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Warren v. Coosa County Board of Education

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

October 29, 2019

DOUGLAS KEITH WARREN, Plaintiff,
v.
COOSA COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ANNEMARIE CARNEY AXON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 47). Defendants also filed a motion to strike Plaintiff Douglas Keith Warren's response to their statement of facts and his additional undisputed and disputed facts contained in his response brief. (Doc. 60).

         Mr. Warren is a Caucasian male. He worked as a special education teacher and assistant softball coach at Coosa Central High School during the 2015-16 school year. In April 2016, the Coosa County Board of Education (the “Board”) decided not to renew Mr. Warren's probationary employment. Several weeks later, Superintendent Dennis Sanford and Coosa Central High School Principal Bradley Bouldin placed Mr. Warren on administrative leave until the end of the school year based on reports that Mr. Warren threatened to destroy school property.

         Mr. Warren filed this lawsuit alleging that the Board, Mr. Sanford, and Mr. Bouldin discriminated against him because of race and gender. The following claims remain pending: (1) race discrimination, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981, via § 1983, against the Board and Mr. Sanford and Mr. Bouldin in their individual capacities (Count One); (2) gender discrimination, in violation Title VII, against the Board (Count Two); and (3) defamation, in violation of Alabama law, against Mr. Sanford and Mr. Bouldin in their individual capacities (Count Four).[1]

         First, the court DENIES Defendants' motion to strike the contested portions of Mr. Warren's brief because Defendants are not prejudiced by Mr. Warren's failure to strictly comply with this court's instructions on summary judgment briefing.

         Second, the court GRANTS Defendants' motion for summary judgment on Mr. Warren's § 1981 and Title VII claims. The court GRANTS the motion for summary judgment as to Mr. Warren's claim of race discrimination under § 1981 because Mr. Warren has not presented a prima facie case of race discrimination. The court GRANTS the motion for summary judgment as to Mr. Warren's claim of gender discrimination under Title VII because Mr. Warren has not presented evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that the Board discriminated against him because of his gender or that gender was a motivating factor for any alleged adverse employment action.

         Because the court will enter judgment as a matter of law in favor of Defendants on all claims over which it has original jurisdiction, the court WILL DECLINE to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Mr. Warren's state law defamation claim and WILL DISMISS WITHOUT PREJUDICE the claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c).

         I. BACKGROUND

         In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court “draw[s] all inferences and review[s] all evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” Hamilton v. Southland Christian Sch., Inc., 680 F.3d 1316, 1318 (11th Cir. 2012) (quotation marks omitted).

         In August 2015, the Board hired Mr. Warren, a Caucasian male, as a special education teacher at Central High School for the 2015-16 school year. (Doc. 48-1 at 68-69; Doc. 52-2 at 147-148). Mr. Warren was not certified to teach special education, but the Board was experiencing teacher shortages and needed to fill the position because the school year had already begun, and the Board had exhausted its pool of qualified applicants. (Doc. 48-2 at 68, 76-77). Although Mr. Warren was not initially certified to teach special education, the Alabama State Department of Education granted Mr. Warren an alternative certificate when he enrolled in a special education master's program with the intent to complete his degree within three years. (Doc. 48-1 at 38, 71-72; Doc. 48-2 at 77-79; Doc. 52-2 at 158). In addition to teaching special education, Mr. Warren served at the assistant coach for the Central High School girls' softball team. (Doc. 48-1 at 120; Doc. 48-3 at 71). Mr. Warren was a probationary, non-tenured employee. (See Doc. 48-6 at 2).

         During the 2015-16 school year, Defendant Dennis Sanford was the Superintendent of the Coosa County School District. (Doc. 48-2 at 34). Defendant Bradley Boudlin was the Principal at Central High School. (Doc. 48-5 at 1). Rebecca Stallworth was the Assistant Principal and head coach of the girls' softball team. (Id.). Andi Wilson was the Board's Special Education Coordinator, and April Dudley was the Assistant Special Education Coordinator. (Doc. 48-2 at 57-58, 62). Ms. Dudley worked closely with Mr. Warren and oversaw his work because he lacked a special education background. (Id. at 58, 62-66). For example, Ms. Dudley reviewed the individualized education programs that Mr. Warren completed for his students. (Doc. 48-1 at 107). According to Mr. Warren, Ms. Dudley often emailed comments and revisions to him, and she “would give [him] a lot of great feedback.” (Id. at 108).

         Sometime in March 2016, Mr. Bouldin and Mr. Warren discussed Mr. Bouldin's son's struggles with standardized tests. (Doc. 48-3 at 46). Mr. Bouldin testified that Mr. Warren empathized and stated that he would not have passed the Praxis exam if he had not cheated on the test. (Id.). Mr. Bouldin does not remember exactly what Mr. Warren said, but Mr. Bouldin got the impression that somehow Mr. Warren had obtained a copy of the test questions or answers. (Id.). Mr. Warren denies telling Mr. Bouldin that he cheated on the Praxis or that he took material from the testing room. (Doc. 48-1 at 232-233, 237-38). Mr. Bouldin testified that he did not reprimand Mr. Warren or recommend termination at the time because the school year was almost over. (Doc. 48-3 at 49). Mr. Bouldin testified that he “knew that there would be discussions among administration about who should be retained and who should not among non-tenured teachers, ” and he “felt that [the situation] would work itself out.” (Id.).

