United States District Court, D. Maryland
Stephanie A. Gallagher United States Magistrate Judge
Deborah Grinnage-Pulley (“Ms. Grinnage-Pulley”)
filed this case against her former employer, the Board of
Education of Calvert County (“Defendant”),
alleging race and gender discrimination under Title VII of
the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §
2000e, et seq., (“Title VII”); and age
discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act
of 1967, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 623 (the
“ADEA”). On April 22, 2019, Defendant filed a
Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF 25, along with a memorandum
of law, ECF 25-1 (collectively, the “Motion”).
Ms. Grinnage-Pulley opposed the Motion, ECF 26
(“Opposition”), and Defendant replied, ECF 27
(“Reply”). I find that no hearing is necessary.
See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For the reasons
that follow, I will grant the Motion and enter judgment in
favor of Defendant.
facts below are taken in the light most favorable to Ms.
Grinnage-Pulley, the non-moving party. In 1975, Defendant
hired Ms. Grinnage-Pulley, an African-American female, to
teach in the Calvert County Public Schools
(“CCPS”). ECF 26-2 at 38:17, 76:15-16. In her
more than thirty-five years of service, Ms. Grinnage-Pulley
received numerous promotions, serving as a school principal
and then, eventually, as Executive Director of School
Operations. Id. at 38:14-21, 39:13-16; ECF 26-5 at
12:1-10. Ms. Grinnage-Pulley served in that capacity, as a
member of the Executive Team reporting directly to former
Superintendent Dr. Jack Smith, from 2006-2013. ECF 26-2 at
39:16-40:9. As Executive Director of School Operations, Ms.
Grinnage-Pulley supervised the principals of CCPS's
schools, worked with the Department of Transportation, and
supervised the Office of Information and Technology.
Id. at 41:6-21. To perform those tasks, Ms.
Grinnage-Pulley traveled to schools throughout Calvert County
to make school visits. Id. at 48:1-17. During her
long tenure at CCPS, she consistently received superior
performance evaluations. ECF 26-4.
1, 2013, Nancy Highsmith became Interim Superintendent of
CCPS. ECF 26-2 at 61:16-21; ECF 25-6 at 6. At that time, the
existing Executive Team consisted of Ms. Grinnage-Pulley,
Kimberly Roof (the Executive Director of Administration),
Robin Welsh (the Deputy Superintendent), and Tammy McCourt
(the Chief Budget and Business Officer). ECF 25-6 at 6; ECF
25-14 at 77:18-78:2. As Interim Superintendent, Ms. Highsmith
supervised Ms. Grinnage-Pulley, along with the rest of the
Executive Team reporting to the Superintendent. See
ECF 25-8. Before July 1, 2013, Ms. Grinnage-Pulley had
supervised Ms. Highsmith. Exh. 26-5 at 13:9-21, 14:5-7. Ms.
Highsmith described the situation when she became Interim
Superintendent as “strange, ” because they had
reversed supervisory roles. ECF 26-5 at 14:15-15:5. She
specifically recounted a meeting after which she wanted to
meet with an employee who was a personal friend, and Ms.
Grinnage-Pulley expressed the view that she was “highly
insulted . . . that [Ms. Highsmith] would dismiss her in
front of a subordinate.” ECF 26-5 at 15:9-19.
Highsmith also contends that she believed the members of the
Executive Team excluded her from daily closed-door meetings
upon her arrival as Interim Superintendent. ECF 26-5 at
16:10-17:21, 28:1-2. Ms. Roof and Ms. Welsh deny excluding
Ms. Highsmith from any work-related meetings. ECF 26-6 at
56:16-57:15; ECF 26-7 ¶¶ 9-10. Approximately one
week after assuming the position of Interim Superintendent,
in July, 2013, Ms. Highsmith informed the existing Executive
Team that she intended to reorganize CCPS's leadership
structure, and that their jobs would be changed. ECF 26-2 at
80:10-21; see also ECF 26-6 at 44:13-20 (Roof
testimony that “[S]he let us know in July she was going
to be making some changes.”). On August 30, 2013, Ms.
Highsmith and the President of the Board of Education, Dr.
Eugene Karol, informed Ms. Grinnage-Pulley, Ms. Roof, and Ms.
Welsh that they would be transferred from the Executive Team
to other, lower-paying positions within CCPS. ECF 26-7 ¶
12; ECF 26-2 at 80:1; ECF 26-6 at 44:13-20. Ms. McCourt, who
served as Chief Budget and Business Officer, remained in that
position, although she no longer reported directly to the
Interim Superintendent. ECF 26-7 ¶¶ 6, 12; ECF
25-8; ECF 25-9. Ms. Roof had served as both Executive
Director of Administration and Director of Student Services
under Dr. Smith, so she remained as Director of Student
Services, in the same CCPS building, following her removal
from the Executive Team. ECF 26-6 at 8:8-15, 33:13-20,
36:10-37:1. Ms. Highsmith transferred Ms. Welsh, who has an
extensive background in special education, from the Executive
Team to be Principal at Calvert Country School, a special
education school located across the street from the CCPS
building. ECF 26-6 at 43:4-12; ECF 26-5 at 73:5-16. Citing
Ms. Grinnage-Pulley's prior success as a middle school
principal, Ms. Highsmith transferred her to be Principal at
Mill Creek Middle School, located approximately 19 miles from
the CCPS building. ECF 26-5 at 40:15-41:1; 56:3-6;
120:17-121:4; 182:5-7. Due to their transfers from the
Executive Team to school principal positions, Ms.
