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Winston v. State

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

November 5, 2018

DORIS WINSTON, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF MARYLAND, et al., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Paul W. Grimm United States District Judge

         The State of Maryland and the District Court for Prince George's County, Maryland hired Doris Winston, an African American, as a contractual Drug Court Coordinator on April 16, 2008. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4, 6. ECF No. 11. On July 2, 2012, “Winston's position was reclassified from Drug Court Coordinator to Problem Solving Courts Coordinator, ” id. ¶ 10, and on January 22, 2014, she “was notified that her position would be changed from ‘contractual' to ‘temporary, '” id. ¶ 20. Defendants terminated her employment on March 12, 2014. Id. ¶ 6. Believing that her reassignment from contractual to temporary and her termination, as well as one of her supervisors' treatment of her leading up to her termination, were discriminatory and retaliatory, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., Winston filed an EEOC Charge and then this lawsuit against Defendants. Compl., ECF No. 1; EEOC Charge, ECF No. 15-4.

         Defendants have moved to dismiss or, alternatively for summary judgment, arguing that Winston's EEOC Charge was not timely with regard to most of the alleged conduct and she can neither state a claim for discrimination, retaliation, or hostile work environment nor prevail on any of her claims. ECF No. 15.[1] Winston's claims for discriminatory termination and hostile work environment are timely and sufficient to survive Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, and it is premature to consider a summary judgment motion. Winston fails to state a claim for discrimination based on the change in her position, and any discrimination claim based on her supervisors' earlier treatment of her is untimely. Additionally, she fails to state a claim for retaliation. Accordingly, all claims but discriminatory termination and hostile work environment are dismissed.

         Background

          As a Drug Court Coordinator, Winston's duties “included writing grants, monitoring budgets, preparing training requests, monitoring expenditures, and preparing statistical data reports, ” and she performed these duties “for the Drug Court and the Mental Health Court programs.” Am. Compl. ¶ 6. She reported to two supervisors and two judges, one of whom was Judge Patricia Lewis (who is Caucasian), a judge of the Mental Health Court. Id. ¶ 7. Winston “received satisfactory performance evaluations” through 2012. Id. ¶ 8. In 2012, Judge Lewis added to Winston's workload, such as by directing Winston “to take over data entry duties for the SMART computer system, ” a task that Winston believed fell outside her job description and for which she believed her Caucasian colleague Joy Wilde was responsible. Id. ¶ 9. “These additional duties unreasonably increased Plaintiff Winston's workload, and it was impossible for her to perform all SMART data entry duties in addition to her other numerous duties.” Id. According to Winston, “Judge Lewis was not authorized to assign Plaintiff Winston new duties, including the case management duties.” Id.

         Winston alleges that “[b]eginning in 2012 and continuing through her termination, Judge Lewis regularly harassed, intimidated, and demeaned Plaintiff Winston, ” reprimanded her, “verbally attacked” her, and “publicly berated her, ” while treating other employees “in a respectful manner.” Id. ¶ 11. Winston reported Judge Lewis's “discriminatory conduct, ” but it did not stop. Id. ¶ 13. Rather, in addition to other ongoing “harassment, ” in April 2013,

Judge Lewis issued Plaintiff Winston a performance evaluation related to her work with the Mental Health Court for period from January 1, 2012 to December 31, 2012, which contained false criticism of Plaintiff Winston's performance and rated her performance as less than satisfactory in the majority of performance categories. Judge Lewis' evaluation of Plaintiff Winston falsely accused her of failing to perform duties related to the SMART case management program, including failing to process criminal intake and discharge data, even though Judge Lewis knew that Ms. Wilde was the data entry clerk responsible for data entry in the SMART system.

Id. ¶ 16; see also Id. ¶ 13.

         Months later, on January 22, 2014, Winston “was notified that her position would be changed from ‘contractual' to ‘temporary, '” which caused her to lose “benefits, including paid leave.” Id. ¶ 20. She believes that hers was the only position to be reclassified. Id. Then, on March 12, 2014, Defendants terminated Winston's employment in a letter that “stated that she was being terminated for failure to perform her duties because there was a discrepancy in the SMART system and a number of clients were listed in the system even though their cases were closed and they should have been removed from the system.” Id. ¶ 21. According to Plaintiff, the discrepancy occurred “because she and Ms. Wilde had been incorrectly instructed on how to close cases in the SMART system, ” and “Ms. Wilde, who was responsible for case management in the SMART system, was not terminated.” Id.

