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Bell v. University of Maryland College Park Campus Facilities Management

United States District Court, D. Maryland

June 14, 2018

MICHAEL BELL, et al., Plaintiffs,


          Paula Xinis United States District Judge

         Pending before the Court in this employment discrimination action is the Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) filed by Defendants the University of Maryland College Park, the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, and individually named defendants Wallace Loh, Jack Baker, Sharon Simmons, Roxene Kasterns, Charles Reuning, Nancy Yeroshefsky, and James McClelland. (ECF No. 20.) Defendant Barrett Johnson also moves to dismiss, incorporating by reference the arguments of the previously listed Defendants. (ECF No. 22.) The matter has been fully briefed and no hearing is necessary. See D. Md. Loc. R. 105.6. Upon consideration of the parties' arguments, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Defendants' motions.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are taken from Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint and construed in the light most favorable to them.

         A. Plaintiffs' Work History with UMCP

         Plaintiffs Michael Bell and Duray Jones are African American, male employees of the University of Maryland College Park (“UMCP”). ECF No. 12 ¶¶ 5, 6. Bell is a High Voltage Electrician, and Jones is a Systems Reliability Technician. ECF No. 12 ¶¶ 5, 6. Both are employed under the auspices of UMCP's Facilities Management Department (“Facilities Management”). UMCP is governed by its Board of Regents (the “Board”). ECF No. 12 ¶ 8. Defendant Barrett Johnson, an African American man, was a Construction Supervisor in Facilities Management and was the immediate supervisor of Plaintiffs, along with the other three members of their five-member team. ECF No. 12 ¶¶ 15, 26. Defendant Nancy Yeroshefsky is the Director of Human Resources for Facilities Management. ECF No. 12 ¶ 11. Defendant Sharon Simmons is the Assistant Director of Staff Relations for Facilities Management. ECF No. 12 ¶ 12. Defendant Roxene Kastens is the Associate Director for Facilities Management. ECF No. 12 ¶ 14.

         As a High Voltage Electrician, Bell is qualified to work on electrical systems, including those in excess of 13, 000 volts. ECF No. 12 ¶ 51. Jones, as an Electrical System Reliability Technician, is responsible for operation, testing, evaluation, analysis, maintenance, and repairs of various electrical and building systems. ECF No. 12 ¶ 70. Jones, too, is permitted to work on electrical systems that exceed 13, 000 volts. ECF No. 12 ¶ 70.

         Beginning in April 2013, Bell and Jones were assigned to work on a fire alarm system at UMCP. ECF No. 12 ¶¶ 53, 72. University electrical systems are less than 640 volts and fire alarm systems typically operate at 24 volts. ECF No. 12 ¶ 51. Neither Plaintiff's position description mentioned fire alarm systems. ECF No. 12 ¶¶ 52, 71. Bell and Jones worked on various fire alarm projects through June 2014. ECF No. 12 ¶¶ 54, 73. Plaintiffs allege that these work assignments fell outside their job descriptions. See ECF No. 12 ¶¶ 18, 75.

         On April 15, 2013, Bell and Jones sent a letter to UMCP's Human Resources department (“HR”), complaining of job safety concerns and about their assignments. ECF No. 12 ¶ 18. Although UMCP denied that Bell or Jones were being asked to complete improper assignments and did not alter their job descriptions, UMCP did change the job description for Philip Reisler, a Caucasian male employee. ECF No. 12 ¶¶ 19, 20. A year later, on April 30, 2014, Bell and Jones sent an email to the Facilities Management supervising team asking for assistance with “misconduct” visited upon them after their April 15, 2013, letter. ECF No. 12 ¶¶ 14, 58, 74. The management team was comprised of Simmons; Yeroshefsky; Jack Baker, the Executive Director for Facilities Management; James McClelland, the former Associate Director for Facilities Management; and Charles Reuning, the Associate Vice President and Chief Facilities Officer for Facilities Management. ECF No. 12 ¶¶ 10, 13, 16, 24.

