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McBride v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

August 8, 2019



          Paul W. Grimm United States District Judge

         Terrance McBride, an African-American man, worked for Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (“WMATA”) as a plumber until WMATA terminated his employment “for falsifying reports and for his unauthorized absence from the worksite.” Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶¶ 1, 11, ECF No. 28-2; Pl.'s Resp. to Stmt. ¶¶ 1, 11, ECF No. 29-1. His termination followed an investigation of him, two African-American co-workers, and two Caucasian co-workers “for potential misconduct.” Pl.'s Opp'n 4, ECF No. 29; Def.'s Reply 4 n.1, 5, ECF No. 33. He views his termination as discriminatory because WMATA terminated the employment of the three African Americans but not the Caucasians. Am. Compl. ¶ 33, ECF No. 10. He filed suit, alleging race discrimination based on his termination, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”). Compl., ECF No. 1. Now pending is the Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 28, that WMATA filed.[1] Because Mr. McBride cannot prevail on his claim as a matter of law, I will grant Defendant's motion.

         Factual Background [2]

         Terrance McBride, an African American, worked for WMATA as a plumber, beginning in 2003. Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 1; Pl.'s Opp'n 4; Def.'s Resp. to Requests for Admissions 1, ECF No. 29-4. WMATA assigned McBride, along with Ronald Bellamy and Tyrone Gibson, both of whom are African American, and David Eichen and Thomas McCaskill, both of whom are Caucasian, to work the night shift in 2015. Pl.'s Opp'n 4; Defs.' Reply 4 n.1 &5; Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶¶ 5, 19; Def.'s Resp. to Requests for Admissions 1, 7-10. They worked as a crew “performing maintenance checks on fire suppression systems in locations operated by Defendant and repairing those systems as necessary.” Am. Compl. ¶ 21.

         Andre Jordan, the Assistant Superintendent of McBride's department at WMATA, stated that he had “observed employees in Plaintiff's crew at the end of their shift coming in late, with red eyes, and disheveled clothes.” Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 3; Pl.'s Resp. to Stmt. ¶ 3. As a result, WMATA investigated all five employees “for potential misconduct.” Pl.'s Opp'n 4; Def.'s Reply 5; see also Def.'s Reply 4 n.1 (noting that these “evening shift plumbers were under investigation by their supervisors for sleeping on the job”).

         During the evening shift beginning May 17, 2015, the crew had been assigned to work at WMATA's Southern Avenue Station. Pl.'s Opp'n 4; Defs.' Reply 4 n.1 &5; Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶¶ 5, 19. All five crew members completed their work and left the worksite at the same time early in the morning on May 18, 2015, before their shifts ended. McBride Dep. 76:10-19, 77:2-3, ECF No. 29-2. After that, WMATA took disciplinary measures and terminated the employment of all three African Americans but not the Caucasians, leading McBride to believe that the termination was discriminatory. Am. Compl. ¶ 33.

         I will discuss the facts concerning the individuals' actions and repercussions in the discussion below, in the context of the elements that McBride must prove to prevail on his claim for racial discrimination.

         Standard of Review

         Summary 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). “A disputed fact presents a genuine issue ‘if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.'” Cole v. Prince George's Cty., 798 F.Supp.2d 739, 742 (D. Md. 2011) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). 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).


         Title VII makes it “an unlawful employment practice for an employer . . . to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). A plaintiff may prove discrimination using direct evidence or under the McDonnell Douglas[3] 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)).

         McBride does not contend that there is direct evidence of discrimination. Pl.'s Opp'n 8. Accordingly, under the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework, he must first make out a prima facie case of race discrimination. Wright v. Sw. Airlines, 319 Fed.Appx. 232, 233 (4th Cir. 2009). If he does so, the burden shifts to the employer, which must “proffer evidence of a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment action.” Id. The burden then shifts back to McBride “to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the proffered reasons were pretextual.” Id. at 233.

         The elements of a prima facie case of race discrimination under Title VII 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 is “not required as a matter of law to point to a similarly situated . . . comparator [outside the protected class] in order to succeed on a race discrimination claim.” Bryant v. Aiken Reg'l Med. Ctrs., Inc., 333 F.3d 536, 545 (4th Cir. 2003) (noting that in Dennis v. Columbia Colleton Med. Ctr. Inc., 290 F.3d 639, 648-49 n.4 (4th Cir. 2002), the Fourth Circuit held that a “plaintiff need not prove that she was better qualified than a successful applicant if other circumstantial evidence suggests discrimination”); see also Mabry v. Capital One, N.A., No. 13-2059-AW, 2013 WL 6410983, at *2 (D. Md. Dec. 6, 2013) (noting that comparison to similarly situated employees “is the general rule” and not a “categorical requirement”). Here, however, McBride has chosen to base his claim on the fact that he and two other African-American employees were fired when two Caucasian employees were not, under circumstances that McBride contends are similar. Am. Compl. ¶ 33; see also Pl.'s Opp'n 5-6 (“As a result of the similarities in position and conduct, specifically leaving the worksite without authorization, Mr. Eichen and Mr. McCaskill are proper comparators for Mr. McBride and they both should have been investigated for misconduct by Defendant as Mr. McBride was.”). And, WMATA focuses its challenge on the fourth element, insisting that “Plaintiff's prima facie case fails because there is no proper comparator.” Def.'s Reply 4. Thus, the issue is whether either Eichen and McCaskill, who are Caucasian, can serve as a “similarly situated employee.” See Linton, 2011 WL 4549177, at *5.

         “[T]he purpose of the similarly situated requirement is to eliminate confounding variables, such as differing roles, performance histories, or decision-making personnel” and thereby “isolate the critical independent variable: complaints about discrimination.” Humphries v. CBOCS W., Inc., 474 F.3d 387, 405 (7th Cir. 2007), aff'd, 553 U.S. 442 (2008); Bell v. Univ. of Md. Coll. Park Campus Facilities Mgmt., No. PX-17-1655, 2018 WL 3008325, at *8 (D. Md. June 14, 2018) (quoting Humphries). Therefore, “[c]omparators must be ‘similar in all relevant respects,' including being subject to the same supervisors and performance standards, and having ‘engaged in the same conduct without [meaningful] differentiating or mitigating circumstances.'” Caban v. MET Labs., Inc., No. JKB-17-1872, 2019 WL 2146915, at *10 (D. Md. May 16, 2019) (quoting Haywood v. Locke, Civ. No. 09-1604, 387 Fed.Appx. 355, 359 (4th Cir. 2010)). Thus, I must consider Eichen and McCaskill's disciplinary histories and their actions early in the morning on May 18, 2015, in comparison to McBride's, to determine whether they are similarly situated.

         Eichen and McCaskill were on the same crew as McBride, worked with him on the evening shift that began May 17, 2015, and left the worksite when he did. With that, however, their similarities end.

         Mr. ...

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