United States District Court, D. Maryland
L. HOLLANDER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
employment discrimination case, plaintiff Lydia
Courtney-Pope, a self-represented school teacher, filed suit
against her former employer, the Board of Education of
Carroll County (the “Board”), asserting claims
under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended
by the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (“ADA”), 42
U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.; the Maryland Fair
Employment Practices Act (“FEPA”), Md. Code (2014
Repl. Vol., 2017 Supp.), § 20-601 et seq. of
the State Government Article (“S.G.”); and the
Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et
seq. (“FMLA”). In particular, plaintiff
alleges that the Board failed to make reasonable
accommodations for her disability of post-traumatic stress
disorder, in violation of the ADA (Count One); discriminated
against her on the basis of her disability, in violation of
the ADA (Count Three) and the FEPA (Count Four); interfered
with her medical leave, in violation of the FMLA (Count
Five); and retaliated against her for taking medical leave,
in violation of the FMLA (Count Six). Id. at
Board has filed a post-discovery motion for summary judgment
(ECF 64), supported by a memorandum of law (ECF 64-1)
(collectively, the “Motion”) and numerous
exhibits. Plaintiff filed a combined opposition to the Motion
and a cross motion for summary judgment (“Cross
Motion”), along with numerous exhibits. See
ECF 69. The Board's reply is at ECF 80.
Plaintiff's reply is at ECF 86, with additional exhibits.
motions have been fully briefed, and no hearing is necessary
to resolve them. See Local Rule 105(6) (D. Md.
2018). For the reasons that follow, I shall grant
the Board's Motion in part and deny it in part, and I
shall deny plaintiff's Cross-Motion.
2005 to 2014, plaintiff was a chorus and dance teacher at
South Carroll High School (“SCHS” or the
“School”) in Carroll County, Maryland. ECF 74,
Ex. 1; ECF 64-10 (Pl.'s July 13, 2018 Dep.) at 6, Tr.
40:15-18. In addition to teaching, plaintiff coordinated
twice-yearly choral concerts, participated in festivals,
prepared students for choral and dance concerts, and assisted
with additional fundraising concerts. ECF 64-10 at 5-6, Tr.
39-40. Plaintiff was well liked by students and parents
alike, and received exemplary evaluations and honors from
school administrators. ECF 74, Exs. 2, 4, 6.
employment was governed by a “Master Agreement”
between the Board and the Carroll County Education
Association. ECF 74, Ex. 36C. School Principal Jeffrey
Hopkins and SCHS Assistant Principal Meghan
Humbert-Brown were two of plaintiff's supervisors.
ECF 74, Ex. 6.
2011, plaintiff developed symptoms of post-traumatic stress
disorder (“PTSD”). It was due, among other
reasons, to certain trauma that she had experienced arising
out of marital difficulties. ECF 74, Ex. 43, Pl.'s
Affidavit, ¶¶ 5-10; ECF 64-2 (Hopkins Affidavit),
¶ 3 . In or about the summer of 2014, plaintiff was
diagnosed with PTSD by her doctor, which constitutes a
disability within the meaning of the ADA. Id. As a
result of her PTSD, plaintiff experienced
“hyper-vigilance, … flashbacks, exhaustion due
to medication and inability to sleep, sensitivity to sounds
and crowds, anxiety (racing heart and feeling of no breath)
under stress, conflation of trauma and when under duress,
dissociation.” ECF 74, Ex. 43.
beginning of the 2014 school year, plaintiff informed Brown
and Hopkins of her diagnosis and requested several
accommodations. ECF 1, ¶ 25; ECF 74, Ex. 43,
Plaintiff's Affidavit, ¶¶ 12-16. In her
Complaint, plaintiff identifies three accommodations that she
requested: (1) to leave at the end of the day, without
staying past her contractual leave time; (2) to walk or run
on the School's track during her preparation periods to
help “decompress”; and (3) to take leave when
needed, after proper notification, to attend therapy and
counseling sessions to manage and treat her PTSD. ECF 1,
¶ 26; ECF 69 at 10-11.
does not allege that any of those requests were denied.
