United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Big Stone Gap Division
RACHEL L. SMITH, Plaintiff,
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
P. Jones United States District Judge.
age discrimination suit brought by a public school nurse
alleging disparate pay, I will deny the defendants’
Motion to Dismiss.
Complaint alleges the following facts.
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
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”)
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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