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Stevens v. Mobile County Board of School Commissioners

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

October 15, 2019

ROBYN STEVENS, Plaintiff,
v.
MOBILE COUNTY BOARD OF SCHOOL COMMISSIONERS Defendants.

          ORDER

          KRISTI K. DuBOSE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Brief in Support of Its Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 29), Plaintiff's Brief in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgement (Doc. 32), and Defendant's Reply Brief (Doc. 35). For the reasons herein, the Defendant's motion for summary judgment is DENIED.

         I. Findings of Fact[1]

         Robyn Boyd Stevens (Stevens) worked as a non-tenured Social Studies teacher at Calloway-Smith middle school for the 2015-2016 school term. (Doc. 29 at 3; Doc. 33-2, Aff. Stevens at 1). Stevens was non-renewed on May 25, 2016 because Calloway-Smith lost two teaching units. (Doc. 32-15, P. Ex. 16; Doc. 32-27, P. Ex. 37; Doc. 33-10, Depo. Stevens at 2; Doc. 33-4, Depo. Bryan Hack at 3; Doc. 33-5, Depo. Dorothy Walton at 16-17). Non-renewal was customary for non-tenured teachers. (Doc. 33-4, Depo. Hack at 2; Doc. 33-5, Depo. Walton at 17). Stevens maintained her qualifications and certification to teach grades 4-12 in the state of Alabama. (Doc. 33-2, Aff. Stevens at 1).

         When Stevens was notified of her non-renewal, Stevens contends her inactive status was entered into the payroll system and NEXGEN; she also asserts Human Resources processed this change, updating her employment status to ‘inactive'. (Doc. 32-27, P. Ex. 37; Doc. 33-6, Depo. Gretchen Lang at 12-14; Doc. 33-4, Depo. Hack at 3-4; Doc. 33-8, Depo. Mavis Hayes at 3-5).[2]Further, the Board utilizes a system of checks and balances to ensure inactive employees are flagged as inactive. (Doc. 33-6, Depo. Lang at 5-6; Doc. 33-8, Depo. M. Hayes at 3-5). The NEXGEN system typically shows an employee's separation date when the employee is non-renewed. (Doc. 33-6, Depo. Lang at 5-6; Doc. 33-8, Depo. M. Hayes at 3-5).

         On July 12, 2016, the Calloway-Smith Assistant Principal Ronald Horner (Horner) contacted Stevens to notify her she “would be rehired for the upcoming school year and to give her a schedule of when she could come to the school to prepare her classroom.” (Doc. 33-10, Depo. Stevens at 5-6; Doc. 33-3, Aff. Horner 1).[3] There is a dispute about when the unit that Stevens eventually occupied became available. (Doc. 33-3, Aff. Horner at 1 (noting his task to contact teachers who had been hired and assigned approved units for the upcoming 2016-2017 school year in July 2016); compare with Doc. 33-9, Depo. Nina Hayes at 23-26; and Doc. 30-6, Aff. Walton at 3 (each stating the unit at issue became available at the end of August 2016)).

         On July 13, 2016, Horner sent an email to Calloway-Smith staff for the 2016-2017 school term, with information about deadlines to have classrooms ready and information about a meeting scheduled for August 8, 2016. (Doc. 32-16, P. Ex. 20).[4] The email stated in relevant parts, “Your classroom should be completed no later than July 29, 2016…” (Id.). Stevens arranged with Horner after receiving this email to have him set up her classroom for her while she was out. (Doc. 33-3, Aff. Horner at 2; Doc. 33-10, Depo. Stevens at 7).

         On July 26, 2016, Stevens requested a 21-day maternity leave to run from August 6, 2016 through September 7, 2016. (Doc. 32-8, P. Ex. 7; Doc. 32-29, P. Ex. 40 (confirming receipt of Stevens' leave application). Stevens requested a substitute teacher to cover her absence. (Doc. 32-8, P. Ex. 7). George Smith (Smith), the Employee Relations Supervisor, approved her leave request on September 16, 2016. (Doc. 33-4, Depo. Hack at 15, 16; Doc. 33-10, Depo. Stevens at 14-16).

         Layla Clark-Jackson (Clark) accepted a position at Calloway-Smith on July 25, 2016, as a 7thgrade Social Studies teacher for the ‘Green' section. (Doc. 32-3, P. Ex. 1; Doc. 33-7, Depo. Clark at 5-10; Doc. 33-4, Depo. Hack at 31; Doc. 33-5, Depo. Walton at 18-19). Stevens was re-hired for the other Social Studies unit-the Yellow unit.[5] (Doc. 33-5, Depo. Walton at 18; Doc. 33-7, Depo. Clark at 8-10[6]).

