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Munive v. Fairfax County School Board

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

February 21, 2017




         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendant Fairfax County School Board ("School Board") and Defendants Debra Reeder, Kevin North, Dr. Jack Dale, and Dr. Phyllis Pajardo (collectively, "Individual Defendants"). This case concerns Plaintiff Kathleen Munive's Complaint alleging that Defendants retaliated against her in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act ("Title VII") and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983") by refusing to remove a letter of reprimand in retaliation for prior allegations of discrimination lodged by Plaintiff. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (1) the Title VII retaliation claim against the School Board, (2) the Section 1983 retaliation claim against the Individual Defendants, and (3) the Section 1983 retaliation claim against the School Board.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         In May 2005, the School Board hired Plaintiff as an Employment Specialist in the Human Resources Division of the Office of Employment. From September 2005 to May 2006, Plaintiff received three commendation letters and a sixth-month evaluation with grades of either "exceeds expectations" or "meets expectations" in every criteria. During this time, Plaintiff's supervisors included Mr. North, Ms. Reeder, and Mr. Fisher. On July 14, 2006, Mr. Fisher informed Plaintiff that she may receive a letter of reprimand, purportedly because Plaintiff overstaffed teachers and lost paperwork. On July 19, Plaintiff alleges that Mr. Fisher threatened Plaintiff with termination and a letter of reprimand if she did not voluntarily transfer out the human resources department and return to the classroom. On July 20, 2006, Mr. Fisher delivered to Plaintiff a letter of reprimand ("Reprimand Letter"). In August 2006, Mr. Reeder placed Plaintiff on administrative leave.

         On July 21, 2007, Plaintiff filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") alleging gender and race discrimination (the "2007 EEOC Charge"). Subsequently, in August 2007, Plaintiff was reassigned as the department chair and teacher for "English for Speakers of Other Languages" ("ESOL") at Eagle View Elementary School. Plaintiff alleges that this new position is a significant downgrade in terms of pay and responsibility. Plaintiff further alleges that upon taking the position, she was told the Reprimand Letter would be removed from the record upon her request if she received a satisfactory one-year evaluation.

         Beginning on October 22, 2008, after receiving a satisfactory one-year evaluation, Plaintiff wrote to Dr. Dale, the acting Superintendent, requesting his assistance to remove the Reprimand Letter. Dr. Dale denied Plaintiff's October 2008 request to remove the Reprimand Letter. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants were obligated to remove the Reprimand letter, pursuant to school policy, because the letter contained false information. Based on the 2007 EEOC Charge, in February 2010 Plaintiff received a Right to Sue Letter from the EEOC. Plaintiff alleges that she was unable to file a lawsuit for financial reasons.

         Two years later, on February 12, 2012, Plaintiff met with Dr. Parjardo, then-Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources, and complained that Plaintiff's annual requests to have the Reprimand Letter removed from her file had been repeatedly denied without explanation. Dr. Parjardo allegedly promised Plaintiff an investigation, but Plaintiff never received any more information concerning an investigation. In February 2013, Plaintiff again complained to Dr. Pajardo about the denial of her requests to remove the Reprimand Letter. "Pajardo informed [Plaintiff] that HR knew that the Reprimand Letter contained false allegations, but that the Legal Department at [Fairfax County Public School] regarded her case as a 'Litmus Test' and that they were refusing to remove her Reprimand Letter because she had filed an EEOC complaint." Further, Plaintiff quotes Dr. Parjardo as stating, "If you would have never gone the route of filing the complaint I would have put myself on high alert and been looking and asking more questions about [Plaintiff's] case and seriously would have considered taking the letter out." Plaintiff also alleges that she asked Dr. Parjardo to keep the Reprimand Letter in the legal department's file instead of her personnel file, but that the file was being kept in Plaintiff's personnel file "to inflict maximum damage" on her career. Plaintiff states that she has been repeatedly injured by Defendants' failure to remove the Reprimand Letter, including by being denied two Assistant Principal positions when she was "neck-in-neck" with other candidates but the Letter served as the tiebreaker.

         On May 9, 2013, Plaintiff met with Dr. Pajardo and the Assistant Superintendent for Region Leadership Support to repeat her request to have the Reprimand Letter removed. On June 21, 2013, Plaintiff filed a second EEOC complaint (the "2013 EEOC Charge"), alleging that Defendants' decision to keep the Reprimand Letter in her file constituted retaliation for Plaintiff's 2007 EEOC Charge. Plaintiff alleges that on August 20, 2015, she received a Letter of Determination stating that Defendants had violated Title VII by retaliating against Plaintiff for filing the 2007 EEOC Charge.

         On January 2, 2016, Plaintiff emailed the Letter of Determination to the School Board, in addition to emailing it to Fairfax County Public School system's superintendent, deputy superintendent, and assistant superintendent. Plaintiff alleges that in March 2016 each member of the School Board received the Letter of Determination and was informed of Plaintiff s attempts to reach an agreement. Plaintiff stated that her attempt to reach an agreement was ignored.

         On May 25, 2016, Plaintiff received a Right to Sue Letter from the EEOC. When Plaintiff met Dr. Parjardo and others on June 21, 2016, Dr. Pajardo allegedly explained that if Plaintiff "had not filed an EEOC complaint outcomes would have been different."

         B. Procedural Background

         Within ninety days of receiving the May 25, 2016 Right to Sue Letter, on August 22, 2016, Plaintiff filed her Complaint. The Complaint alleges retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq. The Complaint also alleges that Defendants retaliated against Plaintiff for exercising her First Amendment right to file an EEOC charge in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         On December 8, 2016, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss and supporting memorandum. On December 29, 2016, Plaintiff filed her Response Brief. On January 4, 2017, Defendants submitted a reply brief. On January 23, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Sur-reply, purportedly, to rebut additional case law that Defendants cited in their Reply Brief. Upon consideration of the Motion, the associated briefs, and the case file, the Court finds that oral argument is unnecessary because the facts and legal contentions are adequately presented and oral argument would not aid in the decisional process. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b); E.D. Va. Loc. Civ. R. 7 (J). Therefore, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is now ripe for decision.


         A. ...

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