Justia U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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Plaintiff sued the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency alleging religious discrimination and retaliation under Title VII. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal. The court explained that because the alleged discrimination and retaliation arose from Plaintiff’s failure to satisfy additional security requirements and would require the court to review the merits of the security-authorization decision, the court is bound by the decision in Department of the Navy v. Egan, 484 U.S. 518 (1988), to affirm the district court’s dismissal of this matter for lack of jurisdiction.   The court explained that it agrees that courts must exercise caution in expanding the reach of Egan. Nevertheless, the court declined to adopt the hardline position, urged by Plaintiff, that Egan’s rationale may only ever apply to determinations explicitly labeled “security clearances.” Rather, as in Foote and Sanchez, this case requires a more detailed analysis of whether the judgment at issue is of the type that Egan intended to shield from judicial review. Furhter, the court held that the CIA’s decision to stop Plaintiff’s assignee-security authorization processing is the kind of discretionary predictive judgment shielded from judicial review by Egan. View "Nathan Mowery v. National Geospatial Intelligence Agency" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff claims that Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations discriminated against her based on her race by allowing a hostile work environment to pervade its manufacturing plant and by retaliating against her for accusing a co-worker of tampering with her machine. Bridgestone moved for summary judgment, and the district court granted summary judgment in Bridgestone’s favor on all claims.   On appeal, Plaintiff argued that the district court wrongly concluded that her hostile-work-environment claim was not supported by evidence of race-based harassment that was severe or pervasive enough. She also argues that her retaliation claim was based on a reasonable belief that the tampering with her machine was due to her race and that her transfer to KBN2 was causally related to her complaints.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed, holding that Plaintiff presented no evidence that would allow a jury to conclude that any tampering that occurred in 2018 was based on her race. The court explained that the totality of Plaintiff’s these allegations, and the evidence put forward to support them, fails to create a genuine question of material fact that racial discrimination in Bridgestone’s MTS department was so severe or pervasive that it constituted a hostile work environment. View "Laverne McIver v. Bridgestone Americas, Inc." on Justia Law

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On appeal, prisoner Plaintiff raised constitutional and state-law claims against numerous prison officials arising from a physical altercation at Red Onion State Prison in Virginia. As part of his evidentiary showing, Plaintiff repeatedly sought the production of videos recording the encounter. When he learned that some of the videos were not preserved, Plaintiff moved for spoliation sanctions.   After an evidentiary hearing, the magistrate judge denied Plaintiff’s spoliation motion and recommended entering judgment against him on all claims and counterclaims. The district court substantially adopted the magistrate judge’s recommendations without explicitly addressing Plaintiff’s objections to the order denying spoliation sanctions.The Fourth Circuit vacated the order of the district court entering judgment to Defendants and remand for a hearing on Plaintiff’s objections to the denial of spoliation sanctions, and for any other proceedings, the district court deems appropriate. The court held that the district court abused its discretion by implicitly overruling Plaintiff’s spoliation objections when several critical issues were left unresolved by the magistrate judge.   Specifically, the court explained that the magistrate judge erred in requiring Plaintiff to produce evidence that “the defendants purposefully disposed of any video recordings in an effort to prevent their use at trial.” Under Rule 37(e), when “electronically stored information that should have been preserved . . . is lost because a party failed to take reasonable steps to preserve it,” then “upon finding prejudice to another party from loss of the information,” the court “may order measures no greater than necessary to cure the prejudice.” Accordingly, only a finding of prejudice is required for such not-greater-than-necessary sanctions. View "Gary Wall v. E. Rasnick" on Justia Law

