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Plaintiff Fails to Establish Prima Facie Discrimination Case After Alleging Retaliation

Gregory Gibson v. Marjack Co., Inc.
Civil Action No. AW-08-3424 (U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, June 9, 2010)
By Carrie A. Scrufari, Summer Associate
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (

The United States District Court for the District of Maryland granted Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment because it found no dispute of material fact supporting Plaintiff’s claim that he was terminated from the company in retaliation.

Plaintiff Gregory Gibson worked for Marjack Company for a year before he was terminated. Gibson participated in an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) investigation involving the sexual harassment claims of another employee because Gibson witnessed the sexual harassment. Three months after Gibson was interviewed for the EEOC investigation, he was fired from Marjack for mismanaging company invoices.

After being terminated, Gibson filed an EEOC Complaint against Marjack. The Complaint alleged that the company violated § 704(a) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by retaliating against him for participating in protected activity. The EEOC Director found Marjack had violated the statute, and Gibson thus sued, alleging retaliation. Judge Alexander Williams granted Marjack’s Motion for Summary Judgment because he found there was no genuine issue as to any material fact.

In order to prevail on his retaliation claim, Gibson must first establish a prima facie case by proving: 1) He participated in or opposed a protective activity under § 704(a); 2) Marjack took adverse action against him; and 3) A causal connection existed between Gibson’s protected activity and Marjack’s adverse employment action. See McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 11 U.S. 792, 802 (1973).

While Gibson did participate in protected activity under § 704 (a) because he testified and assisted in the EEOC investigation regarding his co-worker’s sexual harassment claims, and Marjack did take adverse action against him by terminating him, he still cannot establish his prima facie case. The Court held that Gibson was unable to establish that Marjack knew Gibson was ever involved in the EEOC sexual harassment investigation. The Fourth Circuit has held that an employer must have knowledge that the employee engaged in a protected activity because an employer cannot retaliate against something of which he or she is not aware. See Causey v. Balog, 162 F.3d 795, 803–04 (4th Cir. 1998). Because Gibson failed to establish his employer knew of his protected activities, Gibson failed to establish a prima facie case of retaliation.

Assuming arguendo that Gibson could establish his prima facie case, his retaliation claim still fails because the burden would then shift to the employer to provide a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the termination. Marjack met this burden because it had provided uncontroverted evidence that Gibson mismanaged company invoices when he modified invoices without authorization to do so.

Once the employer articulates a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the action, the burden thus shifts back to the employee to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the employer’s reason was pretextual. Gibson did not rely on any specific facts or extrinsic evidence to establish pretext. Rather, he relied on his own belief that his employer lied about the real reason for his termination. Without more, the Court held Gibson failed to prove pretext by a preponderance of the evidence.

The Court thus held that Gibson failed to establish a prima facie case of retaliation, and Gibson also failed to rebut Marjack’s contention that the termination was legitimate and for nondiscriminatory reasons. As a result, the Court granted Marjack’s Motion for Summary Judgment on Gibson’s retaliation claim.