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Wright v. Atlanta Public Schools

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

February 15, 2018

MILLICENT WRIGHT, Plaintiff,
v.
ATLANTA PUBLIC SCHOOLS and ISIS MANBOARD, Defendants.

          MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S NON-FINAL REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          LINDA T. WALKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This case is presently before the Court on Defendants Atlanta Public Schools and Isis Manboard's (together “Defendants”) Pre-Answer Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 2). For the reasons outlined below, this Court RECOMMENDS that Defendants' Motion to Dismiss be GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART. (Doc. 2). All of Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Manboard be DISMISSED. All of Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Atlanta Public Schools, except Plaintiff's ADEA claim, should also be DISMISSED.

         DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Millicent Wright (“Plaintiff”) filed this lawsuit on February 6, 2017, in the Superior Court of Fulton County, Georgia. (Doc. 1-1). On March 16, 2017, Defendants removed the case to this Court. (Doc. 1). In Plaintiff's Complaint, she argues Defendants discriminated against her due to her age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”) when they terminated her from her substitute teacher position. (Compl. ¶ 17). Plaintiff also claims Defendants violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because they failed to afford her constitutionally required due process by terminating her based on unsubstantiated allegations. (Compl. ¶ 25). Plaintiff also asserts claims for libel, slander, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. (Compl. ¶ 27-32).

         In Plaintiff's Complaint, she alleges that from 1960 through 1996, she served as a teacher and an administrator with the Atlanta Public Schools (“APS”). (Compl. ¶ 6). After retiring in 1996, Plaintiff, age seventy-nine, began substitute teaching with APS and began a long-term substitute teaching assignment at Adamsville Elementary School in about January 2016. (Compl. ¶ 7-8). On about February 4, 2016, Defendant Isis Manboard, the principal at Adamsville Elementary School, terminated Plaintiff because Plaintiff allegedly “pinched a child's ear, ” an accusation that was later changed to “paddling” a child. (Compl. ¶¶ 5, 10). Plaintiff denied the allegations and requested after termination that APS investigate the alleged incident and restore her good name as an educator. (Compl. ¶ 12). After termination, Plaintiff alleges Defendants determined that the allegations of pinching or paddling were false but did not recant them. (Compl. 13). Plaintiff avers that she timely filed a notice with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). (Compl. ¶ 18).

         Defendants argue Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Isis Manboard in Manboard's official capacity should be dismissed because they are redundant with Plaintiff's claims against APS. (Def.'s Br. 4-5). Defendants contend that to the extent that Plaintiff asserts her ADEA claim against Defendant Manboard in her individual capacity, her ADEA claim should be dismissed because she is not, as an individual, an employer within the meaning of the ADEA and therefore, cannot be held individually liable for ADEA violations. (Def.'s Br. 6-7). Defendants also argue Plaintiff failed to sufficiently allege that she exhausted her administrative remedies. (Def.'s Br. 6). Defendants further contend that(1) Plaintiff's Section 1983 claims fail because she cannot show that she had a property interest in her continued employment or that her Constitutional injuries stemmed from a custom, policy, or practice; (2) Plaintiff's state law tort claims against APS are barred by sovereign immunity; (3) Plaintiff's intentional infliction of emotional distress claim fails because Plaintiff does not allege extreme and outrageous behavior; (4) Plaintiff's defamation claims fail because they are time-barred and she fails to plead facts supporting the required elements of her claim, such as whether or not Defendants published defamatory statements about her; (5) Plaintiff's Section 1983 claim against Defendant Manboard fails because Manboard is entitled to qualified immunity; (6) Plaintiff's state law tort claims against Defendant Manboard should be dismissed because Manboard is entitled to official immunity; and (7) Plaintiff's claim for punitive damages should be dismissed because punitive damages are not available against a government entity.

         II. LEGAL ANALYSIS

         A. Motion to Dismiss Standard

         Dismissal is warranted under Rule 12(b)(6) if, assuming the truth of the factual allegations of the plaintiff's complaint, there is a dispositive legal issue which precludes relief or it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 326 (1989); Brown v. Crawford Cnty., 960 F.2d 1002, 1009-10 (11th Cir. 1992). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss also tests the sufficiency of the complaint against the legal standard set forth in Rule 8: “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). A complaint “requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). To state a claim with sufficient specificity requires that the complaint have enough factual matter taken as true to suggest required elements of the claim. Watts v. Fla. Int'l Univ., 495 F.3d 1289, 1296 (11th Cir. 2007); Hill v. White, 321 F.3d 1334, 1335 (11th Cir. 2003). Factual allegations in a complaint need not be detailed but “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citing Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 508 n.1 (2002)).

         B. Plaintiff's ADEA Claims

         Plaintiff alleges Defendants Manboard and APS discriminated against her on the basis of her age when they terminated her from her substitute teaching position in violation of the ADEA. (Compl. ¶ 17); 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-634. Plaintiff alleges Defendants leveled shifting, pretextual allegations against her, first accusing her of pinching a child's ear and then later accusing her of paddling a child in an effort to justify their decision. (Compl. ¶ 15). Defendants argue Plaintiff's ADEA claims against Defendant Manboard in her official capacity should be dismissed because they are redundant with her claims against Defendant APS. Defendants contend that Plaintiff's claims against Manboard in her individual capacity should also be dismissed because individuals are not amenable to suit under the ADEA. Defendants further argue that Plaintiff's ADEA claims against both Defendants should be dismissed because she fails to allege facts tending to show that she timely filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”).

         1. Plaintiff's ADEA Claim Against Manboard in Her Individual Capacity Should Be Dismissed

         Defendants argue Plaintiff's ADEA claim against Defendant Manboard in her individual capacity should be dismissed because she is not an “employer” and therefore, not subject to liability under the ADEA. The ADEA limits civil liability to employers and not individual supervisors under the act. Tobar v. Fed. Defenders Middle Dist. of Ga., 618 F. App'x 982, 985 n.2 (11th Cir. 2015); Shuler v. Bd. of Tr. of Univ. of Ala., 480 F. App'x 540, 543 (11th Cir. 2012); Smith v. Lomax, 45 F.3d 402, 403 n.4 (11th Cir. 1995) (holding no individual liability under ...


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