Recent Fourth Circuit Employment Decisions

The Fourth Circuit has published a couple of opinions on employment law cases in recent weeks.  The first case, Bonds v. Leavitt, concerned a federal employee’s suit against the Department of Health and Human Services, which alleged Title VII claims, retaliation claims under the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA), and unlawful termination in violation of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 (CSRA).  The plaintiff is a research doctor who claims she was retaliated against for opposing discrimination against African-American donors of blood lines.

The Court held that, because plaintiff’s CSRA claim was based on her EEO charge, the district court’s dismissal of the CSRA claim was improper.  The Court also held that the district court erred in granting summary judgment against plaintiff on her WPA claim as she created genuine issues of material fact regarding whether her whistle-blowing was properly reported and known by the supervisor who terminated her.  However, the Court held that the district court was correct to grant summary judgment against plaintiff on her Title VII claims because plaintiff was not whistle-blowing about an employment practice, which is necessary for a Title VII retaliation claim.

In Coleman v. Maryland Court of Appeals, the Court upheld the dismissal of the plaintiff’s Title VII claims on the pleadings.  Applying the misguided heightened pleading standard recently created by the Supreme Court, the Fourth Circuit held the plaintiff did not sufficiently allege discrimination because he did not establish a plausible basis for believing white co-employees were similarly situated to him or that race was the true basis for his termination.  The Court also upheld the dismissal of his FMLA claims, holding that under the Eleventh Amendment, Congress has not properly allowed FMLA claims against a State where the FMLA claim is based on the need for leave for one’s own medical condition.