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Media Alerts - Calobrisi v. Booz Allen Hamilton, Inc. -- Fourth Circuit
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November 7, 2016
  Calobrisi v. Booz Allen Hamilton, Inc. -- Fourth Circuit
Headline: Age or Gender Discrimination at Work? Me Too. Fourth Circuit Joins Six Circuit in Considering "Me-Too" Evidence with Griffin Factors

Areas of Law: Employment Law, Anti-Discrimination Law, Evidence

Issue Presented: Whether a court should analyze the admissibility of each piece of "other employee" evidence pursuant to Griffin factors when determining whether an employer's stated reason for demotion is a pretext for discrimination.

Brief Summary: The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed the District Court's grant of summary judgment to the defendant on discrimination and constructive discharge claims because the District Court failed to consider the plaintiff's proffered "other employee" evidence. The Fourth Circuit held that, to determine whether the defendant's stated reason for the plaintiff's demotion was a pretext for discrimination, the district court should have analyzed the admissibility of each piece of the "other employee" evidence pursuant to Griffin factors, and should have examined how closely related the "other employee" evidence was to the plaintiff's circumstances and theory of the case, as mandated by Sprint.

Extended Summary: If a plaintiff brings an employment discrimination claim under the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework, the analysis proceeds in three steps. First, the plaintiff has the burden of establishing a prima facie employment discrimination case. Second, the employer must articulate a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for taking the adverse employment action at issue. Third, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to show that the stated reason for the adverse employment action is pretext for a discriminatory purpose. At the third step of the analysis, the plaintiff may help to establish pretext by offering "other employee" evidence. "Other employee" evidence is evidence that other similarly situated employees have allegedly encountered adverse employment actions similar to those that the plaintiff experienced.

As explained in Sprint/United Mgmt. Co. v. Mendelsohn, 552 U.S. 379 (2008), a court must examine the admissibility of each piece of the "other employee" evidence - if the evidence is relevant under Rule 401, and, if so, whether it should nevertheless be excluded under Rule 403. The question of whether the "other employee" evidence is relevant is fact-based and depends on many factors, including how closely related the evidence is to the plaintiff's circumstances and theory of the case.

Carla Calobrisi ("Carlobrisi"), a 55 year-old female Principal of Booz Allen Hamilton, Inc. ("Booz Allen"), was demoted to Senior Associate "due to workload," and many of her responsibilities were transferred to two younger women. After Calobrisi raised concerns that her demotion was the result of age and gender discrimination, her supervisor suggested that she leave Booz Allen. Calobrisi soon left Booz Allen, and her position was filled by a 31-year-old male.

Calobrisi filed a lawsuit against Booz Allen in the District of Columbia Superior Court, alleging sex-based discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, aged-based discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and retaliation claims. Booz Allen removed the case to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, and the case was then transferred to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The District Court granted summary judgment to Booz Allen on the retaliation and discrimination claims. With respect to the discrimination claims, the only contested issue was the third step under the McDonnell Douglas framework, i.e., whether Calobrisi produced sufficient evidence for a jury to conclude that the stated reason for her demotion was a pretext for a discriminatory purpose. Calobrisi alleged that Booz Allen maintained a glass ceiling that prevented female employees, particularly those who were older or in higher ranking positions, from advancing. To support this theory, Calobrisi offered "other employee" evidence, which included the testimony of seven middle-aged female former Booz Allen employees. The employees contended that they had been targeted for adverse employment actions similar to those that Calobrisi experienced. The District Court, however, summarily concluded this evidence would not be admissible at trial and refused to consider it when ruling on summary judgment.

The Fourth Circuit reversed the grant of summary judgment on the discrimination claims. Citing a Sixth Circuit case, Griffin v. Finkbeiner, 689 F.3d 584 (6th Cir. 2012), the Fourth Circuit held that a court should consider the Griffin factors in determining the admissibility of "other employee" evidence. The Griffin factors include: (1) whether the other discriminatory behavior described is close in time to the events at issue in the case; (2) whether the same decision-makers were involved; (3) whether the witness and plaintiff were treated in a similar manner; and (4) whether the witness and plaintiff were otherwise similarly situated. The Fourth Circuit found the District Court did not individually analyze the admissibility of each piece of the "other employee" evidence pursuant to these Griffin factors. Moreover, the Fourth Circuit reasoned that the District Court's one-sentence admissibility analysis ignored both the similar treatment experienced by Calobrisi and other employee witnesses, and the overlap of several decision-makers at Booz Allen. Thus, the Fourth Circuit found the District Court failed to determine how closely related the "other employee" evidence was to Calobrisi's circumstances and theory of the case, as mandated by Sprint.

The Fourth Circuit remanded the case to the District Court to determine the admissibility of Calobrisi's proffered "other employee" evidence. In particular, the Fourth Circuit suggested that some of the other employees' testimony "appear[ed] relevant" based on the common decisionmakers involved in the witnesses' departures and the similarities of the departures' circumstances. For example, members of Booz Allen's all-male leadership team triggered several of the departures, and each departure featured an abrupt demotion or revocation of responsibilities after years of positive reviews.

To read the full opinion, click here.

Panel: Chief Judge Gregory, Judges Motz and Keenan

Argument Date: 03/24/2016

Date of Issued Opinion: 08/23/2016

Docket Number: No. 15-1331 and No. 15-1399

Decided: Affirmed in part; vacated and remanded in part with instructions by unpublished per curiam opinion.

Case Alert Author: Maria Nazarova, Univ. of Maryland Carey School of Law
Counsel: Linda Marie Correia, CORREIA & PUTH, PLLC, Washington, D.C., for Appellant/Cross-Appellee. Stephen William Robinson, MCGUIREWOODS LLP, Tysons Corner, Virginia, for Appellee/Cross- Appellant. ON BRIEF: Amber C. Trzinski Fox, Jonathan C. Puth, CORREIA & PUTH, PLLC, Washington, D.C.; John R. Ates, ATES LAW FIRM, Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellant/Cross-Appellee. Melissa L. Taylormoore, Sarah A. Belger, MCGUIREWOODS LLP,Tysons Corner, Virginia, for Appellee/Cross-Appellant. Daniel B. Kohrman, Laurie A. McCann, Dara S. Smith, AARP FOUNDATION LITIGATION, Washington, D.C., for Amicus Curiae.
Author of Opinion: Per curiam

Case Alert Supervisor: Professor Renée Hutchins

    Posted By: Renee Hutchins @ 11/07/2016 11:48 AM     4th Circuit  

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