United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
Glen E. Conrad Chief United States District Judge
King filed this action under Title VII of the Civil Rights
Act of 1964 ("Title VII") against his employer,
Pulaski County School Board (the "School Board").
Plaintiff alleges that he was retaliated against after
complaining about an inappropriate relationship between his
former wife, Lori King, and her co-worker, Maureen Spaulding,
as well as certain conduct by Spaulding. The case is
presently before the court on the School Board's motion
for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the
motion will be granted.
following facts are either undisputed or presented in the
light most favorable to plaintiff. See Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)
(emphasizing that "[t]he evidence of the nonmovant is to
be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn
in his favor, " when ruling on a motion for summary
2000, plaintiff began working as a first grade teacher at
Riverlawn Elementary School ("Riverlawn") in
Pulaski County. He held the position for six years before
becoming the assistant principal at Dublin Middle School
("Dublin Middle") in Pulaski County, a position he
has held for the past ten years. In his assistant principal
position, plaintiff handles student disciplinary issues,
staff evaluations, day-to-day maintenance of the building,
and overall supervision of the school. His current supervisor
is Adam Joyce, who serves as the principal of Dublin Middle.
Prior to Joyce, Robin Keener was plaintiffs immediate
King, plaintiffs ex-wife, is a librarian at Riverlawn. In
2009, Maureen Spaulding joined Riverlawn as the assistant
principal. The two women became friends and started
socializing outside of work, both together and as a group
with plaintiff and Spaulding's husband. At first,
plaintiff and Spaulding got along, and she tried to help
plaintiff with his marital issues. In July of 2010, the Kings
and the Spauldings took a trip to Hershey, Pennsylvania.
During this trip, plaintiff claims that Spaulding touched him
inappropriately and tried to kiss him. After plaintiff
informed her that such conduct made him uncomfortable, she
stopped and never touched him again. Plaintiff admits that he
did not report this incident to anyone at the School Board or
any school employee.
also alleges that Spaulding harassed him and created a
hostile environment at work. At some point in 2010, plaintiff
claims that Spaulding sent him a message saying that,
"You've lost your wife, haven't you, and your
family is next." King Dep. 16:21-16:22, Docket No. 51-2.
Plaintiff did not report this communication to anyone at the
School Board or any school employee. In addition, plaintiff
alleges that Spaulding sent him two photographs of his
daughter and Mrs. King together at Riverlawn's library.
Plaintiff believes that Spaulding was doing a walkthrough at
the time she took the pictures, and he cannot recall if there
was a text message that accompanied the pictures. Plaintiff
also alleges that Spaulding gave him the middle finger during
several administrative meetings; he estimates that it
happened between five to ten times. Plaintiff reported this
conduct to Keener, who was his immediate supervisor at the
time; Joe Makolandra, the former director of human services
for the School Board; and Dr. Michael Perry, principal of
Dublin Elementary School and plaintiffs friend. However,
plaintiff did not ask them to take any action on his behalf
or report the incidents to anyone else. According to
plaintiff, neither Keener nor Dr. Michael Perry personally
witnessed Spaulding give him the middle finger. In fact,
plaintiffs explanation for reporting the incidents to Dr.
Michael Perry was so that "he could catch
[Spaulding]" in the act. Id. at 141:5-141:6.
also alleges that an inappropriate relationship developed
between Mrs. King and Spaulding. According to plaintiff, Mrs.
King and Spaulding "spent the night together, "
"went on trips together, " held hands, rubbed each
other, and slept together in the same bed. Id at
12:14-12:16. Plaintiff claims that he personally observed the
two women lying in bed together and saw Spaulding rub Mrs.
King's thigh when they were all out to dinner at
Applebee's. Plaintiff concedes, however, that he did not
observe physical contact between Mrs. King and Spaulding at
Riverlawn. He is also not aware of any other individual who
witnessed physical contact between Mrs. King and Spaulding
during school hours.
does not believe that this was the first inappropriate
relationship between Spaulding and others persons within the
Pulaski County school system. In his deposition, plaintiff
testified that Rod Reedy, former principal at Pulaski High
School, had informed him that Spaulding had a similar
relationship with his wife before Spaulding met Mrs. King.
Plaintiff, however, does not know the nature of the
relationship between Spaulding and Mrs. Reedy. Plaintiff also
believes that a family preservation services counselor at
Riverlawn broke off her engagement after befriending
fall of 2010, plaintiff met with Makolandra, as both his
friend and as the director of human resources, to "ask
for his advice" about the inappropriate relationship
between Spaulding and Mrs. King. Id at 44:7. The two
met at Makolandra's house. At the time, plaintiff did not
perceive this communication as a complaint, did not ask
Makolandra to take any actions on his behalf, and did not
have any expectation that Makolandra was going to do anything
for him. In fact, Makolandra was in his last week as the
director of human resources at the time of this meeting.
Makolandra advised plaintiff to speak with John Bowler, the
principal at Riverlawn.
