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Raines v. American Federation of Teachers - Maryland Professional Employees Council

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 18, 2019



          A. David Copperthite, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Defendants, American Federation of Teachers - Maryland Professional Employees Council, AFL-CIO Local 6197 ("MPEC"), Jerry Smith, Andrea Buie-Branam, Ronny Myers, Simeon Williams, and Cedric Brown, move this Court to dismiss the First Amended Complaint of Plaintiff, Jacquelyn Raines, for racial discrimination and retaliation brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981, gender discrimination and retaliation brought pursuant to the Maryland Equal Pay Act ("MEPA"), Md. Code, Lab. & Empl. §§ 3-301-309, and wrongful termination (the "Motion to Dismiss") (ECF No, 22).[1] After considering the Motion to Dismiss and the responses thereto (ECF Nos. 23, 24), the Court finds that no hearing is necessary. See Loc.R. 105.6 (D.Md. 2018). For the reasons stated herein, the Court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part Defendants' Motion to Dismiss.


         When reviewing a motion to dismiss, this Court accepts as true the facts alleged in the challenged complaint. See Aziz v. Alcolac, Inc., 658 F.3d 388, 390 (4th Cir. 2011). MPEC is a union covering professional state employees. ECF No. 20 at 3, ¶ 14; ECF No. 22-1 at 1. In December 2016, MPEC hired Plaintiff, an African-American woman, as a Field Coordinator and Labor Representative. ECF No. 20 at 3, ¶ 14. Plaintiffs Field Coordinator contract was effective from December 5, 2016, through December 4, 2018, and she received an annual salary for that position of $75, 000. Id at 5, 12, ¶¶ 24, 64.

         When Plaintiff began her employment with MPEC Martin Guinane, a white male, was the Executive Director. Id. at 4, ¶ 15. While serving as MPEC's Executive Director, Mr. Guinane (like former MPEC Executive Directors) also performed tasks as the Executive Director of AFT-Healthcare Maryland ("AFT"), another union. Id. at 7-8, ¶¶ 37, 39-40. Most of Mr. Guinane's tasks were in his capacity as Executive Director of MPEC, and many of his duties for AFT overlapped with his responsibilities for MPEC and could be performed simultaneously. Id. at 7-9, ¶¶ 37-47. MPEC and AFT also shared the same office space and materials, and MPEC paid both unions' bills while they shared an Executive Director, with occasional forty percent reimbursement from AFT. Id. at 9, ¶ 44. Prior to his December 2017 resignation, Mr. Guinane received an annual salary of $120, 000, with MPEC contributing $72, 000 and AFT contributing $48, 000. Id. at 5, 12, ¶¶ 25, 62-64. Mr. Guinane never performed tasks beyond those traditionally attributed to an Executive Director. Id. at 9-10, ¶¶ 47, 51-52. While it is unclear when MPEC and AFT "severed ties, " they continued to occupy the same office space, and the two unions decided to implement separate Executive Director positions in or about February 2018. Id. at 11- 12, ¶¶ 55-66, 61.

         On April 1, 2018, the President of MPEC's board, Jerry Smith, told Plaintiff that he wanted her to fill the role of MPEC's Interim Executive Director and eventually be the permanent Executive Director. Id. at 11, ¶ 55, 57. Plaintiffs contract for the Interim Executive Director position was effective from April 6, 2018, through July 31, 2018; by its terms, the contract automatically extended beyond July 31, 2018, if Plaintiff continued in MPEC's employment. Id. at 6, ¶¶ 27-29.

         At the April 1 meeting, Defendant Smith offered her a $75, 000 salary for the Interim Executive Director position. Id. at 11, ¶ 57. This was the same salary to which she was already entitled as a Field Coordinator, id., and Plaintiff was still performing her original Field Coordinator duties in addition to a variety of new tasks as Interim Executive Director. Id. at 10, ¶ 50. After consideration, on April 2, 2018, Plaintiff accepted the Interim Executive Director position via email, but rejected the proposed salary because it was much less than the $120, 000 Mr. Guinane received. Id. at 11-12, ¶¶ 57-62. Defendant Smith responded via email that MPEC only contributed $72, 000 to Mr. Guinane's salary, but Plaintiff responded that she had seen MPEC's 2017 budget, which indicated that Mr. Guinane would continue to receive $120, 000 from MPEC after AFT was no longer contributing to his salary. Id. at 12, ¶¶ 63-64. During this salary conversation, Defendant Smith justified Plaintiffs lower salary by stating that other members of the hiring committee for the Executive Director positions did not want her in the position. Id. at 13, ¶ 67. Defendant Smith told Plaintiff via email that the reason the other members of the committee wanted to offer Plaintiff a lower salary was "[t]hey wanted the white man" in the Executive Director position. Id.

