United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Lynchburg Division
K. Moon Judge.
Carla Beels Spencer (“Spencer”) al leges that the
Town of Bedford (“the Town”), terminated her
employment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act
of 1964, which prohibits “discriminat[ion] against any
individual . . . because of such individual's . . .
sex.” 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000e-2(a)(1). In November
2018, this Court granted in part and denied in part the
Town's motion to dismiss, upholding Spencer's claims
grounded in intentional discrimination and impermissible
retaliation. (Dkt. 23). The Town has now filed a motion for
summary judgment, arguing that Spencer fails to establish a
prima facie case as to any of her remaining claims
and that she fails to rebut the Town's non-discriminatory
reason for her termination. (Dkt. 27). For the reasons that
follow, the Court finds that Spencer fails to show that the
Town's legitimate reason for termination is pretext for
discrimination. Thus, the Town's motion will be granted.
was hired as the Bedford Police Department's (“the
Department”) Operations Lieutenant in January 2016.
(Dkt. 28 at 1-2). Operations Lieutenant is a supervisory
position “established to assist the Police Chief with
the overall management and supervision of the Police
Department.” (Dkt. 28-6 at 1). This position was
created as the result of the reorganization of the
Department, and Spencer was the first to serve in this role.
(Dkt. 28 at 2). As Operations Lieutenant, Spencer was one of
two lieutenants reporting directly to Police Chief Foreman,
the highest ranking officer in the department, and she was
expected to “act in the Chief's capacity when
assigned during absences of the Chief.” (Dkts. 28-6 at
1-2; 28-4 at 8, 16 (“Foreman Dep.”)).
to being hired by the Town, Spencer was employed by the city
of Salem as the Salem Police Department's accreditation
manager. (Dkt. 28-6 at 1-2). While serving in that capacity,
Spencer aided Chief Foreman with the Department's
accreditation efforts. (Id. at 2). After working
with Spencer in her role as accreditation manager, Chief
Foreman “encouraged [her] to apply for the position [of
Operations Lieutenant for the Town], and ‘actively
recruited' her, ” even extending the application
deadline to allow her time to apply. (Id. (quoting
Dkt 28-1, at 22-24 (“Spencer Dep.”)). Chief
Foreman interviewed two people for the position, Spencer and
a male candidate, ultimately hiring Spencer. (Id. at
3). Chief Foreman was aware of Spencer's gender and
sexuality when he recruited and hired her. (Id.
(citing Spencer Dep. at 47, 55; Foreman Dep. at 19-20)).
Operations Lieutenant, Spencer was meant to oversee the
patrol division and implement administrative changes, but
people in the Department were resistant to her attempts to do
so. (See Spencer Dep. at 32, 47-52, 58-59, 63,
100-01, 156-57, 169). Specifically, Spencer states that the
people in the Department “did not like change”,
(id. at 47), and that “as [she] did [her] job
. . . they became frustrated.” (Id. at 63).
Spencer further states that she heard “rumblings”
that people in the department were dissatisfied with her.
(Id. at 57-59). Specifically, Sergeants Monk and
Brooke, two of the officers reporting to Spencer, made it
clear that they “didn't like being told what to do
by a female, and especially one that had a wife.”
(Id.). Prior to her termination, Spencer did not
formally complain to Chief Foreman regarding the
sergeants' resistance based on her gender. (Id.
at 155-58). Spencer did relay the feeling that subordinate
officers were resistant to her because she was female,
“but [she] felt at that time it was just part of the
process.” (Id. at 157). Chief Foreman states
that he was not aware of any issues with Spencer due to her
gender. (Foreman Dep. at 57).
did not experience any disciplinary action or receive any
reprimands until July 2016. (Dkt. 39 at 12). She claims the
“discriminatory targeting” culminated on or about
July 8, 2016, when she brought her wife to a party where
uniformed officers were in attendance. (Id.). At
that event, Spencer made what she describes as “an
offhand comment” about a subordinate officer, Mr.
Boucher, to a Bedford County employee. (Id. at 13).
