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Qiydaar v. People Encouraging People, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 18, 2018



          Ellen L. Hollander United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Jasaan Allah Qiydaar, who is self represented, instituted suit against defendant People Encouraging People, Inc. (“PEP”), seeking both damages and injunctive relief for unlawful suspension, transfer, and discharge, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §2000e et seq. (“Title VII”). ECF 1.[1] Defendant's motion for summary judgment is now pending. ECF 14. It is supported by two exhibits. Plaintiff opposes the motion (ECF 16), and has submitted numerous exhibits. PEP has replied. ECF 17.

         The parties have fully briefed the issues, and no oral argument is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion shall be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Factual Summary

         A. Background

         Qiydaar is an African-American resident of Baltimore, Maryland who was employed by PEP from May 2015 to May 2016. ECF 16-1, ¶¶ 1-2; ECF 16-31. PEP is a privately owned nonprofit behavioral healthcare corporation based in Baltimore, which provides rehabilitation and support services to disadvantaged and disabled individuals at various locations throughout Maryland. ECF 14-1, ¶ 3.

         Relations between Qiydaar and PEP began to sour in December 2015, after the parties discussed the possibility of Qiydaar receiving a promotion for which he was ultimately passed over. ECF 14-1, ¶ 5; ECF 16-1, ¶¶ 5, 6. Qiydaar alleges that PEP offered him the promotion but then rescinded that offer. ECF 16-1, ¶¶ 5, 6. The position was offered instead to another African-American male employee. ECF 14-1, ¶ 5. Qiydaar claims that in the months following this decision there was increasing racial tension at PEP. ECF 16-1, ¶¶ 9-10.

         The tension came to a head during a staff meeting held on March 16, 2016. ECF 14-1, ¶ 7; ECF 16-1, ¶ 11. Although the parties dispute the specifics of what occurred at that staff meeting, they agree on certain basic facts: Qiydaar said he was not available to help with a particular task after which a white employee cursed at him in front of PEP's Director of Human Resources, Terry Bennington. ECF 14-1, ¶ 7; ECF 16-1, ¶¶ 11-15.

         B. Qiydaar's Initial Complaints

         Qiydaar believed that Bennington's response to the incident was inadequate, but consistent with the demeaning treatment he had been receiving for months, so he complained to PEP's Chief Executive Officer, Dale Meyer, via email the next day. ECF 16-1, ¶¶ 12, 16-18. In the email of March 17, 2016, Qiydaar said that he could not “remain silent any longer” in light of the events of the preceding day. ECF 16-3. He complained that a generally hostile work environment had developed in which he had been harassed, intimidated, micromanaged, demeaned, threatened with termination, excessively monitored, criticized, disrespected, and devalued. Id.

         According to plaintiff, two groups had developed within PEP, “one which is comprised of non-African-American staff which makes all the major decisions regarding our program; and another, which is comprised of African-American staff that receives marching orders and threats of termination.” Id. Qiydaar claimed that “allowing specific colleagues to publicly mistreat other colleagues further undermines the integrity and cohesiveness of the . . . program.” Id. Therefore, he asked Meyer to “use the power of [her] position to address the inappropriate behavior that has created such a hostile work environment.” Id.

         On the morning of Tuesday, March 22, 2016, Qiydaar met with Bennington and PEP Vice President Michelle Weaver-Johns. ECF 1, ¶ 23; ECF 16-17. The meeting ended in a manner unsatisfactory to Qiydaar, who claims that Bennington and Weaver-Johns made “several excuses” on behalf of the employee who had cursed at him and complained for the first time that some of Qiydaar's previous conduct had made another employee uncomfortable. ECF 16-17. Although Bennington promised to speak with Qiydaar's white colleagues and then follow up with him, she did not do so. ECF 1, ¶ 23.

         That afternoon, Qiydaar spoke out again at a staff meeting about the disparity in treatment between employees of different races. ECF 1, ¶ 23. Certain of Qiydaar's African-American colleagues also complained at this meeting, and Qiydaar corroborated the factual bases for their complaints. ECF 1, ¶ 23; ECF 16-17.

         C. Requests for Qiydaar's Weekly Schedule and Qiydaar's Continued Complaints

         On Friday, March 18, 2016, PEP Intake Specialist Veronica Craig sent Qiydaar an email asking him to list his job duties in a responsive email by noon on Monday, March 21, 2016. ECF 16-1, ¶ 26. Although Qiydaar did not immediately respond, he did so when reminded. Id. Qiydaar then received permission to go on vacation on Thursday, March 24, 2016 and Friday, March 25, 2016. ECF 16-1, ¶ 27. On Thursday, March 24, 2016, Craig sent an email to numerous individuals, including Qiydaar, stating: “Please submit your weekly schedule for the week of March 28, 2016 by 5 pm Friday March 25, 2016. The schedule should include all client appointments, home visits, transportation schedules and any other times you are away from the building.” ECF 14-1 at 14. Because Qiydaar was out of the office, he did not submit his schedule. ECF 16-1, ¶¶ 28-29.

         On Monday, March 28, 2016, Qiydaar returned to work and, having heard nothing from Meyer about his complaint, submitted a formal incident report regarding the March 16th incident to PEP Vice President Stephen Palla. ECF 16-1, ¶ 22; ECF 16-4. The incident report stated: “On Wednesday, March 16, 2016 I was verbally harassed and assaulted by Katie Glen at our regularly scheduled TAY[2] team meeting. During my conversation with another colleague (Lisa Meyer Coco), Ms. Glen inserted herself into the discussion. Ms. Glen was very aggressive and used profanity when she addressed me.” ECF 16-4.

