United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
W. GRIMM UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Floret Ikome, who “is from Cameroon and has very dark
skin, ” helped his employer, Defendant CSRA, LLC
(“CSRA”), win a contract with the Environmental
Protection Agency (“EPA” and
“Infrastructure contract”) and became the Project
Manager; two weeks later, CSRA replaced Ikome with CSRA
employee Eric Toliver, an African-American with
“significantly lighter skin.” Compl. ¶ 15,
ECF No. 2; Def.'s Mem. 4, ECF No. 44-1. Ikome filed a
discrimination complaint with the Montgomery County Office of
Human Resources (“OHR”) and, shortly after, CSRA
ended his employment by not assigning him another contract.
Compl. ¶¶ 17-18; Def.'s Mem. 6. Ikome then
filed suit against CSRA in the Circuit Court for Montgomery
County, alleging discrimination based on color and national
origin, as well as retaliation, in violation of Montgomery
County Code § 27-1 et seq.; he also claims that
CSRA violated Maryland Wage Payment Collection Law
(“MWPCL”), Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl. §
3-501 et seq. when it failed to pay him the
“capture bonus” he expected for winning the
Infrastructure contract. Compl. ¶¶ 20-34, 35-40.
CSRA removed the case to this Court, ECF No. 1, and filed the
pending motion for summary judgment. ECF No.
Because Ikome offers direct evidence of discrimination,
CSRA's motion is denied as to his discrimination claim.
Ikome cannot prevail on his retaliation or MWPCL claims,
however, and CSRA's motion is granted as to Counts Two
began working for CSRA, which provides information technology
services to government clients, as a Senior Director in July
2015. Compl. ¶¶ 7-8; Def.'s Mem. 3; Offer Ltr.,
ECF No. 47-3. Initially, he worked as the operations director
on a contract for a client other than the EPA. Ikome Dep.
79:17-80:6, ECF No. 47-2; Def.'s Mem. 3. He voluntarily
resigned from the project in about September 2016 and, for
most of the remainder of 2016, he was “a casual
employee (a status where an employee remains employed but is
paid only for hours worked) and was not working on a bid or
contract for CSRA.” Def.'s Mem. 3; Ikome Dep.
Prior to 2017, the EPA had contracted with CSRA to perform IT
services under a number of task orders. Eric Toliver, a
long-term employee of CSRA and its predecessor companies,
served as the Program Manager for certain of those EPA task
orders. In late 2016, the EPA issued proposals for those task
orders and others, all of which would be reorganized into
three new EPA contracts, at the expiration of the prior
contracts. still serving as the Program Manager, Mr. Toliver
assisted with the “capture” work for each of
CSRA ultimately bid on all three of the contracts, known as
the high-end scientific computing contract, infrastructure
support and application hosting contract
(“Infrastructure”), and end-user services
contract (“EUS”). The EUS contract was the
highest priority for CSRA because it was the greatest dollar
value of the three and CSRA believed it had the highest win
probability. . . . CSRA made the decision to select Mr.
Toliver as the Program Manager for the EUS bid. . . .
. . . CSRA needed to find an individual to be bid as the
Program Manager for the lower-priority Infrastructure
contract. Plaintiff, who was still on casual status and not
working on a bid or contract for CSRA at the time, was . . .
identified for that position, well after the capture and
proposal efforts were already underway.
Def.'s Mem. 3-4 (citations omitted); see
Pl.'s Opp'n 6.
end of March 2017, CSRA won the Infrastructure contract but
not the EUS contract. Def.'s Mem. 5. William Balcke, one
of Ikome's supervisors, Pl.'s Opp'n 7, informed
Ikome on April 13, 2017 that he no longer would be working as
the Program Manager on the Infrastructure contract, because
CSRA wanted to replace him with Eric Toliver. Ikome Decl.
¶ 15, ECF No. 47-1; Balcke Dep. 105:8-17, ECF No. 50-3.
Ikome offers evidence that, in the same meeting, “Mr.