         On August 3, 2016, Stevens was issued an assignment card by Nina Hayes (N. Hayes), Personnel Administrator. (Doc. 32-10, P. Ex. 9; but see Doc. 32-11, P. Ex. 10 (reflecting a September 7, 2016 start date)). Assignment cards are created and given to HR in order to enter employees into the NEXGEN system for active employees. (Doc. 33-8, Depo. M. Hayes at 2-8; Doc. 33-11, Depo. Theda Rhodes 7-8). Assignment cards indicate an employee can be rehired. (Doc. 33-4, Depo. Hack at 13). The Personnel Administrator typically completes the assignment card after speaking with the principal and the employee to ensure the employee can return to the school. (Id.).

         The Board approved Stevens at the September 7, 2016 Board meeting at which Stevens' position was listed as a vacancy. (Doc. 33-4, Depo. Hack at 16-17; Doc. 32-26, P. Ex. 36; Doc. 32-28, P. Ex. 39). Stevens was submitted for Board review again October 28, 2016. (Doc. 32-30, P. Ex. 42). It is possible for employees to begin work prior to obtaining Board approval. (Doc. 33-4, Depo. Hack 5-6, 25).

         On or about August 3, 2016, Stevens told N. Hayes her doctor cleared her to return to work after September 7, 2016 due to the birth of her child. (Doc. 33-12, P. Ex. 11; Doc. Doc. 33-2, Aff. Stevens at 3; Doc. 33-9, Depo. N. Hayes at 21). Stevens contends N. Hayes confirmed Stevens' position as a 7th grade Social Studies teacher in July 2016 when Stevens notified N. Hayes of her need to start working in September. (Doc. 33-2, Aff. Stevens at 3). N. Hayes denies Stevens' position existed until August 31, 2016. (Doc. 33-9, Depo. N. Hayes at 22-24).

         In August, Stevens received emails regarding professional development at Calloway-Smith and a welcome letter; she received notice of her classroom assignment, she was assigned active students, given a class schedule and given a roster of students. (Doc. 32-4, P. Ex. 2; Doc. 32-5, P. Ex. 3; Doc. 32-17, P. Ex. 23; Doc. 32-22, P. Ex. 28; Doc. 32-25, P. Ex. 35; but see Doc. 33-5, Depo. Walton at 32 (stating these items were delivered in error)).

         Stevens was also entered into the Kronos system and issued a timecard for payroll. (Doc. 32-32, Doc. P. Ex. 49; Doc. 32-33, P. Ex. 50; Doc. 33-12, Depo. Torshea Bettis at 17; Doc. 33-8, Depo. M. Hayes at 18; but see Doc. 33-5, Depo. Walton at 30 (stating Stevens was in the system in error). Only Board approved employees are entered into the payroll system. (Doc. 33-8, Depo. M. Hayes at 14). She was listed as an active employee by the Board and listed as absent on maternity leave. (Doc. 32-25, P. Ex. 35; Doc. 32-32, P. Ex. 49; Doc. 32-37, P. Ex. 57; Doc. 32-38, P. Ex. 58; Doc. 33-4, Depo Hack at 9-10; Doc. 33-11, Depo. Rhodes at 3, 7). Her absences were logged in the payroll systems and Stevens was listed as absent with a substitute covering her absences. (Doc. 32-32, P. Ex. 49; Doc. 33-11, Depo. Rhodes at 3).

         AESOP is the system that the Board uses to secure a substitute teacher and to record employee absences. (Doc. 33-12, Depo. Bettis at 11-13). Torshea Bettis is the Bookkeeper at Calloway-Smith and is responsible for inputting absences into AESOP. (Id. at 11). Bettis testified she first confirms a classroom requiring a substitute exists; she then acquires the principal's approval before securing a substitute. (Id. at 13-14). Mazadaline Taylor states she was hired to substitute for Stevens' Social Studies class during Stevens' absence at the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year. (Doc. 33-1, Aff. Taylor at 1; Doc. 33-12, Depo. Bettis at 11; but see Doc. 32-35, P. Ex. 53 (Hack emailing “…one of the things I heard but did not understand was that there was a a sub in robin [sic] stevens place from the beginning of the school year, yet robin [sic] was hired into the new position that was added after the school year started.”)[7]. Others state Taylor was not secured as a substitute for a specific classroom because that unit did not exist yet. (Doc. 33-5, Depo. Walton at 20-22; Doc. 33-12, Depo. Bettis at 9). On August 23, 2016, Stevens was notified that her substitute request starting August 10, 2016 had been fulfilled; the notice also requested Stevens leave the sub, Taylor, feedback. (Doc. 32-18, P. Ex. 24).