         Craig sent an email to Qiydaar and two other individuals on Tuesday, March 29, stating: “Please submit your detailed schedule for this week to me by 12 noon today.” ECF 14-1 at 15. Qiydaar did not submit his schedule, however. ECF 14-1, ¶ 10. He claims he failed to do so because a staff meeting at PEP headquarters “kept [him] away from [his] office for most of the day.” ECF 16-1, ¶ 31.

         On Wednesday, March 30, still having heard nothing from Meyer or Palla about his complaints, Qiydaar sent an email to Bennington, copying both Meyer and Palla. ECF 16-17. Qiydaar complained about the lack of response to his disparate treatment claims and about what he believed to be the fabricated complaint that he had made another employee “uncomfortable.” Id. Qiydaar requested a follow-up meeting to discuss his hostile work environment complaint, an unbiased investigation into the March 16th incident, and an apology from the employee who had cursed at him. Id.

         On Thursday, March 31, Craig sent an email to Bennington, stating: “Jasaan Qiydaar did not turn in his weekly schedule. I received schedules from everyone else.” ECF 14-1 at 16. In turn, Bennington sent Qiydaar an email that said: “Good morning as of today I have not received your schedule as Veronica requested on 3/24/16 and again on 3/29/2016. I will need your schedule by 1:00 today so that I can complete [a] task I need to do for my job.” ECF 14-1 at 18. Later that same day, Craig sent an email to numerous individuals, including Qiydaar, stating: “Please submit your weekly schedule for the week of April 4, 2016 by noon Friday April 1, 2016.” ECF 14-1 at 17.

         On Friday, April 1, 2016, at 5:44 p.m., Qiydaar emailed a weekly schedule to Bennington. ECF 16-6. Qiydaar explained that he had been out of work on March 24th and 25th and offsite on March 29th, and claimed he had just received the most recent request for his schedule. Id. He also mentioned that although he had texted Bennington the previous day and seen her twice that day, she had not mentioned anything about needing his schedule. Id. He expressed the belief that PEP was requesting his schedule and making it difficult to comply with the request as pretext to retaliate against him for complaining about the racially hostile work environment. Id.

         D. Qiydaar's Suspension

         On Monday, April 4, 2016, Bennington sent Qiydaar an email stating that Qiydaar's failure to submit his weekly schedule as requested was “viewed as a refusal to provide it, constituting insubordination.” ECF 14-1 at 19. Bennington acknowledged that Qiydaar had sent her a schedule on Friday, April 1 at 5:44 P.M., along with excuses for the delay, but explained why the excuses were deficient and noted that the schedule was “incomplete.” Id. “In closing, ” Bennington stated, id. at 20:

[B]y failing and refusing to provide your work schedule with dates, times, and client names of all appointments to me for two (2) months, you have been insubordinate. I have not asked you to do anything that your co-workers have not been asked to do, and have done. Because you have continued to be insubordinate despite numerous requests to comply, you are hereby suspended without pay until you provide me a complete and accurate schedule with time, date, and other needed client information.

         Although the email stated that Qiydaar had not submitted his schedules for almost two months, PEP provided no evidence of this fact. Qiydaar claims that the weekly schedule submission policy was invented for the first time on March 24, 2016. ECF 16-1, ¶¶ 27-30; ECF 21. When PEP was asked to identify any schedule submission policy that was in place prior to March 24, 2016, it was unable to do so. ECF 19. Instead, it pointed to two isolated emails, one sent on February 4, 2016 and the other on February 8, 2016. They asked Qiydaar and one other employee to submit “client contact notes.” ECF 20 at 6-7.

         Beginning Monday, April 4, 2016, Qiydaar repeatedly reached out to Bennington via text, asking her for updates on the status of his suspension. ECF 16-19 at 1. On Friday, April 8, Bennington finally responded, telling Qiydaar that his suspension would continue as long as she did not receive from him the necessary information regarding his work schedule. Id. Qiydaar responded, asking her to “please specify what information . . . and I will do my best to submit it . . . .” Id. Bennington never did so. Id. Qiydaar continued to text Bennington, without any response. Id.

         Qiydaar emailed Meyer on Monday, April 11, 2016, asking for an update on the status of his suspension. Id. Meyer never responded. Id. Qiydaar continued to reach out to both Bennington and Meyer daily, until Thursday, April 14, 2016, at which point Bennington texted Qiydaar: “You still have not complied with the documentation requested. Thank you.” Id. Qiydaar responded, id. at 1-2:

On 4/7/2016 I asked you to specify what was requested . . . you did not respond so I attempted to reach out to you several times on 4/8/2016 . . . . At the end of the day you stated you would contact me on 4/9/2016 but you did not . . . . [A] week later I'm still awaiting an explanation of what you're requiring me to do [to] end this unlawful “indefinite suspension without pay” . . . . Unfortunately this suspension has been extended because you and the CEO have chosen to ignore my daily requests for an update on my employment status . . . . Please specify what's being asked of me . . . .

         On Sunday, April 17, Bennington informed Qiydaar that he needed to include client names on his schedule in order to be released from his suspension. ECF 16 at 9. Qiydaar claims that as soon as Bennington related that information, he submitted an updated weekly schedule with client names. ECF 16-9. PEP neither confirms nor denies this claim.

         E. Qiydaar's Transfer

         On Monday, April 18, 2016, Bennington sent Qiydaar a letter notifying him that he was being transferred to a new position at a different PEP office. ECF 14-1 at 21. Bennington stated that the new position was comparable to his old position and that he would be paid the same salary and receive the same benefits. The letter stated: “This change is being made because of the insurgency you demonstrated while employed in the Transitional Age Youth program, having been unwilling to produce schedules required to track your activities.” Id. PEP claims that it could ...

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