This comment resulted in Boucher making an internal affairs
complaint directly to Chief Foreman. (Foreman Dep. at 31). In
making the complaint, Boucher told Chief Foreman that Spencer
had called him a “fucking idiot” in front of two
individuals, including an officer who was subordinate to
Boucher. (Id. at 33). Boucher provided text messages
to support his claim. (Id.). After receiving the
complaint, Chief Foreman notified Spencer and interviewed the
people involved. (Id. at 37). Chief Foreman states
that at least three people corroborated “that
derogatory statements were made, ” and that this was
the first time he had encountered a superior officer making
derogatory statements about a subordinate. (Id. at
the investigation into this comment, other issues with
Spencer's performance came to light. (Id.
37-38). First, Chief Foreman had directed Spencer to assign
patrol officers to attend two events, a Crisis Intervention
Training in Lynchburg and a local back-to-school event, both
of which were cancelled because of her failure to assign
officers. (Dkt. 28 at 5-6). Second, Spencer's discussions
with others in the Department regarding a K-9 unit were seen
to undermine Chief Foreman's authority. (Foreman Dep.
41-43). Third, Spencer failed to complete her
responsibilities relating to the National Night Out, an
annual community event that the Department had previously
participated in. (Id. at 43-44). Finally, and most
significantly according to Chief Foreman, Spencer had not
followed through on the Department's National Law
Enforcement Challenge (“NLEC”) application, and
she lied to the Chief about her efforts. (Dkt. 28 at 7).
Spencer argues that “none of the alleged performance
issues - specifically the purported discrepancy with the NLEC
documents - were intentional, or stemmed from a place of
dishonesty.” (Dkt. 39 at 14)
Foreman cites Spencer's dishonesty surrounding the NLEC
application as the reason for her termination. (Foreman Dep.
at 25-26). Chief Foreman asked both Spencer and the
organization in charge of NLEC to provide copies of the
application submitted by the Department. (Dkt. 28 at 7). He
received a set of documents from Spencer and a set from the
organization, but the two sets did not match. (Id.).
Upon further investigation, the Town's Information
Technology (“IT”) Director found that the
documents Spencer had attached to the NLEC application were
not the ones she provided to Chief Foreman. (Id.).
The IT Director also failed to find any indication that the
documents Spencer gave Foreman were created before Foreman
requested them. (Id. at 8). Chief Foreman spoke to
Spencer regarding these discrepancies at an August 8 meeting.
(Dkt. 39 at 14). Spencer claimed it was a mistake, but the
evidence led Foreman to conclude that Spencer had lied to him
about her efforts regarding the NLEC application.
(Id. at 14, 19). Chief Foreman maintains that it is
because of dishonesty that he issued Spencer's
termination notice on August 12, 2016. (Dkt. 28 at 9).
Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) states that summary judgment
should be granted “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.” “As to
materiality ... [o]nly disputes over facts that might affect
the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly
preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson
v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In
order to preclude summary judgment, the dispute about a
material fact must be “‘genuine,' that is, if
the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.; see
also JKC Holding Co. v. Washington Sports Ventures,
Inc., 264 F.3d 459, 465 (4th Cir. 2001). If, however,
the evidence of a genuine issue of material fact “is
merely colorable or is not significantly probative, summary
judgment may be granted.” Anderson, 477 U.S.
at 250. In considering a motion for summary judgment under
Rule 56, a court must view the record as a whole and draw all
reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the
nonmoving party. See, e.g., Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-24 (1986); Shaw v.
Stroud, 13 F.3d 791, 798 (4th Cir. 1994).
Court previously found “that Spencer lodged sufficient
factual allegations of sex-based discrimination to support
claims of disparate treatment and retaliation under Title
VII” under the motion to dismiss standard. (Dkt. 22).
However, at the motion for summary judgment stage, Title VII
claims based on indirect evidence are examined under the
burden shifting framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas
Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1983). Under the
McDonnell Douglas framework, the plaintiff carries
the initial burden of establishing a prima facie
case. Id. at 802. If a plaintiff makes out a
prima facie case, “[t]he burden then must
shift to the employer to articulate some legitimate,
nondiscriminatory reason” for the adverse employment
action. McDonnell Douglas Corp., 411 U.S. at 802. If
the defendant provides such a reason, then the burden shifts
back to the plaintiff to show that the reason is a pretext
for discrimination. Id. at 803. The Town argues that
Spencer fails to meet her burden at both the first and third
phase of the McDonnell Douglas analysis. The Court
will first turn to Spencer's ability to establish a
prima facie case as to her remaining claims.