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Munive v. Fairfax County School Board

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

June 5, 2019



          Leonie M. Brinkema United States District Judge

         Before the Court is the defendants' Motion to Dismiss, to which plaintiff has filed an Opposition.[1] For the reasons stated in open court, [2] and as further developed in this Memorandum Opinion, defendants' Motion has been granted, and this civil action has been dismissed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Kathleen Munive ("plaintiff or "Munive") alleges in a one-count Complaint that defendants Fairfax County School Board ("FCSB"), Frances Ivey ("Ivey"), Patricia Granada ("Granada"), Sandra Edwards ("Edwards"), Kevil Sills ("Sills"), R. Chase Ramey ("Ramey"), and Steven Lockard ("Lockard") (collectively, "defendants") violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by retaliating against her for exercising her First Amendment right to file an anti-retaliation lawsuit in 2016 against defendant FCSB and four other school officials.

         The Complaint alleges that plaintiff is a long-time employee of the Fairfax County Public Schools ("FCPS") system and is currently an English Speakers of Other Languages ("ESOL") teacher at the Mountain View Alternative High School. Compl. [Dkt. No. 1] ¶ 7. She first became aware of the FCPS' "retaliatory culture" in November 2005, when she complained to her supervisor about a principal and was told: "Don't you know this is HR. We can do anything, except change what a principal wants or does. Be careful." Id. ¶ 40. In March 2006, plaintiff was again told by her supervisor "[i]f the principal wants her gone, it will happen. If she fights it, HR will make her life miserable." Id. ¶ 41.

         In 2007, plaintiff filed an EEOC complaint against the FCSB alleging that the placement of a reprimand letter in her personnel file constituted race and gender discrimination. Id. ¶ 15. Although she has made annual requests for the reprimand letter to be removed from her file, the requests have been rejected. Id. The Complaint alleges that in 2013 Phyllis Pajardo ("Pajardo"), then-Assistant Superintendent of HR, [3] told her that her requests were being rejected so that she would be "taught a lesson" not to file any future EEOC complaints. Id. Based on that statement, plaintiff filed an EEOC complaint alleging that the refusal to remove the reprimand from her personnel file constituted retaliation for her prior EEOC complaint. Id. ¶ 16. In April 2015, plaintiff received a determination from the EEOC that the FCSB had retaliated against her, and in May 2016 she received a Right to Sue letter from the EEOC. Id. In August 2016, plaintiff filed a lawsuit in this court alleging retaliation by the FCSB, Debra Reeder, Kevin North, Jack Dale, and Phyllis Pajardo in violation of Title VII and § 1983. Id. ¶¶ 17-18; 2016 Compl. [Dkt. No. 5-A] 1. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss was granted after the Court found that refusal to remove the reprimand letter did not constitute the materially adverse action element required of a Title VII retaliation claim and that the actions of neither the FCSB nor the individual defendants happened within § 1983's two-year statute of limitations. Compl. ¶ 19; Case No. 1:16-cv-1075-CMH, Mem. Op. (E.D.Va. Feb. 21, 2017) [Dkt. No. 19] 11-18. On appeal, the Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded only plaintiffs Title VII retaliation claim, [4]finding that the denial of plaintiff s "request to remove the reprimand letter constituted a discrete act of retaliation." See No. 17-1692, Op. (4th Cir. Nov. 7, 2017) [Dkt. No. 32] 4.[5]

         In the instant Complaint, Munive alleges that defendants retaliated against her for filing the 2016 lawsuit, which she alleges constituted protected First Amendment activity, specifically protected speech. Compl. ¶ 21. Plaintiff alleges that after the EEOC Right to Sue letter was issued in May 2016, she had a meeting with defendants Ramey, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources, and Sills, Director of the Office of Equity and Employee Relations Office, to discuss the EEOC letter. Id. ¶ 22. At this meeting, Sills allegedly "raised his voice and berated her for being rude, combative, and dishonest" and Ramey allegedly "made comments such as, 'You want to be paid for doing nothing?'" Id. Other defendants allegedly "commenced a whisper campaign" against plaintiff. Specifically, defendants Granada, then-Principal of Eagle View Elementary School ("Eagle View"), and Edwards, Assistant Principal of Eagle View, allegedly "began spreading rumors" that plaintiff had "vindictively" filed a complaint against Eagle View, although plaintiff claims she "played no role" in that complaint Id. ¶¶ 22-24. The Complaint also alleges that numerous colleagues, not named as defendants, "threatened her" and "maligned her as a 'snitch.'" Id. ¶ 25.

         On January 24, 2017, plaintiff complained about this conduct to defendant Ivey, then-Assistant Principal of Region 5, who allegedly told plaintiff that she would contact HR to request an investigation into plaintiffs claim, but no investigation was initiated. Id. ¶¶ 26-27. On February 16, 2017, plaintiff filed four internal workplace harassment complaints with defendant Lockard, Assistant Superintendent or the Acting Interim Superintendent of FCPS. Id. ¶ 28. Although plaintiff received an e-mail from Lockard stating that he was in the process of reviewing her concerns, she has not heard back. Id. ¶¶ 32-33.[6]

         In June 2018, plaintiff applied for a promotion but was passed over in favor of a man with only five years of teaching experience (compared to plaintiffs 33 years), one Masters' degree (compared to plaintiffs two), and no PhD (plaintiff has a PhD). Id. ¶¶ 35-36. The position she sought was as an "Educational Specialist, ESOL" and "would have entailed greater responsibility and greater pay." Id. ¶ 35. She alleges that she was passed over as punishment for filing her 2016 lawsuit. Id. ¶ 37. Plaintiff seeks declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, compensatory and punitive damages, and attorneys' fees and costs.


         A. Standard of Review

          Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides that a complaint should be dismissed if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). In determining whether a complaint states a claim on which relief may be granted, the court must "assume that the facts alleged in the complaint are true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiffs favor," Burbach Broad. Co. of Del, v. Elkins Radio Corp., 278 F.3d 401, 406 (4th Cir. 2002), but only to the extent that those allegations pertain to facts rather than to legal conclusions, Iqbal. 556 U.S. at 678. Plausibility requires "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully"; instead, the plaintiff must plead "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id.

         B. ...

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