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Williams v. Hoover City Board of Education

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

May 20, 2019




         This case is before the court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. # 41). The parties have fully briefed the Motion (Docs. # 42, 47, 50), and it is under submission. After careful review, and for the reasons explained below, the court concludes that Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is due to be denied.

         I. Factual Background[1]

         The Hoover City Board of Education contracts with a staffing company, Appleton Plus People Corporation, to provide instructional aides who assist the Board's teachers in classrooms at Hoover City schools. Plaintiff Delilah Williams was an instructional aide employed by Appleton who worked in Hoover City schools. In October 2015, about half way through her first semester at Green Valley Elementary School, Principal Jeffrey Singer had Plaintiff removed from her placement at Green Valley. Plaintiff contends his decision to remove her was motivated in part by her sex and her pregnancy.

         Plaintiff began employment with Appleton in the spring of 2015. (Plaintiff's Deposition at 15-18).[2] After she applied for several positions through Appleton's website, an Appleton representative notified her that she would have an interview at Trace Crossings Elementary. (Id. at 15-17). Plaintiff interviewed at Trace Crossings with the school principal and the teacher she would be working under, and was subsequently offered a position as a special education instructional aide. (Id. at 17-18). She began work at Trace Crossings in March 2015. (Id. at 18).

         Plaintiff was assigned to provide one-on-one assistance to a particular student, J.H., at Trace Crossings. (Id. at 18). Plaintiff provided assistance to J.H. for the remainder of the spring 2015 semester. (Id. at 19). Once the school year ended, Plaintiff expected to receive an email from Appleton telling her whether she would be returning to Trace Crossings for the following school year or instead moving to another school. (Id. at 20).

         After the school year ended, Plaintiff received an email from Appleton representative Theresa Hundley telling her that she would start the 2015-16 school year at Green Valley Elementary, another Hoover City elementary school. (Id. at 21). Hundley was Appleton's program manager for the Hoover City Board of Education. (Hundley Deposition at 11).[3] In that role, Hundley was responsible for managing Appleton's contract with Hoover City Schools and for placing Appleton employees in Hoover schools as both instructional aides and substitute teachers. (Id. at 11-13). Plaintiff was reassigned from Trace Crossings to Green Valley because J.H., the student Plaintiff had been assisting at Trace Crossings, was moving to Green Valley. (Goodwin Deposition at 23-24).[4] The Hoover officials who requested that Plaintiff be moved to Green Valley with J.H. thought the move would be beneficial because Plaintiff already knew J.H. and had an established relationship with him. (Id. at 24; Singer Deposition at 42-44).[5]

         Plaintiff began working at Green Valley in August 2015, the beginning of the school year. (Plaintiff's Deposition at 22). While at Green Valley, Plaintiff worked in a behavioral assessment classroom designed for students with academic, behavioral, or emotional needs. (Singer Deposition at 35, 38). The primary teacher in that classroom was Leigh Windsor, who was assisted by two instructional aides-Plaintiff and another female aide named Tameka Lewis. (Id. at 37-38; Plaintiff's Deposition at 28). Initially, only two students (including J.H.) were assigned to the behavior assessment class at Green Valley. (Plaintiff's Deposition at 26). Plaintiff and Lewis shared responsibility for meeting the needs of each student. (Id. at 28-29).

         The parties dispute what happened next. The Board claims that Plaintiff's performance in the classroom suffered as the semester progressed, which ultimately led Green Valley Principal Jeffrey Singer to remove Plaintiff from her position. Teashia Goodwin, a clinical psychologist who occasionally worked in Plaintiff's classroom, testified that Plaintiff would sometimes sit at the back of the classroom on her phone instead of actively engaging her students. (Goodwin Deposition at 7, 26-27, 33). Goodwin also testified, however, that she did not communicate her concerns about Plaintiff to Principal Singer. (Id. at 34-35).

         Principal Singer testified that Windsor had come to him with concerns about Plaintiff's classroom performance and that he had noticed that J.H. was not responding well to Plaintiff in the classroom. (Singer Deposition at 74-75, 82-84). Singer also testified that Windsor may have told him that Plaintiff sometimes napped and worked on her college coursework in the classroom, and that Plaintiff questioned some of the things Windsor would ask her to do. (Id. at 85-86, 110-111). In particular, Singer said that Plaintiff questioned some of the de-escalation practices Windsor would use when dealing with students. (Id. at 111). Based on these concerns, Singer asked Appleton program manager Theresa Hundley to remove Plaintiff from Green Valley in October 2015. (Singer Deposition at 127; Hundley Deposition at 38, 40- 42, 55-56).