Balcke also made a statement about people in North Carolina
being ‘rednecks', which [Ikome] understood to mean
that the reason for the decision to replace [him] was that
said ‘rednecks' are racist, ” and it
“would be more acceptable” for them to have
Toliver, who has lighter skin, “in the top post on the
Infrastructure [EPA] contract.” Ikome Decl. ¶ 15;
see also Ikome Dep. 165:20- 21. Defendants refute
this evidence with Balcke's testimony that he did not
make such a statement. See Balcke Dep. 106:15-20.
counsel sent a demand letter to Paul Nedzbala, Executive Vice
President of the Health and Civil Group at CSRA, on April 19,
2017, alleging race and national origin discrimination in
CSRA's decision to replace Plaintiff with Eric
Toliver.” Pl.'s Opp'n 11; see Apr. 19,
2017 Ltr. from Pl.'s Counsel to Nedzbala, ECF No. 47-5.
CSRA informed Ikome that “he would be returned to
casual status and subject to discharge if he did not locate
an alternate position.” Def.'s Mem. 5-6.
Specifically, on April 25, 2017, CSRA notified Ikome that
“he could charge his time to an indirect charge code
for two weeks and had the option to maintain his employee
status without pay for 30 days thereafter before he would be
terminated if he did not find another position at
CSRA.” Pl.'s Opp'n 4; see Def.'s
Mem. 16-17; Apr. 25, 2017 Email from Sellers to Ikome, ECF
No. 44-7, at 3).
filed a discrimination complaint with OHR on May 15, 2017.
Compl. ¶ 3; Def.'s Mem. 6. On June 30, 2017, at
which point Ikome had not secured another position, CSRA
terminated his employment. Compl. ¶ 4; Def.'s Mem.
6. He filed a second OHR complaint, Compl. ¶ 4, and then
filed this suit in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County on
October 2, 2017, id. at 1. He claims that CSRA
discriminated against him based on color and national origin
when it replaced him with Toliver on the Infrastructure
contract, and that it then retaliated against him for filing
the May 15, 2017 ORH complaint, by terminating his employment
on June 30, 2017. Id. ¶¶ 23, 30-31. He
views these acts as violations of Montgomery County Code
§ 27-1 et seq. Ikome also claims that CSRA
violated the MWPCL when it failed to pay him a “capture
bonus” that he expected for winning the Infrastructure
contract. Compl. ¶¶ 20-34, 35-40.
judgment is proper when the moving party demonstrates,
through “particular parts of materials in the record,
including depositions, documents, electronically stored
information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations . . .,
admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials,
” 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), (c)(1)(A); see
Baldwin v. City of Greensboro, 714 F.3d 828, 833 (4th
Cir. 2013). If the party seeking summary judgment
demonstrates that there is no evidence to support the
nonmoving party's case, the burden shifts to the
nonmoving party to identify evidence that shows that a
genuine dispute exists as to material facts. See
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475
U.S. 574, 585-87 & n.10 (1986). The existence of only a
“scintilla of evidence” is not enough to defeat a
motion for summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986). Instead, the
evidentiary materials submitted must show facts from which
the finder of fact reasonably could find for the party
opposing summary judgment. Id.
claims discrimination in violation of Montgomery County law.
“Maryland courts construe [discrimination] claims
[under the Montgomery County Human Rights Act] similarly to
those made under Title VII, ” Whittaker v.
David's Beautiful People, Inc., No. DKC-14-2483,
2016 WL 429963, at *2 n.2 (D. Md. Feb. 4, 2016), and
“it is appropriate to consider federal precedents when
interpreting state and local laws, ” Haas v.
Lockheed Martin Corp., 914 A.2d 735, 743 n.8 (Md. 2007).
The elements of a claim for race or national origin
discrimination under Title VII or Montgomery County Code are
“(1) membership in a protected class; (2) satisfactory
job performance; (3) an adverse employment action; and (4)
less favorable treatment than similarly situated employees
outside the protected class.” Linton v. Johns
Hopkins Univ. Applied Physics Lab., LLC, No. JKB-10-276,
2011 WL 4549177, at *5 (D. Md. Sept. 28, 2011) (citing
White v. BFI Waste Servs., 375 F.3d 288, 295 (4th
Cir. 2004)); see also Coleman, 626 F.3d at 190. A
plaintiff may prove discrimination using direct evidence or
under the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting approach.
