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Pearson v. Board of Education of Anne Arundel County

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 10, 2019

DR. AKEDA PEARSON
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY, et al,

          MEMORANDUM

          Catherine C Blake United States District Judge.

         Pending before the court is a motion for summary judgment, filed by defendants Board of Education of Anne Arundel County and Mamie Perkins in her official capacity (collectively "the Board"). For the reasons stated below, the court will grant the motion for summary judgment.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY[1]

         The following facts are undisputed. Plaintiff Dr. Akeda Pearson, an African American woman, was employed in the Office of Equity and Human Relations ("OEHR") of the Board of Education of Anne Arundel County ("BOE") from January 2011 to July 31, 2014. The purpose' of the OEHR was to address achievement disparities between racial groups in Anne Arundel public schools. (Liverman Deposition, pp. 16-17, Pl.'s Resp. in Opp. to Def.'s Mot. for Summary Judgment ["Pl.'s Resp."] Ex. 3, ECF No. 72-3). Dr. Pearson's responsibilities included community outreach and human relations, as well as investigation and reporting of bias-motivated incidents within the Anne Arundel public schools.

         On August 1, 2013, defendant Mamie Perkins, an African American woman, became the Interim Superintendent of Schools for the BOE. (Aff. of Mamie Perkins, ECF No. 65-7 at 1). On May 28, 2014, Ms. Perkins announced the reorganization of the OEHR, which became the Office of Equity and Accelerated Student Achievement ("OEASA"). (Id. at 2). The same day, Dr. Pearson was informed that her position would be eliminated as part of the reorganization. (Id.). Ms. Perkins told Dr. Pearson that she would be temporarily reassigned, and that if she did not apply and get selected for another position in the BOE, her employment would terminate on July 31, 2014. (Id. at 3).

         Shortly thereafter, Dr. Pearson applied for the position of Specialist for School and Community Partnerships in the newly-created OEASA. Anthony Alston, the Executive Director of OEASA and an African American man, led the interviews. (Aff. of Anthony Alston, ECF No. 65-15 at 1). Mr. Alston wanted to hire two people to fill positions as Specialist for School and Community Partnerships. (Id.). Dr. Pearson and five other candidates interviewed for the position on or about July 16, 2014. (Id.). Each candidate's interview performance was rated on a numerical scale; scoring cards from the July 16, 2014, interviews show that Dr. Pearson ranked fifth out of the six candidates. (Id; Interview Scoring Card, Def.'s Mot. for Summary Judgment ["Def.'s Mot."] Ex. H-1, ECF No. 65-16). The highest-scoring candidate was Caucasian and not offered a position. (Aff. of Anthony Alston, ECF No. 65-5 at 1). The candidates with the second-and third-highest scores were offered positions. (Id.). The candidate ranked second declined the offer, but the candidate ranked third, an African American woman, accepted the position. (Id. at 2). Dr. Pearson was not offered a position in the OEASA and her employment with BOE was terminated on July 31, 2014.

         On August 12, 2014, Mr. Alston conducted a second round of interviews to fill the other position of Specialist for School and Community Partnerships; Dr. Pearson was not re-interviewed during this round. The highest-scoring candidate during the second round of interviews was a Caucasian man. (Id; Interview Scoring Card, Def.'s Mot. Ex. H-2, ECF No. 65-17). Mr. Alston offered him the position and he accepted it. (Id.).

         Dr. Pearson initiated suit on August 17, 2017. Her original complaint named BOE, Ms. Perkins, and BOE employees Arlen Liverman and George Arlotto as defendants. On March 19, 2018, this court granted motions to dismiss claims asserted against Ms. Perkins, Mr. Liverman, and Mr. Arlotto in their individual capacities. Dr. Pearson subsequently filed an amended complaint, naming BOE and Ms. Perkins in her official capacity as defendants (collectively "the Board"). The Board filed a motion for summary judgment, Dr. Pearson filed her response in opposition, and the Board filed a reply to Dr. Pearson's response. The issues have been fully briefed and are ripe for review.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that summary judgment should be granted "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). "A dispute is genuine if 'a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'" Libertarian Party of Va. v. Judd, 718 F.3d 308, 313 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting Dulaney v. Packaging Corp. of Am., 673 F.3d 323, 330 (4th Cir. 2012)). "A fact is material if it 'might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.'" Id. (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). Accordingly, '"the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment[.]" Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48. The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1866 (2014) (per curiam) (citation and quotation omitted), and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor, Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007) (citations omitted); see also Jacobs v. N.C. Admin. Office of the Courts, 780 F.3d 562, 568-69 (4th Cir. 2015). At the same time, the court must "prevent factually unsupported claims and defenses from proceeding to trial." Bouchat v. Bait. Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 526 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting Drewitt v. Pratt, 999 F.2d 774, 778-79 (4th Cir. 1993)).

         ANALYSIS

         A. Title VII Claims of Discrimination and Retaliation

         Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee on the basis of, inter alia, the employee's race. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). A plaintiff may avoid summary judgment on a Title VII claim through "two avenues of proof" See Hill v. Lockheed Martin Logistics Mgmt., Inc., 354 F.3d 277, 284 (4th Cir. 2004) (overruled on other grounds by University of Texas Sw. Med. Ctr. v. Nassar, 570 U.S. 338 (2013)). The first avenue requires the plaintiff to present direct or circumstantial evidence that "raises a genuine issue of material fact as to whether an impermissible factor such as race motivated the employer's adverse employment decision." Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 318 (4th Cir. 2005). If the plaintiff lacks direct or indirect evidence of discrimination, she may proceed using the second avenue: the burden-shifting framework first established in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973). See Diamond, 416 F.3d at 318. Under the McDonnell Douglas framework, the plaintiff bears the initial burden of establishing a prima facie case of racial discrimination. McDonnell, 411 U.S. at 802. The requirements of a prima facie case differ depending on the type of discrimination alleged. Jenkins v. Baltimore City Fire Dept., 862 F.Supp.2d 427, 444 (D. Md. 2012) (citing McDonnell, 411 U.S. at 802 n.13). If a plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, "the burden shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action." Hill, 354 F.3d at 285. If the defendant provides a non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment action, "the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the employer's stated reasons were not its true reasons, but were a pretext for discrimination." Id. (quoting Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133; 143 (2000) (internal quotation marks omitted)). This court will analyze Dr. Pearson's claims pursuant to the McDonnell Douglas framework.[2]

         i. ...


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