United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
Glen E. Conrad Chief United States District Judge
Subrenna Ross filed the instant action pursuant to Title VII
of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e
et seq., and the Age Discrimination in Employment
Act, 29 U.S.C. §621, et seq. This matter is
currently before the court on defendant's motion for
summary judgment. For the reasons stated, the motion will be
denied in part and granted in part.
and Procedural Background
following facts are either undisputed, or, where disputed,
are presented in the light most favorable to Ross. See
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255
Subrenna Ross is a 50-year-old African-American woman. She
has been employed with the Franklin County Board of Public
Welfare (the "Board") and Department of Social
Services (the "Department") since July of 1994.
After several years, Ross was promoted to the position of
self-sufficiency supervisor. She was the only
African-American supervisor, and she kept the
self-sufficiency supervisor position until December 3, 2013,
when she was demoted to self-sufficiency worker. Ross was
reinstated to the position of self-sufficiency supervisor in
Board's Human Resources Manual provides for three types
of office offenses: Group I, the least severe, Group II, and
Group III, the most severe. See Administrative/Human
Resources Manual for LDSS, Docket No. 91-5 at 41. The policy
sets out the various disciplinary procedures for each type of
offense. Id. at 46-47. Two Group II offenses within
a three-year time period will result in a written notice and
termination. A Group III offense will result in |
termination. Id. The supervisor may take into
account relevant mitigating factors in determining the
disciplinary action to take. Id.
April of 2011, the Board hired Deborah Powell to serve as
director of the Department. At that time, the majority of the
employees were Caucasian. Powell Dep. 120:7-8, Docket No.
91-1. During Powell's tenure, many of the older workers
left. Ross alleges that they were replaced with younger
workers. Ross Dep. 30:18-24, Docket No. 91-4. Powell was
Ross' direct supervisor until November 1, 2013, when the
Board promoted Anita Turner to the position of assistant
director. Powell Dep. 10:23-15:17. Once Turner took this
position, Turner supervised Ross.
March of 2013, Powell issued Ross a Group II Written Notice,
suspending Ross for four days. The Written Notice indicates
that Ross directed an employee to ignore certain policies in
relation to a benefits program administered by the
Department. See LDSS Written Notice Form March 3, 2013,
Docket No. 91-2 at 48. On October 5, 2013, Ross married a
Caucasian man. Powell attended the wedding and knew prior to
the wedding that Ross' husband is Caucasian. Ross Dep.
October 18, 2013, Franklin County sponsored an employee
appreciation luncheon, to which Board employees were invited.
A group of employees from a unit Ross did not supervise went
to the luncheon, which was located off-site, leaving their
unit unstaffed. When the employees returned to the building,
Ross told them that they should not have left their unit I
unstaffed. Powell Dep. 40:1-16. According to Powell, there is
no policy that a unit cannot leave together, provided there
is coverage in the building. Id. 39:8-16. Employees
later expressed to their supervisors that they felt that Ross
had handled the situation inappropriately. Id.
took leave for her honeymoon in early November. At some point
in time, Powell I met with the other Department supervisors.
Typically, these meetings included Ross. Powell I Dep.
55:11-22. At this meeting, the supervisors informed Powell
that their employees had complained about Ross' behavior
in regards to the county luncheon. Powell then instructed the
supervisors to have employees contact Powell directly with
any complaints. Id. at 54:15-19.
November 7, 2013, Powell received several complaints
regarding Ross' treatment of other employees.
Id. 43:6-22. Powell initiated a formal inquiry into
these complaints, following up with the complaining employees
personally. Id. 53:5-14. On November 15, 2013,
Powell suspended Ross so that she could complete the
investigation. Id. 31:6-8. During this inquiry,
Powell received information from at least ten different
employees regarding Ross and the luncheon incident. See
Docket No. 91-2 at 1-25. Written emails to Powell indicate
that employees "felt like Subrenna was greatly stepping
over her boundaries . . . [and] was very
unprofessional." See Docket No. 92-2 at 2. Many
employees expressed that they were intimidated by Ross and
asked Powell not to disclose their complaints for fear of
backlash from Ross. Id. at 5.
one employee, Beulah Faye Brown, stated that she was coerced
to "go against Subrenna to try to get her to lose her
job." Brown Dep. 9:22-24, Docket No. 103-5. Brown
testified that Kathleen Miles, a supervisor, tried to tell
Brown what to say about Ross. Id. 12:17- 19. Brown
further testified that Miles attempted to coerce others to
speak poorly about plaintiff, but they refused to do so. Id.,
14:20-23. Defendant notes that Brown conceded that when she
first | met Ross, Brown felt intimidated by her. Id.
41:1-2. However, Brown also testified that she felt
intimidated by Ross because of the things Miles said about
Ross. Id. 41:4-24.
Doss, another employee at the Department, declared that she
never experienced issues with Ross while they worked
together, nor could she recall others complaining about Ross
or feeling like they were intimidated by her. Dec. of Thelma
Lane Doss, Docket No. 103-7. Powell testified that Doss
"relayed to me that she was forced to partake in
[watching plaintiffs wedding video]." Powell Dep.
50:9-16. Doss later asserted that she does "not recall
watching Ross' wedding video . . . [or] any issues
surrounding a wedding video." Docket No. 103-7. An
African-American employee supervised by Ross testified that
she had no problems with Ross. Arlaine Bryant Dep. 6:7-8,
Docket No. 91-8. Powell also conceded that she received no
complaints about Ross from any African-American employees.
Powell Dep. 50:22-51:1.
asserts that after she returned from her honeymoon,
"everything just changed." Ross Dep. 9:22. For
example, Ross testified that there was an accusation that
Ross kept her door to her office closed. Other Caucasian
supervisors would keep their door closed and not hear
complaints I about it. Ross Dep. 16:1-9. Ross also testified
that she heard, from another employee, Maryanna Haines, that
Brown had called Ross an "angry black woman."
Id. 119:6-20. Ross further recalled a conversation
she had with Linda Nesbit, another Department employee, in
which Nesbit asked why Ross had been with the Department for
so long without getting promoted. Ross then pointed to her
skin. Ross testified that Nesbit's response was