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Thomas v. Clarke County Board of Education

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

August 22, 2019

JACQUELINE M. THOMAS, Plaintiff,
v.
CLARKE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant.

          ORDER

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

         Jacqueline Thomas alleges that her former employer, Clarke County School District (“the School District”), discriminated against her based on her age, race, and sex in violation of federal law. The School District filed a Motion for Summary Judgment with an accompanying Statement of Material Facts pursuant to Local Rule 56. Thomas did not bother to respond to either. For the following reasons, the School District's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF. No. 16) is granted.

         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

         Because Thomas did not respond to the School District's statement of material facts, the School District's fact statements are deemed admitted pursuant to Local Rule 56. Nevertheless, the Court must still review the School District's citations to the record to determine whether a genuine fact dispute exists. Mann v. Taser Int'l, Inc., 588 F.3d 1291, 1303 (11th Cir. 2009). Viewed in the light most favorable to Thomas, the materials submitted by the School District in support of its summary judgment motion establish the following.

         In August 2016, the School District hired Thomas to be an adaptive special education teacher at Cedar Shoals High School based on the recommendation of DeAnne Varitek, the principal of that school. Thomas's position required her to teach students with significant cognitive disabilities in a separate classroom from other students. Thomas's position also required her to provide instruction in accordance with the students' Individualized Education Programs, which allow teachers to adapt, modify, and differentiate educational standards based on each student. Thomas, a black woman who was fifty-eight years old in 2016, taught with a group of four white special education teachers. One of these teachers, Jason Bales, was also the team leader for the special education teachers. The chair of the special education department was another white male named James Blose. During the 2016-2017 school year, the School District's teacher evaluation system called for school administrators to observe first-year teachers six times. At Cedar Shoals High School, the principal, Varitek, and vice principals Dr. Victoria Hunter and Dr. Aaron Carter completed these observations.

         Varitek first observed Thomas in November 2016. During this observation, Varitek documented several performance deficiencies. These deficiencies included (1) teaching from an incomplete lesson plan; (2) using worksheets from a teacher workbook despite instruction to base the lesson on each individualized student; (3) Thomas's inability to identify individual learning needs; (4) a lack of “activating strategies” to help make the content more relevant for students; (5) the use of “very traditional methods, despite individual learning needs and 1:1 technology that students possess[ed]”; and (6) a failure to allow students to “summarize, rephrase, or share personal experiences related to the content and skill.” Varitek Aff. ¶ 20, ECF No. 16-2.

         As a result of these observed deficiencies, Varitek placed Thomas on a professional development plan designed to help Thomas improve her lesson plans and teaching skills. Part of this plan involved regular appointments with Blose, the chair of the special education department. Thomas also had to create specific lesson plans and post them in a shared online folder each Sunday so that Blose could review them and provide feedback.

         Vice Principal Hunter conducted Thomas's second observation. She noted that Thomas had only posted three of the required ten lesson plans and that Thomas was showing a movie that seemed to be disconnected from pertinent educational standards.

         Varitek conducted the third observation and noted that Thomas was showing the same movie from the previously observed lesson and that the movie was not related to Thomas's lesson plan on the conjugation of verbs.

         Hunter conducted the fourth observation in December 2016. Her observations revealed continuing problems. She specifically documented issues related to lesson plans and communication with parents.

         Vice Principal Carter conducted Thomas's fifth observation and noted a discrepancy between the lesson plan and the actual instruction. During this observation, Thomas discussed the net worth of celebrities with students during a study skills class.

         Hunter completed Thomas's sixth observation in March 2017; she questioned Thomas's use of a video clip about rape. She also expressed concerns about the students' ability to comprehend the lesson and the reading level of the text that Thomas chose to use for the lesson.

         In January 2017, between Thomas's fourth and fifth observations, Varitek informed Thomas that she was not going to recommend a renewal of Thomas's teaching contract for the 2017-2018 school year. Then, in February 2017, Thomas complained to Hunter about a racially hostile environment. Thomas Dep. 65:11-24, ECF No. 20. Thomas also informed Hunter that during a meeting with Bales, Thomas's assigned mentor, and Blose, the chair of the special education department, Bales had engaged in sexual harassment by “staring at [her] breasts.” Thomas Dep. 75:2-8. Thomas also reported the alleged sexual harassment to Varitek when she informed Varitek that Blose would also stare at Thomas's breasts and say “Oooooh” when she got up from her seat, which Thomas interpreted as a comment about her buttocks. Thomas Dep. 103:14-104:15. Thomas taught for the remainder of the 2016-2017 school year. The ...


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