United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Robin Litaker worked for the Hoover Board of Education for 21
years. The Hoover Board selected Ms. Litaker as the principal
of Trace Crossings Elementary School in 2010. Ms. Litaker
received favorable ratings for her first two years at Trace
Crossings, and the Board gave her a three-year contract in
June 2012. Five months later, former Hoover Superintendent
Andy Craig transferred Ms. Litaker from her position as the
principal at Trace Crossings to the Board's Central
Office. Mr. Craig did not give Ms. Litaker a formal Central
Office position, and he did not offer her a position as
principal at another school in the district. Instead, after
giving her odd jobs in the Central Office, Mr. Craig had his
assistant superintendent, Dr. Ron Dodson, inform Ms. Litaker
that she would have to serve as the assistant principal at
the district's alternative school. Ms. Litaker was not
qualified for that position. Ms. Litaker refused the
assistant principal position, and she resigned.
her resignation, Ms. Litaker sued the Board, Mr. Craig, and
former Assistant Superintendent Carol Barber. Ms. Litaker
contends that the Board and Mr. Craig discriminated against
her because of her gender in violation of Title VII of the
Civil Rights Act of 1964 and that the Board, Mr. Craig, and
Ms. Barber violated her Fourteenth Amendment due process
rights. In addition to these federal claims, Ms. Litaker
asserts state law claims for breach of contract and
defamation. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56,
the defendants have asked the Court to enter judgment in
their favor on all of Ms. Litaker's claims. (Doc. 19;
Doc. 20). For the reasons stated below, the Court grants in
part and denies in part the defendants' motions.
SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
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). To demonstrate that there is a genuine
dispute as to a material fact that precludes summary
judgment, a party opposing a motion for summary judgment must
cite “to particular parts of materials in the record,
including depositions, documents, electronically stored
information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations
(including those made for purposes of the motion only),
admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). “The court need consider only
the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in
the record.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3). When considering a
summary judgment motion, the Court must view the evidence in
the record and draw reasonable inferences in the light most
favorable to the non-moving party. White v. Beltram Edge
Tool Supply, Inc., 789 F.3d 1188, 1191 (11th Cir. 2015).
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Litaker began her 21-year career with the Hoover city school
system in 1992 as a teacher at Trace Crossings Elementary
School. (Doc. 21-1, p. 5). In 1998, while teaching at Trace
Crossings, she was honored as Alabama's State Teacher of
the Year. (Doc. 27-1, ¶ 3). Ms. Litaker worked at other
Hoover schools as a teacher and assistant principal before
returning to Trace Crossings as the principal in 2010. (Doc.
21-1, p. 5; Doc. 21-4, p. 7). When the Board selected Ms.
Litaker to serve as the principal at Trace Crossings, she and
former Superintendent Andy Craig, on behalf of the Board,
entered a two year probationary contract. (Doc. 21-1, pp. 42,
111-115; Doc. 21-4, p. 10). Ms. Litaker received positive
evaluations during her first two years at Trace Crossings.
(Doc. 21-2, pp. 101-108).
Ms. Litaker arrived at Trace Crossings in 2010, she reported
to Mr. Craig and Assistant Superintendent Carol Barber, who
oversaw elementary and middle school principals. Mr. Craig
and Ms. Barber told Ms. Litaker that Trace Crossings
“had multiple, serious issues and a toxic working
environment.” (Doc. 27-1, ¶ 7). According to Ms.
Litaker, the problems were both instructional and
administrative. (Doc. 27-1, ¶¶ 7-9). A third-party
audit indicated that the school had “instructional,
achievement and diversity issues.” (Doc. 27-1, ¶
7). The audit stated that Trace Crossings teachers were not
using the state-mandated curriculum or board-approved
instructional materials. (Doc. 27-8, pp. 19-20). Other
problems included failure to properly observe teachers and
follow state protocol with respect to keeping standardized
tests in secure locations. (Doc. 27-1, ¶ 8). In
addition, some teachers were charging students for tutoring
sessions against Board policy; some teachers skipped units of
study or did not turn in lesson plans; other teachers did not
receive training for the school's math, reading, and
science curriculum; and most teachers did not receive
appropriate professional development. (Doc. 27-1, ¶ 8).
