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Cole v. Family Dollar Stores of Maryland, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

August 10, 2018

FAY COLE, Plaintiff,


          Paula Xinis United States District Judge.

         Pending before the Court in this employment discrimination action is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 44. 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 Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On October 4, 2012, Defendant Family Dollar, Inc. (“Family Dollar”) hired Plaintiff Fay Cole as a cashier at the Family Dollar store located at 4848 Addison Road South, Capitol Heights, Maryland. ECF No. 17 ¶ 5. Cole suffers from a psychiatric condition and from arthritis in her back and knees. ECF No. 17 ¶ 6. Prior to her hiring, Cole was interviewed by the store's manager, a woman whose name she cannot remember. ECF No. 17 ¶ 7; ECF No. 45 at 5-6 (Cole Dep. 72:20-73:2). Although Cole did not discuss her medical conditions with the manager during the interview, she wore a brace on her knee to the meeting. ECF No. 45 at 6 (Cole Dep. 73:3-17). At some point after she was hired, Cole discussed her psychiatric condition with the unnamed manager, and was given medical leave for a hospitalization. ECF No. 45 at 6-7 (Cole Dep. 73:18-74:10). Cole did not work during her hospitalization, which lasted from November 1, 2012, until November 20, 2012. ECF No. 45 at 22-12 (Cole Dep. 82:19-83:8).

         On or about November 4, 2012, during Cole's hospital stay, Family Dollar assigned Tiffanii Thompson to be the store manager for the Capitol Heights location. ECF No. 44-6 at 3 (Neely Aff. ¶ 8). Cole stated that, after she returned to work, Thompson made disparaging remarks about Cole's age. ECF No. 52-1 at 5 (Cole Dec. ¶ 8). Cole also stated that Thompson spoke about her desire to hire younger workers, and that instead of assigning Cole additional work hours when Cole requested them, Thompson hired a younger employee and then cut Cole's hours. ECF No. 52-1 at 5 (Cole Dec. ¶ 8).

         Cole reported Thompson's comments to a district manager, Marsha Walker, and subsequently complained to Family Dollar's Human Resources department in early January 2013. ECF No. 52-1 at 5 (Cole Dec. ¶ 9). After Cole complained, Walker held a meeting with Cole and Thompson, during which Walker “scolded” Cole for her complaint, but took no action to remedy Cole's concerns. ECF No. 52-1 at 5 (Cole Dec. ¶ 10). As a result of her complaint, Cole contends that Thompson retaliated against her by not assigning Cole shift hours and then by terminating her employment on January 21, 2013. See ECF No. 45 at 34 (Cole Dep. 176:7-10).

         Family Dollar contends that Thompson did not reduce Cole's hours, but rather increased them as Cole requested. Family Dollar further contends that Cole was fired for excessive absences from work, specifically six unexcused absences in the two months after she returned in late November, the final two of which occurred on January 18 and 19, 2013.[1] The Family Dollar attendance policy, as memorialized in the employee handbook, requires that an employee “speak with his/her Manager daily if for any reason he/she is going to be late or absent.” ECF No. 45 at 44. Cole was aware of this requirement. ECF No. 45 at 8-9 (Cole Dep. 75:19-76:6). It is also Family Dollar policy that an employee may be fired for a single unexcused absence from work. ECF No. 44-4 at 9 (Family Dollar Dep. 57:2-8).

         The record reflects that Thompson fired twelve employees for absenteeism in the approximately one year she spent as manager of the Capitol Heights store, including Cole. ECF No. 44-6 at 3 (Neely Aff. ¶ 8). Of the employees fired, nine were under the age of 40 and three, including Cole, were over the age of 40. ECF No. 44-6 at 3 (Neely Aff. ¶ 8). Of those twelve fired employees, Cole was the only employee who requested an accommodation[2] or who complained of discriminatory treatment. See ECF No. 44-6 at 4 (Neely Aff. ¶ 9).

         On February 14, 2013, Cole filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). ECF No. 44-7. Cole subsequently filed suit in this Court, alleging age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 623 et seq. (“ADEA”) and analogous provisions of the Prince George's County Code (Counts I & II), and disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq. (“ADA”) and the Prince George's County Code (Counts III & IV). See ECF No. 17. Family Dollar moves for summary judgment on all counts. ECF No. 44. For the following reasons, the Court grants Family Dollar's motion.


         Summary judgment is appropriate when the Court, construing all evidence and drawing all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, finds no genuine dispute exists as to any material fact, thereby entitling the movant to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see In re Family Dollar FLSA Litig., 637 F.3d 508, 512 (4th Cir. 2011). Summary judgment must be granted “against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). “In responding to a proper motion for summary judgment, ” the opposing party “must present evidence of specific facts from which the finder of fact could reasonably find for him or her.” Venugopal v. Shire Labs., 334 F.Supp.2d 835, 840 (D. Md. 2004), aff'd sub nom. Venugopal v. Shire Labs., Inc., 134 Fed.Appx. 627 (4th Cir. 2005) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23)). The “mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support” of the party opposing summary judgment is insufficient to defeat the motion. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986). Genuine disputes of material fact are not created “through mere speculation or the building of one inference upon another.” Othentec Ltd. v. Phelan, 526 F.3d 135, 140 (4th Cir. 2008) (quoting Beale v. Hardy, 769 F.2d 213, 214 (4th Cir. 1985)). Where a party's statement of a fact is “blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, ” the Court credits the record. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007).


         A. Claims Under the Prince George's County Code

         As an initial matter, Family Dollar contends that Cole's claims brought pursuant to the Prince George's County Code are time-barred. The Court agrees. Such claims must be filed in court within two years of the alleged discriminatory act. Md. Code, State Gov't § 20- 1202(c)(1); see Olawole v. ActioNet, Inc., 258 F.Supp.3d 694, 707 (E.D. Va. 2017). It is undisputed that Cole's relationship with Family Dollar ended on the date of her termination: January 21, 2013. Therefore, any action related to Cole's case must have been filed by January 21, 2015. Cole did not bring this action until February 10, 2017-more ...

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