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First Data Technologies, Inc. (“First Data”), a credit and debit card processing company, employed Plaintiff as a call center representative. Plaintiff submitted a request pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) as a result of back pain she was experiencing from an automobile accident that occurred 15 days earlier. After a series of contested events, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination against First Data with the EEOC, alleging disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Finding no evidence of an ADA violation, the EEOC issued a dismissal and notice of rights.   Plaintiff later filed a complaint in the district court and First Data moved to dismiss Cowgill’s FMLA retaliation claim as time-barred, as well as Plaintiff’s ADA retaliation claim because Plaintiff’s failed to exhaust her administrative remedies. Plaintiff appealed the district court’s dismissal of the ADA retaliation claim, as well as the grant of summary judgment as to the disability discrimination and failure-to-accommodate claims.   The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment because the court erred in holding that there are no genuine issues of material fact precluding summary judgment on the disability discrimination claim. The court explained that Plaintiff is entitled to the benefit of all inferences as the nonmovant, thus the court concluded that there is a genuine dispute as to whether Plaintiff met First Data’s legitimate expectations. Further, the court found that Plaintiff satisfied the final requirement of her disability discrimination claim because a reasonable factfinder could conclude that First Data’s proffered explanation served as pretext for an impermissible consideration. View "Terri Cowgill v. First Data Technologies, Inc." on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Defendant of conspiring to transmit national defense information to Chinese agents, in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 794(c), and making materially false statements to FBI agents, in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 1001(a)(2). On appeal, Defendant challenges the district court’s application during trial of the “silent witness rule” — under which sensitive evidence is disclosed to the jury and the trial’s other participants but not to the public — contending that it violated his right to a public trial, in violation of the Sixth Amendment, and his right to present a complete defense, in violation of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments. He also mounted two distinct challenges to the district court’s instruction of the jury.   The Fourth Circuit rejected Defendant’s challenges and affirmed the district court’s ruling. The court wrote it does not suggest that the use of the silent witness rule could never implicate a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a public trial, as reliance on the silent witness rule has the potential to interfere meaningfully with the public’s ability to understand what is happening in the proceedings, despite their physical presence in the courtroom. But it doubts that the limited use of the silent witness rule as it was applied in this case amounted to a sanctionable closure of the courtroom.   Further, in response to Defendant’s argument that the district court “watered down” the mens rea requirement for the conspiracy offense, the court found Defendant’s reasoning unpersuasive, as he focuses too narrowly on one small segment of the instructions without context. View "US v. Kevin Mallory" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was transferred from a class where she instructed emotionally disturbed (“ED”) children to a class where Plaintiff worked with children with moderate intellectual disabilities. Plaintiff alleged that one of her students sexually harassed her between fall 2018 through mid-March 2019. This student, S.M., was an eight-year-old boy diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (“ADHD”). Although the teacher in the classroom recorded the incidents in her notes, or “point sheets,” where she detailed each student’s daily behavior, Plaintiff claims the teacher was generally dismissive of her concerns. After exhausting her remedies with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Plaintiff filed suit against the Chesterfield County School Board (“the School Board”) alleging that she was subjected to a sexually hostile work environment in violation of Title VII.   The district court granted the School Board’s motion for summary judgment. At issue on appeal is whether the district court erred in dismissing Plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim on summary judgment. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, finding that the record does not support a prima facie case for hostile work environment sexual harassment. The court explained that Plaintiff cannot primarily rely upon her own statements to argue that S.M.’s conduct surpassed what could be expected of an eight-year-old child with his disabilities after two special education experts testified that it did not—instead, she is required by law to demonstrate it. Further, even if Plaintiff established that S.M. targeted her because of sex, she would still be unable to meet the third required element—that is, show that S.M.’s conduct rose to the level of severe or pervasive. View "Regina Webster v. Chesterfield County School Board" on Justia Law

