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Callahan v. Prince William County School Board

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

December 5, 2016




         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         In 1988, Prince William County Public Schools ("Defendant") hired Brenda Callahan ("Plaintiff") as a classroom teacher. Ten years later Defendant promoted Plaintiff to being an Assistant Principal at Occoquan Elementary School, where Plaintiff worked until 2012. Before the 2012-2013 school year, Defendant transferred Plaintiff and two other assistant principals to other schools to gain experience under different leadership. Plaintiff went to Mary Williams Elementary School ("Mary Williams"), where she was under the supervision of Principal Marlene Coleman. Marlene Coleman is African-American; Plaintiff is Caucasian.

         Defendant requires assistant principals to report to work at 8:00 a.m. every morning, except Wednesdays when faculty must report to work at 7:45 a.m. for a weekly meeting. Prior to her transfer to Mary Williams, Plaintiff had a documented habit of chronic tardiness. In October 2010, Plaintiff's own Growth Plan identified tardiness as a weakness. Plaintiff's supervisor at Occoquan, Principal Sandra Carrillo, also noted that Plaintiff failed to report to work promptly. In January 2011, Carrillo gave Plaintiff a Professional Improvement Plan (PIP) reporting that from August 2010 to January 2011 Plaintiff was late on sixty-eight out of seventy-four documented arrival times. In February 2011, Carrillo wrote in her Mid-Year evaluation that Plaintiff was regularly tardy.

         Plaintiff's chronic tardiness did not change when Defendant transferred her to Mary Williams. Near the start of the 2012-2013 school year, Principal Coleman spoke with Plaintiff about the need to arrive on time. A few more times throughout the start of the year, Coleman again confronted Plaintiff with her tardiness. Plaintiff does not dispute that these conversations occurred. In her Mid-Year Report in January 2013, Coleman wrote that Plaintiff failed to meet Prince William County Public School's expectations in "Safe and Effective Learning" because she did not arrive to work promptly or follow through on assignments in a timely manner.

         On that same day, Coleman also gave Plaintiff a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP), which identified several deficiencies in Plaintiff's performance. The PIP indicated that Plaintiff was deficient in monitoring daily operations to ensure efficiency, maintaining focus on learning programs, facilitating weekly professional learning community meetings, and monitoring bus duty to ensure students remained safe and secure.

         To help Plaintiff improve in arriving to work on time, the PIP required Plaintiff to track her arrival times using the custodian's clock. Despite tracking her times, Plaintiff only arrived on time once between January 30, 2013, and March 14, 2013. On March 14, 2013, Coleman issued Plaintiff a Letter of Reprimand. Coleman articulated to Plaintiff that her tardiness failed to meet Defendant's performance expectations, and it negatively impacted the school's operations. On one occasion, Plaintiff's tardiness delayed the school's standardized testing.

         In April 2013, Coleman and Plaintiff met with Rita Goss, the Defendant's Associate Superintendent for Eastern Elementary Schools. Goss is Caucasian. In the meeting with Goss, Coleman discussed Plaintiff's performance and attendance. For the first time, Plaintiff indicated that she struggled with punctuality because of a medical condition, postherpetic neuralgia. After the meeting, Goss referred Plaintiff to Defendant's Human Resources department and asked Plaintiff to provide the school with a letter from her doctor suggesting an accommodation for her condition. Coleman also followed up with a brochure for Plaintiff on the Defendant's Employee Assistance Program. Goss also contacted an HR director, Deborah Sparks, to speak with Plaintiff about making an accommodation for Plaintiff's medical condition.

         As the school year drew to a close, Plaintiff's performance still had not improved. In May 2013, Coleman issued Plaintiff a Summative Evaluation Report, which cited Plaintiff's failure to meet Defendant's standards in two categories: "Leadership" and "Safe, Effecting Learning/Work Environment." The report stated that Plaintiff had shown improvement in punctuality but still struggled with time management and other performance issues.

         Coleman also gave Plaintiff another Letter of Reprimand for arriving late to work at least twenty-four times between March 14, 2013, and May 31, 2013. Of the eighty recorded arrival times during the entire school year, Plaintiff was timely twenty-two days. Plaintiff provided many reasons for her tardiness such as being delayed by traffic, parents, students, other employees, injuries, and the location of her parking space. Despite these performance issues, Coleman recommended that Defendant renew Plaintiff's contract and keep her on as an Assistant Principal at Mary Williams for the next year.

         In May 2013, Coleman and Goss met with Plaintiff. In the meeting, they discussed Plaintiff's performance deficiencies. Plaintiff explained that she did not think that she and Coleman were a good fit. Goss informed Plaintiff that the PIP prevented Plaintiff from transferring as an assistant principal to another school, which left Plaintiff with a choice between improving at Mary Williams or transferring to a classroom position at another school. Plaintiff agreed to return to the classroom.

         In June 2013, without Coleman's knowledge, Goss recommended to Dr. Steven Walts, the Superintendent of Prince William County Public Schools, that Plaintiff be transferred to another school as a classroom instructor. Walts, a Caucasian, had exclusive authority to transfer Plaintiff, and he approved the transfer. Despite transferring Plaintiff from an administrative position to a classroom position, Defendant maintained Plaintiff's salary at the same rate for the 2013-2014 school year. The following year Plaintiff's salary was reduced to be commensurate with her position as a classroom teacher.

         On January 28, 2016, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit in the Circuit Court for Prince William County, Virginia, alleging that Defendant violated Title VII by discriminating against her based on her race (Count I) and violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by demoting Plaintiff based on her disability (Count II). On October 28, 2015, Plaintiff received a Right to Sue Letter from the EEOC.

         Plaintiff relies on the following facts to support her argument that Defendant discriminated against her because of her race. First, Plaintiff alleges that Principal Coleman called the kids and parents at Mary Williams "ghetto." Second, Plaintiff took offense at Coleman's statement about finding uneducated people living in the woods frustrating because Plaintiff has a brother who did not attend college and lives in the woods. Coleman was unaware of this ...

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