         Plaintiff tells a very different story and points to different evidence in the Rule 56 record. Near the end of August, Plaintiff went to Singer and told him she was pregnant. (Plaintiff's Deposition at 48-49; Singer Deposition at 63-68). Singer responded by saying something along the lines of “you and your husband didn't waste any time, did y'all.” (Plaintiff's Deposition at 49; Singer Deposition at 66). After Windsor learned of Plaintiff's pregnancy, she also had a conversation with Singer, apparently because she (Windsor) had some concern about Plaintiff's pregnancy. (Plaintiff's Deposition at 39-40, 45). The following day, Plaintiff told Singer she was unsure why Windsor had approached him about her pregnancy, since he already knew she was pregnant. (Id. at 48). Singer responded that “he felt that [Windsor] was just being concerned and he was concerned as well.” (Id.).

         Sometime later, on October 5, 2015, Singer sent Hundley an email concerning Plaintiff. (Doc. # 43-4 at 49). Singer wrote that the student Plaintiff had been working with was not responding to her and that Plaintiff had expressed displeasure about her current working environment. (Id.). He explained that, “[i]f [Plaintiff] is not happy about the working environment, I understand. Originally, I wanted the class to have both a [male] and female aide.” (Id.).[6] Singer asked Hundley about the possibility of transferring a specific male aide (David Palmer) to Green Valley: “I know of an aide who is interested. . . . Currently, I believe he is working at another site. If there is a possibility of a transfer, however, I would like to meet with the candidate, Mr. David Palmer, first.” (Id.).

         On October 15, 2015, Singer met with Hundley to tell her that he did not want Plaintiff to continue working at Green Valley. (Singer Deposition at 121-27). Four days later, on October 19, 2015, Hundley called Plaintiff to tell her she would no longer be working at Green Valley. (Plaintiff's Deposition at 52; Hundley Deposition at 40-42). Sometime after this phone call, Plaintiff drafted a transcript of her conversation with Hundley from memory. (Plaintiff's Deposition at 69-70). Plaintiff's account of her conversation with Hundley reads as follows:

[Hundley]: I was calling to let you know due to your situation, and do you have a situation.
[Plaintiff]: What situation?
[Hundley]: Are you expecting?
[Plaintiff]: Yes.
[Hundley]: Ok well due to your pregnancy the principal (Jeff Singer) at Green Valley Elementary has saw fit that you be replaced and no longer be employed with Green Valley Elementary School because of your situation he doesn't see fit for you to hold your position as a Special Ed. Aide. I was told to let you know that this is your last day of work with Green Valley Elementary School.
[Plaintiff]: Say what now…Are you saying that I was let go due to my pregnancy or due to me not doing my job.
[Hundley]: No. they never said you weren't doing your job, I'm saying you were let go due to your situation of being pregnant.
[Plaintiff]: What am I supposed to do? I need a full time job, well I just had a full time job and work all day and you mean to tell me I am let go due to being pregnant. I just don't understand.
[Hundley]: There is always subbing but there might be a full time position at another school, give me until Friday of this week and if you don't hear from me by 12:00 pm give me a call and we can go from there.
[Plaintiff]: Ok thanks…

(Doc. # 43-2 at 31-32). Hundley denies ever making these statements to Plaintiff. (Hundley Deposition at 52-53). According to Hundley, she simply told Plaintiff that Green Valley had requested her removal and never said anything about Plaintiff's pregnancy. (Id. at 41-42).

         Two weeks after Plaintiff's phone call with Hundley, on November 2, 2015, David Palmer began working at Green Valley. (Hundley Deposition at 54-55; Doc. # 43-3 at 37). On November 4, 2015, a Hoover City Schools administrator emailed Hundley to find out whether there had been “a change in personnel at Green Valley, ” and specifically whether there were “changes for [Plaintiff] at [Green Valley].” (Doc. # 43-3 at 37). Hundley responded: “[Plaintiff] has been switched with David Palmer [who] started on Monday.” ...

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