United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S NON-FINAL REPORT
J. BAVEKMAN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
matter is presently before the Court on a motion to dismiss
the complaint, [Doc. 9], and a motion to dismiss the amended
complaint, [Doc. 14], both filed by Defendants Cobb County
School District (“CCSD”) and Cobb County School
District Superintendent Chris Ragsdale
(“Ragsdale”) pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set forth
below, the undersigned RECOMMENDS that the
motion to dismiss the original complaint be DENIED
AS MOOT, [Doc. 9], and that the
motion to dismiss the amended complaint be GRANTED IN
PART and DENIED IN PART, [Doc. 14].
Motion to Dismiss the Original Complaint
Bonnie Cole, proceeding through counsel, initiated this
action by complaint on April 18, 2017. [Doc. 1]. Defendants
timely responded to the complaint on May 11, 2017, with a
motion to dismiss. [Doc. 9]. Fourteen days later, on May 25,
2017, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint. [Doc. 11].
to Rule 15(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a
party may amend her pleading once as a matter of course
within twenty-one days after serving it or within twenty-one
days after service of a motion under Rule 12(b)(6).
Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(1). Plaintiff having filed her amended
complaint within twenty-one days after Defendants' first
motion to dismiss, the amended complaint was properly filed
as a matter of course. See Fed. R. Civ. P.
15(a)(1)(B); El-Saba v. Univ. of S. Ala., Civ.
Action No. 15-00087-KD-N, 2015 WL 5849747, at *5 n.7 (S.D.
Ala. Sept. 22, 2015) (noting that after defendant executed
waiver of service, then filed motion to dismiss approximately
two months later, plaintiff had additional twenty-one days to
file amended complaint). Moreover, Defendants did not object
to Plaintiff's having filed the amended complaint as a
matter of course. [See Doc. 14-1 at 1 n.1
(acknowledging that “under operative law, ”
Plaintiff's amended complaint took the place of her
original complaint)]. The Court therefore accepts the amended
complaint, [Doc. 11], as the operative complaint in this
light of Plaintiff's having filed the amended complaint,
the undersigned concludes that the motion to dismiss the
original complaint should be denied as moot. [Doc. 9].
Plaintiff's amended complaint supersedes the original
complaint. See Malowney v. Fed. Collection Deposit
Grp., 193 F.3d 1342, 1345 n.1 (11th Cir.
1999) (“An amended complaint supersedes an original
complaint.”); Varnes v. Local 91, Glass Bottle
Blowers Ass'n, 674 F.2d 1365, 1370 n.6
(11th Cir. 1982) (“As a general rule, an
amended complaint supersedes and replaces the original
complaint unless the amendment specifically refers to or
adopts the earlier pleading.”). Further, the amended
complaint renders moot the motion to dismiss the original
complaint because that motion seeks to dismiss a pleading
that has been superseded. Fountain v. Hyundai Motor
Co., Civ. Action No. 1:15-CV-00446-ELR, 2016 WL 4361528,
at *2 (N.D.Ga. Mar. 4, 2016) (Ross, J.) (“The filing of
the amended complaint has rendered the arguments contained in
the first motion to dismiss moot.”); Mizzaro v.
Home Depot, Inc., No. Civ. A. 1:06-CV-11510, 2007 WL
2254693, at *3 (N.D.Ga. July 18, 2007) (Evans, J.)
(dismissing as moot a motion to dismiss addressing the
original complaint following defendants' acceding to the
filing of an amended complaint). Defendants also concede that
the amended complaint moots their first motion to dismiss.
[Doc. 14-1 at 1 n.1].
the motion to dismiss the original complaint seeks to dismiss
a pleading that has been superseded, the undersigned
RECOMMENDS to the District Judge that he
DENY AS MOOT the motion to dismiss the
original complaint. [Doc. 9].
Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint
8, 2017, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the amended
complaint in its entirety. [Doc. 14]. On June 22, 2017,
Plaintiff filed a response brief in opposition to the motion
to dismiss, [Doc. 15], and on July 13, 2017, Defendants filed
a reply brief in support of their motion, [Doc.
With briefing complete, the undersigned now examines the
motion and submits this Report and Recommendation
(“R&R”) for the District Judge's
began working for CCSD in 1998, as a teacher at Vaughan
Elementary School. [Doc. 11 ¶ 11]. In 2004, Plaintiff
became Assistant Administrator of Bullard Elementary School.
[Id. ¶ 12]. Two years later, in 2006, Plaintiff
became Assistant Principal of Bullard Elementary School.
