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Salisbury real estate company settles race discrimination suit for $25K

A Salisbury-based real estate company will pay $25,000 to settle a race discrimination case brought on behalf of an African-American former employee who claimed she was bypassed for promotions because of her race and paid less than white employees who performed the same work.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleged that Rinnier Development Company, which manages six housing communities, hired Shannon Payton as an assistant community manager for its Arden’s Run facility in Princess Anne but continued to pay her lower wages than white community managers even after she also took on the duties of that position.

Then, after Payton requested a promotion and a raise to reflect her new responsibilities at the company, Rinnier denied her requests and instead promoted white assistant community managers who had less experience.

Rinnier Development and its related companies Rinnier Management LLC and Parkside Associates LLC, which were also named as defendants in the suit, did not admit to wrongdoing by signing the consent decree.

Payton was hired as an assistant community manager in April 2010 at a wage of $11.54 an hour, according to the lawsuit.

In October of that year, the company fired the Arden’s Run community manager, who had been earning $15.39 an hour, and Payton assumed his duties while continuing to earn an hourly wage of $11.54. Several weeks later, Payton expressed interest in being promoted to community manager, but Rinnier denied her request, the complaint stated.

The following spring, Payton requested a salary increase to reflect the new responsibilities she’d taken on, but was again denied, according to the lawsuit. In June 2011, the company hired a white woman to be the community manager at Arden’s Run at a wage of $13.47 an hour.

“Defendants have promoted at least five white Assistant Community Managers to a Community Manager position,” including one who had only worked for the company for two months before she was promoted, the lawsuit stated. “Defendants have never promoted an African American Assistant Community Manager to the position of Community Manager.”

When Payton returned from maternity leave in September 2011, she was reassigned to a different housing community to serve as community manager on a “probationary basis,” the suit stated, but she did not receive a pay increase. Instead, Rinnier told her she would be evaluated for a promotion after 30 and 60 days in the new position.

The company did not evaluate her at the 30-day mark, according to the lawsuit, and in November 2011, Payton resigned and was later replaced by a white community manager who earned $15.39 an hour. She went to the EEOC, which filed a lawsuit in September 2014.

Jerald J. Oppel, the attorney who represented Rinnier Development, did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the settlement Thursday. Oppel is with Ober | Kaler in Baltimore.

Settlement terms

The $25,000 settlement represents $8,100 in back pay plus interest and $16,900 in damages, according to the 18-month consent decree.

Under the terms of the settlement, the company is also required to provide four hours of training on federal equal employment laws, with a focus on race discrimination, to all employees who are in management positions or who make decisions about compensation and promotion.

“The law is clear that pay and promotion decisions should be made based on someone’s qualifications and not her race,” EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence said in a statement. “We are pleased that this settlement remedies the situation and implements training and other equitable relief designed to prevent race discrimination.”

According to the consent decree, Rinnier will post a notice at its workplaces for 18 months that references the lawsuit and informs employees of how to contact the EEOC if they feel they’ve been victims of discrimination. The company will also provide written reports to the EEOC identifying actions taken in response to race discrimination complaints every six months for the duration of the consent decree.

The case was EEOC v. Rinnier Development Co., et al., No. 1:14-cv-03076-JFM.

About Lauren Kirkwood

Lauren Kirkwood covers the business of law beat at The Daily Record.