Id. However, she asserts that defendant's
employees were “cold, insensitive, and callous, ”
and she complains that they never “engage[d] her in an
interactive process to  discuss her disability . . . and
how SCHS could accommodate” her. ECF 1, ¶¶
32-33. Nevertheless, plaintiff notes an “accommodation
conversation” she had with Brown on August 25, 2014,
“within 5 minutes, after the bell had rung, on the
first day of school, in the hallway outside [plaintiff's]
classroom, as new students were filing into [her]
classroom.” ECF 74, Ex. 43.
September 2014, plaintiff requested twelve weeks of
intermittent FMLA leave. ECF 74, Ex. 8. On September 23,
2014, plaintiff notified Brown and Hopkins about her FMLA
application. ECF 74, Ex. 9. In plaintiff's FMLA
application, her doctor stated that, “due to emotional
lability and mood instability, employee may be unable to
interact effectively with students or co-workers at
times.” ECF 74, Ex. 8 at 2. Her doctor also stated that
plaintiff “may have trouble maintaining her regular
work schedule on occasions as she goes through
treatment.” Id. at 4. On October 1, 2014,
plaintiff's FMLA request was approved, permitting
plaintiff to take up to sixty days of FMLA leave in the
twelve-month period from September 22, 2014 to September 22,
2015. ECF 74, Ex. 12.
Affidavit, plaintiff indicates that, at the outset of the
school year in August or September 2014, at her “SLO
meeting, ” she met with Ms. Brown and disclosed her
PTSD and its cause. ECF 74, Ex. 43 (Plaintiff's
Affidavit), ¶ 12. She requested a waiver of the required
professional development projects that caused her further
anxiety by requiring her to stay after school and give up her
preparatory periods. ECF 74, Ex. 43, Plaintiff's
Affidavit, ¶¶ 15, 16; see also ECF 69 at 9
n.10. Plaintiff avers that she was “over-candid”
with Ms. Brown about her PTSD, and Ms. Brown was
“uncharacteristically combative.” ECF 74, Ex. 43,
¶¶ 14, 15.
claims that, based on Ms. Brown's response, she
“appealed” to Hopkins, but he refused
plaintiff's request “to waive further professional
developments, ” saying that “‘it
wouldn't be fair'” to other teachers.
Id. ¶ 16. In contrast, Hopkins testified that,
at the start of the school year, he and plaintiff had
“talked” about plaintiff's request for
“family medical leave.” ECF 64-11 at 22, Tr. 25.
And, Hopkins claimed that “there was never an issue of
[plaintiff] not being able to take her leave.”
Id. at 21, Tr. 74.
to plaintiff, beginning in October 2014, she was mistreated
as a result of using her FMLA leave. On October 10, 2014,
after plaintiff had taken FMLA leave for the day, Brown
reported to Hopkins that plaintiff was absent and had failed
to leave regular or emergency lesson plans for her
substitute, even though plaintiff had indeed left the lesson
plans in the classroom and had sent both Brown and another
teacher an email with the plans that morning. ECF 74, Ex. 17,
Ex. 18; ECF 74, Ex. 43, Administrative Hearing Tr. of Mar.
12, 2015, and Mar. 13, 2015 (hereinafter, “Hearing
Tr.”) at 403-05; ECF 64-11 (Hearing Tr.) at
ECF 64-10 (Pl.'s July 13, 2018 Dep.), at 19-25, Tr.
80-86. Nonetheless, Brown demanded ten extra lesson plans
from plaintiff for the days for which she took leave,
although other teachers were not required to provide such
plans. ECF 74, Ex. 43, Hearing Tr. at 407; ECF 64-10 at
19-25; see also ECF 74, Ex. 39B, ¶ 5; Ex. 40,
¶ 5 (affidavits from two teachers who attest they were
never required to prepare emergency lesson plans, despite
suffered an anxiety attack on October 15, 2014, as a result
of her PTSD, triggered by her classroom relocation and a
verbal altercation with another employee. ECF 74, Ex. 43,
Hearing Tr. at 416-418. Plaintiff asked Brown for a
substitute teacher to cover her classes for the rest of the
day. Id. at 418-19. According to plaintiff, Brown
responded, “What do you want me to do, pull a sub out
of thin air?” Id. at 419. Brown did, however,
find a substitute for plaintiff. Id. at 420.