         Rule 56 Affidavit

          Defendants have filed a Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment, arguing that the exhibits they have attached to their motion show that, even if Winston can state a claim, the undisputed facts demonstrate that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In response, Winston's attorney filed an affidavit pursuant to Rule 56(d). ECF No. 18-2.

         Rule 56(d) provides:

If a nonmovant shows by affidavit or declaration that, for specified reasons, it cannot present facts essential to justify its opposition [to a motion for summary judgment], the court may:
(1) defer considering the motion or deny it;
(2) allow time to obtain affidavits or declarations or to take discovery; or
(3) issue any other appropriate order.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(d). “[D]iscovery is appropriate when ‘the main issue' is ‘one of motive' and when ‘most of the key evidence lies in the control' of the party moving for summary judgment.” Gorham v. Md., Dep't of Gen. Servs., No. ELH-17-2732, 2018 WL 3475446, at *7 (D. Md. July 19, 2018) (quoting McCray v. Md. Dep't of Transp., 741 F.3d 480, 484 (4th Cir. 2014). For example, discovery is appropriate when a plaintiff must prove “‘that she was fired because of discriminatory reasons, '” and any supporting “evidence [is] within the control of the [defendant], ” such that “‘[a]bsent discovery,' . . . the plaintiff lacked ‘adequate access to this evidence, and therefore no way to shield herself from a premature summary judgment motion.'” Id. (quoting McCray, 741 F.3d at 484).

         Plaintiff's counsel asserts that “Winston has no personal knowledge of communication between/among other parties and is not in possession of all documents retained by Defendants in their regular course of business, ” Aff. 1, and she needs this information to oppose Defendants' arguments regarding, inter alia, her “role in maintaining the SMART system” and the roles that others played; the hiring of her replacement; and the reasoning for changing her position from contractual to temporary, id. at 2-4. Because Plaintiff has not had the opportunity to obtain evidence about Defendants' employment decisions and the motivating factors behind them- evidence entirely within Defendants' hands-, I will not consider Defendants' motion as one for summary judgment at this time. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(d); McCray, 741 F.3d at 484; Gorham, 2018 WL 3475446, at *7.

         Standard of Review

          Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint is subject to dismissal if it “fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), and must state “a plausible claim for relief, ” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Rule 12(b)(6)'s purpose “is to test the sufficiency of a complaint and not to resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” Velencia v. Drezhlo, No. RDB-12-237, 2012 WL 6562764, at *4 (D. Md. Dec. 13, 2012) (quoting Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006)).

[A] complaint must “‘permit[] the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct' based upon ‘its judicial experience and common sense.'” Coleman v. Md. Court of Appeals, 626 F.3d 187, 190 (4th Cir. 2010) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). To this end, “while a plaintiff [in an employment discrimination case] is not required to plead facts that constitute a prima facie case in order to survive a motion to dismiss, [f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id. (citing Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 510-15 (2002); Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555); see also McCleary-Evans v. Md. Dept. of Transp., State Highway Admin., 780 F.3d 582, 585 (4th Cir. 2015).

Nam v. 2012 Inc., No. DKC-15-1931, 2016 WL 107198, at *3 (D. Md. Jan. 11, 2016) (alterations in Nam).

         Although at this stage of the proceedings, I accept the well pleaded facts in Winston's Amended Complaint as true, see Aziz v. Alcolac, 658 F.3d 388, 390 (4th Cir. 2011), when reviewing a motion to dismiss, I “may consider . . . documents attached to the motion to dismiss, if they are integral to the complaint and their authenticity is not disputed.” Sposato v. First Mariner Bank, No. CCB-12-1569, 2013 WL 1308582, at *2 (D. Md. Mar. 28, 2013); see CACI Int'l v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 566 F.3d 150, 154 (4th Cir. 2009). Accordingly, I will consider the EEOC Charge, which Defendants attached to their ...


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