GREENBELT – A federal district court judge did not find evidence the city of Rockville or its employees discriminated against a former division chief, the judge wrote in an opinion March 4.
Judge George Hazel dismissed the complaint of Courtney Morgan, former chief of inspection services for the city, who argued that Community Planning and Development Services Director Susan Swift and the city of Rockville underpaid and then fired him because of his race. He also argued Swift did not give him a three-month performance review, which Morgan suspected she did because she did not want to create a paper trail of his sufficient performance.
In his opinion Hazel wrote that Swift appeared to have legitimate reasons for firing Morgan and gave him feedback regularly even without the three-month performance review.
“Morgan’s arguments are speculative and are contradicted by the evidence in the record. Regardless of whether a formal three-month review was performed, Morgan was clearly provided consistent feedback regarding performance,” Hazel wrote. “As for Morgan’s contention that Swift failed to articulate her reasons for termination to human resources before terminating Morgan, the record refutes this timeline.”
Hazel also said Morgan did not prove the city underpaid him due to his race because the “chiefs” he used for comparison did not necessarily have comparable duties or qualifications. Morgan’s starting salary was $95,000, at least $20,000 less than all other chiefs in the city, but all other division chiefs had been in their positions at least four years before Swift hired Morgan, according to Hazel.
“Morgan’s comparison of titles is not a meaningful one because he has not eliminated variables, such as differing roles, performance histories, or decision-making personnel,” Hazel wrote. “Looking at the little evidence presented – a chart revealing names, positions, hire dates, and annual salaries – some differences are unmistakable and cut against Morgan.”
Susan Swift and the city responded through Rockville spokesperson Marylou Berg.
“The city is pleased with the judge’s decision. Other than that, we have no further comment,” Berg said.
Kevin Karpinski represented the city, which refers employment cases to their insurance provider, Local Government Insurance Trust.
Councilmember Tom Moore said the judge’s decision to grant summary judgment made a “powerful” statement.
“Under summary judgment, the judge looked at every factor and inference that could be made and construed them in favor of Mr. Morgan and despite that found the city would still win. It’s a powerful way to win a case and I think it was appropriate in this case and it saves the city a great deal of money in litigation and it saves Mr. Morgan a great deal of money in litigation,” Moore said.
Mayor Bridget Newton and Councilmembers Beryl Feinberg and Virginia Onley said they did not have a comment on the case. Morgan’s attorney Terry Morris could not be reached for comment.
In the lawsuit, Morgan claimed Swift did not tell him his performance was unsatisfactory, although he said Swift “expressed concern over the length of Morgan’s ‘plan review process’” and his comfort level with the online permit system. He said he later did not receive a three-month performance review but had weekly meetings with supervisors. Morgan said Swift failed him in every relevant category of his six-month performance review and fired him shortly after on Feb. 6, 2012.
Morgan’s review, dated Feb. 9, presented to the court showed an unsatisfactory rating in three out of nine categories. Swift also sent a memo to other city staff on Feb. 29 explaining the reasons for his termination and provided a March 1 termination letter to Morgan.
Morgan also attempted to access an investigative report by Saul Ewing, LLC, which the city commissioned following a Sentinel series on employee complaints in Rockville. But U.S. Magistrate Judge Jillyn Schulze said the Saul Ewing report is protected by attorney-client privilege. The city has disclosed parts of interview summaries from the report under a confidentiality order to the plaintiff in another discrimination case, Donald Dorsey’s. That case is still ongoing.