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Spencer v. Town of Bedford

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Lynchburg Division

May 23, 2019

Carla Beels Spencer, Plaintiff,
Town of Bedford Defendant.


          Norman K. Moon Judge.

         Plaintiff 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.

         I. Facts

         Spencer 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.”)).

         Prior 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)).

         As the 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).

         Spencer 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 38).

         During 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)

         Chief 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).

         II. Legal Standard

         Federal 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).

         III. Analysis

         This 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.

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