         Several weeks later, Mr. Bouldin, in consultation with Ms. Wilson and Ms. Dudley, recommended to Mr. Sanford that he, in turn, recommend to the Board that it non-renew Mr. Warren's employment for the following school year. (Doc. 48-2 at 60, 93). The record contains no written warnings or evaluations about Mr. Warren's job performance, but Mr. Bouldin testified that he had concerns because Mr. Warren was frequently out of the classroom “having sports discussions” or engaging in other matters. (Doc. 48-3 at 27; see Id. at 54). Ms. Wilson testified that she had expressed concern to Mr. Bouldin about Mr. Warren's ability to handle his work as a special education teacher given the amount of time he spent on his coaching duties. (Doc. 48-2 at 69-73).

         Based on Mr. Bouldin's and Ms. Wilson's reports, Mr. Sanford recommended to the Board that it not renew Mr. Warren's employment. (Doc. 48-4 at 18-19). Consistent with that recommendation, on April 14, 2016, the Board voted to non-renew Mr. Warren's employment for the following school year. (Doc. 48-6 at 2, 7- 8). No. one gave the Board members a reason for the non-renewal recommendation before the vote. (Doc. 48-4 at 19; 48-6 at 3).

         Mr. Bouldin and Ms. Stallworth informed Mr. Warren of the Board's decision on April 20, 2016. (Doc. 48-3 at 75; see Doc. 52-2 at 51). According to Mr. Warren, Ms. Wilson told him that the decision to non-renew his employment was not performance based. (Doc. 48-1 at 113). In her deposition, Ms. Wilson testified that she would give Mr. Warren a “good reference as . . . a teacher in general.” (Doc. 48-2 at 121). According to Ms. Wilson, Mr. Warren was polite and “at work all the time.” (Doc. 48-2 at 121). But Ms. Wilson recommended non-renewal to Mr. Sanford because Mr. Warren still was working toward his special education certification, and Central High School “needed someone who was more knowledgeable in that position.” (Doc. 48-2 at 94).

         In late April 2016, Mr. Warren met with Mr. Sanford to discuss the Board's decision. (Doc. 48-1 at 110-11). At the end of the meeting, Mr. Sanford told Mr. Warren that he would ask the Board to reconsider its decision to non-renew Mr. Warren's employment. (Doc. 48-1 at 115-116; Doc. 48-4 at 14-15, 35-36). Mr. Sanford told Mr. Bouldin that he planned to ask the Board to reconsider its vote. (Doc. 48-4 at 36). At that point, Mr. Bouldin shared with Mr. Sanford his concern that Mr. Warren cheated on the Praxis exam. (Doc. 48-3 at 50; Doc. 48-4 at 35-36).

         In early May 2016, Ms. Stallworth-with Mr. Bouldin's support and approval-told Mr. Warren that he would no longer be the assistant coach. (Doc. 48-1 at 139; Doc. 48-3 at 81). The next day, Mr. Bouldin and Mr. Sanford met with Mr. Warren and told him that they would not overrule Ms. Stallworth's decision to relieve him as the assistant softball coach. (Doc. 48-1 at 229-30). The topic of conversation then shifted to the allegations that Mr. Warren cheated on the Praxis exam. (Doc. 48-1 at 230; Doc. 48-4 at 34).

         Mr. Warren denied telling Mr. Bouldin that he cheated on the Praxis or that he took material from the testing room. (Doc. 48-1 at 232-233, 237-38; Doc. 48-3 at 63). But Mr. Bouldin insisted that during their conversation several weeks before, Mr. Warren had suggested that he “had a copy of a stolen test or somehow had access to the answers.” (Doc. 48-3 at 63). Mr. Sanford told Mr. Warren that he had no choice but to “turn him in” to the State Department of Education. (Doc. 48-1 at 233). The record is undisputed that neither Mr. Sanford nor Mr. Bouldin personally reported Mr. Warren's alleged cheating to the State, but someone affiliated with the Board did alert the State Department of Education about the allegation. (Doc. 48-1 at 199; Doc. 48-3 at 9, 48; Doc. 48-4 at 32, 47; Doc. 52-2 at 196).

