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Randolph v. Sentry Management, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

December 28, 2018

DEMETRA D. RANDOLPH, Plaintiff,
v.
SENTRY MANAGEMENT, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GEORGE J. HAZEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         In this action, Plaintiff Demetra Randolph claims that her employer, Defendant Sentry Management, Inc., retaliated against her in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. after she reported complaints of race and age discrimination. Pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 19. No. hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (Md.). For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment will be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         Sentry Management is a corporation that manages homeowners and condominium associations. ECF No. 19-3 at 2.[2] Randolph began her career with Sentry as a Community Association Manager in October 2012. ECF No. 2 ¶ 9; ECF No. 8 ¶ 9. Sentry promoted Randolph in June 2013 to the position of Assistant Division Manager of its Crofton, Maryland office. Id. ¶¶ 10-11. The promotion was based, in part, on the fact that people in the office respected Randolph and “frequently” went “to her to get her advice.” ECF No. 21-3 at 2. Additionally, Randolph's supervisor noticed that she had a good attitude and wanted to learn as much as she could. Id. In a press release announcing Plaintiff's promotion, her supervisor described her as having a “calm professional style.” ECF No. 21-4 at 2. Plaintiff's promotion came with a pay raise. ECF No. 21-5 at 2. Randolph continued to perform well and receive praise in her new role, on February 6, 2014, she received ratings of “Excellent, ” “Very good, ” and “Good” on her performance review. ECF No. 21-6 at 2. As a result, she received another merit increase in her pay on February 9, 2014. ECF No. 21-7 at 2. Sentry again increased Randolph's pay in October 2014, ECF No. 21-8 at 2, and again received only “Excellent, ” “Very good, ” and “Good” ratings on her November 2014 performance review, ECF No. 21-7 at 2.

         In late 2014, John Sheehy was hired to replace Randolph's former supervisor. ECF No. 2 ¶ 18; ECF No. 8 ¶ 18. After the change in supervision, Randolph received two additional pay increases in January and July 2015. ECF Nos. 21-10, 21-11.

         Despite Randolph's success at work up to this point, the office was always tense and filled with drama. ECF No.21-12 at 3. Further, throughout her tenure, at least three employees complained to Randolph that they feared Sentry wanted to get rid of older workers. Id. at 6, 8. Then, around August 2015, Randolph began receiving complaints from colleagues that Sheehy was engaging in race discrimination. ECF No. 21-12 at 6, 8. According to Randolph, these colleagues came to her because they felt that she was “the only one” who would “stand up for” them, “talk for” them, and “try to help” them.” Id. at 6. Although Randolph had not heard Sheehy make racist comments, she believed he was making such harmful comments based on what employees told her. Id. at 6, 13.[3] One employee told Randolph that Sheehy commented “that all black women [are] prostitutes.” Id. at 13.

         According to Sentry's personnel policies, the company “strongly urges the reporting of all incidents of discrimination, harassment or retaliation, regardless of the identity or position of the person who is engaged in the alleged conduct.” ECF No. 21-13 at 4. Sentry's policies encourage employees to report concerns about “discrimination, harassment or retaliation” to “their immediate supervisor or any supervisor or manager of the Company or with the Company's Human Resources Manager and/or the Human Resources Department.” Id.

         On September 18, 2015, Dianne Voght, Sentry's Human Resources Manager, learned that two employees felt the office had become a toxic environment. ECF No. 19-11 at 2; ECF No. 19-4 at 1. Based on her conversations with these employees, Voght emailed the company's leadership including Howard Pomp and James Hart, advising that employees were concerned about a potential “mutiny in the MD office.” ECF No. 19-4 at 1. She relayed that “[Sheehy] hasn't done anything” and that employees believe that “[Randolph] is stirring the pot because she wants [Sheehy's] job.” Id. The email continued: “[Randolph] is meeting with all the employees individually and telling them that there will be a meeting (intervention) next week with [Sheehy] and she has a list of questions and he will answer truthfully and not lie and that there will be no retaliation.” Id. Voght closed with: “Why can't they just do their jobs without all the drama and back stabbing?”

         Later that day, Randolph emailed Voght and Sentry's President James Hart, identifying the issues that had been reported to her. ECF No. 19-6. She wrote that she had so far had a good relationship with Sheehy and feared that her relationship with him, Voght, and Hart would change after she reported what she knew about purported “racial comments, ” “harassment and age discrimination” in the office. Id. In addition to the allegations of inappropriate racial comments and age discrimination, Randolph mentioned high rates of employee turnover, lost contracts, confusion regarding job responsibilities, and an overall tense office environment. Id. She expressed fear of retaliation again at the close of her email: “Again, I do not want to write this email. I fear retaliation for my actions of bringing this to your attention.” Id. She also wrote, “I don't want [Sheehy] to know I wrote this email because it will wreck our working relationship and I feel that if it is made known, I will all of a sudden be given oral and written warning write ups and be terminated.” Id.

         Sentry leadership met with Voght to discuss the situation and decided that Pomp should visit the Maryland office to assess its condition. ECF No. 19-3 at 7. Pomp visited the Maryland office about a week later to meet with Sheehy, Randolph, and other individual employees. ECF No. 19-3 at 6. During his meeting with Sheehy, Pomp discussed the employees' concerns as well as leadership's frustration that the Maryland office had lost 20 accounts over the previous year. Id. at 6-7.

         During his meetings with Sentry employees, several individuals mentioned that Sheehy could “speak abusively” and that he told one employee that she was dressed like a prostitute. Id. at 10-11. Based on what he learned from employees, Pomp personally concluded that while Sheehy made “unfortunate” comments, he was “not a racist.” Id. at 12. Pomp and Human Resources then determined that employees were distrustful of their supervisors; while some were distrustful of Sheehy, others were distrustful of Randolph. ECF No. 19-10 at 7. Sentry leadership felt that the management team in the Maryland office were taking steps to undermine one another. Id.

         Despite Randolph's request that Sheehy not be made aware that she reported complaints, Pomp also met with Sheehy and Randolph together to discuss what Pomp perceived as their collective missteps. ECF No. 19-3 at 12. In front of Sheehy, Pomp expressed to Randolph “that the conversations she had independently with employees [were] undermining [Sheehy] and Sentry Management.” Id. He continued, “I told [Randolph] that she wasn't to have any more conversations independently with employees [about Sheehy]” and that “if employees come in and they want to have conversations about [Sheehy], she needs to go and either take those concerns to HR or tell those employees to take those concerns to HR, or invite the employees to have [Sheehy] join them.” Id. He told her that if she did not take this “corrective action” she would be fired. Id.

         The following month, on October 1, 2015, Plaintiff received ratings of “Very Good” and “Good” on her performance evaluation. ECF No. 21-15 at 2. She received “Very good” ratings for her “cooperation/interaction with other employees” and her “cooperation with Supervisor.” Id. Nevertheless, Sentry terminated Randolph on November 3, 2015. ECF No. 8 ¶ 31.

         Pomp states that Sentry ultimately decided to fire Randolph after he spoke to four employees in mid-October who were “highly concerned and said that the issues continued and that [Randolph] continued to speak individually with employees, and [Sheehy] continued to have a temper, that they had concerns about ...


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