Ms. Litaker testified that “[she] was told to go into
the school and fix these things.” (Doc. 21-1, p. 18).
teachers at Trace Crossings were upset when Ms. Litaker
became principal because she held the teachers
“accountable to the same standards” as other
Hoover teachers with respect to turning in lesson plans and
teaching to a written curriculum. (Doc. 21-1, pp. 17-18).
According to Ms. Litaker, Trace Crossings's assistant
principal, Dr. Debra Smith, made her (Ms. Litaker's)
first year at Trace Crossings very difficult. Dr. Smith had
applied for the principal position that Ms. Litaker received.
(Doc. 21-6, p. 18). Dr. Smith told teachers not to listen to
Ms. Litaker. (Doc. 21-1, pp. 9-11; Doc. 27-1, ¶ 11).
After Ms. Litaker discussed the situation with Mr. Craig and
Ms. Barber, Ms. Barber stated that “they intended to
‘chase [Dr. Smith] off' by sending her to
Crossroads Alternative” school. (Doc. 27-1, ¶ 12).
these challenges, Ms. Litaker received a positive evaluation
at the end of her first year as Trace Crossings's
principal. (Doc. 21-1, p. 116). In the review dated January
13, 2011, Ms. Barber gave Ms. Litaker 3 out of 4 or 4 out of
4 in every area on the review form. (Doc. 21-1, pp. 116-119).
Ms. Barber gave Ms. Litaker the highest possible score for
“collaboration processes and skills.” Her review
As a first year principal, inherited a faculty/staff where
culture, climate, and practices had to change. Began process
of change by meeting with people-individually, in small
groups, and in larger groups. Listened to people. Identified
areas where she would not allow any negotiations; identified
areas where input was needed and encouraged. Planned
transition activities to gain teacher and parent support.
Established expectations and standards, yet building support
and gaining teacher buy-in to new expectations and practices.
Works hard to build on existing teacher strengths;
acknowledges these strengths and delegates and empowers those
to act. [Assistant Principal], currently in the school,
applied for the principal position and was most upset w[hen]
this did not occur. Filed an EEOC [charge]; district
prevailed in the hiring of Ms. Litaker. Principal continues
to work with this AP even though there appears to be a great
deal of negative behavior involved. This skill area is an
area of strength for Ms. Litaker.
(Doc. 21-1, p. 116). Ms. Litaker also received the highest
possible score for “planning.” Her review states:
Principal is developing ownership of new ideas as they
evolve. Principal encourages input into decisions for the
school. Principal is strategically planning for change,
moving slowing and trying to take faculty and pa[r]ents with
her as changes are implemented. Principal is establishing
goals and identifying activities to support school goals.
Input for change is encouraged from faculty/staff, students,
and parents. Principal is using data from a variety of
sources to establish goals and objectives (assessment data,
survey data, parent and staff meetings, etc.).
\(Doc. 21-1, p. 117). In addition, Ms. Litaker received the
highest possible score for “problem solving.”
With respect to this category, Ms. Litaker's evaluation
Principal develops ownership of ideas by delegating,
empowering others, and sharing. Input into solving problems
is encouraged and acknowledged. Principal labels problems;
brainstorms solutions with individuals/groups involved;
develops ownership of solutions by allowing input into the
solutions; shares data to help direct solutions; and builds
consensus regarding the best solution for the problem.
Principal has emphasized assessment data with faculty;
helping teachers to understand profiles and to plan
strategically for improvement.
(Doc. 21-1, p. 117). Ms. Barber also gave Ms. Litaker the
highest score for “school operations and
management.” Ms. Litaker's evaluation states:
Principal is analytical in assessment of building practices
and procedures. This is an area of strength for Ms. Litaker.