September 22, 2010, plaintiff met with Bowler to discuss the
relationship between Mrs. King and Spaulding. At the time,
plaintiff believed that his complaint constituted an
employment matter. The two met after school hours and at
Randolph Park because plaintiff was "good friends"
with Bowler and "hated putting [Bowler] in this
situation." Id. at 48:13-48:14. At the meeting,
plaintiff also told Bowler about the previous relationship
between Spaulding and Mrs. Reedy. After the meeting,
plaintiff believes that Bowler spoke to Greg Brown, the new
director of human resources.
early 2011, plaintiff filed for divorce from Mrs. King.
Spaulding testified on behalf of Mrs. King at the Kings'
child custody hearing. After that hearing, the judge ordered
that Spaulding have no contact with the Kings' children
outside of her duties as assistant principal of Riverlawn.
August 10, 2011, Brown contacted plaintiff and they met in
Brown's office to discuss the inappropriate relationship
between Mrs. King and Spaulding. On August 12, 2011, Brown
documented plaintiffs formal complaint against Spaulding. The
formal complaint alleged that Mrs. King and Spaulding talked
on the phone multiple times during school hours and took at
least three shopping trips together. In the complaint,
plaintiff also claimed that several teachers and staff
members at Riverlawn had voiced their concerns about the
women's relationship. In his deposition, plaintiff
clarified that a teacher at Riverlawn, Marsha Simpkins, had
told him that "there's obviously something odd going
on" between Mrs. King and Spaulding. Id at
60:2-60:3. The formal complaint also alleged that, outside of
school hours, Mrs. King and Spaulding spent nights together,
shared a bed, held hands in public, engaged in inappropriate
touching, texted frequently, and would hang out at
Spaulding's house until as late as 3:00 a.m. When asked
what plaintiff wanted to do about these allegations, he told
Brown that he wished "this to be a matter of
record." Id at 62:15-62:16; Ex. 15 to Pl's
Br. in Opp. to Mot. For Summ. J., Docket No. 56-16. Plaintiff
did not allege that this conduct affected his employment and
insisted that he was complaining as a parent of a Riverlawn
student. In his deposition, Brown testified that plaintiff
was very clear that he wanted the complaint to be handled as
a complaint from a parent, not an employee. Plaintiff does
not recall making any other complaints to Brown, aside from
those listed in the formal complaint. During his deposition,
plaintiff testified that he believed that Brown seemed angry
about the complaint, based on his short answers and demeanor.
Brown advised plaintiff that it was likely that plaintiff
would not be informed as to the disposition of his complaint
Brown confirmed with plaintiff that all of his complaints
were accurately noted, Brown reviewed the relevant School
Board policies. Brown then spoke to Spaulding, who denied the
allegations that she and Mrs. King were holding hands in
public, lying in bed together, or having an inappropriate
relationship. Spaulding did admit to having phone calls and
sending text messages with Mrs. King during school hours, but
explained that she was trying to help the Kings save their
marriage. Brown determined that only the text messaging
required corrective action, as he believed that school
administrators should be spending their time equally among
their employees. He did not, however, believe that the number
of text messages supported plaintiffs allegation that the
women had an inappropriate relationship, especially because
the women were close friends, and Spaulding claimed that she
was helping the Kings with their marital issues. Brown did
not investigate the contents of the text messages; he
believed that the nature of their relationship was not
material because it was not against school policy for couples
to work together, as long as they did not directly supervise
each other. According to her sworn declaration, Dr. Shirley
Perry, the current director of human resources for the School
Board, confirmed that such a relationship would not violate
School Board policy. Brown confirmed that plaintiff was the
only person who had complained to him about the relationship
between Mrs. King and Spaulding. Until this litigation, Brown
was also not aware of any allegations that Spaulding had
inappropriately touched plaintiff, or that Spaulding had
given plaintiff the middle finger at meetings.
claims that the School Board took adverse employment actions
against him in retaliation for his complaints. First,
plaintiff alleges that he was subjected to a hostile
environment, and that Brewster was responsible for plaintiffs
ostracization at work. Specifically, plaintiff believes that
Brewster's demeanor towards him changed after the
complaints, and that the other employees were intimidated by
Brewster and avoided plaintiff in fear of Brewster's
reaction. Plaintiff also claims that Keener, the only person
who still spoke to him at the time, was transferred against
her will because she was friends with plaintiff. In her
deposition, Keener testified that she believed that she was
moved to a new position because of a situation that had no
relationship to this case. Kimberly Alger, plaintiffs office
assistant at Dublin Middle, confirmed that Brewster did not
speak to plaintiff, and that the situation was "very
tense." Alger Dep. 7:25, Docket No. 56-9. In his
deposition, Brewster admitted that he sometimes did not speak
to plaintiff. Plaintiff conceded that his explanation for the
hostile work environment is purely speculation, and that he
is not aware of any comments made by Brewster about him.
plaintiff claims that he was denied certain promotions in
retaliation for his complaints. In 2011, plaintiff applied
for a principal position at Pulaski High School
("Pulaski High"), but did not receive an interview.
At the time, plaintiff did not have any experience as a high
school administrator and had not worked as a high school
teacher. According to Brown, there were several applicants
for the position, and he believed that plaintiff did not have
the experience to take on the role at such a large high
school. The individual who was selected for the ...