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Claims of Discrimination and Retaliation Deemed Properly Dismissed by Fourth Circuit

David Brandford v. Shannon-Baum Signs, Inc.
Case No.: 12-2116 (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, April 4, 2013)

by Eric M. Leppo, Associate
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (

In this recently issued opinion from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the Court affirmed the U.S. District Court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s claims that he was discriminated against and retaliated against in violation of the American with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (“Title VII”).

The Plaintiff, David Brandford, filed suit against his former employer, Shannon-Baum Signs, Inc. alleging that that Shannon-Baum discriminated and retaliated against him in violation of the ADA (42 U.S.C.A. §§ 12101-12213), the ADEA (29 U.S.C. §§ 621-634 (2006)), and Title VII (42 U.S.C.A. §§ 2000e to 2000e-17). The Defendant moved for dismissal of Plaintiff’s case claiming Mr. Brandford failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12 (b)(6). Defendant argued that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies with regard to his ADEA claims, and could not make a prima facie case on his remaining claims.

The Fourth Circuit first noted that while the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland referred to FED. R. 12 (b)(6) throughout its opinion, the decision effectively treated Defendant’s motion as one for summary judgment. The Court held there was no error in doing so under the circumstances, citing Evans v. Techs. Applications & Serv. Co., 80 F.3d 954, 961 (4th Cir. 1996). (“[T]he nonmoving party cannot complain that summary judgment was granted without discovery unless that party had made an attempt to oppose the motion on the grounds that more time was needed for discovery or moved for a continuance to permit discovery before the district court ruled.”).

The Fourth Circuit then affirmed the District Court’s decision that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies in regard to the ADEA age discrimination claims. Under the ADEA, a charge of discrimination must be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) prior to the filing of any suit. While Mr. Brandford received a “right to sue” letter from the EEOC on his disability discrimination claims, no review was made regarding his age discrimination claim, and therefore, it was properly dismissed by the trial court.

As to the disability discrimination and hostile work environment claims, the Fourth Circuit reviewed the matter to determine whether Mr. Brandford did in fact make out a case of discrimination. The Fourth Circuit noted that there was no direct evidence of discrimination, but in such situations a Plaintiff may proceed under the Supreme Court’s ‘pretext’ framework. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973).

Under the pretext framework of McDonnell Douglas, an employee can demonstrate that the employer’s proffered permissible reason for taking an adverse employment action is actually a pretext for discrimination. This is only the case, however, when the Plaintiff first establishes a prima facie case of discrimination. The Court quoted “It is well established that, even under the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting scheme, the ultimate burden of persuasion remains on the plaintiff at all times.” Tex. Dep’t of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253 (1981).

The Court then affirmed the District Court’s ruling that Mr. Brandford’s claims of discriminatory discharge under the ADA and hostile work environment, failed to demonstrate the requisite prima facie case of discrimination. As such, the Court held that his case was properly dismissed without prejudice.