E-Alert Case Updates
U.S. District Court Examines Standard for Employment Discrimination and Retaliation Claims
Michael Whaley and Valerie Robinson v. Lewis Schiliro
For more information, contact Paul N. Farquharson at (410) 576-4742.
In Michael Whaley and Valerie Robinson v. Lewis Schiliro, a case involving a motion for summary judgment in an employment discrimination and retaliation action, the United States District Court for the District of Delaware concluded that no reasonable factfinder could find that Plaintiffs suffered any adverse employment action, a required element of Plaintiffs’ discrimination claims, and that Plaintiffs had failed to adduce evidence sufficient to support their prima facie case of retaliation. Thus, Chief Judge Leonard P. Stark granted Defendant’s motion for summary judgment.
By way of factual background, Plaintiffs Michael Whaley (individually, "Whaley") and Valerie Robinson (individually, "Robinson") (collectively, "Plaintiffs"), who are African-American, were employed by the Delaware State Police ("DSP") from approximately 1988 to June 2011. On June 24, 2011, both Plaintiffs entered guilty pleas to criminal misdemeanor charges of theft by false pretense and official misconduct. A third DSP officer, Sergeant Lance Willey ("Willey"), a white male, entered identical guilty pleas to the same criminal charges. As part of their plea agreements, Plaintiffs and Willey agreed to “(1) pay restitution; (2) forfeit their Council on Police Training ("COPT") Certification; and (3) not be employed in any law enforcement capacity in the State of Delaware going forward.” Transcripts of the plea hearings made it clear that Plaintiffs entered into their plea agreements knowingly, and with advice of counsel.
On May 22, 2012, Plaintiffs filed the lawsuit at issue against Defendant Lewis Schiliro in his official capacity as the Secretary of the Delaware Department of Safety and Homeland Security, Division of State Police (“Defendant”). Plaintiffs’ complaint alleged that Defendant discriminated and retaliated against them on the basis of race and age in violation of their rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, and the Delaware Discrimination in Employment Act, 19 Del. C. § 71 l(a) (“DDEA”).
Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, with two (2) main arguments. First, Defendant argued that all of the discrimination claims must be dismissed due to the absence of evidence of an adverse employment action and discriminatory intent. Second, Defendant argued that all of the retaliation claims must be dismissed due to the absence of evidence of Plaintiffs engaging in protected activity and of retaliatory animus.
The court first considered Defendant’s argument that there was a lack of evidence of an adverse employment action. On this issue the court explained that Plaintiffs were required to prove “that they suffered an adverse employment action,” in order to prevail on their claims that they were discriminated against on the basis of race or age in violation of Section 1981, Title VII, and the DDEA. See Jones v. School Dist. of Phila., 198 F.3d 403, 410 (3d Cir. 1999). The court further explained that an adverse employment action “can generally be demonstrated by a hiring, firing, failure to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing a significant change in benefits." Greer v. Mondelez Global, Inc., 590 Fed. Appx. 170, 173 (3d Cir. 2014) (citing Burlington Indus., Inc. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742, 749 (1998)).
Looking to the facts of the case, the court determined that there was no evidence in the record of any adverse employment action. In support of that determination, the court noted that the undisputed evidence established that “Plaintiffs were prosecuted by the Delaware Department of Justice, were convicted, and were permitted, nonetheless, to retire with their full pension and health benefits.” The court further noted that Plaintiffs’ inability to continue working with the DSP was “due to decisions made by Plaintiffs, in response to actions taken by the prosecutors.” Under those circumstances, the court concluded that “no reasonable factfinder could find that Plaintiffs suffered an adverse employment action,” and that Defendant was entitled to summary judgment on all of Plaintiffs' race and age discrimination claims.
The court next considered Defendant’s argument that there was a lack of evidence of retaliation. On this point, the court explained that in order to prevail on their retaliation claims, Plaintiffs must demonstrate that they: “(1) engaged in protected activity, (2) suffered an adverse employment action after or contemporaneously with their protected activity, and (3) a causal nexus between the protected activity and the adverse employment action.” See Smith v. Perdue Farms, 2014 WL 1409950, at *8 (D. Del. Apr. 11, 2014).
Looking to the facts of the case, the court determined that the record was “devoid of evidence that Plaintiffs undertook any protected activity having any temporal proximity to the conduct giving rise to the allegations in the complaint.” In support of that determination, the court noted that “while Robinson had filed a discrimination lawsuit in 1999, her case was resolved in 2003, while the events alleged in the complaint occurred in 2011,” and that “Whaley never complained of discrimination while employed by the DSP and only initiated an administrative proceeding (with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) in August 2011, several months after he had left employment with the DSP.” Under those circumstances, the court concluded that Defendant was entitled to summary judgment on all of Plaintiffs’ retaliation claims. Accordingly, the court granted Defendant’s motion for summary judgment.
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