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Nagy v. Taylor County School District

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

October 5, 2017

DEBORAH L. NAGY, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff Deborah Nagy, a Caucasian female, brings this action against Defendants Taylor County School District (the “School District”) and Gary Gibson, alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Doc. 1 ¶ 1. Nagy also alleges a First Amendment retaliation claim as well as state law tort claims against Gibson. See generally Id. Defendants have moved for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Doc. 18. For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Nagy began working for the School District in 1995 as an elementary school teacher. Docs. 1 ¶ 8; 24-6 at 16:21-25, 17:8-11. Nagy continued to work as a teacher until 2003 when she was promoted to a principal position in charge of grades three through five. Docs. 18-5 ¶ 2; 24-6 at 19:5-8. Her duties as principal included the following: (1) overseeing facilities operations at her school; (2) providing instructional leadership; (3) handling student discipline; (4) supervising staff and ensuring they comply with school procedures, guidelines, and Taylor County Board of Education policies; (5) attending school functions; and (6) attending Board meetings and reporting to the Board regarding significant activities at her school. Docs. 18-5 ¶¶ 5-7; 24-6 at 20:11-20, 22:3-19, 25:14-26:7.

         For the 2004-2005 school year, the School District opened a new school for kindergarten through second grade, and Nagy became and remained its principal until she resigned following the 2014-2015 school year. Docs. 18-5 ¶¶ 3-4; 24-6 at 19:15-20:8. At the time Nagy became a principal, the Superintendent of the School District was Wayne Smith. Docs. 18-5 ¶ 8; 24-6 at 32:21-25. In early 2013, Smith announced that he intended to retire. Docs. 18-5 ¶ 9; 24-6 at 35:7-9. At a Board meeting on May 13, 2013, Nagy expressed her interest in Smith's position as the District Superintendent, although Nagy never officially applied. Docs. 18-5 ¶¶ 10, 12; 24-6 at 35-19-22, 42:20-25.

         In late 2013, the School District hired Defendant Gary Gibson, a Caucasian male, to replace Smith. Docs. 24-6 at 54:2-5, 67:24-68:1; 27 at 22:3-6. At a December 9, 2013 Board meeting, Smith announced that the Board had “made the right choice” in hiring Gibson, a sentiment Nagy apparently did not share. Docs. 18-3 at 2-3; 24-6 at 54:6-9. Nagy was present at this meeting and sent a text to a work colleague that Smith's statement “pissed [her] off.” Docs. 18-3 at 2-3; 18-5 ¶ 15. Gibson began work on January 1, 2014, and four months later, Nagy looked into a Superintendent position in Chattahoochee County but never applied for the position. Docs. 18-5 ¶¶ 13, 16; 24-6 at 61:1-9, 66:18-67:3. Nagy did, however, apply for a position as Superintendent, Curriculum Director, and Principal in Schley County because she “could tell things were getting tense with Dr. Gibson at the end of [the 2013-2014 school] year.” Doc. 24-6 at 63:20-25, 66:18-22, 67:1-8.

         This tension arose when Gibson “began changing and formalizing the School District's hiring process” shortly after being hired, despite Nagy already having a process of her own in place for her school. Doc. 18-5 ¶ 18; see also Docs. 24-2 ¶¶ 6-9; 27 at 36:1-40:1. For her hiring process, Nagy typically selected the lead teachers from each grade level, the literacy coach, and sometimes the special education teacher to serve on a hiring committee that consisted of five to six members, including herself. Doc. 24-6 at 80:14-25, 116:16-25, 117:11-14. All members of her typical hiring committee, except the lead kindergarten teacher who was African-American, were Caucasian. Id. at 118:14-119:20. But Gibson believed the School District's faculty did not adequately represent the diversity in the student body, which is approximately 47% African-American. Docs. 18-5 ¶ 20; 24-6 at 75:22-25. Thus, he instituted a hiring procedure that required the appointment of hiring committee members to “reflect the community.” Docs. 18-5 ¶ 21; 27 at 36:17-37:10. This meant that the hiring committee should “come from all facets of the school: [m]ale, female, race.” Doc. 27 at 37:4-9. Thus, the community at large would feel “like they had input.” Id. at 53:11-22.

         In the Spring of 2014, Gibson verbally explained his new hiring procedure to all principals, allegedly including Nagy, at an administrative meeting. Docs. 18-4 ¶ 4; 18-5 ¶ 23. Nagy, who was a principal at the time, testified that she is not “sure if [Gibson] brought up the hiring policy then.” Doc. 24-6 at 74:11-16. But she stopped short of stating “he didn't say anything [regarding the hiring procedure], ” and admitted that “it was written in policy in the middle of October.” Id. at 79:24-25. Notably, Gibson maintained that in both his verbal instruction and the written memorandum of the hiring procedure, he mentioned “nothing about quotas or percentages.” Doc. 27 at 38:18-20.

