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Cottrell v. Chickasaw City Schools Board of Education

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

February 7, 2018

RONALD COTTRELL, et al., Plaintiff,



         This 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.


         Plaintiffs, 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[1], 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.

         Plaintiffs 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. (Id.)

         Following 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.[2] (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. (Id.)

         The remaining events relevant to this action are listed below in chronological order:

         On 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.

         On 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).

         On October 27, 2014, Cottrell completed a witness statement relating to the incident. (Id. at 60).

         On October 27, 2014, Ward was reprimanded for the incident involving Chandler. (Doc. 41-17 at 36).

         On 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.)

         On 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).

         On 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).

         On 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).

         The Board accepted Ward's resignation on November 13, 2014. (Doc. 41 at 4).

         On 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).

         On 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. at 20).

         On December 22, 2014, S. Rigdon sent an email to Lewis requesting that he stop harassing her and her family. (Id. at 26-27).

         On February 26, 2015, Cottrell was reprimanded by Kathy Odom for meeting with recruiters during instructional time. (Id. at 3).

         On March 10, 2015, Cottrell was given a letter from Lewis explaining items that needed Cottrell's attention (relating to sports). (Id. at 4).

         On March 18, Cottrell was reprimanded for making purchases without following proper accounting procedures. (Id. at 5).

         On March 18, 2015, S. Rigdon sent an email to Lewis that mentions the incident. (Id. at 28-29).

         On April 21, 2015, Cottrell was given Letter of Reprimand for unprofessional conduct and insubordination. (Id. at 8-9).

         On May 6, 2015, S. Rigdon sent an email to Lewis that again demanded that Lewis stop harassing her and her family. (Id. at 31)

         On May 6, 2015, James and Stacey Rigdon were placed on administrative leave. (Id. at 68).

         On June 11, 2015[3], 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).

         On 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).

         On January 11, 2016, Cottrell testified in Circuit Court resulting in Ward being found not guilty. (Id. at 11).


         A. Summary ...

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