She understands how to effectively schedule personnel to
achieve maximum efficiency; establishes routines to benefit
students and faculty; and establishes rapport with student[s]
by creating a safe and secure learning environment
(physically safe and emotionally safe)! Principal uses a
critical eye to determine appearance of building and grounds
and holds staff accountable for expressed expectations.
Principal establishes high expectations and is willing to
work with personnel as they change practices to meet changed
expectations; however, will hold people accountable for
agreed upon standards.
(Doc. 21-1, p. 118). In the 2011 review, Ms. Barber stated
that Ms. Litaker “constantly references mission and
vision for [Trace Crossings] and expects teachers to use this
as a screen for making decisions.” (Doc. 21-1, p. 119).
Litaker asserts that in her second year at Trace Crossings,
things were much improved: “the faculty was working
together much better, many of the instructional issues has
been solved, and the school had a pleasant environment that
was conducive to learning.” (Doc. 27-1, ¶ 13). In
addition, during her second year, the school's test
scores increased, and although some teachers remained loyal
to Dr. Smith, according to Ms. Litaker, “the toxic
environment and morale issues were gone.” (Doc. 27-1,
Litaker's annual review for her second year as principal
of Trace Crossings is consistent with Ms. Litaker's
assessment. (Doc. 21-1, pp. 120-123). In the February 8, 2012
review, Ms. Barber again gave Ms. Litaker the highest
possible score in the areas of collaboration processes and
skills, planning, and school operations and management. (Doc.
21-1, pp. 120-123). With respect to “organizing for
results, ” Mr. Barber wrote:
Principal is in 2nd year of principalship; has
undertaken major shift in school culture; has created a new
vision for school; holds people accountable for practices to
support vision/mission. Principal has created additional
planning opportunities for teachers, based upon results of
survey data from teachers. Principal reviews survey data and
responds with adjustments to organizational practices when
possible. School has participate[d] in a Total Quality Review
Analysis and is using results from this process to design
school improvement practices.
(Doc. 21-1, p. 120). With respect to “innovation,
” Ms. Barber reported:
Principal is insightful in her vision for school and how to
achieve the vision. School has embraced a teaming model for
school operations. Common core curriculum has been rolled out
early. Teachers are expected to share common practices for
differentiation, assessment, etc. Principal has set the bar
high for teacher expectations; is insistent that teachers
also have opportunities to learn new practices. Mechanism to
support and help teachers achieve outcomes are constantly
being provided and evaluated.
21-1, p. 121). With respect to “fiscal leadership and
management, ” Ms. Barber stated:
Reviews were conducted by the District Internal Auditor and
the District Accounting Manager for the period from October
1, 2010 through May 31, 2011. No exceptions were noted. Ms.
Litaker and Mrs. Drake, bookkeeper for [Trace Crossings], are
to be commended for the significant improvement in fiscal
responsibility that has occurred at [Trace Crossing] over the
past two year[s].
(Doc. 21-1, p. 122). Ms. Barber gave Ms. Litaker 3 out of 4
in the area of “management of professional
responsibilities.” (Doc. 21-1, p. 122). With respect to
this portion of the evaluation, Ms. Barber stated that:
Principal is punctual to work; has a phenomenal work ethic;
submits reports and paperwork in a timely manner. Principal
models professionalism when dealing with teachers, students,
and parents. Principal is willing to hold people accountable
even if it means she may experience some level of discomfort
from staff/parents. Principal will tackle tough situations if
it is in the best interests of students!
(Doc. 21-1, p. 122).
on Ms. Litaker's performance during the two-year
probationary period, in the summer of 2012, Mr. Craig
offered, and Ms. Litaker accepted, a three-year
principal's contract. The Board approved the contract on
June 18, 2012, and the contract became effective July 1,
2012. (Doc. 21-1, pp. 44, 124-129; Doc. 21-2, p. 6; Doc.
