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Powell v. Muscogee County School District

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

January 9, 2019

EDDIE POWELL, Plaintiff,
v.
MUSCOGEE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant.

          ORDER

          CLAY D. LAND, CHIEF U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         Eddie Powell claims that his employer, the Muscogee County School District, retaliated against him for complaining of racial discrimination, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981, [1] and for reporting that a teacher failed to inform him that a student had been injured at school, in violation of Georgia's Whistleblower Act, O.C.G.A. § 45-1-4. Powell also asserted discrimination claims under § 1981 and discrimination and retaliation claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.

         The School District seeks summary judgment on all of Powell's claims. Powell does not contest summary judgment on his § 1981 discrimination claims or his Title VII claims, so the School District's summary judgment motion on those claims is granted. As discussed below, the School District's motion is also granted as to all of Powell's remaining claims except his Whistleblower Act claim based on the December 2016 Reese Road Elementary and Davis Elementary principal promotion decisions and his § 1981 retaliation claims based on the June 2017 Allen Elementary and Rothschild Middle principal promotion decisions.

         SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         Summary judgment may be granted only “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). In determining whether a genuine dispute of material fact exists to defeat a motion for summary judgment, the evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment, drawing all justifiable inferences in the opposing party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). A fact is material if it is relevant or necessary to the outcome of the suit. Id. at 248. A factual dispute is genuine if the evidence would allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Viewed in the light most favorable to Powell, the parties' citations to the record reveal the following facts.

         Powell began working for the School District as a school counselor in August 2000. In 2008, Powell, who is black, made a complaint of race discrimination against a white coworker. Powell Dep. 341:10-342:3, ECF No. 29. The School District's human resources personnel asked Powell to remove the complaint, but he refused to do so. Id. at 281:4-7.

         Powell was promoted to assistant principal at a high school in 2011, and he served as an assistant principal in various schools after that. Between May 2015 and May 2016, Powell applied for thirteen open principal positions. He was not selected for any of them. In his response brief and sur-reply, Powell did not argue that these decisions were retaliatory. Rather, he clarified that his failure-to-promote Whistleblower Act claims are based on the December 2016 principal promotion decisions for Reese Road Elementary and Davis Elementary and that his failure-to-promote § 1981 retaliation claims are based on the June 2017 principal promotion decisions for Rothschild Middle and Allen Elementary. If Powell previously made claims based on other promotion decisions, he has abandoned them. See Resolution Tr. Corp. v. Dunmar Corp., 43 F.3d 587, 599 (11th Cir. 1995) (en banc) (explaining that “grounds alleged in the complaint but not relied upon in summary judgment are deemed abandoned”).

         During the 2016-2017 school year, Powell was an assistant principal at AIM/Edgewood Student Services Center (“AIM”). An AIM special education student was seriously injured after a contract behavioral specialist repeatedly restrained him. A teacher named Zehra Malone was present for the final “takedown” that injured the student, and she was aware that the student had been injured. Though Powell checked on the student twice during the restraints, he did not know that the student had been injured, and Malone did not tell him. The next day, the student's mother told Powell that the student had been seriously injured. Powell wrote a written reprimand to Malone for failing to tell him about the student's injuries, and he copied AIM's principal on the letter.

         In December 2016, School District Chief Human Resources Officer Kathy Tessin told Powell that he could not issue the reprimand because only the School District's superintendent has authority to issue an official reprimand. She pressed Powell to rescind the letter. Powell refused. Also in December 2016, the School District filled principal positions at Davis Elementary and Reese Road Elementary. Powell applied for both positions but was not selected for either one.

         Superintendent David Lewis decided to demote Powell to a school counselor position for the 2017-2018 school year, and Tessin informed Powell of the decision on May 3, 2017.[2] During that meeting, Powell asked Tessin why he was not being promoted to a principal position; since May 2015, Powell applied for at least fifteen principal positions but was never selected for one. Powell asserts that Tessin “clearly stated that because [Powell] refused to remove [a 2008 race] discrimination complaint on [a former colleague, that] is the reason [he] wasn't being promoted.” Powell Dep. 281:4-7; accord Id. at 341:10-342:3.[3]

         After Powell submitted a grievance regarding his demotion, Lewis rescinded the demotion and informed Powell in mid-May that he would be given an assistant principal position for the next school year. In June 2017, Powell applied for principal positions at Allen Elementary and Rothschild Middle but was not selected. Instead, Powell was assigned to two elementary schools as an assistant principal for the 2017-2018 school year. Powell asserts that his job duties were reduced, pointing to evidence that the principal of one school asked him to help with some clean-up and inventory tasks at the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year. See Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. 17, Email from Y. Scarborough to E. Powell (Aug. 8, 2017 at 6:56 AM), ECF ...


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