October 20 and 22, 2014, plaintiff used FMLA leave to take
full-day absences. ECF 1, ¶ 89. On October 21 and 23,
2014, plaintiff met with Hopkins to discuss the lesson plan
issue from October 10 and other matters. ECF 74, Ex. 43, Mar.
12, 2015 Hearing Tr. at 413; ECF 69 at 19; ECF 64 at 9.
Plaintiff avers that, during the October 21 meeting, Hopkins
yelled at her for not completing the ten additional lesson
plans, and refused to listen to her explanations. ECF 74, Ex.
43, Pl.'s Affidavit, ¶ 32. According to plaintiff,
during the October 23 meeting, Hopkins again did not listen
to her explanations, and refused her accommodations, stating
“there is a limit.” Id. ¶¶ 4,
Hopkins sent a letter to plaintiff memorializing these
meetings, but plaintiff refused to sign it because of its
alleged inaccuracies. ECF 74, Ex. 43, Hearing Tr. at 413; ECF
64-18. On November 17, 2014 and December 1, 2014, plaintiff
used only 45 minutes of leave, yet she claims her salary was
docked each time for half a day. ECF 1, ¶¶ 90, 91;
see ECF 74, Ex. 23.
about November 14, 2014, Hopkins entered plaintiff's
locked office with a substitute teacher while plaintiff was
absent. ECF 64-2, ¶ 8; ECF 69 at 19-20; see
also ECF 74, Ex. 37, ¶¶ 4-8; Ex. 40, ¶
24. He “observed pills laying out in the open on
[plaintiff's] desk.” ECF 64-2, ¶ 8. Hopkins
took the pills to the school nurse, “[k]nowing that
[plaintiff's] students were often observed in her office
with or without her present.” Id. The school
nurse confirmed the pills were vitamins. But, Hopkins spoke
with plaintiff upon her return “about the importance of
not leaving pills in places accessible to students, but [he]
never disciplined [plaintiff] regarding this incident.”
Id. In addition, sometime in the beginning of the
school year, Hopkins had offered plaintiff an “Employee
Assistance Brochure” in response to her
“confiding in [him] about her marital problems.”
Id. ¶ 7.
December 15, 2014, plaintiff met with Hopkins, Human
Resources Specialist Kelly Keith, and plaintiff's union
representative, Glen Galante. ECF 64-10 (Pl.'s July 13,
2018 Dep.) at 26-27, Tr. 101-02. Plaintiff explained that she
was joking when she told her students to take a nap, and that
the students knew she meant they would be doing a listening
exercise. ECF 74, Ex. 43, Hearing Tr. at 436-37; ECF 64-11 at
108. At the meeting on December 15, 2014, Hopkins raised
other allegations about plaintiff's teaching practices,
including unsubstantiated grading practices and refusal to
teach the required lesson plan during an Advisory period, all
of which plaintiff denied. ECF 74, Ex. 43, Hearing Tr. at
conclusion of the meeting, plaintiff was provided with a
letter signed by Board Superintendent Stephen Guthrie,
placing her on administrative leave, with pay, pending an
investigation, based on reports that plaintiff had instructed
students to take a nap in class on December 12, 2014, and
because plaintiff had posted inappropriate information on a
student's social media page. ECF 64-10 (Pl.'s July
13, 2018 Dep.) at 27-28, Tr. 102-04; see also ECF 64-24
Hopkins conducted an investigation into plaintiff's
teaching practices. And, he received several additional
reports from students. ECF 64-11 at 112-119; ECF 64-25
admits she posted on a pregnant student's social media
page, but claims that she did so under the mistaken belief
that the student had graduated already. ECF 74, Ex. 43,
Hearing Tr. at 438-39. Plaintiff's social media message,
written in response to the student's post about being
past her due date, stated: “Oh honey! Have a glass of
wine and some ‘special time' with daddy! If that
doesn't work, msg me!” Id. at 439-41; ECF
74, Ex. 32 (social media post).
