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Hayes v. Lynchburg City School Board

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Lynchburg Division

March 7, 2014

RALPH L. HAYES, Plaintiff,
v.
LYNCHBURG CITY SCHOOL BOARD, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

NORMAN K. MOON, District Judge.

Ralph Hayes claims race-based discriminatory treatment in employment and wrongful dismissal in violation of 42 U.S.C. ยง 1981 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Defendant, the Lynchburg City School Board, filed a motion for summary judgment, and Plaintiff countered with a filing entitled "Plaintiff's Dispositive Motions, " which contained a request for "Summary Disposition" and which I construe as a cross-motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff later also filed a second motion for summary judgment. The record in this case reveals no credible evidence that Plaintiff was subject to discrimination on account of his race, and ultimately shows he was terminated for legitimate non-discriminatory reasons that have nothing to do with his race. Accordingly, I will grant Defendant's motion and deny Plaintiff's motions.

I.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that a court should 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." "As to materiality... [o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In order to preclude summary judgment, the dispute about a material fact must be "genuine, ' that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id .; see also JKC Holding Co. v. Washington Sports Ventures, Inc., 264 F.3d 459, 465 (4th Cir. 2001). However, if the evidence of a genuine issue of material fact "is merely colorable or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. In considering a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56, a court must view the record as a whole and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See, e.g., Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-24 (1986); Shaw v. Stroud, 13 F.3d 791, 798 (4th Cir. 1994).

A court must grant a motion for summary judgment if, after adequate time for discovery, the nonmoving party fails to make a showing "sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. The nonmoving party cannot defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment with mere conjecture and speculation. Glover v. Oppleman, 178 F.Supp.2d 622, 631 (W.D. Va. 2001) ("Mere speculation by the non-movant cannot create a genuine issue of material fact."). If the proffered evidence "is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Felty v. Graves-Humphreys Co., 818 F.2d 1126, 1128 (4th Cir. 1987) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 242). The trial judge has an "affirmative obligation" to "prevent factually unsupported claims and defenses' from proceeding to trial." Id. (quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. at 317).

Generally speaking, "a pro se complaint must be liberally construed and held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'" Middleton v. United States, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 159347, at *6 (W.D. Va. 2012) (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007)). Liberal construction extends to other pleadings filed. Fed. Express Corp. v. Holowecki, 552 U.S. 389, 402 (2008) (noting that "[e]ven in the formal litigation context, pro se litigants are held to a lesser pleading standard than other parties"). Here, Plaintiff was initially represented by counsel, and so his complaint itself is not entitled to this deference. Later, Magistrate Judge Robert S. Ballou granted Plaintiff Counsel's motion to withdraw, and I will therefore liberally construe Plaintiff's subsequent pro se filings. However, evidence submitted by a pro se Plaintiff may still be, and ultimately will be in this case, disregarded when it is not credible, see Celotex, 477 U.S. at 330-34 (1986), or when it is largely inadmissible, see Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48; Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). A party may not rest on speculation, hearsay, or opinion to demonstrate a genuine dispute of material fact. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. Rather, the

party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by:
(A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purpose of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials[.]

Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A); see also Cray Communications, Inc. v. Novatel Computer Systems, Inc., 33 F.3d 390 (4th Cir. 1994); Orsi v. Kickwood, 999 F.2d 86 (4th Cir. 1993).

II.

The summary judgment record discloses the following facts.

Plaintiff Ralph Hayes was hired by the Lynchburg City Schools as a Field Coordinator in the Environmental Sciences sub-department of the Facilities Department on May 5, 1999. The Environmental Sciences sub-department was responsible for overseeing and providing support to the custodial program as well as for running the warehouse and hazmat programs. The other two sub-departments, Building Maintenance and Grounds Maintenance, handle the repair of the buildings and grounds, as their names suggest. On July 1, 2003, Hayes was promoted to Supervisor of Environmental Services, a position created for him by Superintendant James McCormick. Since 1999, Hayes routinely received strong performance evaluations.

