United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Harrisonburg Division
Michael F. Urbanski, Chief United States District Judge.
case, plaintiff James Franklin Smith claims his former
employer, Be Printers Americas ("Be Printers"),
discriminated against him because of his Christian faith by
demoting and later firing him. He also alleges that Be
Printers created a hostile work environment, and retaliated
against him for filing a charge with the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). Before the court
is Be Printers' motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 20.
This matter has been fully briefed, and the court heard oral
argument on June 28, 2017. For the reasons that follow, the
court GRANTS in part and DENIES in
part Be Printers' motion.
approximately twenty-five years, Smith worked as printing
manager at Berryville Graphics, Inc., a subsidiary of Be
Printers located in Berryville, Virginia. ECF No. 1,
¶¶ 5, 7. In November 2013, Smith was transferred to
Coral Graphics, a separate facility also operating under the
control of Be Printers. Id. ¶ 8. In February
2014, while on loan to Coral Graphics, Smith was promoted to
Manufacturing Manager and given a $20, 000 pay increase. ECF
No. 5, at 8. However, in August 2014, Be Printers returned
Smith to Berryville Graphics, and restored his pay to its
original level. Id. ¶¶ 8, 9. Be
Printers alleges that he was returned to Berryville Graphics
pursuant to a review conducted by senior management designed
to remedy poor performance at the Berryville Graphics
facility. ECF No. 5, at 8.
Smith was returned to Berryville Graphics, Be Printers became
aware that, while at Coral Graphics, Smith participated in
the hiring of Adam Cullen. Id. Be Printers argues
that Smith "materially deviated from [Be Printers']
employment policies, practices, and procedures, " by
failing to "disclose Mr. Cullen's criminal record to
senior management, set[ting] Mr. Cullen's starting rate
of compensation higher than could be justified based on his
demonstrable lack of experience, and assigning] Mr. Cullen to
be supervised by his relative." Id. at 9. These
actions "constitute serious violations of the
'Nepotism' policy, " "as well as the
Conflict of Interest policy, " and "were
inconsistent with the ethical requirements of Be
Printers." IcL Smith, however, argues that he had only
slight involvement in the Cullen hiring, which, in his
telling, was primarily overseen by co-supervisor Robert
Davis. ECF No. 26, at 4.
November 2014, Smith was informed by Mark Bone, his superior
at Berryville Graphics, that his employment was terminated.
ECF No. 1, ¶ 10. He was given two reasons: his role in
the hiring of and setting of the pay rate for Cullen, and his
job performance at Coral Graphics. Id. Bone
indicated that the decision was made by Mitchell Weiss, Be
Printers' Vice President of Sales. Id. ¶
11. Smith appealed Weiss's decision to Chief Executive
Officer David Liess, to no avail. Id. ¶ 13.
Smith's last day of employment was November 24, 2014.
alleges Smith, had a history of "bias against the
Christian faith and those who practice it." Id.
¶ 12. He told Smith, "I know you are a religious
person, but that is not working, " and noted to Smith
that he "ha[d] to watch what [he] sa[id] around you
Christians because it will offend you." Id. He
also linked Smith's Christianity to incompetence,
stating, "I know you are a religious person, but that is
not working, " and "[t]he reason you guys can't
do your jobs is that you are churchgoers." Id.
(brackets in original).
filed his EEOC complaint on September 4, 2015, alleging that
he was "discriminated against due to [his] religion
(Christian), and retaliated against, in violation of Title
VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended." See
ECF No. 20-16. Though he alleged discriminatory acts running
from July 2014 to November 24, 2014, he declined to specify
his discriminatory treatment as a "continuing
action." Id. Smith now claims, for the first
time, that Liess planned to rehire him, only to decline after
he learned of Smith's EEOC complaint. ECF No. 26, at 1-2.
Smith filed a complaint in the Eastern District of Virginia
on June 16, 2016, and the case was transferred by the consent
of the parties to this court on September 7, 2016. ECF No. 8.
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), the court must
"grant summary judgment if 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); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett. 477
U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Glynn v. EDO Corp.. 710 F.3d
209, 213 (4th Cir. 2013). When making this determination, the
court should consider "the pleadings, depositions,
answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together
with. . . [any] affidavits" filed by the parties.
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. Whether a fact is material
depends on the relevant substantive law. Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby. Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).
"Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome
of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude
the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are
irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted."
Id. (citation omitted). The moving party bears the
initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine
issue of material fact. Celotex. 477 U.S. at 323. If
that burden has been met, the non-moving party must then come
forward and establish the specific material facts in dispute
to survive summary judgment. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co.
v. Zenith Radio Corp.. 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986).
determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists,
the court views the facts and draws all reasonable inferences
in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.
Glynn. 710 F.3d at 213 (citing Bonds v.
