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Decided: January 30, 2014

Plaintiff, Marie McCray worked for the Maryland Transit Administration (“MTA”), a division of the Maryland Department of Transportation (“MDOT”) for nearly forty years before her position was eliminated due to budget cuts. McCray then brought a suit alleging employment discrimination. The district court dismissed McCray’s suit on the grounds of legislative immunity before McCray could conduct any meaningful discovery. The Fourth Circuit disagreed, finding that the termination occurred before the requisite legislative action took place. However, the court held that McCray’s age and disability discrimination claims were nonetheless barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity.

McCray began working for the MTA in 1971. Her main duty was to generate annual ride usage reports for trains and buses. McCray was diagnosed with diabetes in 1995, but it did not affect her work until 2007 when she unexpectedly fainted at work and had to miss time. After the incident, McCray submitted proof that she was medically able to continue working, but her supervisor continually pressured her about her health. Eventually, the supervisor demanded that she submit to an independent medical examination, which again concluded that she was medically able to continue working. Nevertheless, McCray’s supervisors continued to pressure her about her health. In January 2008, her job was transferred to a consultant and she was left without meaningful work. When McCray requested more responsibility, her requests were denied. In October 2008, McCray was terminated as a part of Maryland’s budget cuts. McCray then filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) asserting discrimination based on age, disability, race, and gender. The MTA moved to dismiss on the grounds of legislative immunity. In response, McCray moved, pursuant to Rule 56(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, for more time to conduct discovery to establish a discriminatory motive. The district court dismissed McCray’s suit, finding that any additional discovery would not impact its finding as to legislative immunity. McCray appealed.

On appeal, the MTA argued that sovereign immunity barred McCray’s age and disability discrimination claims. Although the MTA did not assert sovereign immunity at trial, the Fourth Circuit allowed the MTA to present this defense for the first time on appeal because of the jurisdictional nature of sovereign immunity. The court held that while Congress abrogated Sovereign Immunity under Title VII, it had not done so under the ADA or the ADEA; thus, McCray’s claims for age and disability were barred by sovereign immunity, while the gender and race discrimination claims were not.

Next, the Fourth Circuit held that the district court erred by dismissing McCray’s gender and race discrimination claims before allowing McCray to conduct meaningful discovery. MTA argued that McCray’s claims for race and gender discrimination were foreclosed because the state’s decision to cut McCray’s position was entitled to legislative immunity. The Fourth Circuit disagreed, concluding that many of the adverse employment actions that McCray complained of occurred prior to the budget cuts in October of 2008. Therefore, the Fourth Circuit determined that McCray’s Rule 56(d) motion should have been granted and remanded the action for further proceeding.

Full Opinion

– Wesley B. Lambert