December 17, 2014, Hopkins wrote a letter to his supervisor,
Tom Hill, detailing his findings and requesting that
plaintiff be disciplined up to and including termination of
employment. ECF 64-26. Hopkins's letter outlined several
concerns, including plaintiff giving students unsubstantiated
or incomplete grades, telling students to take a nap during
class and Advisory period instead of doing the required
lesson, telling students she was hungover, and posting
inappropriately on a student's social media page.
Id. The next day, December 18, 2014, Hill wrote a
letter to Jimmie Saylor, the Board's Director of Human
Resources, recommending plaintiff's termination “on
the grounds of misconduct, and repeated inappropriate and
unprofessional behavior in the presence of students.”
ECF 64-27. In turn, Saylor made the same recommendation to
the Assistant Superintendent of Administration, Jonathan
O'Neal. ECF 64-28.
December 19, 2014, plaintiff was told that she must either
resign or be fired. ECF 1, ¶ 94; ECF 69 at 23.
Superintendent Guthrie sent a letter to plaintiff on December
22, 2014, recommending her termination from employment for
misconduct in office, incompetency, and willful neglect of
duty. ECF 64-29; ECF 64-10 (Pl.'s July 13, 2018 Dep.) at
29-30, Tr. 105-06. Plaintiff was also advised of her right to
a hearing before the Board. Id.
Board convened a two-day hearing on March 12 and 13, 2015,
pursuant to Md. Code (2014 Repl. Vol., 2017 Supp.), §
6-202(a)(3) of the Education Article (“Educ.”).
See ECF 64-11 (Hearing Tr.). Plaintiff
appeared with counsel. ECF 64-31 at 53. Nineteen witnesses
testified at the hearing, including Brown, Hopkins, Keith,
Guthrie, Galante, Saylor, and plaintiff. Id.
Thereafter, the Hearing Examiner issued a comprehensive
opinion recommending plaintiff's termination, based on
findings of misconduct, incompetency, and willful neglect of
duty. ECF 64-31.
8, 2015, the Board heard oral argument from counsel for the
parties. ECF 64-10 (Pl.'s Dep.) at 36-39, Tr. 113-14. In
a “Decision” of August 12, 2015 (ECF 64-33), the
Board did not agree with the Hearing Examiner that plaintiff
was “derelict in her duties with respect to leaving
plans for her substitute teacher on October 10, 2014 . . .
.” ECF 64-33 at 10. But, in all other respects, the
Board unanimously agreed with the Hearing Examiner's
vote of three to one, the Board adopted the
Superintendent's recommendation to dismiss plaintiff
“for misconduct in office, willful neglect of duty, and
incompetency.” Id. at 10. The Fourth Board
member concurred in the findings, but dissented as to
termination, based on plaintiff's “10-year tenure
with CCDS and her acknowledged talents . . . .” ECF
64-33 at 10-11.
February 3, 2015, plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination
with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights
(“MCCR”), which she amended on April 20, 2015.
ECF 6-25. The charge was also filed with the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). See ECF
30. On August 11, 2016, the MCCR issued a finding of
“No Probable Cause to believe that [defendant]
discriminated against [plaintiff] because of her . . .
disability.” ECF 6-29 at 12. The EEOC adopted the
findings of the MCCR on October 26, 2016, and closed its file
on the charge. ECF 74, Ex. 11. This suit followed on December
21, 2016. ECF 1.
