Virginia is a “deferral state” for Title VII purposes, meaning that it has a state law prohibiting discriminatory employment practices and has a state or local agency (e.g., the Virginia Council on Human Rights) authorized to grant relief from such practices. To allege discriminatory employment practices in deferral states like Virginia, prior to filing any lawsuit, an aggrieved employee must exhaust administrative remedies by initiating an EEOC charge within 300 days. Otherwise, the claim will be forever barred. (See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1)). In a case decided recently by Judge Spencer of the Eastern District of Virginia, a plaintiff found this out the hard way.
In McKelvy v. Capital One Services, LLC, the plaintiff was an African-American Director of IT services, over 40 years of age. After obtaining a “right-to-sue” letter from the EEOC, he sued Capital One, claiming that the removal of his supervisory responsibilities and the failure to promote him was based on his race or his age, and thus violated Title VII’s prohibitions against unlawful discrimination in employment. Finding that the alleged discrimination took place more than 300 days before the plaintiff filed his EEOC charge, the court granted summary judgment in Capital One’s favor and dismissed the plaintiff’s claims with prejudice.
The court also observed that, even if the plaintiff had not failed to exhaust administrative remedies, he could not prevail on his claim because he failed to present supportive facts (beyond his personal belief), to rebut Capital One’s assertion that his direct reports were taken away because other associates complained about his leadership style and because of some poor performance appraisals. To survive a motion for summary judgment, a plaintiff must come forward with supportive evidence.
When deciding summary judgment motions in cases involving alleged employment discrimination, courts follow the “McDonnel Douglas” framework, which examines: (1) whether the plaintiff has stated a prima facie case of employment discrimination; (2) whether the employer can propound a legitimate, non-discriminatory justification for the adverse employment action taken against the plaintiff; and (3) whether the plaintiff can rebut the asserted legitimate, non-discriminatory justification with evidence that it is merely a pretext for unlawful discrimination.
To establish the first element–a prima facie case of employment discrimination–the plaintiff was required to come forward with evidence showing that (1) he was a member of a protected group; (2) he applied for the position in question; (3) he was qualified for the position; and (4) he was rejected for the position under circumstances giving rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination. He failed to meet that test, as no evidence was presented showing that race or age played a role in filling these positions. The plaintiff relied instead on his own subjective assessments of his qualifications and job performance. Unsupported speculation, the court held, is not enough to defeat a summary judgment motion.