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Terry v. Quitman County School District

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

June 5, 2017




         This employment discrimination action is before the Court on the motion for summary judgment filed by the Quitman County School District. Doc. #49.


         Procedural History

         On January 13, 2016, Gina Lauderdale Terry, a former fifth grade science teacher in the Quitman County School District, filed a complaint in this Court against the District. Doc. #1. In her complaint, Terry alleges claims for race discrimination and age discrimination. Id.

         On January 25, 2017, the District filed a motion seeking summary judgment on all claims. Doc. #49. Terry responded to the motion for summary judgment on February 8, 2017. Doc. #51. The District filed a reply in support of its motion on February 15, 2017. Doc. #53.


         Summary Judgment Standard

         Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “[s]ummary judgment is proper only when the record demonstrates that no genuine issue of material fact exists and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Luv N' Care Ltd. v. Groupo Rimar, 844 F.3d 442, 447 (5th Cir. 2016). “A factual issue is genuine if the evidence is sufficient for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-moving party and material if its resolution could affect the outcome of the action.” Burton v. Freescale Semiconductor, Inc., 798 F.3d 222, 226 (5th Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks omitted). On a motion for summary judgment, a court must “consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in its favor.” Edwards v. Cont'l Cas. Co., 841 F.3d 360, 363 (5th Cir. 2016).

         In seeking summary judgment, “[t]he moving party bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the record which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Nola Spice Designs, L.L.C. v. Haydel Enters., Inc., 783 F.3d 527, 536 (5th Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted). If the moving party satisfies this burden, “the non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings and by her own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). “Where the nonmoving party bears the burden of proof at trial, the moving party satisfies this initial burden by demonstrating an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Celtic Marine Corp. v. James C. Justice Cos., Inc., 760 F.3d 477, 481 (5th Cir. 2014).


         Evidentiary Matters

         In opposing summary judgment, Terry cites various statements allegedly made by Larry Johnson, the Dean of Students, to Terry and to teachers the District employed. The District objects to three of these statements as inadmissible hearsay. Doc. #53 at 2, 7.

         Rule 801(c) of the Federal Rules of Evidence defines hearsay as a “statement that ... the declarant does not make while testifying at the current trial or hearing [and] a party offers in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement.” “Once a party has properly objected to evidence as inadmissible hearsay, the burden shifts to the proponent of the evidence to show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the evidence falls within an exclusion or exception to the hearsay rule and was therefore admissible.” Loomis v. Starkville Miss. Pub. Sch. Dist., 150 F.Supp.3d 730, 742-43 (N.D. Miss. 2015) (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted). “Unsubstantiated hearsay evidence that would not be admissible at trial does not suffice to raise a genuine issue of material fact.” Arora v. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., 294 Fed. App'x 159, 161 (5th Cir. 2008) (citing Clary v. Computer Assocs. Int'l., Inc., 109 F.3d 765, 765 (5th Cir. 1997)).

         Here, the District objects to the following alleged statements attributed by Terry to Johnson: (1) that Terry and another employee needed to file a class action because of the way Nanette Reed, Terry's supervisor, treated white teachers; (2) that Reed became upset with Johnson after Johnson convinced a white teacher, who Reed was trying to make quit, not to resign; and (3) that Reed was mistreating another teacher because the teacher was white. Doc. #53 at 2, 7. These are clearly out of court statements introduced for the truth of the matter asserted. Terry did not respond to the District's objections to their admissibility. Accordingly, Terry has failed to meet her burden of showing that the statements fall within an exclusion or exception to the hearsay rule.[1] Therefore, these statements will not be considered for the purpose of resolving the motion for summary judgment.


         Factual Background

         A. Terry's Education and Work History

         Terry is a Caucasian female who was 56 years old during the time period relevant to this action. Doc. #52-1. In 1997, Terry obtained a certification in elementary education at Athens State College in Alabama. Doc. #51-3. In 1989, she received a Bachelor's degree in secondary education in social sciences from Athens State; and in 2002, received a certification in special education from the University of Mississippi. Id.

         In 1990, Terry began her teaching career with the Winfield Board of Education, working at the Northwest Community College campus and then the Bevill State Community College in Northwest Alabama. Doc. #51-2 at 16-20; Doc. #51-3. Terry later worked as a teacher in various locations, including Tupelo, Aberdeen, Lafayette County, and Desoto County in Mississippi, and in Shelby County, Alabama. Doc. #51-3.

         B. The District's Hiring of Terry

         In the summer of 2014, Terry completed an online application for a teaching position in the State of Mississippi. Doc. #51-2 at 56-57. Sometime later, the District contacted Terry to set up an interview with Principal Nanette Reed and Curriculum and Instructional Director Linder Howze, the overseer of teacher recruitment. Doc. #51-2 at 58-59; Doc. #49-2 at 7-8; Doc. #49-3 at ¶ 2.

         During the interview, Terry taught a mock lesson. Doc. #49-2 at 9. According to Howze, when Terry was “asked how to prepare a lesson and assess the needs of the students, she was unable to answer the question.” Doc. #49-3 at ¶4. Howze further testified that Terry was “totally off key, ” did not “know[] her subject matter, ” and raised “concern[s]” because the school district's performance level was an F. Doc. #49-2 at 9-11. Because of Terry's “poor performance during the job interview [and] frequently changing jobs, ” Howze thought Terry “would not be a good fit for the District and that she should not be hired.” Doc. #49-3 at ¶ 5. Even though Howze expressed her concerns to Reed, Reed offered Terry a position teaching fifth grade science. Doc. #51-2 at 63; Doc. #49-2 at 10; Doc. #49-3 at ¶ 5. Terry accepted on the spot. Doc. #51-2 at 63-64.

         After the interview, Reed recommended Terry to the superintendent, who in turn recommended Terry to the school board. Doc. #53-4 at 15-16; Doc. #49 at 27.

         C. Terry's Alleged Work Deficiencies

         Reed had told all District teachers not to be on their cell phones during instructional time. Doc. #49-5 at 29. However, Reed testified that she saw Terry on the phone “about three times” the first week of school. Id. at 30. After speaking with Terry several times about being on the phone, Reed sent Terry an e-mail regarding her cellular phone use. Id.

         In early September 2014, Reed conducted an unannounced evaluation of Terry. Doc. #51-2 at 97. Following her observation of Terry, Reed told Terry that she did not like the fact that the kids in her class were running around, and did not like the way Terry was teaching the class. Id. at 97-98.

         About two weeks later, on September 16, 2014, during a routine observation of Terry's classroom, Reed saw Terry talking on a cell phone, Terry not teaching the objective listed on her lesson plan for that day, and students running around and talking while Terry was talking. Doc. #49-5 at 35-36. Specifically, Reed witnessed Terry “not teaching the standard” or “preparing the lesson to one standard and then teaching something else in the classroom.” Id. at 32-33. For example, Reed observed Terry teaching “kinetic energy” when she was “supposed to have been doing objections in motion” according to her planned lesson. Id. at 33. Based on these observations, Reed believed no learning was occurring in Terry's classroom. Id. at 35.

         D. Letter of Reprimand and ...

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