21-4, pp. 10, 12).
Ms. Litaker's principal contract provides in relevant
. . .
Section 5. Transfer. The Board, upon the
written recommendation of the Superintendent, is authorized
to transfer the Contract Principal without loss of salary to
any other administrative position in the school system.
. . .
Section 8. Evaluation. The Contract
Principal shall be evaluated annually according to the
process defined by the State Board of Education. The Contract
Principal agrees to participate in the evaluation process and
to complete any professional development plan resulting from
the evaluation process. The failure of the Superintendent to
ensure the Contract Principal is evaluated shall result in a
one-year extension of this contract, for no more than a total
of three years.
. . .
Section 12. Amendment, Modification, or
Waiver. This Contract shall not be amended,
modified, or waived except in writing authorized, agreed
upon, and executed by the Contract Principal and the Board,
upon the written recommendation of the Superintendent.
(Doc. 21-1, pp. 125, 127).
3, 2012, Ms. Litaker received an email regarding the previous
school year's test scores, and she knew that Trace
Crossings would not make AYP. (Doc. 27-1, ¶¶ 18,
22). AYP is an acronym for adequate yearly progress. (Doc.
21-4, p. 11). Ms. Litaker immediately notified Mr. Craig of
the test scores. (Doc. 27-1, ¶ 18). Because the test
results showed unusually low math scores for fourth grade
students, Ms. Litaker suspected that a testing infraction may
have caused the problem. (Doc. 27-1, ¶¶ 18, 20).
According to Ms. Litaker, student achievement did not match
the testing data, and teachers received several sets of
directions before giving the math portion of the test. (Doc.
27-1, ¶ 19). Mr. Craig appointed Dr. Deborah Camp to
investigate and report to the State Department of Education
information about the suspected testing infraction. (Doc.
27-1, ¶ 20). Dr. Camp was the district's Director of
Elementary Curriculum Instruction. (Doc. 27-8, p.
Litaker requested a meeting with Mr. Craig, Dr. Camp,
Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Dr. Ron Dodson, and
Ms. Barber to discuss a plan to address the low test scores.
(Doc. 27-1, ¶¶ 20-21). Ms. Litaker proposed
additional training for kindergarten, first, and second grade
math teachers. (Doc. 27-1, ¶ 22). Ms. Litaker requested,
and the Board approved, additional funding for this
professional development. (Doc. 27-1, ¶ 24). Ms. Litaker
also asked Central Office administrators to help conduct
walkthroughs in math classrooms to observe teachers and
identify struggling students. (Doc. 27-1, ¶ 23).
Hoover schools did not make AYP for the 2011-2012 school
year: Berry Middle, Brock's Gap Intermediate, and Trace
Crossings. By the end of the 2012-2013 school year, Ms.
Litaker no longer was at Trace Crossings, and the Board
transferred Berry's female principal to the principal
position at Greystone Elementary. The male principal at
Brock's Gap remained in his position. (Doc. 27-1, ¶
26). Ms. Litaker testified that for the 2010-2011 school
year, three schools with male principals-Hoover High, Hoover
Freshman Campus, and Simmons Middle School-did not make AYP;
each male principal remained in his position for the
2011-2012 school year. (Doc. 27-1, ¶ 26).
Litaker began her efforts to address AYP at Trace Crossings,
Mr. Craig contends that he received reports from Ms. Barber
and Mary Veal, the Hoover school district's Director of
Human Resources, about an “increasing number” of
issues at Trace Crossings. (Doc. 21-4, p. 12). Ms. Veal
reported to Mr. Craig a number of complaints from Trace
Crossings teachers “about the leadership of the school,
things being managed in regards to student discipline . . .
[and] low morale.” (Doc. 21-6, p. 9). Ms. Veal
testified that “there appeared to be a lack of trust,
and people were concerned about going to Ms. Litaker.”
(Doc. 21-6, p. 9). Ms. Veal also reported complaints about
teachers being asked to work outside of their contract hours.
