She was also placed on a Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”) that day, constituting a disciplinary action. Brown Aff. ¶ 8; Pl.'s Opp. Ex. 7, ECF No. 48-5. She states she did not know about her placement on a PIP until she was later refused educational assistance by Ms. Alston for having been disciplined.[6] Brown Aff. ¶ 8.

         Ms. Brown states her belief that despite having been put on a PIP, her immediate supervisor “sabotaged [her] efforts” to improve her performance, including by meeting with her only one time, requiring her to conduct her own desk reviews, and removing client files from her desk without notifying her. Id. ¶ 12. Other colleagues and supervisors, including Dawnay Green-Chrisp (“Green-Chrisp”), [7] would also remove files from her desk without telling her. Id. ¶ 13. Ms. Brown was assigned a larger work load, was refused assistance when she requested it, was refused answers when she tried to find out where the missing files had gone, and was given inconsistent information about how many files she was responsible for processing. Id. ¶¶ 13-19. On March 16, 2015, Ms. Green-Chrisp wrote a memorandum to staff entitled “NOTES NOTES NOTES, ” advising that staff had to document “‘the system'” with what they were doing with a client's file. Pl.'s Opp. Ex. 14, ECF No. 48-6. Yet according to Plaintiff, Ms. Green-Chrisp and Mr. Harper failed to follow these instructions themselves. Brown Aff. ¶ 21.

         Ms. Brown states her belief that these actions amount to retaliation against her for her racial discrimination charge, but admits that aside from the MCCR Notice Letter, she does not have evidence to support that any of her supervisors actually knew of the charge:

Q. Okay. So you believe David Harper retaliated against you for your complaint, correct?
A. I believe that the agency retaliated against me.
Q. Okay. So you believe somehow the agency gave direction to its staff to retaliate against you?
A. That is my belief.
Q. Okay. Who at the agency conveyed that message? Because the agency can't speak. The agency has employees that speak for it. So who at the agency conveyed that message?
A. My belief is Nicholas Calace.
Q. Okay. What do you have to show that?
A. I don't have anything other than my complaint to show that.
Q. Okay. Do you have anything to show when Nicholas Calace learned that you charged the Housing Authority with discrimination?
A. I have my original complaint, and I have a copy of the correspondence from the Maryland Commission on Human Relations ...

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