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Grinnage-Pulley v. Board of Education of Calvert County

United States District Court, D. Maryland

June 21, 2019

DEBORAH GRINNAGE-PULLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF CALVERT COUNTY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Stephanie A. Gallagher United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff 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.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The 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.

         On July 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.

         Ms. 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.

         In 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.

         Following 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.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Under 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 (1962)).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Ms. 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.

         As to 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).[1] 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)).

         A. ...


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