January 19, 2018, the Court dismissed Count Two of
plaintiff's Complaint, without prejudice, allowing
plaintiff to move to amend her Complaint by February 12,
2018. ECF 19 at 8-10. Plaintiff did not do so. Defendant
filed an Answer to the Complaint, and the case proceeded to
discovery in accordance with the Court's Scheduling
Order. See ECF 22; ECF 24.
facts are included, infra.
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.”
See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-24
(1986); see also Formica v. Aylor, 739 Fed.Appx.
745, 754 (4th Cir. 2018); Iraq Middle Mkt. Dev. Found v.
Harmoosh, 848 F.3d 235, 238 (4th Cir. 2017). To avoid
summary judgment, the nonmoving party must demonstrate that
there is a genuine dispute of material fact so as to preclude
the award of summary judgment as a matter of law. Ricci
v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 585-86 (2009);
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio
Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585-86 (1986); see also Gordon
v. CIGNA Corp., 890 F.3d 463, 470 (4th Cir. 2018).
Supreme Court has clarified that not every factual dispute
will defeat a summary judgment motion. “By its very
terms, this standard provides that the mere existence of
some alleged factual dispute between the parties
will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for
summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no
genuine issue of material fact.”
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242,
247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original). A fact is
“material” if it “might affect the outcome
of the suit under the governing law.” Id. at
248. There is a genuine issue as to material fact “if
the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.; see
Variety Stores, Inc. v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 888 F.3d
651, 659 (4th Cir. 2018); Sharif v. United Airlines,
Inc., 841 F.3d 199, 2014 (4th Cir. 2016); Raynor v.
Pugh, 817 F.3d 123, 130 (4th Cir. 2016); Libertarian
Party of Va. v. Judd, 718 F.3d 308, 313 (4th Cir. 2013).
other hand, summary judgment is appropriate if the evidence
“is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a
matter of law.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.
But, “the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in
support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient;
there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably
find for the plaintiff.” Id.
“[a] party opposing a properly supported motion for
summary judgment ‘may not rest upon the mere
allegations or denials of [her] pleadings,' but rather
must ‘set forth specific facts showing that there is a
genuine issue for trial.'” Bouchat v. Baltimore
Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 522 (4th Cir.
2003) (quoting former Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)), cert.
denied, 541 U.S. 1042 (May 17, 2004); see also
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-24. And, the court must view
all of the facts, including reasonable inferences to be drawn
from them, in the light most favorable to the nonmoving
party. Ricci, 557 U.S. at 585-86; Matsushita
Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd., 475 U.S. at 587; accord
Hannah P. v. Coats, 916 F.3d 327, 336 (4th Cir. 2019);
Variety Stores, Inc., 888 F.3d at 659;
Gordon, 890 F.3d at 470; Roland v. United States
Citizenship & Immigration Servs., 850 F.3d 625, 628
(4th Cir. 2017); Lee v. Town of Seaboard, 863 F.3d
323, 327 (4th Cir. 2017); FDIC v. Cashion, 720 F.3d
169, 173 (4th Cir. 2013).
district court's “function” is not “to
weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but
to determine whether there is a genuine issue for
trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249; accord
Guessous v. Fairview Prop. Invs., LLC, 828 F.3d 208, 216
(4th Cir. 2016). Thus, in considering a summary judgment
motion, the court may not make credibility determinations.
Wilson v. Prince George's Cty., 893 F.3d 213,
218-19 (4th Cir. 2018); Jacobs v. N.C. Administrative
Office of the Courts, 780 F.3d 562, 569 (4th Cir. 2015);
Mercantile Peninsula Bank v. French, 499 F.3d 345,
352 (4th Cir. 2007). Therefore, in the face of conflicting
evidence, such as competing affidavits, summary judgment
ordinarily is not appropriate, because it is the function of
the fact-finder to resolve factual disputes, including
matters of witness credibility. See Black & Decker
Corp. v. United States, 436 F.3d 431, 442 (4th Cir.