         Following the 2013-2014 school year, Nagy went on medical leave, and Gibson assigned Gwen Jenkins, an African-American assistant principal at the upper elementary school, to fill in at the lower school during Nagy's absence. Docs. 24-2 ¶ 12; 24-6 at 97:18-98:2. This “bothered” Nagy because she believed Ellen Peacock, her predecessor, would have been a more qualified substitute. Doc. 24-6 at 98:13-99:10. However, because Peacock had retired, she could only have worked part time as principal or else she would have lost her retirement benefits. Id. at 100:7-12; Doc. 27 at 58:5-18. Thus, Gibson reasoned that having Jenkins working full-time as principal would be better than Peacock working part time, especially given Peacock was already working part-time at the central office. Doc. 27 at 58:14-25.

         At the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year, an administrative assistant position opened up at Nagy's school. Doc. 27 at 59:7-16. Though Nagy was still on medical leave, she came back to handle the hiring process. Doc. 24-6 at 78:5-14, 93:15-23. With the “same criteria [she] always used, ” Nagy assembled a hiring committee that consisted entirely of Caucasian staff members.[1] Id. at 79:2-3; Doc. 24-2 ¶ 14. When the all-Caucasian hiring committee decided in favor of a white applicant, an African-American interviewee filed an EEOC complaint alleging race discrimination. Doc. 24-6 at 78:15-18, 96:21-24. The School District later settled this claim. Docs. 18-5 ¶ 27; 21 at 4.

         In September of 2014, while Nagy was still on leave, Gibson met with Nagy to discuss the EEOC claim and her failure to follow his hiring procedure.[2] Docs. 24-6 at 84:5-13, 94:8-19, 95:1-14; 27 at 73:21-25. During this meeting, Nagy claims Gibson “pretty much blamed [her] for [the EEOC] lawsuit, ” and Nagy, in turn, “questioned [Gibson] about his hiring process.” Docs. 24-2 ¶ 15; 24-6 at 152:15-24. Initially, Gibson believed that a verbal instruction of his hiring procedure “would suffice, ” because he was “trying to let [the Principals] do [the hiring process] as much on their own as [he] could.” Doc. 27 at 37:20-24, 73:7-10.

         On October 10, 2014, Gibson sent to the principals a written memorandum detailing the hiring procedure. Id. at 50:15-51:9. The memorandum stated that “the Interview Committee must be composed of differing genders, races, ages, and reflect the community we serve.” Doc. 24-6 at 83:8-84:2. While Nagy stated the hiring procedure mentioned a quota, that word did not appear in the October 10, 2014 memo. Id. at 85:10-16. However, Nagy testified that she was told either verbally or in a subsequent memo that 40% of people on hiring committees had to be minorities. Id. at 87:7-14. But Nagy admitted Gibson never told her she needed to hire a certain person based on race or gender. Id. at 88:3-10. Gibson also never told Nagy to include specific people in her hiring committee. Id. at 195:3-5; Doc. 27 at 60:1-8.

         Near the end of 2014, a teacher position became vacant. Doc. 24-2 ¶ 16. For this position, Nagy followed Gibson's hiring procedure in assembling her hiring committee. Id. The committee consisted of three African-American staff members and three Caucasian staff members, including Nagy. Id. Unlike previous occasions, the committee members used score sheets to determine the top candidate. See Doc. 24-6 at 115:1-13. After all the score sheets were filled out, a Caucasian member collected the sheets and left the room to tally the scores. Id. at 113:19-21. When a white applicant was announced as the top candidate, “there was a great deal of dissension by the committee members along racial lines.” Doc. 18-4 ¶ 5. The African-American members accused the Caucasian members of improperly calculating the scores. Doc. 24-2 ¶ 17. In turn, Nagy accused the African-American members, one of whom was Gwen Jenkins, of “erasing tally sheet scores in an effort to benefit the black candidate they favored.” Id. ¶ 18. Gibson was informed of the accusations from both sides. Doc. 27 at 76:1-11. When Gibson met with Nagy to discuss this incident, Nagy claims “Gibson refused to hear [her] complaint about this process, and instead blamed [her] for the tally sheet tabulation dispute.” Doc. 24-2 ¶ 19. Nagy testified that she did not have these issues until Gibson became the Superintendent. Doc. 24-6 at 123:14-21. But Gibson “tried to explain to [Nagy] how [the incident] could have been avoided if the scores were tallied in the room with the rest of the committee.” Doc. 18-5 ¶ 38; see also Doc. 18-4 ¶ 6. Moreover, he doubted Nagy's claims because he stated that staff members inspected the black members' score sheets and there were no erasure marks. Doc. 27 at 77:13-22. While Gibson was attempting to explain these concerns, Nagy walked out of Gibson's office, “as she did in other meetings with Dr. Gibson when he was critical of her performance.” Doc. 18-4 ¶ 6; see also Doc. 18-5 ¶ 40. Thus, Gibson believed Nagy was being “openly defiant and rude.” Doc. 18-5 ¶ 41.