Ruffin v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 126 F.Supp.3d 521,
526-27 (D. Md. 2015), aff'd as modified, No.
15-2067, 2016 WL 4750626 (4th Cir. Sept. 13, 2016); see
Hill v. Lockheed Martin Logistics Mgmt., Inc., 354 F.3d
277, 284 (4th Cir. 2004). “Under either avenue of
proof, the focus is on whether a reasonable juror could
conclude that illegal discrimination was a motivating factor
in the employment decision.” U.S. Equal Employment
Opportunity Comm'n v. Dimensions Healthcare Sys.,
No. PX-15-2342, 2016 WL 4593470, at *3 (D. Md. Sept. 2, 2016)
(citing Sawicki v. Morgan State Univ., No.
WMN-03-1600, 2005 WL 5351448, at *6 (D. Md. Aug. 2, 2005),
aff'd, 170 Fed.Appx. 271 (4th Cir. 2006)).
evidence must be ‘evidence of conduct or statements
that both reflect directly the alleged discriminatory
attitude and that bear directly on the contested employment
decision.' Even if there is a statement that reflects a
discriminatory attitude, it must have a nexus with the
adverse employment action.” Warch v. Ohio Cas. Ins.
Co., 435 F.3d 510, 520 (4th Cir. 2006) (quoting
Taylor v. Va. Union Univ., 193 F.3d 219, 232 (4th
Cir. 1999) (en banc) (citation and internal quotation marks
omitted)). Stated differently, “[t]o constitute direct
evidence, statements must be directly related to the
employment decision in question” and must be
“‘the most blatant remarks, whose intent could be
nothing other than to discriminat[e].'” Betof
v. Suburban Hosp., Inc., No. DKC-11-1452, 2012 WL
2564781, at *6 (D. Md. June 29, 2012) (quoting Signal v.
Gonzales, 430 F.Supp.2d 528, 541 n.5 (D.S.C. 2006)
(citation omitted)). The statement must be one that,
“[i]f believed, . . . ‘would prove the existence
of a fact . . . without any inference or presumptions,
'” such as an explicit statement “that an
impermissible consideration was a determining factor.”
Id. (quoting O'Connor v. Consol. Coin
Caterers Corp., 56 F.3d 542, 548 (4th Cir. 1995)
(internal quotation marks omitted), rev'd on other
grounds, 517 U.S. 308 (1996)).
facts in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins are
illustrative. 490 U.S. 228 (1989), superseded by statute
on other grounds as stated in Preston v. Virginia ex rel. New
River Cmty. Coll., 31 F.3d 203 (4th Cir. 1994). There,
Hopkins filed a sex discrimination suit after she was
proposed, but not selected, for partnership at the accounting
firm where she worked as a senior manager. Id. at
231- 33. The existing partners weighed in on the decision,
and it was “Hopkins' perceived shortcomings in
th[e] important area” of interpersonal relations that
“doomed her bid for partnership, ” which was put
on hold and then not reconsidered. Id. at 232,
234-35. The Supreme Court noted that “[t]here were
clear signs” in the comments the partners provided
“that some of the partners reacted negatively to
Hopkins' personality because she was a woman, ”
with “[o]ne partner describ[ing] her as
‘macho'; another suggest[ing] that she
‘overcompensated for being a woman'; [and] a third
advis[ing] her to take ‘a course at charm
school.'” Id. at 235 (citations to record
omitted). Additionally, when “[s]everal partners
criticized her use of profanity . . ., one partner suggested
that those partners objected to her swearing only
‘because it's a lady using foul
language.'” Id. (citation to record
omitted). Of most significance was one partner's advice
to Hopkins when he explained to her why her bid for
partnership was on hold: “in order to improve her
chances for partnership, ” he suggested that she
“‘walk more femininely, talk more femininely,
dress more femininely, wear make-up, have her hair styled,
and wear jewelry.'” Id. (citation to
record omitted). The Supreme Court concluded that these facts
were sufficient direct evidence of sex discrimination,
Hopkins proved that Price Waterhouse invited partners to
submit comments; that some of the comments stemmed from sex
stereotypes; that an important part of the Policy Board's
decision on Hopkins was an assessment of the submitted
comments; and that Price ...