2006); Dennis v. Columbia Colleton Med. Ctr., Inc.,
290 F.3d 639, 644-45 (4th Cir. 2002).
as here, the parties have filed cross motions for summary
judgment, the court must consider “each motion
separately on its own merits ‘to determine whether
either of the parties deserves judgment as a matter of
law.'” Rossignol v. Voorhaar, 316 F.3d
516, 523 (4th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted); see Mellen
v. Bunting, 327 F.3d 355, 363 (4th Cir. 2003). Simply
because both parties have filed for summary judgment does not
mean that summary judgment to one party or another is
necessarily appropriate. “Both motions must be denied
if the court finds that there is a genuine issue of material
fact. But if there is no genuine issue and one or the other
party is entitled to prevail as a matter of law, the court
will render judgment.” 10A Alan Wright & Arthur
Miller, Et Al., Federal Practice & Procedure § 2720,
at 336-37 (3d ed. 1998, 2012 Supp.).
reviewing the parties' submissions, the court is mindful
that plaintiff is self-represented. Therefore, her
submissions must be liberally construed. See Erickson v.
Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). But, the court must also
abide by the “‘affirmative obligations of the
trial judge to prevent factually unsupported claims and
defenses from proceeding to trial.'”
Bouchat, 346 F.3d at 526 (internal quotation marks
omitted) (quoting Drewitt v. Pratt, 999 F.2d 774,
778-79 (4th Cir. 1993), and citing Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986)).
Methods of Proof
general, at trial a plaintiff may establish a
discrimination claim through “two avenues of
proof.” Thomas v. Delmarva Power & Light
Co., 715 Fed.Appx. 301, 302 (4th Cir. 2018) (per curiam)
(Title VII); see Hill v. Lockheed Martin Logistics Mgmt.,
Inc., 354 F.3d 277, 284 (4th Cir. 2004) (en banc),
abrogated on other grounds by Univ. of Tex. Sw. Med. Ctr.
v. Nassar, 570 U.S. 338 (2013)). At summary judgment,
reference to the avenues of proof merely serves to inform a
court's evaluation of evidence. See Haynes v. Waste
Connections, Inc., 922 F.3d 219, 223 (4th Cir. 2019)
(recognizing that a Title VII plaintiff may avoid summary
judgment by proceeding under the burden - shifting framework
established in McDonnell Douglas Corp. . .
.”); Pettis v. Nottoway Cty. Sch. Bd., 592
Fed.Appx. 158, 160 (4th Cir. 2014) (stating that a plaintiff
asserting racial discrimination “may avoid summary
judgment by proceeding under the burden-shifting framework
established in McDonnell Douglas . . . .”).
plaintiff's first avenue is to offer “‘direct
or indirect'” evidence of discrimination under
“‘ordinary principles of proof.'”
Burns v. AAF-McQuay, Inc., 96 F.3d 728, 731 (4th
Cir. 1996) (citation omitted), cert. denied, 520
U.S. 1116 (1997). “To avoid summary judgment”
when proceeding under ordinary principles of proof,
“‘the plaintiff must produce direct evidence of a
stated purpose to discriminate and/or [indirect] evidence of
sufficient probative force to reflect a genuine issue of
material fact.'” Rhoads v. FDIC, 257 F.3d
373, 391 (4th Cir. 2001) (internal citations and quotation
marks omitted; alteration in original).
Warch v. Ohio Casualty Ins. Co., 435 F.3d 510, 520
(4th Cir. 2006), the Fourth Circuit explained the concept of
Direct 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.” Taylor v. Virginia
Union Univ., 193 F.3d 219, 232 (4th Cir. 1999) (en banc)
(citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Even if
there is a statement that reflects a discriminatory attitude,
it must have a nexus with the adverse employment action.
absence of direct or indirect evidence of discrimination, the
focus shifts to the plaintiff's second avenue of
proof-the burden-shifting approach first articulated by the
Supreme Court in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green,
411 U.S. 792 (1973). Notably, courts have applied the
McDonnell Douglas proof scheme to a variety of
employment statutes, including “appropriate”
claims under the ADA, such as a discrimination claim.
Ennis v. National Ass'n of Business and Educational
Radio, Inc., 53 F.3d 55, 58 (4th Cir. 1995).