In 2007, the position of Assistant Director of Facilities and Grounds became open when Assistant Director Richard Jones resigned. The position was posted and a panel of administrators was assembled to review all applications. The position entails overseeing all grounds work, and the panel considered it essential that a successful applicant have extensive experience in landscaping and grounds work. The panel selected Don Floyd, head of a landscape design and maintenance company, because of his expertise in landscaping and grounds work. According to Defendant, Hayes did not demonstrate experience in landscaping or grounds, as his responsibilities focused on maintaining the interior of the schools and buildings, and he was not as strong a candidate. Plaintiff, on the other hand, claims that Floyd had less experience and fewer qualifications because Floyd lacked a background in maintenance.

In 2009, the Director of Facilities, Edward "Sonny" Witt, was promoted to Assistant Superintendent. The African-American Superintendent, Paul McKendrick, promoted Steve Gatzke to the vacant position. At the time, Gatzke was Assistant Director of Facilities and Building Maintenance. Gatzke was hired in 1995 and, prior to that, had sixteen years of experience in facility and grounds management outside the school system. Defendant states that these qualifications, along with Gatzke's current position, made him the "natural choice" to replace Witt as the Director of Facilities. Plaintiff claims that he was not given notice and opportunity to apply for the job.

The salaries of Lynchburg City Schools employees are determined by pay scales, with one pay scale being used for classified employees and another for administrators. A salary freeze implemented at the end of the 2008-2009 school year continued for five years, meaning that the salaries for all employees were not increased during this period.

During the 2011-2012 school year, the Lynchburg City Schools needed to make staff reductions due to financial constraints, and began planning to let people go for the 2012-2013 year. The School Board adopted Reduction in Force Policy 5-53.7 on March 20, 2012. It governed the process for reducing classified positions, and had no bearing on administrator positions. Hayes was an administrative employee. The contracts signed by the administrators expired on June 30, 2012, with an option to renew for the following year, and contained provisions indicating at-will employment.

Mr. Gatzke was told to reduce the Maintenance Department budget by $500, 000. He reduced materials and supplies and eliminated custodial, warehouse delivery, and field coordinator positions, but still needed to make cuts. Ultimately, Gatzke determined that the Supervisor of Building Maintenance and the Assistant Director, who also supervised grounds maintenance at that point, could not be eliminated. However, he determined that the Supervisor of Environmental Services could be eliminated, with the responsibilities absorbed by other positions. Accordingly, he recommended eliminating the position.

The new Superintendent, Scott Brabrand, who began work on April 1, 2012, made the final recommendations to the Lynchburg School Board. Then, on May 11, 2012, Mr. Brabrand and Mr. Gatzke met with Mr. Hayes and informed him that his contract would not be renewed. The letter issued to Mr. Hayes incorrectly referred to the Reduction in Force policy, Policy 5-53.7, which did not apply to Hayes as an administrative employee.

Plaintiff filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on July 12, 2012, and pursued this action by filing a complaint on January 22, 2013, within 90 days of his receipt of a Right to Sue letter. Plaintiff's attorney moved to withdraw on September 25, 2013, and the motion was granted on October 10, 2013. Eventually, after several discovery related motions, both Defendant's motion for summary judgment and Plaintiff's dispositive motions were filed on January 31, 2013. Plaintiff and Defendant responded to each other's motions on February 7, 2014. A hearing on the motions for summary judgment was held on February 20, 2014.

The docket reflects that Plaintiff, subsequent to the withdrawal of his attorney and prior to the initial hearing on the cross-motions for summary judgment, was not sent a Roseboro notice pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.3d 309 (4th Cir. 1975). The record in this case does not appear to present the scenario Roseboro was intended to prevent, in that Plaintiff has been given adequate notice and opportunity to respond to all filings, has in fact filed numerous documents in support of his motion for entry for judgment and in opposition to Defendant's motion for the same, and attended and argued at the summary judgment hearing on February 20, 2014. Nevertheless, out of an abundance of caution, I formally issued Plaintiff a Roseboro notice on February 25, 2014, and gave him until March 4, 2014 to file any additional documents or evidence. On March 4, Plaintiff did file an additional document titled "Response to Motion for Summary Judgment" (docket no. 77). Also on March 4, 2014, a hearing was conducted on Defendant's various motions in limine.

III.

1. Plaintiff's Motions ...


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