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School Board Wins Support Tech’s Job Bias Suit

The Virginia Beach School Board wins summary judgment in this Title VII suit filed by a female African-American cus­tomer support technician who alleges claims for hostile work environment, dis­parate treatment and retaliation; plain­tiff, who resigned, was not constructively discharged and employer has provided legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for why she was required to attend per­formance improvement meetings, told she would have limited job opportunities without knowing Microsoft Word, and required to switch work assignments to complete a high volume of support tick­ets.

Hostile environment

Plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim is based on 1) the requirement that plaintiff participate in Process Improve­ment Meetings; 2) comments made by the information technology director to plain­tiff during an Oct. 4, 2013 meeting; 3) the assignment of 175 service desk tickets to plaintiff; 4) the removal of plaintiff from a “Parent Portal Video” assignment; and 5) the Oct. 25, 2013, email from the help desk administrative coordinator that criticized plaintiff’s work performance and assigned plaintiff additional tasks. Plaintiff has not submitted anything more than mere speculation to support her assertions.

Plaintiff seems to infer that her selec­tion for PI meetings was racially motivat­ed. She speculates that the IT director’s comments – that plaintiff would only be qualified to work as a bus driver, kitch­en staff or custodian if she lacked Mi­crosoft Word knowledge – was “clearly race-based” and intended to humiliate her. Plaintiff’s speculation lacks eviden­tiary support and she admits the IT di­rector made no specific racial references during the Oct. 4, 2013 meeting. In fact, plaintiff admits neither the IT director nor any other supervisor ever referenced plaintiff’s race during her employment. With respect to the job assignment of the 175 service desk tickets, plaintiff simply infers, based on her belief that the 175 service desk tickets were previously as­signed to a Caucasian worker without strict deadlines, that race factored into the assignment.

Even if plaintiff could establish that defendant’s actions were racially moti­vated, she cannot establish that such actions were sufficiently severe or perva­sive. Plaintiff’s PI meetings and the help desk coordinator’s criticism can properly be characterized as actions taken in re­sponse to job performance concerns. Even if plaintiff perceived the IT director’s comments to be offensive, the comments constituted an isolated incident that may have resulted in bruised or wounded feel­ings, but lacked the level of seriousness necessary to lead to a discriminatory change in the terms and conditions of plaintiff’s employment.

The court concludes plaintiff has not demonstrated the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact as to her hostile work environment claim, and employer is entitled to summary judgment on the claim.

Adverse action

Turning to plaintiff’s disparate treat­ment claim, the court concludes plaintiff has not sufficiently established that she suffered an adverse employment action. This claim, like her hostile work environ­ment claim, is based on her PI meetings, the help desk coordinator’s criticisms, the IT director’s comments during the Oct. 4, 2013, meeting and job assignment issues. Plaintiff has not shown that any of these actions altered the terms or conditions of her employment.

The help desk coordinator has ex­plained that a Caucasian employee also was required to attend Performance Im­provement meetings, and plaintiff was one of several individuals who met with the IT director in order to address com­plaints raised by a coworker. The direc­tor made the comments about limited job opportunities in response to plaintiff’s statement that she was not proficient in Microsoft Word.

Defendant asserted that plaintiff re­ceived the assignment of the 175 service desk tickets because the chief informa­tion officer instructed the data operations director to complete the tickets as soon as possible, plaintiff had the capability and capacity to successfully complete the requests, plaintiff previously had com­pleted this type of grade change and ex­pungement request and she could be tem­porarily removed from the lower-priority Parent Portal Video assignment as an accommodation for the new assignment.

Plaintiff may disagree with defen­dant’s stated reasons for these actions, but such disagreement is not enough to create a genuine issue of material fact re­garding pretext.

Finally, assuming plaintiff could es­tablish a prima facie case of retaliation, employer nevertheless would be entitled to summary judgment. Defendant has ar­ticulated legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for its actions and plaintiff has not provided sufficient evidence to show that defendant’s stated reasons are pre­text for retaliation.

Summary judgment for employer.

Lewis v. School Board of the City of Va. Beach (Davis) No. 2:15cv321, Sept. 12, 2016; USDC at Norfolk, Va.; Wanda E. Lewis, pro se; Ann K. Sullivan for defen­dant. VLW 016-3-436, 24 pp.

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