[Id. ¶ 13]. Plaintiff is a practicing
Christian. [Id. ¶ 15].
the 2014-2015 school year, Plaintiff and several other
teachers implemented breathing and stretching exercises based
on yoga and meditation in classrooms as a way of
reducing stress and encouraging relaxation among
Bullard's teachers and students. [Id. ¶
16]. Plaintiff did not consider the techniques to be
religious or based in religion. [Id. ¶ 17]. The
mindfulness practices consisted of well-established
techniques used to promote general well-being, facilitate
education, and reduce disruptive behaviors. [Id.
¶ 18]. With teacher input, Plaintiff and others also
decorated a faculty room with soft lighting, fountains, and
peaceful music, and designated it a place where faculty could
relax in a quiet environment: where they could “take a
few deep breaths, color mandalas,  or play with kinetic
sand.” [Id. ¶ 20]. In July 2015,
Plaintiff became a licensed reiki practitioner and opened a side
business offering reiki services to the public, but she did
not perform reiki or promote her practice at the school.
[Id. ¶¶ 25, 26].
mindfulness program was similar to programs introduced
elsewhere in CCSD, including the Department of Physical
Education and the county counseling department. [Id.
¶ 22]. In February 2016, Bullard Elementary sent a
newsletter to parents stating that mindfulness practices
included “piping music through the hallways, ”
“decorating and painting, ” “yoga
sequences, ” and “mindful quiet time.”
[Id. ¶ 19]. After implementing the mindfulness
practices, Bullard Elementary documented a
thirty-three-percent decrease in disruptive behaviors and
policy violations for the period spanning November 2, 2015,
through March 4, 2016. [Id. ¶¶ 23-24].
the 2015-2016 school year, some parents who attended church
with Defendant Ragsdale and the Chair of CCSD's board,
Randy Scamihorn, made religion-based complaints to Ragsdale
about Plaintiff's use of mindfulness practices at Bullard
Elementary. [Id. ¶ 27]. Ragsdale expressed his
support for the complaints and advised the parents that such
information “helps tremendously.” [Id.
February 29, 2016, CCSD received an anonymous letter
complaining about the use of mindfulness practices.
[Id. ¶ 29]. Five members of the CCSD board also
received the anonymous letter. [Id. ¶ 29]. CCSD
then received emails from parents stating, among other
things, that Plaintiff was a Buddhist trying to indoctrinate their
children with Buddhism. [Id. ¶ 30]. Plaintiff
was also falsely accused of leading chants in the hallways,
placing stones on children in an effort to “heal”
them, forcing children to color mandalas green for Buddha,
and requiring children to bow to her in hallways.
[Id. ¶ 31]. Plaintiff was also accused of
attempting to indoctrinate children into Buddhism by reading
the book “Peaceful Piggy Meditation, ” which was
written by a Jewish author and does not espouse any
particular religion, but merely describes the practice of
meditation. [Id. ¶ 33].
denied the allegations, and CCSD's investigations failed
to substantiate them. [Id. ¶ 32]. On March 16,
2016, several parents held a prayer rally on the grounds of
Bullard Elementary “for Jesus to rid the school of
Buddhism.” [Id. ¶ 34]. The next day, two
women stood outside Plaintiff's office with their hands
on her windows, praying. [Id. ¶ 34]. Community
members posted selectively chosen and out-of-context passages
from Plaintiff's personal business website in an effort
to attack her “evil practices, ” forcing her to
take the web page down. [Id. ¶ 35]. Defendants
became aware that the controversy attracted national
attention from the media, including the Washington Post.
[Id. ¶ 36].
several members of CCSD's administration voiced support
for Plaintiff and assured her that the situation was
“not her fault” and that she would not be moved.
[Id. ¶ 37]. On March 17, 2016, the principal of
Bullard Elementary, Patrice Moore, held a meeting-open to all
parents-to explain mindfulness and to answer questions.
[Id. ¶ 38].
time after the meeting, an attendee sent emails to CCSD,
Ragsdale, and CCSD's human resources department in which
he summarized his concerns and stated that he could not see
how the school community could heal if Plaintiff were allowed
to stay in her job. [Id. ¶ 39]. During the same
period of time, the CCSD board, including Ragsdale, received
numerous emails of support from parents, teachers, a school
psychologist, speech-language pathologists, and special
educators, praising Plaintiff, her work, and the practices of
mindfulness and yoga as showing positive results with
students. [Id. ¶ 40].
March 2016, CCSD halted all mindfulness practices at Bullard
Elementary and issued a statement to that effect.