(Doc. 21-4, p. 25). Ms. Litaker states that no one informed
her of these complaints until the depositions that took place
as part of this case in 2015. (Doc. 27-1, ¶¶ 10,
to Ms. Barber, when she visited Trace Crossings in the fall
of 2012, she observed “a distinct coldness in the
building. . . . [T]eachers weren't talking to one
another. . . . [T]here was no collaboration. . . . Teachers
weren't working together as they should in an elementary
school.” (Doc. 21-2, p. 8). Ms. Barber sensed that Ms.
Litaker was overwhelmed and that the situation was not
improving. (Doc. 21-2, p. 24). Although Ms. Barber reported
these concerns in her deposition in July of 2015, neither she
nor Mr. Craig disciplined Ms. Litaker in 2012, and they did
not provide her with a written performance improvement plan
or inform her that the problems at Trace Crossings could lead
to her removal from the school. (Doc. 21-2, p. 23; Doc. 21-5,
¶ 3; Doc. 27-1, ¶ 34).
Barber's visits were part of the walkthroughs of math
classrooms that Ms. Litaker had requested. Ms. Litaker and
Dr. Dodson conducted walkthroughs of the second grade
classrooms. (Doc. 27-1, ¶ 30). Ms. Barber and Amanda
Stone, the assistant principal at Trace Crossings for the
2012-2013 school year, did walkthroughs for the third grade
classrooms. (Doc. 27-1, ¶ 30). Dr. Camp and Linda
Gurosky, a district administrator who oversaw federal
programs like Title I, performed walkthroughs in the fourth
grade classrooms. (Doc. 27-1, ¶¶ 30, 45). According
to Ms. Litaker, the second and fourth grade walkthroughs went
well, but the third grade walkthroughs did not. (Doc. 27-1,
¶ 31). After one of Ms. Barber and Ms. Stone's
walkthroughs in a third grade classroom, a third grade
teacher came to Ms. Litaker's office in tears because Ms.
Barber and Assistant Principal Stone had verbally attacked
the teacher. (Doc. 27-1, ¶ 31). As a result, Ms. Litaker
asked to suspend the walkthroughs by administration and
proposed to have teachers conduct walkthroughs. (Doc. 27-1,
¶ 32). Ms. Barber and Dr. Dodson disagreed but stopped
conducting walkthroughs after Ms. Litaker was removed from
Trace Crossings. (Doc. 27-1, ¶ 32).
November 2012-less than six months after Mr. Craig and Ms.
Litaker executed a principal contract and after giving Ms.
Litaker only three months to implement efforts to address low
math test scores-Mr. Craig decided to remove Ms. Litaker from
the principal position at Trace Crossings. Mr. Craig states
that he made the decision because he was concerned about
“the direction of the school.” (Doc. 21-4, p.
22). Mr. Craig discussed his decision with Ms. Barber. (Doc.
21-4, p. 22). Mr. Craig decided that Ms. Barber would replace
Ms. Litaker because Ms. Barber's “extensive
principalship experience” would give the school the
best opportunity to restore unity among the faculty, staff,
and parents. (Doc. 21-4, p. 23).
November 15, 2012, Ms. Barber called Ms. Litaker and asked
her to stop by the Central Office. Ms. Litaker arrived at the
Central Office some time after 4:00 p.m. and found Ms. Barber
in her office. (Doc. 21-1, p. 7). Ms. Barber told Ms. Litaker
that Trace Crossings teachers were complaining to Ms. Veal
and that good teachers were planning to leave Trace
Crossings. (Doc. 21-1, pp. 7-9). Mr. Craig joined the meeting
as Ms. Barber made these remarks. Ms. Litaker explained that
she was “totally taken off guard” by the remarks
because she “had never been talked to, reprimanded,
written up about anything related to my faculty.” (Doc.
27-1, p. 7). Ms. Litaker disagreed with Ms. Barber's
remarks; she stated that teachers were not planning to leave.
