United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Abingdon Division
By: James P. Jones United States District Judge Melvin E. Williams, Mel Williams PLC, Roanoke, Virginia, for Plaintiff; Edward G. Stout, Curcio & Stout, PC, Bristol, Virginia, for Defendant James W. Anderson; Henry S. Keuling-Stout, Keuling-Stout, P.C., Big Stone Gap, Virginia, and A. Benton Chafin, Jr., Chafin Law Firm, P.C., Lebanon, Virginia, for Defendants Russell County (Virginia) Department of Social Services and Board of the Russell County (Virginia) Department of Social Services.
OPINION AND ORDER
James P. Jones United States District Judge
In this employment discrimination case filed by a governmental employee against her supervisor, the agency, and the agency’s board, the defendants have moved for summary judgment. The plaintiff opposes summary judgment on the ground that material disputes of fact exist precluding such judgment. The motions have been briefed, argued, and are ripe for decision. For the reasons explained below, I will enter summary judgment on behalf of the defendants.
The plaintiff, Pam Kincaid, was hired by the Russell County, Virginia, Department of Social Services (“RCDSS”) as a child protective services (“CPS”) worker in June of 2005. In October of 2011, she was promoted to the position of a CPS supervisor. Because she was in a new job with increased responsibility, Kincaid was placed on probationary status during her first year as a CPS supervisor. In January of 2012, RCDSS hired defendant James W. Anderson as its new director. Like the plaintiff, Anderson was put on probationary status during his first year as director. Anderson was tasked with addressing problems that were occurring within the agency, which was described to him by the RCDSS citizen board (the “Board”) as being “highly dysfunctional.” While Anderson was responsible for managing RCDSS, he was not empowered to hire or fire employees, but could make recommendations to the Board regarding the employment of RCDSS personnel.
Kincaid and Anderson did not have a good working relationship. In the response to the agency’s Motion for Summary Judgment,  the plaintiff’s attorney lists more than 35 specific interactions between Kincaid and Anderson that the lawyer claims show that she was harassed and discriminated against. For example,  it is alleged that in January of 2012, Anderson accused her of illegally “padding” a RCDSS’s employee’s time, and criticized her use of special duty leave, which Anderson said was both prohibited by RCDSS and illegal. This accusation occurred during a supervisory staff meeting. That same month, Anderson “verbally chastised” the plaintiff for not informing the front desk attendant that she would be taking an extended lunch. Anderson subsequently told the plaintiff that he had been hired for the purpose of firing people whom the Board did not like, and that the Board did not like the plaintiff.
At another staff meeting, it is claimed that Anderson criticized Kincaid over her purported noncompliance with RCDSS policies. He would later comment to the plaintiff that he was going to turn her into a “good southern woman” and that she had previously worked in a “cat house.” He also repeatedly used the phrase “spoken like a true Catholic” in reference to the plaintiff, and once asked how she could walk while wearing “hooker heels.”
The plaintiff’s attorney also complains about items that Anderson posted to his personal Facebook account, which it is surmised were directed toward her. Specifically, he cites to one instance where Anderson quoted Matthew 6:24, a Bible verse that discusses the fact that no man can serve two masters. Anderson supposedly told the plaintiff that this post referred to her relationship with Carol Brunty, the prior director of RCDSS, who still worked for the agency. The plaintiff inferred that this post was directing her to not speak to Brunty. Another Facebook post from Anderson indicated that he still had “a few Darth Maul’s left to conquer” at RCDSS.
The plaintiff’s attorney also claims that Anderson criticized Kincaid’s speech, made negative insinuations toward her in intra-office emails, and encouraged coworkers to file complaints against her.
In his affidavit in support of his Motion for Summary Judgment, Anderson asserts that the plaintiff was a problematic employee of RCDSS. He characterizes her as being argumentative, impulsive, and abrupt, and further says that she failed to follow agency guidelines. Anderson supports his claims with a number of specific examples. Notably, Anderson cites to a Quality Management Review (“QMR”) that was performed to assess RCDSS. As part of this QMR, numerous RCDSS staff and other relevant community members (such as court employees and members of law enforcement) were surveyed to assess the agency. Anderson argues that the QMR results confirm that the plaintiff was a subpar CPS supervisor, and that criticism of her was warranted.
On or around February 21, 2012, two RCDSS employees reported to Anderson that the plaintiff had lied about CPS cases while under oath. A criminal investigation of the plaintiff ensued, but that investigation did not reveal that the plaintiff had engaged in any wrongdoing.
The plaintiff took approved medical leave from May 15, 2012, until May 31, 2012.
On May 15, 2012, the Board held a regular meeting. At this meeting, Anderson recommended that the plaintiff’s employment be terminated. It is alleged that some Board members were surprised by this recommendation because Anderson had previously reported a positive relationship with the plaintiff.
Anderson’s recommendation to the Board was prompted, at least in part, by a verbal confrontation between Kinciad and a local attorney. Anderson also said that multiple employees had left RCDSS because of the plaintiff, and that several citizens and local attorneys had complained about her conduct. In response to Anderson’s allegations, the Board discussed the issues that he had raised, and ultimately decided to demote the plaintiff from her supervisor position to her original position as a CPS worker. The Board appointed another female to perform the supervisory duties on an interim basis.
After returning from her medical leave, the plaintiff requested a meeting with the Board to discuss her demotion. She ultimately met with the Board on July 17, 2012, during one of its regular meetings. After discussing the issue, the Board reinstated the plaintiff to her supervisory position by a vote of three to one.
Anderson resigned in September of 2013. The plaintiff subsequently filed the present action in this court on May 14, 2014.
In an earlier ruling, I dismissed all of the claims against RCDSS and the Board that were based on the Family Medical Leave Act, state law, or alleged violations of the plaintiff’s due process rights. (Op. & Order, June 8, 2015, ECF No. 51). Accordingly, the only claims that remain pending against RCDSS and the Board are for alleged violations of Title VII. The state law and due process claims continue against Anderson.
Summary judgment is appropriate when “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). To raise a genuine issue of material fact sufficient to avoid summary judgment, the evidence must be “such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In making this determination, “the court is required to view the facts ...