         As Interim Executive Director, Plaintiff continued to perform her original Field Coordinator duties while also handling financial, employment, human resources, and administrative tasks. Id. at 10, ¶ 50. By all accounts, Plaintiff performed her duties satisfactorily, and was never accused of deficient job performance or improper workplace conduct. Id. at 7, 18, 29 ¶¶ 34, 95, 166. Although MPEC and AFT no longer officially employed the same Executive Director, Plaintiff had to perform business tasks for AFT on multiple occasions. Id. at 9, ¶ 46, 48. During the course of her duties, Plaintiff discovered that MPEC and AFT's funds were co-mingled and had been for years, as a result of previous Executive Directors serving both unions. Id. at 7, ¶¶ 36-37. Furthermore, in late October or early November 2018, Plaintiff discovered that AFT's 401(k) contributions and fees were withdrawn from MPEC's bank account Id. at 10-11, ¶ 54. The co-mingling of the accounts occurred while Mr. Guinane was Executive Director, and Plaintiff reported the issue to the MPEC Board. Id. at 10-11, ¶¶ 53-54.

         Disagreement regarding Plaintiffs salary for the Executive Director position continued through May 2018. Id. at 13-14, ¶¶ 67-72. Plaintiff continued to dispute the lower salary offers as racially and gender discriminatory. Id. at 13-14, ¶ 70. In May 2018, the MPEC Board tabled the salary discussion until they could reach a permanent agreement; while the discussion was tabled, the Board gave Plaintiff a stipend of $1, 666.00 per month for the Interim Executive Director position. Id. at 14, ¶ 72. After the May 2018 meeting, Plaintiff spoke to two Board members Jewel Freeman-Scott and Ricky Carpenter about the decision to pay her a lower salary than Mr. Guinane, and both members responded that it was because she is "a black woman." Id. at 14, ¶¶ 73-74. On July 26, 2018, the MPEC Board approved a proposal that Plaintiff would continue to receive the $75, 000 Field Coordinator salary and the $1, 666.00 per month stipend. Id. at 15, ¶¶ 75-76. At the same time, however, instead of installing Plaintiff as the permanent Executive Director, the Board voted to change her title from "Interim" to "Acting" Executive Director, Id. at 15, ¶ 77. When Plaintiff asked Ms. Freeman-Scott why she was given the "Acting" title, she responded, "I feel like they just don't want to see a black woman with that title." Id. at 15, ¶ 78.

         On July 31, 2018, Plaintiff sent Defendant Smith an email titled "Gender & Race Discrimination." Id. at 15, ¶ 79. In the email, Plaintiff accused the Board of racial and gender bias and discrimination as it related to her title and compensation. Id. During the ensuing discussion, Plaintiff emphasized that she was being paid less than her white, male predecessor for the same tasks and that she had maintained from the beginning of the salary discussions that the Board's behavior regarding her title and compensation was discriminatory. Id. at 15-17, ¶¶ 79-84. Despite Plaintiff pressing the issue, at each of the September 20, 2018, October 18, 2018, and November 8, 2018 MPEC Board meetings, the Board decided to "table" discussions of Plaintiffs title and salary indefinitely, until Defendant Smith informed Plaintiff on November 9, 2018, that the Board would not discuss her contract until January 2019. Id. at 17-18, ¶¶ 89-93.

         During the course of these salary conversations, Plaintiff was supervising other employees as Interim Executive Director. Felicia Hawkins, an employee paid jointly by AFT and MPEC through a partnership program, was assigned by an AFT project to be a union organizer for MPEC. Id. at 19, ¶¶ 97-98. At some point after Ms. Hawkins' hiring but before late June 2018, Ms. Hawkins and Defendant Smith had a sexual relationship. Id. at 19, ¶¶ 99-100. At the end of July 2018, Defendant Smith asked Plaintiff to put Ms. Hawkins on the permanent MPEC payroll after the partnership program with AFT ended. Id. at 19-20, ¶ 101. Plaintiff proposed a salary for Ms. Hawkins of $52, 000, but Defendant Smith demanded that Ms. Hawkins receive $60, 000, over Plaintiffs strong objections. Id. at 20, ¶¶ 101-03. On September 25, 2018, Defendants Smith and Buie-Branam confronted Plaintiff and her staff about Ms. Hawkins, contending that Plaintiff had been tracking Ms. Hawkins when she was missing work. Id. at 20-21, ¶¶ 106-107. After Plaintiff questioned Defendants Smith and Buie-Branam about their interrogation methods, Defendant Smith threatened to fire Plaintiff. Id. at 21, ¶¶ 108-11. Despite Ms. Hawkins frequently missing work and her subpar job performance, Plaintiff, as instructed by Defendant Smith, issued Ms. Hawkins' new contract on September 29, 2018, which Ms. Hawkins rejected because she wanted to receive a variety of additional benefits beyond what other MPEC employees received. Id. at 20, 22 ¶ 104, 114-15. Plaintiff rejected Ms. Hawkins' demands. Id. at 22, ¶ 116. On November 9, 2018, Defendants Smith and Buie-Branam rewrote the MPEC standard union organizer contract to create a specific contract for Ms. Hawkins that paid her additional benefits over what other employees received and drastically lowered the performance metrics and standards Ms. Hawkins would need to "meet expectations" in her role. Id. at 24-25, ¶¶ 133-37.

