United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division
T. TREADWELL, JUDGE.
Susie Jones' complaint alleges Georgia Whistleblower
Statute and First Amendment retaliation claims against
Hancock County School District and Charles Culver, in his
official and individual capacity as Hancock County School
District Superintendent. Doc. 1. In response to the
Defendants' motion for summary judgment (Doc. 13), Jones
stated that she did “not oppose summary judgment as to
Culver's qualified immunity claim, and Plaintiff does not
oppose dismissal of her claim under O.C.G.A. §
45-1-4.” Doc. 22 at 15. That leaves only Jones'
First Amendment retaliation claim against the School
District. For the reasons discussed, the School District is
entitled to summary judgment on that claim.
began her employment with the School District in 1979 as a
custodian and held several positions with the School District
throughout her tenure. Doc. 17 at 17:2- 18; 19:13-24:19. In
2008, she was promoted to curriculum director and testing
coordinator. Id. at 24:20-25:2. In February 2015,
Charles Culver became the interim superintendent of the
School District after discussing the position with Board of
Education Member Anthony Gilchrist. Id. at 40:13-19,
43:15; Doc. 21 at 10:15-11:11:21.
curriculum director and testing coordinator, Jones was
responsible for ensuring compliance with Georgia Department
of Education guidelines for mandated testing, including
computer-based tests. Doc. 17 at 30:2-19, 31:2-32:10. This
responsibility required Jones to work closely with the School
District's technology coordinator, Earnest Warren, and
report to her supervisor, Culver, to keep him apprised of
testing dates and technology requirements. Id. at
29:22-23, 34:3-5, 42:17-23, 43:1-44:14, 46:18-23. Jones kept
Culver fully informed of all testing dates and technology
requirements and issues while in this position. Id.
According to Jones, she never had any issues with Warren and
never told Culver she had issues with Warren. Id. at
46:18-23, 47:8-48:16, 50:9-20.
recollection of Jones' relationship with Warren is quite
different. According to Culver, Jones called Culver multiple
times about issues she was having with Warren and asked
Culver to intervene. Doc. 21 at 92:1-93:10. Culver told Jones
that he did not have time to mediate Jones' issues with
Warren and to contact Warren directly to resolve their
problems. Id. at 93:16-95:11. Culver states that
Jones did not do this and continued to request him to resolve
their issues. Id. at 116:9-12.
2014, AdvancED interviewed Hancock County citizens and school
district employees individually in response to
“complaints and allegations that Hancock County Schools
may be in violation of the AdvancED Accreditation Standards
and/or policies.” Docs. 17 at 57:19-58:25, 62:4-9,
63:18-20; 13-2 ¶ 21; 21 at 53:18-54:9, 120-23; 22-1
¶ 21. AdvancED is a non-profit organization that
inspects and accredits public and private schools and
colleges and is in no way affiliated with the School
District. Doc. 21 at 53:18-53:23. If a school fails to adhere
to AdvancED's standards, the school will be put under
review and can lose its accreditation. Id. at
53:23-54:9. Losing AdvancED accreditation causes a community
to lose confidence in the school and may result in students
being denied admission to colleges that are accredited by
AdvancED. Id. at 54:2-15.
allegations reported to AdvancED specifically related to
conduct violations by School District Board members.
Id. at 120-23. Jones was told by Miranda Wilson,
“a representative of the Hancock County School
District[, ]” that Jones was on the list of people that
AdvancED wanted to interview. Docs. 17 at 63:24-64:1,
73:1-74:20, 155; 21 at 124-26. According to Jones, Culver saw
that list and thus knew that Jones would be interviewed. Doc.
17 at 74:1-16. The allegations and notice of AdvancED's
upcoming investigation were published in the local newspaper.
Doc. 21 at 48:17-49:6.
her interview with AdvancED, Jones expressed concerns about
Gilchrist's behavior. Id. at 52:4-21,
53:18-54:7. She alleged Gilchrist asked school employees for
money to pay his personal bills, interrupted classroom
instruction, and yelled at students in the hallways.
Id. Such behavior, Jones believed, violated the
Board's Code of Ethics. Id. at 155; Doc. 1-2.
Jones never reported this behavior to anyone in the School
District before “because everyone knew[.]” Doc.
17 at 56:12-25. Jones believes Gilchrist's unethical
behavior ceased in 2015 due to AdvancED's investigation.
Id. at 55:20-56:1, 78:7-9.
14, 2015, the day after her interview, AdvancED reported its
findings to Culver but did not tell Culver who shared what
information. Id. at 80:8-81:22; Doc. 21 at
86:10-90:4. That same day, Jones, along with two other School
District employees who were interviewed by AdvancED, received
letters from Culver informing them that their contracts would
not be renewed for the upcoming school year. Docs. 17 at
92:6-93:4; 21 at 90:22-91:4, 108:6-9. The next day, Culver
gave Jones another letter stating that, while her contract as
the curriculum director and testing director would not be
renewed, the School District would be offering her a contract
as a teacher for the upcoming school year, which paid over
$10, 000 less per year. Doc. 17 at 93:5-16, 165-66.
Apparently, Culver had failed to take into account Jones'
tenured status before sending her the first letter. Doc.
21103:3-7. Culver admitted that he “made an error and a
mistake” by sending Jones the first letter because as a
tenured teacher, she had “a right to a hearing, ”
and he had to provide her with her “due process
rights.” Id. at 102:6-20, 103:8-15.
18, Jones complained to the Board at a Board of Education
meeting about the letters. Doc. 17 at 94:13-21. After the
meeting, Gilchrist told Jones that “he was sorry for
what happened to [her]” and that he knew which Board
member “told Culver to get rid of [her], ” but he
did not tell her which Board member. Id. at
97:17-98:25. Jones completed the 2015-2016 school year as a
teacher and retired at the end of the year. Id. at
maintains that Jones' inability to work compatibly with
Warren was why he decided to not renew Jones' contract as
the curriculum director and testing coordinator and to offer
her a position as a teacher instead. Doc. 21 at 94:18-96:2.
According to Jones, Culver terminated her because of the
statements she made to AdvancED regarding Gilchrist, even
though AdvancED kept the statements made during the
interviews anonymous. Doc. 17 at 80:8-81:22.
MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
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). “When the nonmoving party
has the burden of proof at trial, the moving party is not
required to ‘support its motion with affidavits or
other similar material negating the opponent's
claim.'” United States v. Four Parcels of Real
Prop., 941 F.2d 1428, 1437 (11th Cir. 1991) (emphasis in
original) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Cartrett, 477
U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). The moving party “simply may
show . . . that there is an absence of evidence to support
the nonmoving party's case.” Id. at 1438
(internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
“Assuming the moving party has met its burden, the
non-movant must then show a ...