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Idom v. Natchez-Adams School District

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Western Division

July 14, 2015

CINDY IDOM, PLAINTIFF
v.
NATCHEZ-ADAMS SCHOOL DISTRICT and FREDERICK HILL and TANISHA W. SMITH, in their individual and official capacities, DEFENDANTS

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For Cindy Idom, Plaintiff: William C. Ivison, LEAD ATTORNEY, Ken R. Adcock, ADCOCK & MORRISON, PLLC, Ridgeland, MS.

For Natchez-Adams School District, Frederick Hill, in Both his Official and Personal Capacity, Tanisha W. Smith, in Both her Official and Personal Capacity , Defendants: J. Tucker Mitchell, LEAD ATTORNEY, Stephen D. Stamboulieh, MITCHELL DAY LAW FIRM, PLLC, Ridgeland, MS.

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ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

David Bramlette, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

This cause is before the Court on Defendants', Natchez-Adams School District, Frederick Hill, and Tanisha W. Smith, Motion for Summary Judgment [docket entry no. 43]. Having reviewed the motions and responses, applicable statutory and case law, and being otherwise fully informed in the premises, the Court finds as follows:

I. Factual and Procedural Background

Plaintiff Cindy Idom, who is Caucasian, began working for Defendant Natchez-Adams School District (the " School District" ) in 1999 when she was hired as a third grade teacher. In the Fall of 2002, Idom was promoted to Principal at West Elementary School (" West" ). Defendant Frederick Hill is the Superintendent of the School District, and Defendant Tanisha W. Smith is the Deputy Superintendent. Both are African-American. In July of 2012, Idom and the School District entered into a new contract for Idom to continue

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as the principal at West for the 2012-2013 school year. That school year was to be the first year that West participated in the Mississippi Statewide Accountability testing. Prior to this year, West and the other schools in the district had been organized under a " 'grouped' campus system in which all of the District's students in the same grade attended the same school, and West housed all the Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten students in the District." Compl. ¶ 14, ECF No. 1. The summer before the 2012-2013 school year, " the District's campus system was radically realigned to a 'dispersed' elementary school," and West now houses students " ranging from Kindergarten to Fifth (5th) grade." Compl. ¶ 14. Under the new " dispersed" system, West " did not have adequate classroom capacity to handle the student population increase," and West received additional portable buildings to serve as classrooms. These buildings were delivered two months after the school year started and had various problems that prevented their utilization. Therefore, West had to implement short term strategies for additional classroom space which caused disruptions. Idom claims the School District did little to alleviate these problems while she was principal.

In February of 2013, the School District renewed Idom's contract for another year. In May, Hill reassigned Idom to another elementary school to serve as its principal. The transfer was effective June 21, 2013. On June 28, 2013, Idom received an email from the School District's Human Resource Manager " to schedule an 'individual meeting' with . . . Hill and Smith." Compl. ¶ 22. Idom, Hill, and Smith met on July 5, 2013. What transpired at that meeting is the subject of dispute. Idom alleges that she was given the choice between early retirement and demotion to a teaching position. Hill and Smith assert that Idom was merely informed that her position could be subject to termination or transfer as a result of West's scores in the accountability testing. As of the date of the meeting, the School District had not received the final results of the accountability testing, but it had received preliminary results that awarded West an F rating. When the results were finalized, West still received an F, but it scored the second highest in the district. On July 5, 2013, Idom signed a notice of intent to retire.

Idom first pursued a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (" EEOC" ), but after review of her claim, the EEOC determined it would not pursue any suit on her behalf and authorized Idom to bring a civil suit on her own behalf.

On May 14, 2014, Idom brought suit in federal court alleging claims for: (1) racial discrimination in violation of Title VII; (2) violations of her equal protection and due process rights through Section 1983; (3) negligent hiring, retention, supervision, and control; (4) intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress; (5) defamation; (6) breach of employment contract; (7) tortious interference with employment contract / business relations; and (8) breach of district policies and procedures (breach of unwritten employment contract). The School District, Hill, and Smith moved for summary judgment on April 13, 2015. A pretrial conference in this case is set for July 16, 2015.

II. Analysis

A. The Legal Standards

1. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate " 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). " A fact is 'material' if its resolution in favor of one

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party might affect the outcome of the lawsuit under governing law. An issue is 'genuine' if the evidence is sufficient for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-moving party." Ginsberg 1985 Real Estate P'ship v. Cadle Co., 39 F.3d 528, 531 (5th Cir. 1994) (citations omitted). The moving party bears the initial responsibility of apprising the district court of the basis for its motion and the parts of the record which indicate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).

