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Deen v. Shenandoah County Public Schools

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

July 12, 2017



          Michael F. Urbanski Chief United States District Judge.

         This case was referred to the Honorable Joel C. Hoppe, United States Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), for a recommended disposition of defendants' motion to dismiss. ECF No. 8. The Magistrate Judge filed a report and recommendation ("R&R") on June 9, 2017, recommending that plaintiff Gabriel Khalil Hussein Deen's complaint be dismissed in its entirety. ECF No. 32. Deen filed a response objecting to the R&R, ECF No. 34, and defendants filed a reply to Deen's response, ECF No. 35.


         Deen's complaint asserts various claims of discrimination that allegedly occurred during his employment as a substitute teacher in the Shenandoah County school system. Deen claims that the Shenandoah County School Board ("Shenandoah")[1] and Dr. Mark A. Johnston, Superintendent of Shenandoah County Public Schools, discriminated against him on the basis of race, national origin, religion, gender, and age throughout his employment as a substitute teacher. Deen asserts claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ('ADEA"), 29 U.S.C §§ 621-634, and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

         Deen objects to the Magistrate Judge's recommendations regarding his Title VII disparate treatment, hostile work environment, and retaliation claims against Shenandoah. He makes no objections to the Magistrate Judge's conclusions concerning the ADEA and Due Process claims. Nor does Deen object to the Magistrate Judge's recommendation that all claims against Johnston be dismissed. (Indeed, Tide VII and the ADEA do not provide for individual liability.) The court has carefully reviewed the portions of the R&R to which Deen raises no objection and concurs with the Magistrate Judge's recommendations. For the reasons set forth below, the court will overrule Deen's objections regarding his Title VII claims, adopt the R&R in its entirety, and dismiss Deen's complaint.


         The background to this case is set forth in the R&R and does not require lengthy recitation here. In short, Deen believes that a handful of incidents during his employment as a substitute teacher amount to impermissible discrimination or retaliation. For example, Deen alleges that a school employee subjected him to increased security screening when he attempted to enter Ashby Lee Elementary School ("Ashby Lee") on one or two occasions.[2]According to Deen, white female substitute teachers were not required to undergo those security measures and the added oversight he endured was the result of his race and Muslim-sounding name. Furthermore, Deen alleges that he labored in a hostile work environment as a result of students lodging racial epithets and discriminatory comments at him. Deen claims that defendants are liable for the harm caused by those comments because he reported them to school administrators who did nothing to punish the offending students' conduct or prevent it from happening in the future. And lastly, Deen claims that he was no longer asked to work as a substitute teacher because of negative feedback he provided to administrators regarding various aspects of other teachers' performance. This feedback, Deen asserts, amounted to protected activity as required to prove his Title VII retaliation claim.

         The court will address Deen's objections to the R&R as they relate to each of his claims under Title VII.

         a. Title VII Disparate Treatment

         To prove a prima facie case for Title VII disparate treatment, Deen must show: "(1) membership in a protected class; (2) satisfactory job performance; (3) adverse employment action; and (4) different treatment from similarly situated employees outside the protected class." Coleman v. Maryland Court of Appeals. 626 F.3d 187, 190 (4th Cir. 2010), aff d sub nom. Coleman v. Court of Appeals of Maryland. 566 U.S. 30, 132 S.Ct. 1327, 182 L.Ed.2d 296 (2012). Although the prima facie case "is an evidentiary standard, not a pleading requirement, " Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N. A., 534 U.S. 506, 510 (2002), Deen must plead sufficient facts to "allow[] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Woods v. City of Greensboro. 855 F.3d 639, 647 (4th Cir. 2017) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal. 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). In other words, Deen must plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly. 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).

         Deen has failed to state a plausible disparate treatment claim under Title VII because he has not pled facts indicating that his job performance was satisfactory and he has not alleged that Shenandoah treated similarly situated employees outside his protected classes differently. In his filings in opposition to the motion to dismiss, Deen attached various documents including lesson plans from other teachers that he considers inadequate, see ECF Nos. 21-3, 21-6, 21-10, 21-12, a feedback form he created to allow teachers to "make/implement changes/improvement, " ECF No. 21-13, and five letters between Deen and Johnston, ECF Nos. 21-1, 21-9, 21-15, 21-16, 21-18.[3] The letters from Johnston to Deen indicate that Deen cannot plausibly establish the second prong of a disparate treatment claim, i.e., satisfactory job performance.

         On March 13, 2014, Johnston informed Deen of "concerns from two administrators regarding [Deen's] performance while substituting in their schools. The specific concerns were failure to follow lesson plans, poor classroom management, and lack of professionalism in communicating with students and staff." ECF No. 21-1, at 2. Johnston wrote that "Ashby Lee Elementary School and Sandy Hook Elementary School have requested that you be excluded from substituting in their buildings. Any further concerns from other schools will result in you being removed from the substitute teacher pool in Shenandoah County Public Schools." Id.[4] Over a year later, Johnston again wrote Deen: "As has been discussed with you, ... there have been numerous documented complaints regarding your abilities to effectively serve as a substitute teacher." ECF No. 21-18, at 2 (May 27, 2015). Deen has not taught as a substitute teacher in Shenandoah since May 2015, which he cites as an adverse employment action.

         In light of the letters expressing consistent complaints about Deen's "abilities to effectively serve as a substitute teacher, " ECF No. 21-18, at 2, Deen has not pled facts that could plausibly establish his satisfactory job performance. Moreover, Deen has not pled facts indicating that he was treated differently than "similarly situated employees outside the protected class." Coleman, 626 F.3d at 190. Nowhere has Deen identified the manner in which Shenandoah treated other substitute teachers who struggled with the responsibilities of the job. The Magistrate Judge correctly determined that Deen has failed to plead facts that would allow the court to draw the inference that Shenandoah is liable for disparate treatment under Title VII. See Woods. 855 F.3d at 647.

         Deen's objections to the foregoing conclusions must be overruled. Deen first objects to the Magistrate Judge's conclusion as to satisfactory job performance because his educational qualifications far exceed the minimum required to work as a substitute teacher. Indeed, Deen has a bachelor's and a master's degree and Shenandoah requires only a high school degree or its equivalent in order to serve as a substitute teacher. See ECF Nos. 21-19, at 3-4, 21-7. However, the Magistrate Judge properly rejected Deen's arguments regarding his qualifications. The second element of a disparate treatment claim requires satisfactory job performance, not satisfactory educational qualifications. See Warch v. Ohio Cas. Ins. Co.. 435 F.3d 510, 514-15 (4th Cir. 2006) (Disparate treatment claims require plaintiff "to demonstrate that he was 'qualified' in the sense that he was doing his job well enough to rule out the possibility that he was fired for inadequate job ...

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