United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division
SANDRA W. BROWN, Plaintiff,
CITY OF RICHMOND SCHOOL BOARD, Defendant.
A. Gibney, Jr. United States District Judge.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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
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.