" Once the moving party presents the district court with a properly supported summary judgment motion, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to show that summary judgment is inappropriate." Morris v. Covan World Wide Moving, Inc., 144 F.3d 377, 380 (5th Cir. 1998). " The evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). But the nonmovant must meet his burden with more than metaphysical doubt, conclusory allegations, unsubstantiated assertions, or a mere scintilla of evidence. Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994). A party asserting a fact is " genuinely disputed must support the assertion by: (A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations . . . admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials . . . ." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A).

Summary judgment must be rendered when the nonmovant " fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.

2. Qualified Immunity

" Qualified immunity balances two important interests-the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably." Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231, 129 S.Ct. 808, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009). " A qualified immunity defense alters the usual summary judgment burden of proof. Once an official pleads the defense, . . . [t]he plaintiff bears the burden of negating the qualified immunity, but all inferences are drawn in his favor." Brown v. Callahan, 623 F.3d 249, 253 (5th Cir. 2010). In assessing a claim of qualified immunity, courts apply the two pronged analysis established in Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 150 L.Ed.2d 272 (2001), but the court may address the prongs in any order, Pearson, 555 U.S. at 225.

One prong asks " whether Plaintiff's allegations establish a constitutional violation." Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 122 S.Ct. 2508, 153 L.Ed.2d 666 (2002). The second prong asks " whether the right was clearly established." Saucier, 533 U.S. at 201. " [T]he contours of the right must be sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that right." Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640, 107 S.Ct. 3034, 97 L.Ed.2d 523 (1987).

Hill and Smith have both asserted a defense of qualified immunity against the Section 1983 claims. As a municipality, the School District " do[es] not enjoy immunity from suit, either absolute or qualified, under § 1983." Burge v. Parish of St. Tammany, 187 F.3d 452, 466-67 (5th Cir. 1999) (citing Leatherman v. Tarrant Cnty. Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 166, 113 S.Ct. 1160, 122 L.Ed.2d 517 (1993)).

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B. The Claims

The claims against Hill and Smith in their official capacities are analyzed identically to the claims against the School District " [b]ecause a suit against an official in his official capacity 'is no different from a suit against' a governmental entity." Shaidnagle v. Adams Cnty., Miss., 88 F.Supp.3d 705, 712, at *9, 2015 WL 365820, at *3 (S.D. Miss. 2015) (quoting Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71, 109 S.Ct. 2304, 105 L.Ed.2d 45 (1989)); see also Burge, 187 F.3d at 466 (citing Monell v. New York City Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 n.55, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978)) (" Official capacity suits generally represent another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent." ).

1. Racial Discrimination Under Title VII

The School District argues that Idom has not shown that she suffered an adverse employment decision because she chose to retire. Idom argues that she was constructively discharged.

To succeed on a claim of racial discrimination under Title VII, a plaintiff must first exhaust her administrative remedies. See McCoy v. City of Shreveport, 492 F.3d 551, 556 (5th Cir. 2007). Idom has done this by first pursuing her claim before the EEOC and receiving a right to sue letter. After exhaustion of administrative remedies, a plaintiff may prove her case through direct or circumstantial evidence. Id. Where a plaintiff seeks to prove her case through circumstantial evidence, as here, the court applies the three-part McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework. Manning v. Chevron Chem. Co., LLC, 332 F.3d 874, 881 (5th Cir. 2003). " [A] plaintiff must first present a prima facie case of discrimination." Id. A prima facie case of discrimination requires that the plaintiff show: (1) membership in a protected group; (2) qualification for the position at issue; (3) discharge or some adverse employment action by the employer; and (4) replacement by someone outside the protected group or less favorable treatment than other similarly situated employees outside the protected group. McCoy, 492 F.3d at 556.

If the plaintiff can present a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the defendant to rebut the plaintiff's case by demonstrating a " legitimate, nondiscriminatory justification for its actions." If the defendant offers such a justification, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff, who can attempt to show that the defendant's proffered reason is simply a pretext for discrimination.

Manning, 332 F.3d at 881 (quoting Price v. Fed. Express Corp., 283 F.3d 715, 720 (5th Cir. 2002)).

The School District concedes " that members of the racial majority (Caucasian) are eligible to substantiate claims based on racial discrimination despite that they are not members of a racial minority. . . ." Mem. Supp. 5, ECF No. 44; see also, Byers v. Dallas Morning News, Inc., 209 F.3d 419, 426 (5th Cir. 2000) (" [T]he fact that [the plaintiff] was not a racial minority in his workplace does not prevent him from making a prima facie case of reverse discrimination under Title VII." ).

The School District also concedes that Idom " held the credentials to be a principal" but asserts that she " had proven herself unqualified for the position based upon the 'Failing' status of her school." Mem. Supp. 5. There is a distinction between being qualified for a job and being good at it. By conceding her credentials for the position, the School Board has admitted Idom's qualification.

After Idom resigned, she was replaced as principal by a younger African-American at the ...


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