United States District Court, E.D. Virginia
M. Brinkema United States District Judge
the Court is defendant Prince William County School
Board's ("defendant" or "PWCPS")
Motion for Summary Judgment [Dkt. No. 31] to which plaintiff
Kwame Yeboah-Kankam ("plaintiff or
"Yeboah-Kankam"), proceeding pro se, has filed a
response. Based on the written materials, the Court finds
that oral argument would not aid the decisional process. For
the reasons stated below, defendant's motion will be
uncontested facts establish that plaintiff, who is an
African-American male originally from Ghana, West Africa, was
hired as a counselor at Freedom High School
("Freedom") in August 2013. Joint Stipulated
Uncontested Facts ("Stip. Facts") ¶ 2 [Dkt.
No. 26]. He was hired by Inez Bryant ("Bryant"),
Freedom's principal, and Dave Anderson
("Anderson"), Freedom's Director of
Counselling. Id. ¶¶ 3, 5. Plaintiff
reported directly to Anderson for two years, until Anderson
was replaced by Brianna Moore ("Moore") during the
2015-2016 school year. Id. ¶ 7. Plaintiff also
reported to Bryant, in her capacity as Freedom's
principal, and to Mickey Mulgrew ("Mulgrew"),
PWCPS' Associate Superintendent for High Schools.
Id. ¶ 8. Bryant and Moore are African-American
females, and Anderson, Lowry, and Mulgrew are Caucasian
males. Id. ¶¶ 4, 6, 8, 9.
was hired as a probationary counselor for his first three
years at Freedom, pursuant to Virginia Code § 22.1-303,
which provides that if an employee's performance
evaluation during the probationary period is not
satisfactory, the school board "shall not reemploy [that
employee]." Id. ¶ 12. During each school
year, plaintiff received both a mid-year evaluation and an
end-of-year summary evaluation. For his first two years,
plaintiff received a "meets standards" rating in
each of his evaluation categories, id ¶ 14; however,
during plaintiffs second year, problems began to arise as
reflected in his January 2015 mid-year evaluation, in which
Anderson observed that plaintiffs reluctance to allow
students to drop courses "has at times created tension
with other staff." Id.; see also
Pl.'s Dep., Ex. 6. He was particularly concerned about
plaintiffs negative interactions with co-workers, including
his sending disrespectful emails and his confrontations with
other staff members.
counselor, plaintiff was responsible for advising students
whether certain courses, such as Advanced Placement
("AP") classes, were appropriate for them,
assigning student class schedules, and changing those
schedules in consultation with the students' parents and
teachers, as well as considering his own professional
judgment. Freedom had an open enrollment policy for AP
classes, meaning that if a student passed the previous
year's AP exam, he or she was eligible to take the next
level AP course. Stip. Facts ¶ 17; Pl.'s Dep.
to plaintiff, he had an on-going "rift" with
Freedom's Social Studies Department, particularly with
one teacher, Blake Nicolai ("Nicolai"), regarding
his willingness to let students drop classes or change their
schedules. See Pl.'s Dep. at 136:8-138:4 [Dkt. No. 32-
2]. Plaintiff believed that the number of schedule change
requests from the Social Studies Department were the result
of teachers in that department wanting to boost their own
evaluations and class scores at the expense of students'
education. Pl.'s Dep. 173:6-175:2. He also believed that
the teachers in that department were conspiring to have
students and parents complain about him when he refused to
make schedule changes. See Pl.'s Ex. 4-6 [Dkt. No. 37-1].
uncontested that plaintiff refused to change a number of
student schedules on the basis that he did not believe that
the proposed reason for the change was sufficient and that
such a change would be unfair to other students. The record
shows that he explained to Darrin Lowry ("Lowry"),
Freedom's assistant principal, that he would not support
a change that might be harmful to a student. Id. Ex.
4-16. He offered to refer any requests from the Social
Studies Department to Bryant. Id. Plaintiff
acknowledged in his deposition that, on at least one
occasion, he refused a parent's request to enroll her
student in an AP class despite Freedom's open enrollment
policy, Pl.'s Dep. 159:2-163:6, and that when he was
asked about this refusal, he argued that the parent's
request was made only because she was "coached by Ms.
Nicolai, " id. He admitted that he could not
produce any evidence to support that belief and conceded that
it was merely his own "reasonable assumption."
Id. 159:2-162:14; 163:7-164:7.
record also shows that thirteen separate complaints were
filed about plaintiff, the majority concerning plaintiffs
interaction with students and the Social Studies
Department's staff. See Pl.'s Dep., Ex. 7; Bryant
Dep. at 18:14-22. One parent complained that plaintiff had
told her that her child was "not good enough" for
AP classes, and that plaintiffs tone in emails to colleagues
and parents was "aggressive" "unprofessional,
" "arrogant, " and "disparaging."
See Def.'s Ex. C; Pl.'s Dep. at 211:10-212:19.
