Virginia Lawyers Weekly//October 9, 2022
Virginia Lawyers Weekly//October 9, 2022//
Where a manager allegedly asked why Black girls wore wigs, said that one employee’s wig looked matted and dirty, and used the word “colored,” those alleged statements did not rise to the level of severity necessary to alter the terms and conditions of plaintiff’s employment. The employer was granted summary judgment on the hostile work environment claim.
Pearline Ruffin’s two-count complaint alleges racial discrimination and harassment and retaliation in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. The first count alleges that Anthem subjected plaintiff to an unlawful hostile work environment, and that Anthem unlawfully terminated plaintiff because of her race and subjected her to disparate treatment in her unlawful termination.
The second count alleges that Anthem retaliated against plaintiff when she complained of discrimination based on her race. Anthem has filed a motion for summary judgment.
Hostile work environment
Plaintiff filed her complaint on May 5, 2021. Based on a four-year statute of limitations, any acts contributing to plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim must have occurred on or before May 5, 2017. The only act that plaintiff alleges occurred within that four-year period is her termination, which occurred on May 8, 2017.
Thus, plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim is only timely if her termination is adequately linked to other acts she alleged contributed to her hostile work environment. Because the incidents plaintiff alleges created a hostile work environment do not involve the same type of employment actions, did not occur relatively frequently and were not perpetrated by the same managers as her termination, the continuing violation doctrine does not apply, and plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim is barred by the statute of limitations.
Even if plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim was not barred by the statute of limitations, her claim would fail on the merits. Grace Quist’s alleged use of the word “colored,” her question as to why Black girls wore wigs and her statement that one employee’s wig looked matted and dirty, while potentially offensive and insensitive, do not rise to the level of severity necessary to alter the terms and conditions of plaintiff’s employment.
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Defendant moves for summary judgment on the portion of Count One alleging race discrimination through disparate treatment. The court assumes that plaintiff has demonstrated a prima face case of disparate discipline.
Courts in the Fourth Circuit have recognized falsification of time records as a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for terminating an employee. Anthem proffered sufficient evidence that after an investigation, it terminated plaintiff, as well as 14 other employees, for timecard fraud.
Because Anthem has met its burden, the burden then shifts back to plaintiff to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that Anthem’s legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason was false, and that discrimination was the real reason for her termination. Plaintiff offers little by way of evidence or argument to meet her burden. Accordingly, Anthem’s motion for summary judgment on the portion of Count One alleging race discrimination is granted.
To establish a prima facie case of retaliation, the plaintiff must show: (1) he or she engaged in protected activity; (2) the employer took adverse action and (3) that a causal relationship exists between the protected activity and the adverse employment action. Importantly, to succeed on a claim for retaliation based on race, the protected activity must involve complaints of discrimination based upon race.
Even if plaintiff could demonstrate a prima facie case, Anthem had a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for terminating her employment, and plaintiff has not offered any evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact that Anthem’s reasons for terminating her employment was a mere pretext for retaliation. Accordingly, Anthem’s motion for summary judgment on Count Two is granted.
Defendant’s motion for summary judgment granted.
Ruffin v. Anthem Inc., Case No. 2:21-cv-251, Sept. 23, 2022. EDVA at Norfolk (Leonard). VLW 022-3-432. 20 pp.