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4th Circuit revives two discrimination suits

It’s “Happy Holidays” for a couple of employment discrimination plaintiffs whose cases were revived by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in recent days.

A former Unisys Corporation employee said the trial court was too quick to pull the Twombly trigger when it dismissed her Title VII gender, age discrimination and § 1981 retaliation claims.

Pro se plaintiff Kathryn Harman’s complaint “is cumbersome and voluminous and contains numerous irrelevant allegations,” the 4th Circuit said in its Dec. 4 unpublished per curiam opinion. But the Alexandria U.S. District Court should have given her a chance to refine her claims by amending her suit.

In a case decided Dec. 7, an African-American female firefighter who sought promotion to captain sued Arlington County under Title VII. A different 4th Circuit panel reversed summary judgment for the county. The panel said plaintiff Tiffanye Wesley, a firefighter since 1994, established she was qualified for the position of captain.

She also produced sufficient evidence that the department’s reasons for not promoting her were pretext, as it emphasized “marginally relevant qualifications” and disregarded other pertinent qualifications she possessed, such as training instructor, according to the appellate court’s unpublished opinion.

But one panel member, Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III, dissented from the remand. He thought the panel majority, Judge M. Blane Michael and guest Judge Irene M. Keeley of the Northern District of West Virginia, did “little more than second-guess the Fire Chief’s decision.”

“The promotion in question should be earned at the stationhouse – not the courthouse,” Wilkinson wrote.

By Deborah Elkins

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