United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
V. S. GRANADE, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
lawsuit is the result of Plaintiffs' employment being
terminated by Defendant. Specifically before the court is
Defendant, Chickasaw City Board of Education's (the
“Board”), Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 40)
and brief in support thereof (Doc. 41), Plaintiffs'
Response in opposition (Doc. 44) with materials in support
(Doc. 43), and Defendant's Reply (Doc. 45). For the
reasons explained below, the Court finds that Defendant's
motion for summary judgment should be granted.
Ronald Cottrell (“Cottrell”), James Rigdon
(“J. Rigdon”), and Stacey Rigdon (“S.
Rigdon”) were each employees of the Chickasaw City
School System for the 2014-15 school year. (Doc. 1 at 2).
Cottrell and J. Rigdon were both employed as teachers and
coaches while S. Rigdon was employed as a paraprofessional.
(Id.) J. Rigdon and S. Rigdon are also husband and
wife and their son, Chandler Rigdon was a senior student at
Chickasaw City School during the 2014-15 school year.
(Id.) On September 21, 2014, Chandler Rigdon was
involved in an incident (the “incident”) wherein
the principal of Chickasaw City High School, Brent Ward,
struck him on the head/neck between one and three times in
front of three other teachers, Stephanie Serra
(“Serra”), Ricky Ruffin (“Ruffin”),
and Ronald Cottrell. (Id. at 3). Brent Ward
ultimately resigned from his position based on another
incident unrelated to this lawsuit. However, the facts
surrounding the investigation of Mr. Ward's behavior are
disputed by the parties and are pertinent to this motion.
assert that following the incident with Chandler Rigdon and
Principal Ward, Ruffin took Chandler outside of the school
building and instructed him not to tell his father, J.
Rigdon, what had occurred. Ruffin then approached J. Rigdon
in his classroom and informed him of the incident and told
him that he, Ruffin, had taken care of it. (Id. at
3). At the end of the school day Serra informed the Rigdons
of the incident and apologized that it had occurred.
(Id.) Cottrell was approached by the assistant
principal, Willie Lewis “(Lewis”) after the
school day ended and told that he needed to calm J. Rigdon
down and that the Rigdons did not need to press charges.
Cottrell replied that Ward should not have hit a student.
(Id.) The same afternoon, after football practice,
Lewis approached J. Rigdon and stated “Word for the
wise, if you want to stay, you need to let it go.”
(Id. at 4). The day after the incident, Cottrell met
with Ward and suggested that Ward apologize for the incident,
to which he refused. (Id.) Days after the incident
occurred, J. Rigdon requested video surveillance of the
incident and that video was provided to him in Ward's
office where J. Rigdon, Ruffin, and Ward watched the video.
the incident, Cottrell and J. Rigdon reported the incident to
Robert McFall (“McFall”), president of the
Chickasaw School Board of Education and Kyle Kallhoff
(“Kallhoff”), the superintendent. (Id.)
Kallhoff instructed J. Rigdon to report the incident to Ward
in accordance with the school's chain of
command. (Id.) Kallhoff also called
Cottrell to determine the veracity of the incident and
Cottrell confirmed that he witnessed the incident occur.
(Id.) Kallhoff responded that he was not going to
investigate because Ward was doing a good job. (Id.)
S. Rigdon then reported the incident to the Superintendent of
the Alabama State Department of Education and a week later,
Kallhoff requested a meeting with Mr. and Mrs. Rigdon which
occurred in the presence of the attorneys for the Board and
the school system. (Id.) Plaintiffs contend that
following the meeting, no investigation was initiated.
remaining events relevant to this action are listed below in
September 25, 2014, Lewis sent J. Rigdon an email regarding
problems observed in his classroom and J. Rigdon responded
the same day. (Doc. 41-17 at 12-13). J. Rigdon's response
brings up the incident.
October 8, 2014, a co-employee sent an email to Lewis and
Ward regarding J. Rigdon's behavior relating to his son
receiving a uniform violation. J. Rigdon responded to that
email and brought up the incident. (Id. at 14-15).
October 27, 2014, Cottrell completed a witness statement
relating to the incident. (Id. at 60).
October 27, 2014, Ward was reprimanded for the incident
involving Chandler. (Doc. 41-17 at 36).
October 29, 2014, as a result of another incident, Ward was
placed on administrative leave. (Id. at 58). Lewis
was named interim principal upon Ward's exit. (Doc. 1 at
5). Shortly thereafter, Ward resigned in response to the
other unrelated incident. (Id.)
October 31, 2014, interim principal Lewis observed J.
Rigdon's classroom to be disorderly and questioned him
about the state of the class. (Doc. 41-17 at 16).
November 3, 2014, Lewis issued a written reprimand to J.
Rigdon for his behavior during their previous encounter on
October 31, 2014. (Doc. 41 at 6; Doc. 41-17 at 16).
November 3, 2014, Chandler Rigdon filed a police report with
the Chickasaw Police Department against Brent Ward for the
incident. Ward was charged with harassment and prosecuted in
Chickasaw Municipal Court. (Doc. 41 at 5).
Board accepted Ward's resignation on November 13, 2014.
(Doc. 41 at 4).
December 19, 2014, Lewis wrote a letter to J. Rigdon
regarding a conflict of interest for conducting personal
business with school. (Doc. 41-17 at 17).
December 20, 2014, Lewis wrote a letter to J. Rigdon
regarding a personal conflict involving a student that was
negatively impacting positive work environment. (Id.
December 22, 2014, S. Rigdon sent an email to Lewis
requesting that he stop harassing her and her family.
(Id. at 26-27).
February 26, 2015, Cottrell was reprimanded by Kathy Odom for
meeting with recruiters during instructional time.
(Id. at 3).
March 10, 2015, Cottrell was given a letter from Lewis
explaining items that needed Cottrell's attention
(relating to sports). (Id. at 4).
March 18, Cottrell was reprimanded for making purchases
without following proper accounting procedures. (Id.
March 18, 2015, S. Rigdon sent an email to Lewis that
mentions the incident. (Id. at 28-29).
April 21, 2015, Cottrell was given Letter of Reprimand for
unprofessional conduct and insubordination. (Id. at
6, 2015, S. Rigdon sent an email to Lewis that again demanded
that Lewis stop harassing her and her family. (Id.
6, 2015, James and Stacey Rigdon were placed on
administrative leave. (Id. at 68).
11, 2015, Kallhoff recommended that each of the
Plaintiffs be non-renewed and the Board approved the
recommendations resulting in the termination of Plaintiffs.
(Doc. 1 at 6).
August 4, 2015, Cottrell testified in Municipal Court
resulting in Ward being found guilty, a result that Ward
appealed to Circuit Court. (Doc. 41-11 at 10-11).
January 11, 2016, Cottrell testified in Circuit Court
resulting in Ward being found not guilty. (Id. at