Plaintiff acknowledged during his deposition that parents and
other teachers in the school complained about him not
granting schedule changes, but again speculated that these
complaints were fabricated. Pl.'s Dep. at 144:9-20.
2015, Rebekah Schlatter, PWCPS's Supervisor of Secondary
Counseling, recommended that Bryant and Anderson meet with
plaintiff to discuss the "tone of his emails and
professional relationships with staff." See Def.'s
Ex. C. Ms. Schlatter advised that if plaintiffs behavior did
not improve, the school would need to issue him a Memo of
Concern, a Letter of Reprimand and/or a Performance
Improvement Plan. Id. She also suggested that if
plaintiff "continue[d] to struggle with his professional
behavior" he should receive an "approaching or does
not meet [standards] in professionalism" at his next
mid-year evaluation. Id.
Bryant and Anderson met with plaintiff to discuss the
complaints against him, he responded by discounting the
complaints, explaining that he believed Nicolai had
"got[ten] all the female white teachers in her
department... to write these statements" and "make
up lies about [plaintiff]." Pl.'s Dep. at
173:6:175:6. He maintained that two teachers in the Social
Studies Department told him that they were instructed to
"write negative things about" him. Id. at
175:7-14. He believed that these complaints were
discriminatory because all of the complaints came from white
Q. [I]s it your position that because they were white women.
Q. Their complaints about you were discriminatory or
motivated by discrimination?
A. Oh, yeah, definitely. Of course. That's what happens.
Pl.'s Dep. at 172:11-21. He also reported that at least
four students had been asked by Nicolai or another teacher to
write statements about any negative interaction they had had
with plaintiff. Based on this meeting, Bryant and Anderson
recommended that plaintiff have more face to face or phone
conversations with colleagues instead of using email to
protect plaintiff "against misinterpretation of emails
relative to 'tone' and 'intention.'"
Pl.'s Dep., Ex. 7; Bryant Dep. At 52:19-53:8.
also investigated plaintiffs allegations against Nicolai,
speaking with the students he had identified. Def.'s Ex.
E. The students agreed that they had been asked by Nicolai or
other teachers to write statements documenting negative
interactions with plaintiff. Id. For example, one
student explained to Bryant that Nicolai and another teacher
had asked her to write a letter to the principal stating that
"Mr. Yeboah and all of guidance was setting her up to
not be able to graduate." Id. Bryant
reprimanded Nicolai for acting inappropriately by encouraging
teachers and students to complain about plaintiff, and
recommended that Nicolai refer to an administrator any
student problems related to schedules, a counselor or the
guidance department as a whole. See Def.'s Ex.
E. Bryant also recommended that Nicolai conduct more face to
face or phone conversations to avoid misinterpretation of
email "tone, intention and assumption."
29, 2015, plaintiff emailed Mulgrew and Dr. Walts
("Walts"), PWCPS' Division Superintendent who
is a Caucasian male, and other members of the school board to
complain about Nicolai and Lowry. Def.'s Ex. F. He
accused Lowry and Nicolai of encouraging students and
teachers to fabricate complaints about him, and requested
that PWCPS investigate any complaints that had been filed to
ascertain whether they were true and requested official
reprimands be issued against Nicolai and Lowry. Id.
Then in July 2015, he submitted a complaint to the Virginia
Department of Education ("VDOE"), repeating his
complaints and claiming his alleged mistreatment was the
result of discrimination. Pl.'s Ex. 5-17; 6-12. The VDOE
investigated, but concluded that plaintiff had not exhausted
his administrative remedies within the school, and encouraged
him to direct his complaints to the PWCPS school board.
September 2015, at the beginning of his third probationary
year, plaintiff met with Mulgrew and Bryant to discuss his
allegations about co-workers, and to address another student
schedule change problem. See Pl.'s Dep., Ex. 8. Both
parents of one student had requested that their child be
moved from a class due to a discipline incident where one
student choked another. Id. Plaintiff did not feel
that the student's behavior warranted a change, but
Anderson, Mulgrew, and Ms. Holland (another former assistant
principal) had directed him to make the change. See
id. Plaintiff nevertheless refused to make the
change, believing it was "illegal." The change was
eventually made by Anderson. Id. Mulgrew reminded
plaintiff that if he did not follow a directive from an
administrator, his conduct could be perceived as
insubordination. Id. He emphasized that plaintiff
has a right to his opinion about student schedules, but
"once [he] receive[s] a directive ... [he] should
comply." Pl.'s Dep., Ex. 10.
also instructed plaintiff that he could not "block"
AP course requests if the student met Freedom's criteria
for enrollment, but that he was entitled to speak to the
parents and student to provide advice. Id. Plaintiff
responded that he "had to be able to sleep at
night" when he was making decisions for students'
futures. He again raised his complaints against Nicolai and
Lowry, accusing them of changing student schedules to boost
Freedom's test scores and accused Lowry of drinking
alcohol at the 2014-2015 prom. He felt his complaints were not
being adequately addressed and informed Mulgrew and Bryant
that he intended to contact the Virginia Department of
Education, and the PWCSB about his concerns.