         Also on November 9, 2018, after Defendant Smith told Plaintiff the Board would not review her Interim Executive Director contract until January, Defendant Smith told Plaintiff at a staff meeting that Ms. Hawkins would continue to work on assignment in the same agency in which he worked, despite it being Plaintiff s job to make these assignments. Id. at 22-23, ¶¶ 119- 23. After the staff meeting, Defendants Smith and Buie-Branam met with Plaintiff alone; during which they chastised her both for challenging Defendant's Smith's authority and for trying to continue to discuss her salary with the Board. Id. at 23, ¶¶ 125-27. Defendant Smith then made his second threat to terminate Plaintiff, emphasizing that he would not need the rest of the Board's permission to do so. Id. at 24, ¶ 130. On December 17, 2018, Defendant Buie-Branam sent Plaintiff a copy of the contract she and Defendant Smith had created for Ms. Hawkins. Id. at 24, ¶ 134. Because she felt that Ms. Hawkins' contract terms were not in the best interest of MPEC union members, Plaintiff sent the contract to MPEC s legal counsel on January 7, 2019, expressing that the contract was created from a conflict of interest, and it was legal counsel's responsibility to prepare employment contracts. Id. at 25, ¶¶ 137-38. On January 9, 2019, Defendants Smith and Buie-Branam again met with Plaintiff alone to ask why she had not signed Ms. Hawkins contract, and then to scold her for sending it to legal counsel for review. Id. at 27, ¶¶ 147-49. Plaintiff expressed that the changes to the contract were "a blatant conflict of interest when this organization is hurting for members and money, " and Defendant Smith responded by trying to suspend Plaintiff, before being instructed to leave by another Board member over the phone. Id at 27, ¶¶ 150-55.

         On February 1, 2019, Defendant Smith and Mr. Carpenter gave Plaintiff a sixty-day notice of termination. Id. at 28, ¶ 159. Plaintiffs last day in MPEC's office was February 15, 2019, and her sixty-day notice period expired on April 1, 2019. Id. at 29, ¶ 163. MPEC's legal counsel confirmed that Plaintiff was not terminated for cause. Id. at 29, ¶ 165. After Plaintiffs termination from MPEC, Mr. Guinane resumed the role of Executive Director on a part-time, temporary basis of twenty hours per week for $7, 500 per month (equating $90, 000 annually). Id.


         On April 30, 2019, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit against Defendants, seeking declarations that Defendants failed to comply with relevant laws, an injunction instructing Defendants to comply with relevant laws, an award of unpaid wages and actual, liquidated, and punitive damages, and attorneys' fees and costs (ECF No. I).[2] On July 1, 2019, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim (ECF No. 16). Two days later, on July 3, 2019, Plaintiff filed a motion for leave to file a First Amended Complaint (ECF No. 17), which the Court granted on July 8, 2019 (ECF No. 18).[3]

         On July 22, 2019, Plaintiff filed a First Amended Complaint (ECF No. 20). On August 5, 2019, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss the amended complaint for failure to state a claim (ECF No, 22). On August 13, 2019, Plaintiff opposed the Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 23), and on August 27, 2019, Defendant filed a reply (ECF No. 24). Accordingly, the Motion to Dismiss is fully briefed.


         Defendants argue that Plaintiffs § 1981 claims for racial discrimination and retaliation, Maryland Equal Pay Act claims for gender discrimination and retaliation, and wrongful discharge claims fail to state a claim pursuant to Fed.R, Civ.P. 12(b)(6).[4] ECF No. 22 at 1.

         A. Standard of Review for Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim

         The purpose of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is to test the sufficiency of a complaint not to "resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses." King v. Rubenstein, 825 F.3d 206, 214 (4th Cir. 2016) (quoting Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999)). A complaint must contain "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Facial plausibility exists "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. An inference of a mere possibility of misconduct is not sufficient to support a plausible claim. Id. at 679. As stated in Twombly, "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." 550 U.S. at 555. "A pleading that offers 'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.' Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders 'naked assertions' devoid of 'further factual enhancement.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (internal citations omitted). Although when considering a motion to dismiss a court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint, this principle does not apply to legal conclusions couched as factual allegations. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         B. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

         In their Motion, Defendants seek to dismiss all claims against them. The Court will address each Count in turn.

         1. ยง 1981 Racial Discrimination and Retaliation ...

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