         On August 25, 2016, Stevens received an email with access information to INow, a grading system with students records. (Doc. 32-21, P. Ex. 27; Doc. 33-2, Aff. Stevens at 5). Stevens states she spoke with Taylor to get an update on her students' progress while Stevens was absent. (Doc. 33-2, Aff. Stevens at 4).

         On September 15, 2016, Stevens received notification that her maternity leave had been approved from August 8, 2016 through September 7, 2016. (Doc. 32-29, P. Ex. 40; Doc. 33-4 Depo. Hack at 20; Doc. 33-11, Depo. Rhodes at 10; and see Doc. 33-6, Depo. Lang at 9-10 (explaining an employee's active status is checked prior to granting maternity leave)).[8] Stevens requested to borrow leave from the Sick Leave Bank on September 15, 2016. (Doc. 32-37, P. Ex. 57). The Sick Leave Bank Committee and Smith both separately approved her borrowed leave request on September 20, 2016. (Doc. 32-15, P. Ex. 16, Doc. 32-37, P. Ex. 57; Doc.32-38, P. Ex. 58). Lang, an employee relations clerk with the Board, wrote Stevens on September 22, 2016 asking if Stevens wished to borrow two additional sick leave days in order to be eligible to receive a paycheck. (Doc. 32-8, P. Ex. 7; Doc. 33-10, Depo. Stevens 16-18). Stevens requested two additional days be donated which Lang then processed. (Doc. 33-2, Aff. Stevens at 5; Doc. 32-38, P. Ex. 58).

         In September, Stevens' ‘active' employment status was changed to reflect September 7, 2016 as her start date, Stevens' status as absent in time and payroll records deleted, and her leave was deleted from the Kronos/AESOP systems. (Doc. 32-7, P. Ex. 6; Doc. 32-15, P. Ex. 16; Doc. 32- 32, P. Ex. 49; Doc. 32-33, P. Ex. 50; Doc. 33-6, Depo. Lang at 13; Doc. 33-11, Depo. Rhodes at 5-7, 13). Stevens Employee Action Form was also revised on September 22, 2016 to reflect a September 7, 2016 hire date. (Doc. 32-10, P. Ex. 9).

         Stevens was also notified September 22, 2016, her maternity leave request was approved in error after realizing Stevens was non-renewed and that she had a start date of September 7, 2016. (Doc. 32-7, P. Ex. 6; Doc. 32-34, P. Ex. 51; Doc. 32-28, P. Ex. 58). Smith notified Lang that Stevens' medical leave approval also needed to be rescinded. (Doc. 33-6, Depo. Lang at 15, 18).

         The Board argues the changes were made to correct past errors; Stevens contends these changes were motivated by her sex and pregnancy. Stevens asserted discrimination complaints on September 26, 2016. (Doc. 32-23, P. Ex. 29; Doc. 32-24, P. Ex. 31). On September 30, 2016, Stevens was told her rehire date was September 7, 2016 and as such, she was responsible for all health insurance payments during her leave. (Doc. 33-2, Aff. Stevens at 6-7; Doc. 33-10, Depo. Stevens at 22-23). Stevens elected Cobra to extend her medical and health insurance for herself and her newborn for the interim period. (Id. at 17).

         Stevens filed a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC on January 5, 2017. (Doc. 32-36, P. Ex. 56). Smith responded on behalf of the Board. (Doc. 33-4, Depo. Hack 24). This response stated Stevens' rehire date was September 7, 2016, because of a concern with Stevens' ability to return to work; it did not reference a lack of assignable teaching unit. (Doc. 32-12, P. Ex. 11).

         The EEOC issued a letter on April 12, 2018 finding the Board discriminated against Stevens on the basis of her pregnancy. (Doc. 32-39, P. Ex. 59). The Department of Justice issued Stevens a Right to Sue June 14, 2018. (Doc. 32-40, P. Ex. 60). Stevens brought this action against the Mobile County Board of School Commissioners (the Board) August, 9, 2018. (Doc. 1).

         II. Standard of Review

         “The 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.” ...


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