         In May and June of 2014, Bell and Jones filed a series of formal grievances as detailed more fully below. Bell and Jones were then removed from fire alarm work in June 2014, allegedly because UMCP was concerned that the Plaintiffs may be owed additional compensation for that work above their regular pay, which UMCP did not wish to pay. ECF No. 12 ¶¶ 33, 55. Although Johnson told Bell that he would try to obtain additional compensation or a new job classification for Bell, ultimately, Johnson was unsuccessful. ECF No. 12 ¶ 57.

         B. Grievances

         Facilities Management took no action in response to Plaintiffs' April 2013 and April 2014 communications regarding inappropriate work assignments, so Jones and Bell each filed a formal grievance on May 1, 2014 (the May 1 grievances). See ECF No. 12 ¶ 25. In response to these grievances, John Farley, a UMCP employee, requested a job description audit be conducted on the Electrician - High Voltage position. ECF No. 12 ¶ 28. The grievances were held in abeyance, and Plaintiffs filed an additional formal grievance on June 4, 2014 (the June 4 grievance). ECF No. 12 ¶¶ 28, 29. Plaintiffs filed a fourth grievance on June 12, 2014 (the June 12 grievance), the day they were taken off fire alarm work. In this grievance, Plaintiffs complained about their reassignment, being given incorrect work assignments, “misconduct, ” and retaliation for filing their initial three grievances. ECF No. 12 ¶ 34.

         On June 11, 2014, a partial decision was rendered on Bell's May 1 grievance, with the issue of proper job classification deferred until the requested job audit could be completed. ECF No. 12 ¶ 31. After another hearing on December 5, 2014, Bell's grievance was dismissed. ECF No. 12 ¶¶ 31, 37. Jones' May 1 grievance likewise was dismissed. ECF No. 12 ¶ 39.

         On June 11, 2014, a hearing was held on the June 4 grievance, and the grievance was denied. ECF No. 12 ¶ 32. An additional hearing was held on September 30, 2014, and the grievance once again was denied. ECF No. 12 ¶ 38. The final hearing on the June 12 grievance was held on November 7, 2014; that grievance, too, was denied. ECF No. 12 ¶¶ 34, 35.

         C. Alleged Discrimination and Retaliation

         Although Plaintiffs' pleadings are less than a model of clarity, the following facts as set forth in the Amended Complaint are pertinent to Plaintiffs' discrimination and retaliation claims. Plaintiffs allege that Johnson's May 2013 performance reviews of Plaintiffs unfairly refer to their having “communication problems.” ECF No. 12 ¶ 21. Additionally, in late May 2013, Johnson informed the UMCP payroll department and electricians that all communications-presumably to Bell and Jones-were first to go through him, which caused errors on Bell's paycheck. ECF No. 12 ¶ 27. Later, in December 2013, Jones' car was broken into and his work phone was stolen. Although Jones reported the incident, he was written up and did not receive a replacement phone, unlike Caucasian Facilities Management employees. ECF No. 12 ¶ 22.

         The Amended Complaint does not describe any allegedly discriminatory acts occurring between December 2013 and March 2014. In March 2014, Bell received a write-up for being late to work even though he was on approved leave; Caucasian coworkers had not been similarly written up for tardiness. ECF No. 12 ¶ 23. Then, “immediately” after the filing the May 1 grievances, Johnson informed Bell and Jones that Johnson would require them to fill out their own daily paperwork, even though Johnson continued to fill out daily paperwork for the other team members. ECF No. 12 ¶ 26.

         Subsequently, during a meeting that took place in June 2014, Simmons berated and cussed at Bell, told Bell to “get over” the fact that his grievances were denied, and commented that Bell “was tough and could handle the retaliation.” ECF No. 12 ¶¶ 63-64. Bell further alleges that he was “in the process of working with human resources to obtain a new position which included a higher salary, ” which was “taken away” from Bell without explanation. ECF No. 12 ¶ 65. Then in ...

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