Equal Emp't Opportunity Comm'n v. Greystar Mgmt. Servs. L.P., Civil Action No. ELH-11-2789

Decision Date18 December 2013
Docket NumberCivil Action No. ELH-11-2789
CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)


Civil Action No. ELH-11-2789


Date: December 18, 2013


The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the "EEOC") filed suit against Greystar Management Services L.P ("Greystar"), a property management firm, to "correct [alleged] unlawful employment practices on the basis of sex, and to provide appropriate relief to Amada Lucero," who worked as a housekeeper at a large apartment complex managed by Greystar.1 Complaint (ECF 1) at 1. Suit is premised on Section 703(a) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a), as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k) (the "PDA"). The PDA extended the prohibition against sex discrimination under Title VII to include discrimination "on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions." Id.

In its Complaint, the EEOC alleges that Greystar engaged in sex discrimination by terminating Lucero after she became pregnant. See ECF 1 at 1. In particular, the EEOC

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contends that Greystar discriminated against Lucero by deferring to her doctor's pregnancy-based medical restrictions, and by refusing to allow Lucero to waive those restrictions. According to the EEOC, Greystar's statements and actions constitute direct evidence that it violated the PDA.2

The EEOC seeks compensatory and punitive damages as well as injunctive relief. In particular, on behalf of Lucero, it requests "appropriate backpay with prejudgment interest" as well as "reinstatement." Id. at 4 (Prayer for Relief). Additionally, the EEOC seeks compensatory damages for Lucero for "past and future pecuniary losses resulting from the unlawful employment practices," as well as "past and future non-pecuniary losses resulting from the unlawful practices . . . including emotional pain, suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, and other non-pecuniary losses" in amounts to be determined at trial. Id. And, the EEOC seeks punitive damages for Lucero. Id. at 4-5.

The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, which have been fully briefed.3 No hearing is necessary to resolve the motions. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, I will deny both motions.

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A. Lucero's Position at Greystar

In August 2008, Amada Lucero began working as one of two housekeepers for the Huntington at King Farm, a large apartment complex in Rockville, Maryland. Deposition of Amada Lucero, Aug. 23, 2012 ("Lucero Dep.") at 45; Deposition of Joi Ervin, Oct. 5, 2012 ("Ervin Dep.") at 11; Affidavit of Joi Ervin, Apr. 19, 2013 ("Ervin Aff.") ¶ 6; Defendant's Answer to Plaintiff's Interrogatories ("Greystar Interrog. Resp.") at 6.5 She is from El Salvador, and her command of English is limited. Lucero Dep. at 7-8, 110.

Greystar is a full-service, multi-family property management company headquartered in South Carolina. Greystar Interrog. Resp. at 11. It manages apartment communities across the United States, and assumed management of the Huntington at King Farm when it purchased the

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real estate firm JPI Management ("JPI") on January 1, 2009. Id.; Ervin Dep. at 9. Although Lucero was originally hired by JPI, she became an employee of Greystar as a result of the purchase. Deposition of Pamela Couch, Aug. 9, 2012, at 12-13.6 It is undisputed that after Greystar acquired JPI, Lucero continued in her same role as a housekeeper, working at the same facility and reporting to the same manager and Director of Community Operations ("Community Director."). See Greystar Mot. at 5 & n.1.

Lucero's direct supervisor was Angel Rodriguez, the Service Manager. Lucero Dep. at 46; Ervin Dep. at 12; Ervin Aff. ¶ 4. Rodriguez did not have the power, on his own, to terminate Lucero or to place her on a leave of absence. Ervin Dep. at 12. That authority rested with Rodriguez's supervisor, Joi Ervin, the Community Director. Ervin Dep. at 9-13; Ervin Aff. ¶ 4. In at least some instances, Ervin received guidance from others on hiring and firing decisions, including Senior Regional Property Manager Melanie Aaron as well as Greystar's Human Resources department.7 Deposition of Matthew Smith, Oct. 11, 2012 ("Smith Dep.") at 25-26. In addressing Lucero's situation, Ervin worked with Human Resources Assistant Shawna Solomon, who reported to Human Resources Director Matthew Smith. Id. at 26; Deposition of Shawna Solomon, Aug. 9, 2012 ("Solomon Dep.") at 22. Solomon testified that she coordinated closely with Smith regarding Lucero. Solomon Dep. at 26, 38.

