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Dillaha v. Pascagoula Gautier School District

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

October 30, 2019




         BEFORE THE COURT is the [24] Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant Pascagoula Gautier School District (“the School District”). In the Motion, the School District argues that it is entitled to summary judgment because Plaintiff Michelle Dillaha has failed to meet her burden of production to substantiate claims for employment discrimination under the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and retaliation for utilizing the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). The Motion also contends that punitive damages are unavailable for Plaintiff on her claims against the School District. Plaintiff filed a response, but the School District did not file a reply, and the time for doing so has passed. Having considered the submissions of the parties, the record, and relevant law, the Court concludes that the School District's Motion for Summary Judgment should be granted in part and denied in part. It will be granted insofar as Plaintiff concedes that she is not entitled to punitive damages and otherwise will be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The undisputed record establishes the following operative facts.[1] In August 2014, the School District hired Dillaha to be a teacher. She was diagnosed with anxiety and depression in 2015. In September 2017, her mental illness became so severe that she could not control its effects. On October 12, 2017, she was informed by Beth Goff, the principal of her school, that she had to take FMLA leave and be evaluated by a psychologist within two weeks. She was seen by Dr. Ruth Shoemaker on October 25, 2017, who diagnosed her with major depressive disorder, schizoid personality disorder, avoidant personality disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder.

         Based on Dr. Shoemaker's diagnoses and recommendations, Nurse Practitioner Ashley Hilsabeck - Dillaha's primary care provider - completed an FMLA form certifying that Dillaha's serious health condition prevented her from returning to work. The FMLA form, which was submitted to the School District, explained that Dillaha required an initial undetermined period of leave and, upon returning to work, required intermittent leave in order to accommodate flare ups of depression and anxiety.

         Once Dr. Shoemaker confirmed to Goff that Dillaha was no longer a threat to herself or others, Dillaha returned to work on November 13, 2017. Dillaha completed the fall 2017 school semester, but informed Goff that she would need to take a week of FMLA leave in January 2018 to address her mental health. On December 22, 2018, Goff called Dillaha to her office and told Dillaha that she should resign and could not use FMLA leave. Dillaha refused to resign.

         She returned to work on January 3, 2018 and asked to meet with Goff. Dillaha states that wanted to meet with Goff to explain the effects of her mental conditions and to ask for an accommodation in the form of an extension of time to turn in her lesson plans. Goff set a meeting for the next day, January 4, 2018. At the meeting, Dillaha began discussing her psychological evaluation and was cut off by Goff, who stated, “That has nothing to do with me.” (Dillaha Decl. 2, ECF No. 27-1. Goff handed Dillaha a Teacher Improvement Plan and told her to complete it by January 12, 2018. Dillaha was placed on administrative paid leave the same day by the School District's Assistant Superintendent, Belinda Dammen.

         On January 8, 2018, Dillaha called and emailed Goff to ask how long her administrative leave would last and to ask a question regarding her Teacher Improvement Plan. Goff returned her call and asked Dillaha to attend a meeting that afternoon with the Superintendent, Wayne Rodolfich. At the meeting, Goff told Dillaha that she intended to terminate Dillaha for unprofessional conduct.

         Dillaha requested a hearing before the School Board, which affirmed Goff's decision to terminate Dillaha. Dillaha's termination became final on March 12, 2018. She received her Notice of Right to Sue from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on June 28, 2018, and, on September 17, 2018, filed the instant lawsuit.


         a. Summary Judgment Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that 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). “When the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56(c), its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). “[T]he nonmovant must go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc).

         “A genuine dispute of material fact means that ‘evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'” Royal v. CCC & R Tres Arboles, L.L.C., 736 F.3d 396, 400 (5th Cir. 2013) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). If the evidence presented by the nonmovant “‘is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative,' summary judgment is appropriate.” Cutting Underwater Techs. USA, Inc. v. ENI U.S. Operating Co., 671 F.3d 512, 516 (5th Cir. 2012) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249). In deciding whether summary judgment is appropriate, the Court views the evidence and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. RSR Corp. v. Int'l Ins. Co., 612 F.3d 851, 857 (5th Cir. 2010).

         b. Plaintiff Has Demonstrated That She is ...

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