Grinnage-Pulley and Ms. Welsh would continue to receive their
existing salaries for the 2013-2014 school year, but would be
placed on the lower salary scale for school-level
administrators beginning in the 2014-2015 school year. ECF
26-7 ¶ 13; ECF 26-5 at 126:18-127:8.
reorganizing the leadership structure, Ms. Highsmith replaced
the four Executive Team positions with two Assistant
Superintendents, Diane Workman and Anthony Navarro. ECF 25-9.
Twelve Directors (including the Chief Budget and Business
Officer) reported to the Assistant Superintendents.
Id. Ms. Highsmith newly created one of the twelve
Director positions, Director of Instruction, and she
appointed Scott McComb to serve as Acting Director of
Instruction to begin the 2013-2014 school year. ECF 26-5 at
39:20-40:4, 55:18-56:2. At the time of his appointment, Mr.
McComb was approximately 20 years younger than Ms.
Grinnage-Pulley, and did not meet the certification
requirement for a director-level position. ECF 26-2 at
94:1-5; ECF 26-5 at 122:9-17; ECF 26-3 at 53:9-12. Ms.
Highsmith concedes that Mr. McComb was not the most qualified
candidate at the time of his appointment to the acting
position, but she selected him, “Because I had worked
with him for many years and I trusted him. And he was good
for the school system.” ECF 26-5 at 74:6-13. Ms.
Highsmith exercised her authority to appoint Mr. McComb in an
acting capacity, ECF 26-5 at 73:17-75:6, and then sought
applications to fill the permanent Director of Instruction
position in March, 2014. ECF 26-5 at 107:15-108:12,
125:19-126:1. Ms. Grinnage-Pulley did not apply for the
position when it was posted. ECF 27-1 at 98:11-20.
Mr. McComb's appointment to the position of Acting
Director of Instruction, and her transfer to the position of
Principal of Mill Creek Middle School, Ms. Grinnage-Pulley
retired from CCPS on October 1, 2013. ECF 26-2 at 39:8-12.
Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary
judgment is appropriate only “if the movant shows that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Defendant, as the moving party, bears the
burden of showing that there is no genuine dispute of
material facts. See Casey v. Geek Squad, 823
F.Supp.2d 334, 348 (D. Md. 2011) (citing Pulliam Inv. Co.
v. Cameo Props., 810 F.2d 1282, 1286 (4th Cir. 1987)).
If Defendants establish that there is no evidence to support
Plaintiff's case, the burden then shifts to Plaintiff to
proffer specific facts to show a genuine issue exists for
trial. Id. Plaintiff must provide enough admissible
evidence to “carry the burden of proof in [her] claim
at trial.” Id. at 349 (quoting Mitchell v.
Data Gen. Corp., 12 F.3d 1310, 1315-16 (4th Cir. 1993)).
The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of
Plaintiff's position will be insufficient; there must be
evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for
Plaintiff. Id. at 348 (citing Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986)).
Moreover, a genuine issue of material fact cannot rest on
“mere speculation, or building one inference upon
another.” Id. at 349 (quoting Miskin v.
Baxter Healthcare Corp., 107 F.Supp.2d 669, 671 (D. Md.
1999)). Additionally, summary judgment shall be warranted if
the non-moving party fails to provide evidence that
establishes an essential element of the case. Id. at
352. Plaintiff “must produce competent evidence on each
element of his or her claim.” Id. at 348-49
(quoting Miskin, 107 F.Supp.2d at 671). If Plaintiff
fails to do so, “there can be no genuine issue as to
any material fact, ” because the failure to prove an
essential element of the case “necessarily renders all
other facts immaterial.” Id. at 352 (quoting
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23
(1986); Coleman v. United States, 369 Fed.Appx. 459,
461 (4th Cir. 2010 (unpublished)). In ruling on a motion for
summary judgment, a court must view all of the facts,
including reasonable inferences to be drawn from them,
“in the light most favorable to the party opposing the
motion.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v.
Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88 (1986) (quoting
United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655
Grinnage-Pulley's Complaint and Opposition to the Motion
suggest two separate legal claims: 1) a failure to hire her
for the newly created position of Acting Director of
Instruction; and 2) a discrimination claim based on Ms.
Grinnage-Pulley's reassignment to be Principal of Mill
Creek Middle School, which she contends constituted
constructive discharge. Ms. Grinnage-Pulley argues that both
of those alleged discriminatory acts were premised on her
race, gender, and age.
both claims, Ms. Grinnage-Pulley offers “no direct
evidence of discrimination, ” ECF 26 at 12, and seeks
to proceed under the burden-shifting framework described in
McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792
(1973). Under that analysis, Ms. Grinnage-Pulley
must first establish a prima facie case of
discrimination. See Brinkley v. Harbour Recreation
Club, 180 F.3d 598, 607 (4th Cir. 1999) overruled on
other grounds by Desert Palace, Inc. v. Costa, 539 U.S.
90 (2003). The burden of establishing a prima facie
case is “not onerous.” Texas Dep't of
Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253 (1981). If
Ms. Grinnage-Pulley sustains that burden, Defendant must
articulate a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the
adverse employment action. See Id. at 253-54. The
burden then shifts back to Ms. Grinnage-Pulley, who must
establish that the proffered reason is pretextual. See
Id. Pretext is established where there is
“sufficient evidence to find that the employer's
asserted justification is false” or “unworthy of
credence.” Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods.,
Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 147-48 (2000). “The plaintiff
always bears the ultimate burden of proving that the employer
intentionally discriminated against her.” Evans v.
Techs. Applications & Serv. Co., 80 F.3d 954, 959
(4th Cir. 1996) (citing Texas Dep't of Cmty.
Affairs, 450 U.S. at 253; Hughes v. Bedsole, 48
F.3d 1376, 1384 (4th Cir. 1995)).