As a housekeeper, Lucero's primary duty was cleaning. Deposition of Melanie Aaron, Aug. 7, 2012 ("Aaron Dep.") at 29. According to the written job description that Greystar used

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nationally for the position of "Housekeeper," the job involved exposure to various substances, including cleaning chemicals for up to 33 percent of the time. Id. Ex.A ("Position Description - Housekeeper"). According to Greystar, housekeepers for the Huntington at King Farm spent a majority of their time using cleaning chemicals. Ervin Dep. at 44-45; Ervin Aff. ¶ 9; see also Aaron Dep. at 79-80.

When Lucero's employment began, she and one other housekeeper were responsible for cleaning the apartment complex's common areas. Ervin Aff. ¶ 6. Their tasks included cleaning bathrooms, kitchens, playrooms, computer rooms, fitness centers, and offices; vacuuming; mopping; and emptying trash cans. Id. Beginning in December 2008, Lucero and the other housekeeper were also required to clean apartments that had been vacated by departing tenants. Aaron Dep. at 43; Ervin Aff. ¶ 7. This change was made for budgetary reasons, to reduce reliance on outside cleaning services that previously had cleaned vacant apartments and prepared them for new tenants. Lucero Dep. at 42-45; Aaron Dep. at 43; Ervin Aff. ¶ 8. By January 2009, each housekeeper was expected to clean 16 apartments per month. Id. Cleaning the vacant apartments involved, among other things, cleaning the bathrooms and kitchens, mopping, and removing debris. Ervin Aff. ¶ 8.

In performing their duties, Lucero and the other housekeeper were required to use various cleaning chemicals, such as Comet, Total Odor Control, Goof Off, CLR, ZEP, Glass Cleaner, 409, Johnny's Bowl Cleaner, Shower Power, Clorox, GOJO, Brasso, Graffiti Remover, WD40, Simple Green, Pledge, and Sunlight Gel. Ervin Aff. ¶ 9; Greystar Mot. Ex.15 (D00719) (e-mail

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from Ervin to Solomon dated March 24, 2009, listing chemicals used by housekeepers).8 Greystar expected Lucero to use chemicals for cleaning toilet bowls, sinks, tubs, and showers; cleaning refrigerators, ovens, ranges, and countertops; mopping; and for general cleaning of surfaces in playrooms, fitness centers, offices, and other common areas. Ervin Aff. ¶ 10.

Rodriguez provided the housekeepers with the chemicals they requested. Deposition of Angel Rodriguez, Oct. 5, 2012 ("Rodriguez Dep.") at 15-16. Lucero had some discretion to choose which cleaning products she used, as long as the work was completed. Id. at 16, 19, 24. According to Rodriguez, the cleaning products Lucero used most frequently were bleach, Windex, and Simple Green. Id. at 13.9

On February 3, 2009, Lucero received a verbal warning from Rodriguez, her immediate supervisor, and Ervin, Rodriguez's supervisor and the complex's Community Manager, regarding the quality and quantity of her work. Greystar Mot. Ex.17 (D00610) ("Associate Verbal Warning Report" dated February 2, 2009); Ervin Aff. ¶ 11. The "Associate Verbal Warning Report" stated, among other things, that Lucero failed to meet deadlines for cleaning the Resident Services Clubhouse and Leasing Clubhouse at the complex; that she "ha[d] not been paying enough attention to detail[,] leaving trails of dust on furniture, tabletops, and shelves in both clubhouses"; that she failed to complete four full apartment cleanings each week, as was required beginning in December; and that she had been told to work without the other housekeeper's assistance unless her supervisor grants permission. Id.; see also Rodriguez Dep. at 22 ("I don't remember the details but I do remember the clubhouse was not getting cleaned

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enough. The models, they were dirty. The vacant unit was not getting ready for the new tenants."). The warning, which was Lucero's first, indicated that she was advised that "her employment is in jeopardy." Greystar Mot. Ex.17 (D00610).10

At the time of the February 3 meeting, Lucero was pregnant with her second child. Ervin Dep. at 11. She gave birth to a healthy child in late August 2009. Lucero Dep. at 91; Declaration of Amada Lucero, Mar. 14, 2013 ("Lucero Decl.") ¶ 12.

Upon receiving the warning on February 3, 2009, Lucero informed Rodriguez and Ervin of her pregnancy. Lucero Dep. at 23; Lucero Decl. ¶ 4.11 Moreover, Lucero stated that she did not want to work around chemicals until after her pregnancy. Lucero Dep. at 19, 23; Ervin Aff. ¶ 12. As Lucero explained in her Declaration, she was concerned that the chemicals she used with Greystar were stronger than those to which she was exposed while working with CBRE during her previous pregnancy. Lucero Decl. ¶ 6. Lucero proposed working with the complex's...

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