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Smith v. Lee County School Board

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Big Stone Gap Division

September 30, 2019

RACHEL L. SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
LEE COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD, ET AL., Defendants.

          Brittany M. Haddox, Thomas E. Strelka, L. Leigh R. Strelka, and N. Winston West, IV, Strelka Law Office, PC, Roanoke, Virginia; Terry N. Grimes, Terry N. Grimes, Esq., P.C., Roanoke, Virginia; and Melvin E. Williams and Meghan A. Strickler, Mel Williams PLC, Roanoke, Virginia, for Plaintiff. Jennifer D. Royer, Royer Law Firm, P.C., Roanoke, Virginia, for Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          James P. Jones United States District Judge.

         In this age discrimination suit brought by a public school nurse alleging disparate pay, I will deny the defendants’ Motion to Dismiss.

         I.

         The Complaint alleges the following facts.

         The plaintiff, Rachel L. Smith, is 47 years old. She has worked as a registered nurse (“RN”) since May 1996. Before that, she was a Certified Nursing Assistant (“CNA”) for seven years. She holds a bachelor’s degree.

         Defendant Lee County School Board (“School Board”) hired Smith as a school nurse in October 2003. The School Board’s pay scales for nurses account for whether the nurse is a Licensed Practical Nurse (“LPN”) or RN, the nurse’s years of service with the School Board, the nurse’s years of service as a nurse prior to employment by the School Board, and whether the nurse holds a bachelor’s degree. Nurses also receive extra pay for teaching cardiopulmonary resuscitation (“CPR”) courses.

         The 2017-2018 pay scale for an RN with a bachelor’s degree ranged from Step 0 at $35, 250 annually to Step 21 at $47, 470 annually. Each year of service as an RN, whether working for the School Board or for another employer, counts as one step on the pay scale. Every two years of service as a CNA counts as one step. Smith has worked as an RN for a total of 23 years and as a CNA for seven years, which should give her a total of 26 points. Because there are only 21 steps on the pay scale, she alleges that she should be at Step 21, the highest step.

         In 2017, Smith had worked as an RN for the School Board for 14 years and had seven additional years of RN experience and seven years of CNA experience prior to her employment with the School Board. Despite these years of prior service, however, she was being paid at Step 14 rather than Step 21. In other words, she had received no credit on the pay scale for her years of experience prior to her employment with the School Board.

         Virginia Hall, also an RN, was hired by the School Board in 2014. She had been an RN for four years prior to her employment with the School Board. She was placed at Step 15 at the time of her hiring and is currently at Step 17. She was younger than 40 when she was hired.

         April Hughes, another RN, was hired by the School Board in 2016 and had 12 years of prior experience as an RN. She was placed at Step 9 at the time of hiring and is currently at Step 11. She was under the age of 40 when she was hired.

         Stephanie Jones Hines is also an RN and was hired by the School Board in 2016. She had been an RN for 14 years before she was hired, but she worked as a teacher during that time rather than as a nurse. When she was hired, she was under the age of 40 and was placed at Step 14 on the pay scale.

         A number of physical therapy assistants and occupational therapy assistants employed by the School Board who are under the age of 40 have also been placed at higher steps on the pay scale than their years of experience would dictate. Tommy Prater was hired in 2008 but did not receive his license until 2009, and he is currently at Step 12, which is a higher step than his years of experience would warrant. Shanna Jones received her license just two years ago in 2017, the same year she was hired, and is currently at Step 5.

         In July 2017, Smith told Brian Austin, the superintendent of the school system, that she was not being paid at the appropriate step of the pay scale and that younger nurses had been placed higher on the scale than they should have been. As a result, the younger, less experienced nurses were being paid as much or nearly as much as Smith. Smith also reported her concerns to the School Board and its office of human resources. Dr. Austin agreed that Smith was placed at the incorrect step and should be at Step 21, but he told Smith it would take three years to move her to the correct step. The School Board refused to pay her any back wages as a result of the erroneous placement on the scale. Dr. Austin stated in the ...


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