         Gibson alleges several other instances where Nagy exhibited “disrespectful and insubordinate” behavior. See, e.g., id. ¶¶ 42-49; Doc. 27 at 79:20-25. For example, Nagy would sometimes refuse to go to the podium in board meetings to address the Board and provide a report from her school. Docs. 18-5 ¶ 42; 27 at 81:13-82:4. This behavior, Gibson alleges, had led some Board members to tell him to “get her to the podium or [they were] going to do something about it.” Docs. 18-5 ¶ 43; 27 at 82:2-4. Nagy also allegedly conversed with people around her in an audible tone while the Board meeting was taking place. Docs. 18-5 ¶ 44; 27 at 79:22-23. Further, Gibson claims Nagy was dismissive with parents and unwilling to assist in the school office, as “parents and staff often found her sitting in a rocking chair or on a counter in the front office.” Doc. 18-5 ¶¶ 45-46; see also Doc. 27 at 106:19-25. In another instance, two officers of the school's PTO allegedly came to the front office and were ignored by Nagy for some time until she finally gave them the information they were seeking. Docs. 18-5 ¶¶ 47-49; 27 at 80:10-12, 106:19-25.

         While Gibson never gave Nagy written notice of discipline for her behavior, as that was objected to by some board members and was not “the culture around [the school], ” he testified that he disciplined her verbally. Doc. 27 at 114:17-116:9. Nagy claims Gibson never spoke to her about being insubordinate or unprofessional. Doc. 24-2 ¶ 11. Instead, she claims Gibson rarely spoke to her at all, and whenever he did, it would be in the presence of one or more of his staff as an attempt to intimidate her. Doc. 24 at 8. Gibson denied ever turning Nagy down when she wanted to meet but admitted he had witnesses in the room whenever he was talking with Nagy, not to intimidate her but “[b]ecause things would . . . not be exactly as they were when they were repeated.” Doc. 27 at 125:16-24.

         In the Spring of 2015, Nagy applied for the position of Curriculum Director. Doc. 24-6 at 192:5-6. On April 1, 2015, Nagy was informed by the assistant superintendent that she was not selected for the position. Id. at 192:8-11, 24-25, 193:1-4. “According to [Gibson's] EEOC Rebuttal, ” Nagy “scored 7 out of 9” on the rubric from the committee. Id. at 192:19-23. Nagy believes Gibson purposely put custodians and administrators on the hiring committee who are “all loyal to Gibson” in an effort to deny her the position.[3]Docs. 24-1 at 7; 24-6 at 196:7-19. Minutes after hearing that she was not selected, Nagy called Gibson and initiated a heated confrontation. Doc. 24-6 at 194:3-17. Specifically, Nagy admitted to saying something to the effect of “you better get ready, you're not going to be there much longer, I'm coming after you, you need to get your stuff together.” Id. 194:10-14. Gibson determined the following morning that Nagy “could not continue to serve as a principal after the school year ended.” Doc. 18-5 ¶ 55; see Doc. 27 at 128:15-129:1.

         The next Board meeting was on April 13, 2015, and as noted, Gibson required all principals to give a short report at Board meetings. Docs. 24-6 at 219:10-16; 27 at 81:10-17. Nagy stated she wanted to address the Board “to discuss some of [her] . . . concerns . . . about the system and the children, and the way things were being run.” Doc. 24-6 at 217:18-218:1. In her report, Nagy discussed her years in the School District, the excellent “climate” rating of her school, her health issues, and how she cared for her students and her school. Id. at 220:10-221:4. Additionally, Nagy asked what qualifications were required for Gibson's hiring committees at a District level, because she had unsuccessfully requested twice to be on one. Id. at 222:1-9. Nagy also asked how some decisions were being made by the central office. Id. at 227:4-9. Nagy testified that she wanted eventually to voice her opposition to Gibson's programs, but Gibson cut her off before she could finish. Id. at 224:2-9, 228:4-5.

