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Decided: May 21, 2015

The Fourth Circuit reversed in part the district court’s ruling to grant the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore (“the University”) summary judgment on Foster’s retaliation claim because a reasonable jury could conclude that the University fired Foster for unlawful reasons.

In 2007, Iris Foster was hired as a campus police officer at the University.  Shortly after her hiring, Foster was sexually harassed by Rudolph Jones, her supervisor.  Among other things, Jones made lewd comments and inappropriately touched Foster.  A month after the harassment began, Foster notified Jones’s superiors about the inappropriate conduct.  Although Jones was punished, Foster also claims to have been punished.  Foster claims that her probation was extended in retaliation for her complaints.  Furthermore, among other things, Foster claims that due to her complaints, her schedule was changed without notice and she was barred from attending a training session while she was on injury leave.

Title VII prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee on the basis of sex and retaliating against an employee for complaining about prior discrimination or retaliation.  The Fourth Circuit held that Nassar does not alter the causation prong of a prima facie case of retaliation.  Furthermore, the court held that Foster failed to show that the retaliation was the actual reason for the challenged employment action.  Additionally, the court held that Foster made a prima facie case for retaliation due to her evidence regarding (i) Billie’s statement of retaliatory animus; (ii) the temporal proximity between Foster’s final complaint of retaliation and her termination; and (iii) the additional retaliatory acts that preceded her firing.  “Foster argued that the University’s proffered non-retaliatory reasons are pretextual because: (i) Foster’s immediate supervisor and the department scheduler both testified that Foster was not inflexible in scheduling; (ii) Wright testified that there was no documentation of Foster’s supposed inflexibility in her personnel file; (iii) Foster’s immediate supervisor testified that Foster had been given permission to edit the office forms and that Wright had initially praised her work; (iv) Foster’s immediate supervisor repeatedly praised her work and discussed promoting her to corporal before she made her sexual harassment complaint; and (v) the University did not initially provide Foster with a reason for her termination.”  Based on the foregoing, the Fourth Circuit held that a reasonable jury could conclude that the University’s proffered justifications were deceitful.  Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit held that the University is not entitled to summary judgment on Foster’s retaliation claim.

Full Opinion

Chris Toner