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Stringer v. North Bolivar Consolidated School District

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Greenville Division

March 15, 2017

WANDA STRINGER PLAINTIFF
v.
NORTH BOLIVAR CONSOLIDATED SCHOOL DISTRICT, ET AL. DEFENDANTS WANDA STRINGER PLAINTIFF
v.
NORTH BOLIVAR CONSOLIDATED SCHOOL DISTRICT, ET AL. DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NEAL B. BIGGERS, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Presently before the court is the defendants' motion for summary judgment. Upon due consideration of the motion, response, exhibits, and applicable authority, the court is ready to rule.

         Procedural History

         The plaintiff, Wanda Stringer, brought this employment discrimination action against her former employers, North Bolivar Consolidated School District (“NBCSD”), Mound Bayou Public School District (“MBPSD”), their Boards of Trustees, and a number of individual defendants, alleging claims of discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Pay Act, and state law claims for tortious interference with her employment contract and business relationships. The plaintiff spread these claims over four separate actions arising from separate charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). In the first complaint, the plaintiff alleges that the defendants (1) constructively discharged and terminated her in violation of the ADA (Count I), (2) retaliated against her in violation of the ADA (Count II), (3) individually tortiously interfered with her employment contract (Counts III and V), and (4) discriminated against her based on her disability (Count IV). The plaintiff's second complaint, which she amended, alleges that the defendants (1) retaliated against her for filing an EEOC charge based on violations of Title VII (Count I), (2) retaliated against her for filing an EEOC charge based on violations of the ADA (Count II), (3) discriminated against her on the basis of her gender (Count III), (4) individually tortiously interfered with her employment contract and business relationships in retaliation for her filing EEOC charges (Count IV), and (5) discriminated against her in violation of the Equal Pay Act in retaliation for her filing an EEOC charge. The plaintiff's third complaint, which the plaintiff amended, alleges that the defendants (1) retaliated against her in violation of Title VII (Count I), (2) discriminated against her based on her gender (Count II), (3) interfered with her contract by failing to advertise the Deputy Superintendent position at NBCSD (Count III), (4) individually tortiously interfered with the plaintiff's contract by demoting her (Count IV), and (5) individually tortiously interfered with her contract by denying her the opportunity to apply for the Deputy Superintendent position (Count VI). In the fourth complaint, which she amended, the plaintiff alleges that the defendants (1) failed to accommodate her disability, visual impairment caused by glaucoma, and reassigned her to another position in violation of the ADA (Count I), (2) retaliated against her for filing an EEOC charge by this reassignment in violation of the ADA (Count II), (3) individually tortiously interfered with her contract by retaliating against her for filing an EEOC charge, failing to accommodate her disability, and discriminating against her based on her disability (Count III). On motion of the defendants, the court consolidated these four cases into the above-captioned lead case, 4:15-cv-00107-NBB-JMV.

         Factual History

         The plaintiff was hired in 1992 by then MBPSD superintendent Defendant William Crockett as a teacher at John F. Kennedy High School (“JFK”). Defendant Crockett recommended that the plaintiff be promoted to serve as principal of JFK in 2007. In July 2014, the NBCSD was formed from the mandatory consolidation of the North Bolivar School District (“NBSD”) and the MBPSD. Defendant Johnnie Vick, who was principal of L.T. Montgomery Elementary School in the former MBPSD, was appointed as superintendent of the newly formed consolidated school district.

         On February 27, 2014, MBPSD Superintendent Crockett issued a non-renewal letter to the plaintiff for the upcoming 2014-2015 academic year because her administrator's certification was to expire on June 30, 2014. The MBPSD board voted not to renew the plaintiff's employment contract for this reason. After the plaintiff renewed her administrator's certification, however, she was offered an employment contract for the 2014-2015 academic year as principal of JFK under the newly formed NBCSD with a salary of $71, 500.

