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Smith v. Bibb County School District

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

March 22, 2018

TERRANCE SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
BIBB COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          LESLIE J. ABRAMS, JUDGE

         Before the Court is Defendants Bibb County School District (“the District”), the Board of Public Education for Bibb County (the “Board”), [1] Dr. E. Steven Smith, [2] and Dr. Curtis L. Jones' collective Motion for Summary Judgment. Doc. 15. For the reasons stated below, Defendants' Motion, Doc. 15, is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Terrance Smith initiated this action on June 8, 2016, against his former employer. Doc. 1. Plaintiff's Complaint asserts six causes of action: (1) sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq.; (2) sex discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (3) retaliation in violation of Title VII; (4) retaliation in violation of § 1983; (5) retaliation in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq.; and (6) breach of contract in violation of Georgia law. Doc. 1 at 1-2. Specifically, the Complaint alleges Plaintiff was discriminated against by his employer based on his sex when he was not offered a position with the district for which he had applied and that he was retaliated against when the District: (1) failed to pay Plaintiff the correct salary subsequent to Plaintiff filing his first EEOC complaint that alleged sex discrimination; (2) offered him a position if he would drop his first EEOC complaint; (3) did not consider Plaintiff for positions for which he was qualified; (4) did not renew Plaintiff's employment contract; and (5) did not renew Plaintiff's contract one day after his return from FMLA leave. Doc. 1 at 20-26. The Complaint also alleges that the District breached a 2014 agreement with Plaintiff whereby the parties agreed to appoint Plaintiff to a position within the District in exchange for Plaintiff's dismissal of his first EEOC complaint and a 2015 agreement whereby the District was to appoint Plaintiff to the position of Grant Writer. Doc. 1 at 26-27. On March 11, 2017, Defendants moved for summary judgment. Doc. 15. Plaintiff and Defendants timely filed their respective response and reply. Docs. 20 & 21.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 allows a party to move for summary judgment when the party contends that no genuine issue of material fact remains and the party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. “Summary judgment is appropriate if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Maddox v. Stephens, 727 F.3d 1109, 1118 (11th Cir. 2013). “A genuine issue of material fact does not exist unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a reasonable jury to return a verdict in its favor.” Grimes v. Miami Dade Cty., 552 F. App'x 902, 904 (11th Cir. 2014).

         “An issue of fact is ‘material' if it is a legal element of the claim under the applicable substantive law which might affect the outcome of the case.” Allen v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 121 F.3d 642, 646 (11th Cir. 1997). “It is ‘genuine' if the record taken as a whole could lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party.” Tipton v. Bergrohr GMBH-Siegen, 965 F.2d 994, 998 (11th Cir. 1992). On a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view all evidence and factual inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and determine whether that evidence could reasonably sustain a jury verdict in its favor. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Allen, 121 F.3d at 646.

         The movant bears the initial burden of showing, by reference to the record, that there is no genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323; Barreto v. Davie Marketplace, LLC, 331 F. App'x 672, 673 (11th Cir. 2009). The movant can meet this burden by presenting evidence showing that there is no genuine dispute of material fact or by demonstrating that the non-moving party has failed to present evidence in support of some element of its case on which it bears the ultimate burden of proof. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-24; Barreto, 331 F. App'x at 673. Local Rule 56 further requires that “documents and other record materials relied upon by [the moving party] be clearly identified for the court.” M.D. Ga. L.R. 56. “Material facts not supported by specific citation to particular parts of materials in the record and statements in the form of issues or legal conclusions (rather than material facts) will not be considered by the court.” Id.

         “When that burden has been met, the burden shifts to the nonmovant . . . to go beyond the pleadings and to present competent evidence in the form of affidavits, answers to interrogatories, depositions, admissions and the like, designating specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial.” Lamar v. Wells Fargo Bank, 597 F. App'x 555, 556-57 (11th Cir. 2014) (internal citations omitted). “All material facts contained in the movant's statement which are not specifically controverted by specific citation to particular parts of materials in the record shall be deemed to have been admitted, unless otherwise inappropriate.” M.D. Ga. L.R. 56; see also Mason v. George, 24 F.Supp.3d 1254, 1260 (M.D. Ga. 2014).