Leavitt. 629 F.3d 369, 380 (4th Cir. 2011)). Indeed,
"[i]t is an 'axiom that in ruling on a motion for
summary judgment, the evidence of the nonmovant is to be
believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in
his favor.'" McAirlaids. Inc. v. Kimberly-Clark
Corp., No. 13-2044, 2014 WL 2871492, at *1 (4th Cir.
June 25, 2014) (internal alteration omitted) (citing
Tolan v. Cotton. 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1863 (2014) (per
curiam)). Moreover, "[credibility determinations, the
weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate
inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a
judge . . . ." Anderson. 477 U.S. at 255.
However, the non-moving party "must set forth specific
facts that go beyond the 'mere existence of a scintilla
of evidence.'" Glynn. 710 F.3d at 213
(quoting Anderson. 477 U.S. at 252). Instead, the
non-moving party must show that "there is sufficient
evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a
verdict for that party." Res. Bankshares Corp. v.
St. Paul Mercury Ins. Co.. 407 F.3d 631, 635 (4th Cir.
2005) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249). "In
other words, to grant summary judgment the [c]ourt must
determine that no reasonable jury could find for the
nonmoving party on the evidence before it." Moss v.
Parks Corp., 985 F.2d 736, 738 (4th Cir. 1993) (citing
Perini Corp. v. Perini Const. Inc.. 915
F.2d 121, 124 (4th Cir. 1990)).
VII renders it 'an unlawful employment practice for an
employer ... to discriminate against any individual with
respect to [her] compensation, terms, conditions, or
privileges of employment, because of such individual's .
. . religion.'" Boyer-Liberto v. Fontainebleau
Corp.. 786 F.3d 264, 276-77 (4th Cir. 2015) (brackets
and first ellipsis in original) (quoting 42 U.S.C. §
To establish a claim of disparate treatment based on
religious discrimination, an employee must show that based on
his religious beliefs, the employer treated him differently.
In order to satisfy this burden at the summary judgment
stage, a plaintiff must demonstrate that, (1) his job
performance was satisfactory and (2) provide direct or
indirect evidence that supports a reasonable inference that
the adverse employment action was
Westbrook v. N.C. A & T State Univ.. 51
F.Supp.3d 612, 618 (M.D. N.C. 2014) (citations omitted);
Huggins v. N.C. Dep't of Admin., No.
5:10-cv-414-FL, 2013 WL 5201033, at *15 (E.D. N.C. Sept. 13,
2013) ("To establish a Title VII claim for religious
discrimination, Plaintiff must demonstrate that Defendant
treated her differently than other employees because of her
religious beliefs."). "Direct evidence of discrimination
is either direct evidence of a stated purpose to
discriminate, or circumstantial evidence of sufficient
probative force to raise a genuine issue of material
fact." McIntyre-Handy v. W. Telemarketing
Corp.. 97 F.Supp.2d 718, 729 (E.D. Va. 2000); see
Hill v. Lockheed Martin Logistics Mgmt. Inc.. 354
F.3d 277, 284-85 (4th Cir. 2004) (Direct evidence of
discrimination requires "the production of 'evidence
of conduct or statements that both reflect directly the
alleged discriminatory attitude and that bear directly on the
contested employment decision."' (quoting Fuller
v. Phipps. 67 F.3d 1137, 1142 (4th Cir. 1995))).
"However, because subjective intent and motivation are
so difficult to prove, a plaintiff may also use the
burden-shifting framework similar to the one articulated in
McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792
(1973), and develop an inferential case."
McIntyre-Handy, 97 F.Supp.2d at 729-30 (parallel
satisfy the McDonnell Douglas test, a plaintiff must
[first] put forward sufficient evidence to establish a
prima facie case of discrimination or
retaliation." Huggins, 2013 WL 5201033, at *15.
If a prima facie case is presented, the burden
shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate,
nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action.
Assuming the employer meets this burden of production,
"the McDonnell Douglas framework-with its
presumptions and burdens-disappear[s], and the sole remaining
issue [is] discrimination vel non.
Hill. 354 F.3d at 285 (brackets in original)
(quoting Reeves v. Sanderson Pluming Prods. Inc.,
530 U.S. 133, 142-43 (2000)).
Fourth Circuit "ha[s] long observed a strict distinction
between claims proceeding with direct evidence of
discrimination and those proceeding under the McDonnell
Douglas framework." Baker v. City of
Chesapeake. 644 F.App'x 222, 223 (4th Cir. 2016)
(finding that the plaintiff proceeded only under the
McDonnell Douglas framework, and therefore declining
to consider arguments as to direct evidence of discrimination
"in the absence of exceptional or extraordinary
in his brief in opposition to summary judgment, Smith
advanced arguments only under the McDonnell Douglas
framework, and did not argue that he has presented sufficient
direct evidence of religious discrimination to survive
summary judgment. See ECF No. 26, at 3-4
(identifying the McDonnell Douglas framework as
controlling on the issue of summary judgment). ...