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Charter Day School (“CDS”) a public charter school in North Carolina, requires female students to wear skirts to school based on the view that girls are “fragile vessels” deserving of “gentle” treatment by boys. Plaintiffs argued that this sex-based classification grounded on gender stereotypes violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and subjects them to discrimination and denial of the full benefits of their education in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. Section 1681 et seq. (“Title IX”).  In response, despite CDS’ status as a public school under North Carolina law, CDS denied accountability under the Equal Protection Clause by maintaining that they are not state actors.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s entry of summary judgment for Plaintiffs on their Equal Protection claim against CDS. The court also vacated the district court’s summary judgment award in favor of all Defendants on Plaintiffs’ Title IX claim and remanded for further proceedings on that claim.   The court held that CDS is a state actor for purposes of Section 1983 and the Equal Protection Clause. By implementing the skirts requirement based on blatant gender stereotypes about the “proper place” for girls and women in society, CDS has acted in clear violation of the Equal Protection Clause. The court further held that sex-based dress codes like the skirts requirement, when imposed by covered entities, are subject to review under the anti-discrimination provisions of Title IX. View "Bonnie Peltier v. Charter Day School, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff alleged that his employer, the Alexandria Fire Department, intentionally discriminated against him because of his race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. Section 2000e et seq. After Plaintiff saw white colleagues on other Fire Department shifts receive internships before him, he believed that the Fire Department was violating its placement practice and delaying his promotion because he is Black. The Fire Department explained that the first-come, first-served practice is shift-specific. The district court granted Defendant’s summary judgment motion.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling holding that Plaintiff offered no evidence to prove that the Fire Department’s explanation—which is supported by its practice—is pretextual. The court explained that to establish the fourth element of his prima facia case, an inference of unlawful discrimination, Plaintiff claimed that the Fire Department had a practice of placing applicants with the first available field training officer regardless of shift, but the Department placed three later-certified white firefighters into the program ahead of him. However, the Fire Department’s evidence supports its claim that it places interns with training officers on a first-come, first-served basis within each shift. The court found that Plaintiff’s evidence only shows that he misunderstood the Fire Department’s internship placement practice. View "Micheall Lyons v. City of Alexandria" on Justia Law

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Defendant pled guilty to Continuing a Criminal Enterprise (“CCE”) and Money Laundering and the district court sentenced Defendant to 420 months incarceration on the CCE offense and 240 months’ incarceration for money laundering, to be served concurrently. Defendant filed a pro se motion to reduce his sentence pursuant to Section 404 of the First Step Act of 2018 (“FSA”), which the district court denied on grounds that Defendant’s convictions were not covered offenses. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling denying Defendant’s pro se motion to reduce his sentence pursuant to Section 404 of the First Step Act of 2018 (“FSA”), holding that Defendant’s conviction under Sections 848 (a) and (c) is not a covered offense under the FSA. The court reasoned that although Defendant’s conviction for Sections 848(a) and (c) required a finding that he committed a continuing series of drug violations, the quantity and drug type of these violations made no difference for sentencing purposes, whereas they would matter to secure a conviction and sentence under Section 848(b). Further, since the Act altered drug quantities required to trigger the penalties for 841(b)(1)(A) or 841(b)(1)(B), it also modified the drug quantities required to sustain a conviction under 848(b). Thus, after Woodson and before Terry, since the Act modified the statutory penalties applicable to 848(b) and (e), 8 it would have been conceivable that the Act modified the statutory penalties for Defendant’s “statute of conviction,” thus rendering his 848 (c) conviction a covered offense under the FSA. View "US v. Jerrell Thomas" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed the district court’s decision granting summary judgment to the Acting Secretary of the Navy (the “Navy”) on her employment retaliation claims under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 2000e, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, 29 U.S.C. Sec 621, (“ADEA”). The district court awarded judgment after concluding that Plaintiff failed to exhaust certain claims because they were not raised in her Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) charge. It also rejected her remaining retaliation claims.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision granting summary judgment to the Acting Secretary of the Navy (“the Navy”). The court first reasoned that Plaintiff’s claims are without merit because she is procedurally barred from pursuing her claims of exclusion from the CPI Team and the Navy’s alleged failure to promote her because she did not raise them at the administrative level.   Further, even if Plaintiff had administratively exhausted her CPI Team and failure-to-promote claims, the court held it would reach the same result because she failed to plead them in her Amended Complaint.  Third, the district court also correctly determined that Plaintiff’s remaining retaliation claim was unsustainable because there is no direct evidence of retaliation as part of her lateral realignment.  Finally, Plaintiff points to only one alleged comment over six years, which did not amount to evidence of “recurring retaliatory animus.” View "Cathy Walton v. Thomas Harker" on Justia Law