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Brown v. City of Richmond School Board

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

May 4, 2017

SANDRA W. BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF RICHMOND SCHOOL BOARD, Defendant.

          OPINION

          John A. Gibney, Jr. United States District Judge.

         The City of Richmond School Board, doing business as Richmond Public Schools ("RPS"), fired Sandra W. Brown for being absent from work without permission. Indeed, at the time RPS sent Brown her initial termination letter, Brown had not shown up to work for over two months. According to Brown, this reason was pretext for age discrimination. Brown has sued RPS for violating the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (the "ADEA"). RPS has moved for summary judgment. Because RPS fired Brown for a valid, non-discriminatory reason, the Court will grant RPS's motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Brown worked for RPS as an office associate at Thomas Jefferson High School. During her time with RPS, Brown applied for other types of positions, but RPS did not hire her for these positions. Brown also requested transfers to different schools, but RPS denied these requests.

         Beginning in February 2013, Brown began requesting and taking leave for various reasons. RPS worked with Brown on these leave requests and provided her with information about the leave policy. From March to June 2013, Brown took leave to care for her husband. In June 2013, she worked for a week and a half until the end of the school year. Brown did not return to work as scheduled in August 2013. After prompting from the human resources department, Brown submitted a doctor's note. RPS granted Brown leave with pay until October 2013. Brown did not return to work as scheduled in October 2013. After prompting and a denied leave request, Brown asked RPS to take her off the payroll. In June 2014, Brown submitted a doctor's note that released her to work on the last day of the school year. RPS told her to report to work in August 2014. In August 2014, Brown did not return to work as scheduled. After prompting, Brown submitted a doctor's note that said she could return to work in late September 2014. The day before her scheduled return, Brown told RPS that she would not return to work.

         On December 19, 2014, RPS sent Brown a letter informing her that the superintendent would recommend her termination to the School Board in January 2015 for absence without leave. The letter detailed how RPS had attempted to work with Brown regarding her leave, and how RPS "met with and counseled" Brown several times about the matter.

         Brown requested an administrative hearing. The hearing officer determined that termination was warranted because Brown had abandoned her position with RPS. On April 13, 2015, the School Board voted to terminate Brown. At the time of the decision, Brown was sixty-two years old.

         II. DISCUSSION[1]

         Brown has sued RPS for age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (the "ADEA"). She claims that RPS discriminated against her because of her age when it fired her.[2]

         The ADEA prohibits employers from discriminating against employees because of age. 29 U.S.C. § 623. To succeed on an age discrimination claim, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the employer took adverse action against the plaintiff because of her age.[3] Id.; Dockins v. Benchmark Commc'ns, 176 F.3d 745, 747 (4th Cir. 1999) (citing U.S. Postal Serv. Bd. of Governors v. Aikens, 460 U.S. 711, 715 (1983)). An employer who takes adverse action for legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons, such as performance issues, does not violate the ADEA, regardless of the employee's age. Id. at 750.

         In this case, RPS fired Brown because she stopped showing up for work. Brown does not dispute that she stopped showing up for work. This is a valid, non-discriminatory reason for firing an employee.

         Brown argues that the reason given for her termination-absence without leave-was pretext for discrimination because the letter used the word "counseling, " and Brown never received any formal counseling. Brown stretches the language of this letter past its breaking point. The termination letter said that RPS tried to work with Brown about her leave status and "met with and counseled with" Brown several times about it. The evidence shows that RPS did work with Brown on her leave status, typically prompted by Brown not showing up for work, and that RPS counseled (i.e., assisted, advised, guided) Brown about its leave policy. Regardless, RPS did not fire Brown because of these "counseling" sessions; as the termination letter said, RPS fired Brown because she stopped coming to work. Accordingly, because RPS terminated Brown for a valid, non-discriminatory reason, the Court grants RPS's motion for summary judgment.

         III. ...


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