Nashville Suit Headed Toward Trial

A lawsuit filed by a deputy fire marshal with the Nashville Fire Department claiming that she was passed over for promotion to fire marshal on account of her gender and age, and then retaliated against when she complained, has survived the city’s motion for summary judgment.

Maggie Lawrence filed suit in US District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee back in 2022 alleging gender discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967; and retaliation under both laws. The city filed a motion to dismiss her claims in part because Lawrence failed to file her complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within 300 days of the discriminatory act.

US District Court Judge William L. Campbell, Jr. refused to grant the city’s request concluding that the complaint raised sufficient questions of fact. As explained in the decision:

  • When a party seeks judgment as a matter of law on a statute of limitations, the Court must decide two questions: (1) whether the statute of limitations has run and (2) whether there exists a genuine issue of material fact as to when the plaintiff’s cause of action accrued.
  • As the party invoking the statute of limitations as an affirmative defense, Metro has the burden to prove that the statute of limitations bars Lawrence’s discrimination claims and that no genuine issue of material fact exists as to when the claims accrued.
  • Here, the parties appear to agree that the triggering date for filing a charge of discrimination runs from when the plaintiff learned of the employment action at issue.
  • However, Metro relies solely on Lawrence’s allegations in the complaint to show that the alleged discriminatory action was communicated to Lawrence on or about October 5, 2020. Allegations in the complaint are insufficient to carry Metro’s burden of proof as the party moving for summary judgment.
  • Because Metro has failed to produce evidence demonstrating when the employment action at issue was communicated to Lawrence and the absence of a material dispute as to that fact, summary judgment will not be granted on Metro’s statute of limitations affirmative defense.

Judge Campbell went on to deny the city’s motion for summary judgment on more specific count-related grounds (Title VII, ADEA and retaliation). Here is a copy of the decision.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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