September 15, 2015, Moore, Freedom's new Director of
Counselling, met with plaintiff to discuss additional
complaints about his interactions with students. She
presented two student statements, in which one student
complained that she was not comfortable talking with Mr.
Yeboah because he made comments about her weight, and the
other explained that plaintiff told her that her grades were
"awful" and made her feel like she did not
"deserve" to have her schedule changed. See
Def.'s Ex. 11. Plaintiff did not recall making any
statements about a student's weight, but acknowledged
that he had made the other statement. Id. At his
deposition, he admitted believing that Moore was coaching
students to make up these complaints, and that she should be
reprimanded for "making up those lies." Pl.'s
Dep. at 176:3-177:4.
this meeting, Moore informed plaintiff that she was issuing a
Letter of Concern based on the student complaints and a
Letter of Reprimand based on two additional incidents, in
which plaintiff "directly defied an administrative
directive [which] is classified as insubordination."
Pl.'s Dep., Ex. 9. Plaintiff responded that Moore should
write a second letter of reprimand for insubordination
because he would not sign the first letter. Pl.'s Dep.,
Ex. 9; Stip. Facts ¶ 19.
Letter of Concern and Letter of Reprimand were issued on
September 29, 2015. Stip. Facts ¶ 20. In the Letter of
Concern, Moore advised plaintiff to monitor and improve his
interactions with other staff members. Pl.'s Dep., Ex.
11. In the Letter of Reprimand, plaintiff was disciplined for
failing to submit a graduation form for a student which
"almost placed [the student] at risk for not being able
to be designated an August 2016 graduate" and for
insubordination for refusing to allow a student to return to
a class presentation despite a specific instruction from the
administration to do so. Id. Plaintiff was also
disciplined for failing to call a parent to discuss a
student's schedule despite being given a directive to do
so. Id. The letter explained that these failures
breached the professionalism standard for PWCPS, constituted
insubordination, and warned that if plaintiff failed to
address recurring issues with his professionalism or failed
to fulfill the responsibilities of his position,
Freedom's administration might recommend that his
contract not be renewed and that he be dismissed from his
to plaintiff, the facts in the Letter of Reprimand were based
entirely on an assumption by Moore. In a letter to the school
board and Mulgrew, plaintiff argued that Moore could not
produce any evidence that he did not provide the graduation
form for the student and was just "assuming" he did
not complete it. Pl.'s Ex. 5-43. With respect to the
student plaintiff refused to admit to a class presentation,
he argued that the student came back after the class was
over, so there was no presentation to which he could return.
Id. Finally, he explained that he did try to call
the parent as directed, and left a voicemail, which the
parent claims not to have received. Id.
argued that other staff members made "sexist and
xenophobic" statements against him, claiming that
Nicolai told Bryant that plaintiff "does not work well
with women" because of his culture and called him an
"asshole." Bryant Dep. 48:19-49:1. Bryant testified
at her deposition that she told plaintiff that it was
possible that she and other staff thought he was arrogant
because he is a confident, African-American male.
was an additional incident between plaintiff and Mike
Nerenberg ("Nerenberg"), another guidance
counselor. On December 3, 2015 a transgender student was
waiting in the counselling office for his counselor.
Def.'s Ex. G. According to a complaint filed by
Nerenberg, plaintiff asked that the student produce a pass to
show he was properly in the guidance office, and kept
referring to the student as "young lady" despite
the student identifying as male. Id. After the
student failed to produce a pass, plaintiff threatened to
have security called to escort the student back to class.
Id. At this point, Nerenberg intervened and escorted
the student to his office.
next day, plaintiff approached Nerenberg in his office and
was "emotionally out-of-control, yelling, threatening,
trying to intimidate [Nuremburg] and shaking his
finger." Id. According to Nerenberg, when he
asked plaintiff to leave, plaintiff responded "are you
going to make me" Id. At that point, Nerenberg
left his own office with plaintiff following him, stating
"I thought so" and "You have been
filed a complaint with PWCPS' Office of Risk Management,
and emailed Moore and Bryant that he was concerned that
plaintiff "may do something rash, hostile, and
vindictive, and that he may put me or other coworkers in the
office in a position where we will have to defend
ourselves." Stip. Facts ¶ 23; Def.'s Ex. I.
Based on this complaint, Mulgrew temporarily reassigned
plaintiff to another school while PWCPS investigated
Nerenberg's complaint. Pl.'s Dep. 86:10-16.
Def.'s Ex. J.
December 9, 2015, plaintiff filed a complaint against
Nerenberg, Moore, Bryant, Lowry, Nicolai, and Mulgrew with
the Office of Risk Management. Pl.'s Dep., Ex. 13. His
complaint alleged that:
• Nerenberg's complaint was false, that Nerenberg is
rarely in his office, that various teachers drank on
Nerenberg's boat during prom and that ...