         Several days later, two teachers independently approached Mr. Bouldin to tell him that Mr. Warren had destroyed a computer hard drive when he had been non-renewed at a different school. (Doc. 48-3 at 89-91, 93-94). The teachers were concerned that Mr. Warren might do “something similar” based on their conversations with him. (Doc. 48-3 at 94; see also Doc. 48-3 at 90). Mr. Bouldin advised Mr. Sanford about these concerns, and Mr. Sanford told Mr. Bouldin to inform Mr. Warren the following morning that he was being placed on paid administrative leave. (Doc. 48-3 at 98-99, 112-13). Mr. Bouldin did as Mr. Sanford instructed, and when Mr. Warren arrived at the school the next day, Mr. Bouldin and a school resource officer walked Mr. Warren to his classroom to collect his personal belongings before they escorted him off school property. (Doc. 48-1 at 160; Doc. 48-3 at 112). Neither Mr. Bouldin nor Mr. Sanford investigated to find out if Mr. Warren had destroyed property at a previous school, and neither asked Mr. Warren whether the allegation was true before placing him on leave. (Doc. 48-3 at 92-94; Doc. 48-4 at 26-27).

         Mr. Warren alleges that Defendants treated him less favorably than three other Board employees: Jodi Pate, Cyndel King, and Jocelyn Marbury. (Doc. 48-1 at 170- 72; Doc. 53 at 4-5, 16-17). First, Mr. Warren claims that Ms. Pate had a letter of reprimand in her personnel file and received less favorable feedback, but the Board promoted her into Mr. Warren's position. (Doc. 48-1 at 166, 170; Doc. 53 at 4). Mr. Warren has not cited, and the court has not located, evidence in the record regarding Ms. Pate's race.

         Second, Mr. Warren contends that Ms. King called in a bomb threat and was arrested, but the Board reinstated her to her position. (Doc. 48-1 at 170). Ms. King was a teacher at Coosa Central High School during the 2015-16 school year. (Doc. 48-5 at 2). Near the beginning of the school year, law enforcement issued a warrant for Ms. King's arrest for a bomb threat connected to her cell phone number. (Id.). At a sheriff deputy's request, Mr. Bouldin removed Ms. King from her classroom and escorted her to the front of the school to a waiting patrol car. (Id.). Based on the initial information from the sheriff's deputy, Mr. Sanford placed Ms. King on administrative leave. (Doc. 48-5 at 2; Doc. 48-6 at 4). Authorities dropped the criminal charges against Ms. King when they confirmed that another individual accessed her cell phone and sent the bomb threat. (Id.). Ms. King then returned from administrative leave and shared the exculpatory evidence with Mr. Bouldin. (Id.). Mr. Bouldin did not take disciplinary action against Ms. King based on the criminal charge. (Doc. 48-5 at 2). Ms. King is Caucasian. (Doc. 48-6 at 4).

         Third, Mr. Warren claims that despite accusations of wrongdoing, the Board took no disciplinary action against Ms. Marbury. (Doc. 48-1 at 172). Ms. Marbury is a tenured employee, and she has worked for the Board for over 20 years. (Doc. 48-6 at 3). During the 2015-16 school year, Ms. Marbury served as the principal at the Coosa County Career Technical Center. (Id.). During the spring of 2016, students complained that Ms. Marbury mismanaged school finances by selling items on school property during the school day. (Doc. 48-6 at 3-4). Mr. Sanford requested that the Board's attorney investigate the allegations. (Id. at 4). At the end of the investigation, the Board's attorney found that no disciplinary action was required. (Id.). Ms. Marbury is African-American. (Doc. 48-1 at 172).

         II. DISCUSSION

         1. Motion to Strike

         Defendants ask the court to strike Mr. Warren's statement of facts contained in his summary judgment response brief because Mr. Warren did not comply with Appendix II of the court's initial order governing requirements for response briefs. (Doc. 60).

         With respect to an opposing party's statement of facts, Appendix II requires the non-moving party to set forth the facts in three separate sections: (1) response to movant's statement of facts; (2) additional undisputed facts; and (3) additional disputed facts. (Doc. 41 at 17-18). For each section, the opposing party is to set out the facts in separately numbered paragraphs with a specific reference to the evidentiary record. (Id.).

         Mr. Warren's statement of facts does not conform to the court's instructions. For example, the section of his brief titled “Response to Movant's Statement” provides no citations to the evidentiary record, and the facts are not set out in separately numbered paragraphs corresponding to Defendants' undisputed statement of facts. (See Doc. 53).

         Defendants also challenge Mr. Warren's “Additional Undisputed Facts” because they claim that the evidentiary citations do not support the facts alleged and his “Additional Disputed Facts” because they claim they are confused by Mr. Warren's failure to include these facts in his response to their narrative statement of undisputed facts. (Doc. 60 at 3-4).

         While true that Mr. Warren did not strictly comply with the requirements of Appendix II, the court is hard pressed to agree with Defendants that they are prejudiced by his failure to do so. (See Doc. 60 at 4). In their reply brief, Defendants address each of the alleged deficiencies head on. (See Doc. 59 at 2-5). Moreover, for purposes of ruling on the motion for summary judgment, the court has independently reviewed Mr. Warren's statements of fact, and to the extent they are not supported by the record, the court has not considered them as true for purposes of this opinion.

         Accordingly, the court DENIES Defendants' motion to strike.

         2. Motion for ...


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