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Bragg v. Wardynski

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division

March 22, 2017

RICHARD BRAGG, Plaintiff,
v.
E. CASEY WARDYNSKI and THE HUNTSVILLE CITY BOARD OF EDUCATION, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         In this employment discrimination action, plaintiff Richard Bragg contends that the Huntsville City Board of Education discriminated against him because of his age. Mr. Bragg asserts an Age Discrimination in Employment Act or ADEA claim against the Board.[1]

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Board asks the Court to dismiss Mr. Bragg's ADEA claim. (Doc. 22). Having considered the parties' written submissions (Docs. 22, 28) and with the benefit of oral argument, the Court finds that Mr. Bragg's amended complaint states a claim for age discrimination. Therefore, the Court denies the Board's motion to dismiss.[2]

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Rule 12(b)(6) enables a defendant to move to dismiss a complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of a complaint against the “liberal pleading standards set forth by Rule 8(a)(2).” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Pursuant to Rule 8(a)(2), a complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). “Generally, to survive a [Rule 12(b)(6)] motion to dismiss and meet the requirement of Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2), a complaint need not contain ‘detailed factual allegations, ' but rather ‘only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Maledy v. City of Enterprise, 2012 WL 1028176, *1 (M.D. Ala. March 2012) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 570 (2007)). “Specific facts are not necessary; the statement need only ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Erickson, 551 U.S. at 93 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         When evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a district court accepts as true the allegations in the complaint and construes the allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Brophy v. Jiangbo Pharms. Inc., 781 F.3d 1296, 1301 (11th Cir. 2015).

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Mr. Bragg worked for the Board as a physical education teacher's aide from 1996 until January 2015. (Doc. 21, ¶¶ 4, 10). Mr. Bragg alleges that his work environment changed after he turned 60 years old in January 2014. (Doc. 21, ¶ 12). Between January 2014 and August 2014, Mr. Bragg received three written reprimands based on student complaints that “mischaracterize[d] [Mr. Bragg's] conduct as various forms of child abuse” or “sexualized conduct.” (Doc. 21, ¶ 12).[3] According to Mr. Bragg, then superintendent of Huntsville City Schools, Dr. Casey Wardynski, instructed Mr. Bragg's supervisor to solicit the student complaints that formed the basis of the reprimands. (Doc. 21, ¶ 13).

         Mr. Bragg contends that in early February 2014, his supervisor gathered “a series of complaints from students concerning inappropriate touching of students.” (Doc. 21, ¶ 13). After issuing a written reprimand to Mr. Bragg and investigating the allegations, Mr. Bragg's supervisor wrote a letter to Dr. Wardynski explaining that she found no basis for the allegations. (Doc. 21, ¶ 13). After he received the supervisor's report, Dr. Wardynski continued to “target” Mr. Bragg. (Doc. 21, ¶ 13).

         In April 2014, Mr. Bragg's supervisor issued another reprimand alleging that Mr. Bragg inappropriately touched a student. (Doc. 21, ¶ 14). In response, Mr. Bragg informed his supervisor that he used restraint training that he received from the Board to stop a fight between two students. (Doc. 21, ¶ 14). The supervisor accused Mr. Bragg of lying about his encounter with the student. (Doc. 21, ¶ 14).

         In August 2014, Mr. Bragg received another written reprimand. This report accused Mr. Bragg of intentionally injuring a child by picking the child up by her neck and “rub[ing] [his] groin area on [the student's] back.” (Doc. 21, ¶ 15). Mr. Bragg told his supervisor that he wrapped his arms around the child to hug her but did not lift her up by her neck. (Doc. 21, ¶ 15). In response to additional questioning from his supervisor and another Board employee, Mr. Bragg explained that “none of his actions were memorable” and “he wasn't sure” of the details. (Doc. 21, ¶ 15). Mr. Bragg contends that his supervisor encouraged one of his (Mr. Bragg's) co-workers to substantiate the allegations against him by providing false information about the incident. (Doc. 21, ¶ 15).

         In September 2014, Dr. Wardynski recommended that the Board terminate Mr. Bragg's employment with the school system. (Doc. 21, ¶ 16). Mr. Bragg received a letter from the Board that advised him of the superintendent's recommendation. The letter explained the nature of the allegations which formed the basis of the written reprimands. (Doc. 21, ¶ 17). With respect to the August 2014 incident, the letter informed Mr. Bragg that video evidence showed that he lifted the student by her neck. (Doc. 21, ¶ 17). The letter explained that Mr. Bragg could challenge Dr. Wardynski's termination recommendation by requesting a hearing and stated that if Mr. Bragg did not request a hearing, then the Board would approve the termination. (Doc. 21, ¶ 16). Mr. Bragg requested a hearing. (Doc. 21, ¶ 18).

         Also in September 2014, Dr. Wardynski removed Mr. Bragg from the school in which he worked and prohibited him from coaching. (Doc. 21, ¶ 19). Dr. Wardynski reassigned Mr. Bragg to a manual labor position in the school district's warehouse. (Doc. 21, ¶ 19). On September 26, 2014, after Dr. Wardynski reassigned Mr. Bragg but before Mr. Bragg's hearing, Dr. Wardynski spoke to a television news station about the allegations against Mr. Bragg. (Doc. 21, ¶ 21).

         In October 2014, the Board reported to the Madison County Department of Human Resources the incidents that formed the basis of the reprimands against Mr. Bragg. (Doc. 21, ¶ 22). According to Mr. Bragg, Dr. Wardynski provided to DHR an altered copy of the video of the April 2014 ...


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