[Id. ¶ 44]. The statement did not state that
the practices were in fact secular or defend Plaintiff
against the false accusations. [Id. ¶ 45].
for her job, Plaintiff asked certain members of CCSD district
leadership to support her in defending herself from the false
allegations. [Id. ¶ 46]. She also stated to at
least two members of the district leadership-John Adams and
Grant Rivera-that she was being discriminated against based
on community members' beliefs about her religion.
March 24, 2016, Ragsdale and CCSD's board voted to move
Plaintiff to another school, Mableton Elementary, sixteen
miles further from her home. [Id. ¶¶ 47,
48]. The transfer added an hour to Plaintiff's daily
commute. [Id. ¶ 49]. Mableton Elementary is
also a lower-performing school and offers fewer academics,
sports, and extra-curricular activities than Bullard
Elementary. [Id. ¶ 49].
amended complaint, Plaintiff asserts claims against CCSD
pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
(“Title VII”), as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e
et seq., for “reverse religious
discrimination, ” (Count I), and retaliation, (Count
II), and she asserts claims against CCSD and Ragsdale
pursuant to the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of
the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, as
enforced through 42 U.S.C. § 1983, (Counts III and IV,
respectively). [Doc. 11 ¶¶ 1, 51-78].
avoid dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure, “a complaint must contain sufficient
factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to
relief that is plausible on its face.' ”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting
Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570
(2007)). In evaluating the sufficiency of a complaint, a
court “must accept the facts pleaded as true and
construe them in a light most favorable to [the]
plaintiff.” Quality Foods de Centro Am., S.A. v.
Latin Am. Agribusiness Dev. Corp., S.A., 711 F.2d 989,
994-95 (11th Cir. 1983). At the same time,
however, a court should not accept “conclusory
allegations, unwarranted deductions of facts or legal
conclusions masquerading as facts.” Oxford Asset
Mgmt., Ltd. v. Jaharis, 297 F.3d 1182, 1188
(11th Cir. 2002). And while a complaint need not
contain detailed factual allegations, mere “labels and
conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the
elements of a cause of action will not do.”
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; accord Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 678-79 (“Threadbare recitals of the elements of
a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements,
do not suffice” and are “not entitled to the
assumption of truth.”). Rather, plaintiffs are required
to make factual allegations that are “enough to raise a
right to relief above the speculative level.”
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Complaints must
“contain either direct or inferential allegations
respecting all the material elements necessary to sustain a
recovery under some viable legal theory.” Fin. Sec.
Assurance, Inc. v. Stephens, Inc., 500 F.3d 1276,
1282-83 (11th Cir. 2007) (per curiam) (internal
quotation marks omitted). The court also may dismiss a
complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) when, on the basis of a
dispositive issue of law, no construction of the factual
allegations will support the cause of action. Marshall
Cnty. Bd. of Educ. v. Marshall Cnty. Gas Dist., 992 F.2d
1171, 1174 (11th Cir. 1993).
seek dismissal of all of the claims asserted in the amended
complaint. [Doc. 14]. The Court will analyze Defendants'
motion to dismiss with regard to each of Plaintiff's
claims, considering the arguments in logical order.
VII makes it unlawful for an employer “to fail or
refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise
to discriminate against any individual with respect to h[er]
compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment,
because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex,
or national origin.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1).
Title VII also makes it unlawful for an employer to retaliate
against an employee because: (1) “[s]he has opposed any
practice made an unlawful employment practice by [Title VII],
” or (2) “[s]he has made a charge, testified,
assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation,
proceeding, or hearing under [Title VII].” 42 U.S.C.
§ 2000e-3(a) .
state a claim under Title VII, a plaintiff must allege that
the defendant's actions were purposefully discriminatory
and motivated by discrimination. See Gen. Bldg.
Contractors Assoc., Inc. v. Pennsylvania, 458 U.S. 375,
391 (1982) (holding that “[42 U.S.C.] § 1981, like
the Equal Protection Clause, can be violated only by
purposeful discrimination”); Bernstein v. Ga.
Dep't of Educ., 970 F.Supp.2d 1340, 1355 (N.D.Ga.
2013) (Duffey, J.) (reciting standard in context of summary
judgment motion). A plaintiff can support her claim with
direct or circumstantial evidence. Dixon v. The Hallmark
Cos., 627 F.3d 849, 854 (11th Cir. 2010);
EEOC v. Joe's Stone Crabs, Inc., 296 F.3d 1265,
1272 (11th Cir. 2002).
“Reverse” Religious ...