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Lowman v. Maryland Aviation Administration

United States District Court, D. Maryland

January 8, 2019




         Barbara Lowman sued her employer, the Maryland Aviation Administration ("MAA") for sex discrimination and retaliation under federal and Maryland law. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2(a), 2000e-3(a); Md. Code Ann., State Gov't §§ 20-606(a), 20-606(f). MAA moved to dismiss and, alternatively, for summary judgment. Lowman moved to stay consideration of summary judgment. The motions have been fully briefed, and no hearing is required. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons set forth below, the Court will deny in part and grant in part MAA's motion to dismiss; grant Lowman's motion to stay consideration of summary judgment; and deny without prejudice MAA's motion for summary judgment.

         I. Allegations of the Complaint

         At the motion to dismiss stage, the Court takes the allegations of the complaint as true, see, e.g., Ibarra v. United States, 120 F.3d 472, 474 (4th Cir. 1997), and construes any disputed allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, In re Royal Ahold N. V. Sees. & ERISA Litig., 351 F.Supp.2d 334, 376 n.32 (D. Md. 2004) ("[Resolution of [a] factual dispute is inappropriate when ruling on a motion to dismiss ...."). Here, the Court summarizes Lowman's allegations.

         For seventeen years, Lowman worked for MAA, a division of the Maryland Department of Transportation operating as Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport ("B WI"). (Am. Compl. ¶ 2, ECF No. 10.) MAA hired Lowman as a paramedic in 2000. (Id. ¶ 14.) By 2001, MAA promoted her to a Lieutenant of Emergency Medical Services ("EMS"). (Id.) In 2014, Lowman switched from B-shift work to day work and, later that year, became Acting EMS Captain. (Id. ¶ 15.) At the time Lowman became Acting Captain, she had thirty-two years of fire service and EMS experience, (Id. ¶ 16.) As Acting Captain, she was tasked with organizing the EMS office and establishing protocols in preparation for the hiring of a permanent EMS Division Chief. (Id.)

         In the years leading up to 2014, Lowman received "Exceeds Standards" in her overall performance evaluations. (Id. ¶ 17.) In 2014, she received "Exceeds Standards" and "Far Exceeds Standards" in every category of the evaluation. (Id.) And, in 2015, Northern Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce named her the BWI Fire & Rescue Firefighter/Paramedic of the Year. (Id. ¶ 18.)

         Lowman applied for the Division Chief EMS position in 2015. (Id. ¶ 19.) The job posting listed "Preferred Qualifications," including graduation from high school, "four years as a career fire officer, in the rank of Lieutenant or above," and four years as an emergency medical technician-paramedic. (Id. ¶ 21.) Plaintiff alleges that prior MAA job postings listed "Minimum Requirements" instead of "Preferred Qualifications." (Id. ¶ 20.)

         In March 2015, Lowman was interviewed for the Division Chief position. (Id. ¶ 22.) MAA internal hiring directions require an interview panel to consist of "at least three people one of whom should be a minority and one of whom should be female." (Id. ¶ 23.) The panel that interviewed Lowman comprised "[t]hree . . . white males" and one "African-American female." (Id. ¶ 23.) The "African-American female" was an administrative assistant "with no experience in the fire and rescue field." (Id. ¶ 24.) While awaiting the results of her interview, Lowman was removed from the position of Acting EMS Captain, and, as a result, her pay was reduced. (Id. ¶ 30.) Later, MAA executive officers informed her that they removed her because they were opening a permanent EMS Captain position and did not want her favored over other candidates. (Id. ¶ 33.)

         Another applicant, Charles Packard, was selected for the Division Chief position. (Id. ¶ 25.) Lowman alleges Packard had "less years of experience" than her. Packard also did not have the enumerated preferred qualification of holding a career fire officer position for four years. (Id. ¶26.) Lowman learned of Packard's selection on July 31, 2015 and filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on August 15, 2015. (Id. ¶ 25, 28; Compl. Ex. 1, ECF No. 1-3.) Lowman continued working for MAA and helped transition Packard into his new role. (Am. Compl. ¶ 27.)

         Almost two years after Lowman filed the charge of discrimination, the EEOC determined that Lowman was, in fact, "denied a promotion to Division Chief of EMS position due to her sex (female) in violations of Title VII." (Id. ¶ 29.) EEOC relied on the fact that "the male selectee" did not meet the position's "minimum qualifications." (Compl. Ex. 2, ECF No. 1-4.) EEOC sent MAA a copy of the determination letter, dated June 14, 2017. (Am. Compl. ¶ 34.) "Around the time that MAA was notified of the EEOC complaint," Lowman requested a job reclassification so that she could apply for the open position of EMS Captain. (Id. ¶ 31, 46.) Even though Lowman followed the proper reclassification procedure, and even though "several other employees had reclassifications completed" at that time, Lowman never received a job reclassification. (Id. ¶ 47-48.) Lowman applied and interviewed for the Captain EMS position but, ultimately, withdrew her candidacy. (M.¶36)

         On My 17, 2017, [1] the MAA Chief, Division Chief Packard, and a human resources representative met with Lowman and told her that she would be placed back on shift work, including a twenty-four-hour shift, after more than three years working purely day shifts. (Id. ¶ 32.) Lowman was given little notice of her new work schedule. (Id. ¶ 50.) The schedule change was brief, however, and Lowman was returned to the day shift "[s]hortly after being placed on the new shift." (Id.¶51.)

         Lowman retired on December 1, 2017. (Id. ¶ 36.) During her final months at MAA, the EEOC informed Lowman that efforts to conciliate her charge had been unsuccessful and that the EEOC was referring her case to the U.S. Department of Justice ("DO J") so that DO J could decide whether to file a civil suit on her behalf. (Compl. Ex. 3, ECF No. 1-5.) On February 2, 2018, DOJ notified Lowman that DOJ would not pursue her case but that she had a right to sue within ninety days. (Compl. Ex. 4, ECF No. 1-6.) Lowman exercised this right by filing suit on April 22. (See Compl., ECF No. 1.) Lowman amended her complaint several months later.

         II. Motion to Dismiss

         Lowman sued MAA for sex discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2(a), 2000e-3(a), and the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act ("MFEPA"), Md. Code Ann., State Gov't §§ 20-606(a), 20-606(f). In evaluating MAA's motion to dismiss, this Court addresses, first, the timeliness and, second, the merits of Lowman's claims. This Court concludes that Lowman's MFEPA discrimination claim was untimely but that Lowman sufficiently alleged the remaining claims: discrimination under Title VII and retaliation under both Title VII and MFEPA.

         A. Standard of Review

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a plaintiff s complaint. Presley v. Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006). A complaint need only satisfy Rule 8(a), which requires a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). To survive a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must allege sufficient facts, accepted as true, to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell All. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Facial plausibility exists where the facts allow the court to reasonably infer that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). But, inferring the "mere possibility of misconduct" is not enough to establish a plausible claim. Id. at 679. Moreover, a complaint offering "labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Here, the complaint must state a claim for relief that is plausible under Title VII. McCleary-Evans v. Md. Dep't of Transp., State Highway Admin., 780 F.3d 582, 584-85 (4th Cir. 2015).

         B. Timeliness

         As a threshold matter, MAA asserts that Lowman's MFEPA claims are time barred. A court may dismiss a complaint on statute of limitations grounds "if the time bar is apparent on the face of the complaint." Dean v. ...

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