(Doc. 21-1, p. 7). Mr. Craig then commented, “Well, I
just -- I think it is time for a change.” (Doc. 21-1,
p. 8). Mr. Craig told Ms. Litaker that certain individuals
were “after” her, including Dr. Smith and a Board
member. (Doc. 21-1, pp. 8, 11-12). Ms. Barber told Ms.
Litaker that those individuals “can't hurt me. I am
going to retire. I can get in there and finish, you know,
cleaning it up.” (Doc. 21-1, p. 8). Mr. Craig and Ms.
Barber told Ms. Litaker that they were moving Ms. Litaker to
“protect [her].” (Doc. 21-1, p. 51). Mr. Craig
did not recommend the transfer to the Board, and the Board
did not vote on Ms. Litaker's transfer per paragraph 5 of
her principal contract. (Doc. 21-1, p. 47); see p.
9, supra. Ms. Litaker agreed to the transfer, and
her salary did not change. (Doc. 21-1, p. 45).
November 15 meeting, Ms. Litaker asked Mr. Craig and Ms.
Barber what would be said about her transfer. Mr. Craig, Ms.
Barber, and Ms. Litaker agreed that Ms. Craig and Ms. Barber
would explain that Ms. Litaker had been asking about other
jobs in the Central Office, and Ms. Barber had been wanting
to move back into a school, hence the transfer. (Doc. 21-1,
p. 16; see also Doc. 21-1, pp. 8, 11-12).
Litaker was hosting a lunch for the faculty at Trace
Crossings the next day. Mr. Craig and Ms. Barber told Ms.
Litaker to “send out an email and  leave the school
around 12:30.” (Doc. 21-1, p. 8). Ms. Litaker was to
instruct the faculty to meet Mr. Craig and Ms. Barber in the
library after school. (Doc. 21-1, p. 8). Ms. Litaker did as
she was told. (Doc. 21-1, p. 12).
Craig and Ms. Barber initially indicated that they would make
Ms. Litaker an assistant principal at Bumpus Middle School.
(Doc. 21-1, p. 8). Ms. Litaker responded that an assistant
principal position was not acceptable. (Doc. 21-1, p. 8). Mr.
Craig told Ms. Litaker that he was “going to make [her]
a principal again as quick[ly] as [he could].” (Doc.
21-1, p. 8). Mr. Craig and Ms. Barber agreed that Ms. Litaker
would receive paid professional leave through the end of 2012
which would give Ms. Litaker time to work on her doctoral
dissertation. (Doc. 21-1, p. 13).
Litaker's last official day at Trace Crossings was
November 16, 2012. (Doc. 21-1, p. 7). She left before the
lunch that she was hosting ended. (Doc. 21-1, p. 12). That
afternoon, Ms. Barber sent an email to her distribution list,
which included Central Office staff, principals, and
administrators. Ms. Litaker was included in the mail. (Doc.
21-1, p. 16). The email reads:
Just to update you on a few changes that are occurring for
the district. ..... remember, change is positive!!
Robin Litaker, principal at Trace Crossings, has been talking
to us about some different opportunities that are being
considered for the Hoover district. Currently, Robin has
asked for some time to work on her dissertation and will be
taking a few weeks to focus attention on this important task.
Robin's assignment to her new position will be finalized
when she returns from this professional leave. Meanwhile, I
plan to move from my [Central Office] position to fill the
principal position at [Trace Crossings]. I will begin at
[Trace Crossings] on Monday, Nov. 26; we notified the
faculty/staff this afternoon. I will continue to work with
[Central Office] responsibilities, operating from the office
at [Trace Crossings], until my responsibilities are
reassigned or until a suitable replacement to assist with
some of the tasks has been identified.
I will not be in B[irming]ham over the Thanksgiving break
(family trip) but will be available via email or phone should
you have any reason to contact me. I hope everyone has a
happy Thanksgiving- spend time with family and above all,
join me in ...