         The 2014 consolidation of the two school districts resulted in a student population of approximately 1, 200 students and approximately 200 employees for the 2014-2015 academic year. The Mississippi Department of Education (“MDE”) recommended that the NBCSD hire a Deputy Superintendent to assist in the transition and the development of a new organizational structure and to help meet the increased operational demands of a larger school district. The Superintendent position was awarded to Defendant Vick. The plaintiff was aware that NBCSD was accepting applications for the Superintendent position, but she chose not to apply. She testified that she was unaware of the Deputy Superintendent position until it was filled and asserts that this information was intentionally kept from her so that she would not apply. Superintendent Vick alleges that Defendant Crockett was chosen based on the MDE's strong recommendation that the district hire a Deputy Superintendent with experience in overseeing an entire school district.

         The plaintiff is disabled due to visual impairment caused by glaucoma. In July 2014 and again in September 2014, she wrote a letter to Vick and the NBCSD requesting, among other things, that Shawneequa Beal, then a “Lead Teacher” at JFK, be promoted to assistant principal and share the plaintiff's duties and responsibilities. In light of the plaintiff's disability, Superintendent Vick gave the plaintiff written permission to utilize Ms. Beal in any way she felt necessary, as Ms. Beal's position, formerly funded by federal monies, was now completely funded by Defendant NBCSD, and thus there were no longer limitations on the type of work she could perform. The plaintiff, however, wanted Ms. Beal to be placed in the position of assistant principal to assist with administrative duties. Vick did not comply with this request. Despite being advised by Vick to use Ms. Beal as needed, the plaintiff refused to allow Ms. Beal to perform any administrative tasks because she was not designated as an assistant principal on the MDE Personnel Summary Report.

         Under the organizational structure of the newly-formed NBCSD, the Alternative and Vocational Schools were consolidated, and it was determined that a director would be hired to manage these two schools. According to the defendants, JFK had many disciplinary issues at the beginning of the 2014-2015 academic year which prompted complaints from the community and parents. Vick asserts that while considering the plaintiff's qualifications and in an effort to address the disciplinary issues at JFK, he recommended to the NBCSD board that the plaintiff be reassigned to the position of Alternative and Vocational School Director. This position carried comparable duties and responsibilities to the plaintiff's principal position, and she was to be paid the same contract salary she received as principal. As such, the defendants assert that this reassignment was a lateral transfer. Further, in executing her renewed contract, the plaintiff agreed that she could be reassigned to any position for which she held a valid license. Defendant Vick informed the plaintiff in writing on December 16, 2014, that she would be reassigned to the position of Director of the Alternative and Vocational School. The plaintiff was scheduled to assume her new position on January 5, 2015. Rather than report to work on that date, the plaintiff submitted her Notice of Resignation, to become effective on January 26, 2015, and she took three weeks of paid vacation leave. The NBCSD board voted to accept the plaintiff's resignation on that date.

         Standard of Review

         “The court 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). On a motion for summary judgment, the movant has the initial burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). If the movant makes such a showing, the burden then shifts to the non-movant to “go beyond the pleadings and . . . designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324. Before finding that no genuine issue for trial exists, the court must first be satisfied that no rational trier of fact could find for the non-movant. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). “Summary judgment, although a useful device, must be employed cautiously because it is a final adjudication on the merits.” Jackson v. Cain, 864 F.2d 1235, 1241 (5th Cir. 1989).

         Analysis

         ADA Discrimination Claim

         “The ADA prohibits an employer from discriminating against a ‘qualified individual with a disability on the basis of that disability.'” EEOC v. LHC Group, Inc., 773 F.3d 688, 694 (5th Cir. 2014) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a)). Where there is no direct evidence of discrimination, as is the case here, a plaintiff may rely on circumstantial evidence to support her claim and must proceed under the familiar burden-shifting framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corporation v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). Id. Under McDonnell Douglas, the plaintiff must first make a prima facie showing of discrimination, and to do so she must prove (1) that she has a ...


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