         Up to this point, Nagy stated she “had no idea” that she would not return as a principal. Id. at 224:14-16. On April 14, 2015, Nagy received a letter stating that her contract as a principal would not be renewed for the 2015-2016 school year. Id. at 198:18-22. Instead, the letter offered Nagy a teaching position, an offer Nagy rejected. Id. at 198:23-199:20, 201:23-202:1. The Board, with Gibson's recommendation, voted to replace Nagy with an African-American female, Gwen Jenkins, the assistant principal who filled in during Nagy's medical leave. Id. at 202:2-6. The Board that voted on Nagy's nonrenewal consisted of three Caucasian members and two African-American members. Docs. 18-5 ¶ 64; 24-6 at 203:13-16. At the same time as Nagy's nonrenewal, the Board filled another principal position with a Caucasian. Docs. 18-5 ¶¶ 61-63; 24-6 at 202:7-203:9.

         On September 19, 2016, the Board voted to remove Gibson as Superintendent. Doc. 27 at 87:11-15. During his time as the School District's Superintendent there were 32 hires, most of whom were teachers. Id. at 85:9-16. Of the teacher hires, the “majority by far was [C]aucasian.” Id. at 86:1-8.

         On June 8, 2015, Nagy filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC and received a Right-to-Sue notice. Doc. 1 ¶ 14. Nagy timely filed this lawsuit alleging claims against the School District and Gibson pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (Count I), and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Count II). See generally Doc. 1 ¶ 1. Nagy alleges that, despite her “stellar record as Principal of the Primary School, ” the determining factor in Defendants' decision to demote and constructively terminate her as the Primary School Principal was her race. Id. ¶¶ 13, 16, 19. Nagy also asserts a First Amendment claim against Gibson (Count IV), alleging Gibson demoted her in retaliation for her speaking on matters of public concern, and state law claims for defamation (Count III) and intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count V). Id. ¶¶ 22, 24, 26.

         II. Discussion

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         A court shall grant summary judgment “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A factual dispute is not genuine unless, based on the evidence presented, “‘a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'” Info. Sys. & Networks Corp. v. City of Atlanta, 281 F.3d 1220, 1224 (11th Cir. 2002) (quoting United States v. Four Parcels of Real Prop., 941 F.2d 1428, 1437 (11th Cir. 1991)); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). “The moving party bears the burden of proving no genuine issue of material fact exists.” Info. Sys. & Networks Corp., 281 F.3d at 1224. The movant may support its assertion that a fact is undisputed by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A).

         The burden then shifts to the non-moving party, who must rebut the movant's showing “by producing . . . relevant and admissible evidence beyond the pleadings.” Josendis v. Wall to Wall Residence Repairs, Inc., 662 F.3d 1292, 1315 (11th Cir. 2011). The non-moving party does not satisfy its burden “if the rebuttal evidence ‘is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative' of a disputed fact.” Id. (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50). Further, where a party fails to address another party's assertion of fact as required by Rule 56(c), the Court may consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2). However, “[c]redibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge . . . . The evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [her] favor.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

         B. Nagy's Inadequate Response to Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts

         Defendants argue that “in the vast majority of [Nagy's] responses to Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (“SMF”), Plaintiff either does not directly refute the facts or supports her refutations with conclusory disagreements or evidence that does not actually directly refute the fact.” Doc. 28 at 2 (internal quotation marks omitted). There is considerable merit to Defendants' allegation. Here are but a few examples. Defendants rely on the affidavit of Latonja Turner, the woman to whom Nagy texted that Smith's endorsement of Gibson “pissed [her] off.” Doc. 18-3. Turner attached to her affidavit a screen shot of those messages. Id. at 3. Nagy responds by simply stating she “has no recollection of this text message exchange, or of the date of any such alleged communication.” Doc. 24-1 at 2. In response to Defendants' assertion that Nagy “walked out of Dr. Gibson's office as he was attempting to explain his concerns . . .” (Doc. 18-5 ¶ 40), Nagy simply “denies this incident took place as related by Gibson and Albritton.” Doc. 24-1 at 6. And in response to the assertion that Nagy told Gibson “that she was going to ‘get' him and that he should ‘pack his office' because he was going to lose his job” (Doc. 18-5 ¶ 54), Nagy “denies that her conversation with Dr. Gibson was as alleged by Dr. Gibson.” Doc. 24-1 at 7-8. Yet, Nagy testified:

Q: Do you remember saying, you better get ready, you're not going to be there much longer, I'm coming after you, you ...

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