         “In the Eleventh Circuit, a district court cannot grant a motion for summary judgment based on default or as a sanction for failure to properly respond.” U.S. v. Delbridge, 2008 WL 1869867, at *3 (M.D. Ga. Feb. 22, 2008) (citing Trs. of Cent. Pension Fund of Int'l Union of Operating Eng'rs and Participating Emp'rs v. Wolf Crane Serv., Inc., 374 F.3d 1035, 1039 (11th Cir. 2004)). Rather, the Court is “required to make an independent review of the record” and assess the merits of the arguments before deciding the summary judgment motion; however, “[t]here is no burden upon the district court to distill every potential argument that could be made based upon the materials before it on summary judgment.” Mason, 24 F.Supp.3d at 1260-61 (explaining that a court is not obligated to “read minds” or “construct arguments or theories” that a party did not raise).

         As the nonmovant facing a motion for summary judgment, Plaintiff was required to identify those material facts as to which he contends there exists a genuine dispute to be tried. The Local Rules require those responses to controvert statements of material facts in motions for summary judgment with “specific citation to particular parts of materials in the record.” See M.D. Ga. L.R. 56. Here, Plaintiff's Response to Defendants' Statement of Material Facts fails to comply with the Local Rules. Plaintiff fails to deny certain allegations by Defendants. See, e.g., Doc. 20-2 ¶¶ 10, 23, 26, 42. Accordingly, as to all statements asserted by Defendants in their Motion that are supported by specific record citation, the Court deems them to be admitted where Plaintiff has failed properly to respond in accordance with the Local Rules.

         FACTS

         Plaintiff, an African-American male, was hired by the District on January 9, 2012, in the classified position of Coordinator of Parent Education at the District's Welcome Center. Doc. 15-1 ¶¶ 1-2.[3] Classified employees of the District are not required to hold a Georgia teaching certificate but may be professionals who are skilled in various areas. Doc. 15-1 ¶ 3. Accordingly, Plaintiff was not required to hold, nor did he possess, a valid Georgia Teaching Certificate while in that position. Doc. 15-1 ¶ 6. The job description for Coordinator of Parent Education stated that Plaintiff was responsible for “providing effective leadership and coordinating multifaceted efforts to support the vision and mission of the Bibb County Public Schools system by providing educational support, guidance and assistance to parents in an effort to support/enhance the parents' ability to assist the academic instructional efforts of their children.” Doc. 15-1 ¶ 4. The job description required that Plaintiff have a Master's degree or higher and a minimum of three years working at a post-secondary institution. Doc. 15-1 ¶ 5. Plaintiff has a PhD in Educational Leadership. Doc. 20-4 ¶ 3. Plaintiff worked at the District's Welcome Center from January 2012 until the end of the 2013-2014 fiscal year. Doc. 15-1 ¶ 7.

         In 2013, the District changed its student-registration process. Previously, students seeking to enroll in Bibb County Schools reported to the Welcome Center to register for classes. The change allowed registration to take place at the individual schools within the District. Doc. 15-1 ¶ 8. As a result, the Welcome Center positions, including Plaintiff's position, were eliminated or reassigned as part of a Reduction In Force (“RIF”). Doc. 15-1 ¶ 9.

         During the spring of 2014, Plaintiff applied for the following positions within the District: (1) high school principal, (2) high school assistant principal, (3) middle school principal, (4) middle school assistant principal, (5) elementary school principal, (6) elementary school assistant principal, (7) Alternative Education Program supervisor, and (8) GEAR-UP Graduation advisor. Doc. 15-1 ¶ 12. The District's postings for principal and assistant principal positions in elementary, middle and high school all required that candidates possess an L5 Georgia Educational Leadership Certification or an equivalent out-of-state educational leadership certification and a minimum of five years of experience in public education, including successful experience as a classroom teacher. Doc. 15-1 ¶¶ 13, 14. The District's Alternative Education Program supervisor position also required a minimum of five years of experience as a classroom teacher as well as a Georgia Educational Leadership Certification or equivalent out of state educational leadership certificate. Doc. 15-1 ¶ 17. The GEAR UP Graduation Advisor position required that the candidate have an educational certification in grades 6-12, or be eligible for P-12 certification in school counseling or social work. Doc. 15-1 ¶ 19.

