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Maryland Federal Court Grants Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment Regarding Race Discrimination

Sheila Bowling v. Humanim, Inc.
No. JKB-16-3298 (United States District Court for the District of Maryland, February 21, 2017)

by Marie Claire Langlois, Law Clerk
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (www.semmes.com)

Available at: http://www.mdd.uscourts.gov/recent-opinions

Ms. Bowling brought her complaint in federal court alleging that her former employer, Defendant, discriminated against her based on her race and, after she raised concerns regarding the race-relations in their office, they retaliated by firing her, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Defendant subsequently filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the court granted the motion in part, and denied it in part.

Ms. Bowling worked for the Defendant for only six (6) months as Director of Human Resources. During that time, she observed and filed at least three (3) complaints alleging discriminatory conduct by a white employee to a black employee. In April of 2015, Ms. Bowling alleges to have raised concerns on discriminatory discipline procedures in a conference call with three (3) white executives. Six (6) days after the conference call, she was placed on a Performance Improvement Plan, and was fired only ten (10) days after that.

To survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint must state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, with sufficient factual allegations, which, when accepted as true in favor of the plaintiff, create an inference above mere plausibility or speculation. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678–79 (2009). Ms. Bowling’s complaint alleged both discrimination and retaliation.

A claim for discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 must allege that because of the employee’s race, the employer failed to hire her, discharged her, discriminated against her with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, or limited, segregated, or classified the employee in any way that would tend to deprive her of employment opportunities or affect her status as an employee. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a) (2015). While the court denied the Defendant’s motion for the retaliation claim (they found sufficient facts alleged to support Ms. Bowling was fired for raising her concerns about race-relations in the office, which is a protected activity under § 1981), they did not believe that Ms. Bowling was retaliated against because of her race. Therefore, the only facts showing Ms. Bowling was personally discriminated against for her race, was her allegation that she did not receive training similar to her white predecessor.

To succeed on this discrimination claim, the plaintiff must show (1) that she is a member of a protected class, (2) the employer offered training to its employees, (3) the employee was eligible for such training, and (4) the employee was denied training under circumstances allowing one to infer discriminatory intent on the part of the employer. Thompson v. Potomac Elec. Power Co., 312 F.3d 645, 649­–50 (4th Cir. 2002). While Ms. Bowling did plead facts sufficient to support the first two factors, and while Ms. Bowling plead facts creating an inference that other employees may have been discriminated against because of their race, the Court found that Ms. Bowling had failed to provide any support that she was discriminated against for not receiving training, nor that she would have been eligible for any such training.

The Court suggested that a formal training policy, information on her and her predecessor’s respective backgrounds, or information about the relevancy of the training to her job requirements, may have been sufficient to create an inference that she was eligible for the same training as her predecessor. This would have provided facts sufficient to proceed regarding the third factor. But the Court still saw no support from which to conclude that denial of training to Ms. Bowling was due to her race. Ms. Bowling’s allegations that her employer had discriminated against other employees did not build a foundation for discrimination against Ms. Bowling herself.