McDonnell Douglas proof scheme “is
inapplicable where the plaintiff presents direct evidence of
discrimination.” Trans World Airlines, Inc. v.
Thurston, 469 U.S. 111, 121 (1985). See, e.g.,
Young v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., U.S., ___ 135
S.Ct. 1338, 1345 (2015) (construing the Pregnancy
Discrimination Act). But, there is no direct evidence of
discrimination in this case. Therefore, I turn to review the
McDonnell Douglas proof scheme. It is “a
procedural device, designed only to establish an order of
proof and production.” St. Mary's Honor Ctr. v.
Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 521 (1993) (emphasis omitted).
Under the McDonnell Douglas approach, the
“ultimate burden of persuasion [at trial] never
‘shifts' from the plaintiff, ” who must prove
intentional unlawful discrimination. Williams v.
Cerberonics, Inc., 871 F.2d 452, 456 n.2 (4th Cir. 1989)
plaintiff chooses to proceed under the McDonnell
Douglas approach, the plaintiff must first establish a
“prima facie case of discrimination.” Merritt
v. Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc., 601 F.3d 289, 294
(4th Cir. 2010); see Abilt v. Central Intelligence
Agency, 848 F.3d 305, 315 (4th Cir. 2017). Although the
precise formulation of the required prima facie showing will
vary in “different factual situations, ”
McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802 n.13, the
plaintiff is generally required to show that the employer
took adverse action against an applicant “under
circumstances which give rise to an inference of unlawful
discrimination.” Texas Dep't of Cmty. Affairs
v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253 (1981).
plaintiff establishes a prima facie case of unlawful
discrimination, “a presumption of illegal
discrimination arises, and the burden of production shifts to
the employer” to produce evidence of a legitimate,
non-discriminatory reason for its adverse employment action.
Hoyle v. Freightliner, LLC, 650 F.3d 321, 336 (4th
Cir. 2011); see Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods.,
Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 142 (2000); Hurst v. District of
Columbia, 681 Fed.Appx. 186, 189-90 (4th Cir. 2017) (per
curiam). “If the defendant carries this burden of
production, the presumption raised by the prima facie case is
rebutted.” Burdine, 450 U.S. at 255. In that
circumstance, “the McDonnell Douglas
framework-with its presumptions and burdens-is no longer
relevant, ” and “simply drops out of the
picture.” St. Mary's Honor Ctr., 509 U.S.
at 510-11. The plaintiff must then prove, by a preponderance
of evidence, “that the [employer's] proffered
reason was not the true reason for the employment
decision” and that the plaintiff “has been the
victim of intentional discrimination.”
Burdine, 450 U.S. at 256; see also Reeves,
530 U.S. at 143; St. Mary's Honor Ctr., 509 U.S.
at 516-20; Adams v. Trs. of Univ. of North
Carolina-Wilmington, 640 F.3d 550, 560 (4th Cir. 2011)
(“[I]n demonstrating the Defendants' decision was
pretext, [plaintiff] had to prove ‘both that
the reason was false, and that discrimination was
the real reason.'”) (quoting Jiminez v. Mary
Washington Coll., 57 F.3d 369, 378 (4th Cir. 1995))
(emphasis in original).
if the defendant does not submit evidence of a legitimate
basis for its actions, the factfinder may “infer
discriminatory animus because experience has proved that in
the absence of any other explanation it is more likely than
not that those actions were bottomed on impermissible
considerations.” Furnco Const. Corp. v.
Waters, 438 U.S. 567, 579-80 (1978). And, if the
defendant fails to meet the burden of producing
“evidence which, taken as true, would
permit the conclusion that there was a
nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse action, ” then
“the court must award judgment to the plaintiff as a
matter of law.” St. Mary's Honor Ctr., 509
U.S. at 509 (emphasis in original). This is because a legal
presumption of intentional discrimination has been
established. Id. at 510 n.3; see Burdine,
450 U.S. at 255 n.8 ...