         At the time Plaintiff applied to these positions, during the spring of 2014, he did not possess any of the required certificates nor did Plaintiff have a minimum of five years of classroom experience in teaching at the kindergarten through twelfth grade level. Doc. 15-1 ¶¶ 15-16, 18. Similarly, at the time Plaintiff applied to these positions, he was not eligible for a P-12 certification in school counseling or social work. Doc. 15-1 ¶ 20. According to Plaintiff, these standards were not enforced and Plaintiff had collegiate-level classroom experience. Doc. 20-2 ¶¶ 13-14, 16. Plaintiff asserts that he obtained the Georgia Education Certification in Educational Leadership in May 2015. Doc. 20-2 ¶ 20.

         Plaintiff admits that he did not have the requisite certifications or experience for these positions but asserts that he “applied for several other positions within the District [including], College and Career Coordinator, Family Education Specialist (Job 335), and Family Engagement Facilitator (Job 371), ” for which he was qualified. Doc. 20-4 ¶¶ 15-16. There is no evidence in the record regarding the requirements for these positions.[4] Plaintiff was not selected to fill these positions. Doc. 15-1 ¶ 21. Plaintiff asserts, in the briefing, that the Family Education Specialist position went to a less qualified woman, Pamela Richardson; however, other than noting that Pamela Richardson was his subordinate, Plaintiff presents no evidence of Pamela Richardson's qualifications-let alone relative to his. See Docs. 20-4 ¶ 24; 20-3 ¶¶ 25-27.

         On July 18, 2014, Plaintiff was offered a position as a provisional teacher at Northeast High School with the understanding that he would enroll in and successfully complete the Middle Georgia Regional Education Service Agency's Georgia Teacher Academy for Preparation and Pedagogy (“TAPP”) program. Doc. 15-1 ¶ 24. Approximately eleven days later, on July 29, 2014, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination against the District alleging that he had not been chosen to fill any of the positions for which he applied because of his race and his sex. Docs. 15-1 ¶¶ 21-22; 15-5 at 9.

         In October 2014, the parties engaged in a mediation session, and then superintendent Dr. Steven Smith met with Plaintiff to discuss his July 29, 2014 EEOC complaint.[5] Doc. 15-1 ¶ 25. After discussion, Dr. Smith agreed to appoint Plaintiff as a half-time assistant principal and half-time math teacher at Northeast High School in exchange for Plaintiff's agreement that he would dismiss his July 2014 EEOC complaint, enroll in and complete the TAPP program, and obtain the necessary certifications. Doc. 15-1 ¶¶ 26-27. On September 17, 2015, the EEOC notified the parties that it would discontinue its investigation into Plaintiff's July 2014 EEOC charge of discrimination because the matter had been settled. Doc. 15-1 ¶ 59. There is no evidence that either party objected to the EEOC's decision.

         Plaintiff does not contest the fact that the parties agreed to this resolution of the 2014 EEOC complaint. Rather, Plaintiff states that because the parties never agreed on the exact amount Plaintiff would be paid, “[t]he settlement agreement was never finalized, ” and Plaintiff “could not drop the EEO[C] claim.” Docs. 20-2 ¶ 26; 20-3 ¶ 32; 20-4 ¶¶ 29, 35. Plaintiff asserts that Defendants offered to pay him a salary based on thirteen years of service instead of Plaintiff's twenty-five years of educational experience and that the parties never reached an agreement as to his exact salary. Doc. 20-2 ¶¶ 26, 36.

         While Plaintiff did not dismiss his 2014 EEOC charge of discrimination, he assumed the position at Northeast High School on November 1, 2014. Doc. 15-1 ¶¶ 27, 28. In his new position, Plaintiff did not have tenure. Doc. 15-1 ¶¶ 48-49. On December 11, 2014, Plaintiff was placed on a Remediation Plan (the “Plan”). Doc. 15-1 ¶¶ 29-30. Plaintiff agreed to the terms of the Plan which required him to become highly qualified in the area of “assistant principal.” Doc. 15-1 ¶¶ 29-30. In addition, Plaintiff agreed that he would obtain an educational waiver certificate, meet the Georgia Special Requirement of taking the Intro to the ...


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