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Phillips v. Loudoun County Public Schools

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

October 23, 2019

DAMIAN D. PHILLIPS, Plaintiff,
v.
LOUDOUN COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS, et al., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          T. S. Ellis, III, United States District Judge.

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendants Loudoun County Public Schools' and Loudoun County Public School Board's (the "School Defendants") motion to dismiss the pro se amended complaint.

         In his amended complaint, Plaintiff Damian Phillips appears to allege the following causes of action against the School Defendants:

• race discrimination based on a failure to hire for positions in 2017 pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights of 1964 ("Title VII")
• disability discrimination based on a failure to hire for positions in 2017 pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA")
• retaliation pursuant to Title VII and the ADA; and (iv) defamation.

         Although plaintiff did not file a response to the motion to dismiss, plaintiff appeared at the hearing held on October 11, 2019 and argued in opposition to the motion to dismiss.

         For the reasons that follow, plaintiff has stated a Title VII race discrimination claim based on the School Defendants failure to hire him for positions he applied for in 2017. The School Defendants correctly argue that any claim for discrimination based on a failure to promote in 2015 is 2015. Additionally, the School Defendants correctly argue that plaintiff has failed to state a claim: (i) for disability discrimination because plaintiff has failed to identify a qualifying disability; (ii) for retaliation because plaintiff has failed to show a causal connection between his protected activity and any adverse employment action; and (iii) for defamation because the statement on which he relies is an opinion and not capable of being proved false. Accordingly, the motion to dismiss must be granted in part and denied in part. As explained infra, Plaintiff will have an opportunity to file a second amended complaint to state a claim for disability discrimination and retaliation and must file his amended complaint within fourteen (14) days of the entry of this Memorandum Opinion and accompanying Order. Plaintiffs defamation claim, however, must be dismissed with prejudice because it is barred by the statute-of-limitations and because it is based on a statement that is not defamatory under controlling Virginia law.

         I.

         The following facts are derived from the allegations in the amended complaint, [1] which are taken as true solely for the purpose of resolving the motion to dismiss. See Papasan v. Attain, 478 U.S. 265, 283 (1986).

• Plaintiff is an African American male with a permanent disability.[2] See Am. Compl. At 4.
• He has a master's degree in general education and a master's degree in special education. See id.
• Plaintiff is also eligible for a provisional license[3] in Virginia. See id.[[4]]
• In August 2014, plaintiff was working for the School Defendants as a teaching assistant and as the head freshman football coach at Freedom High School. See Id. at 4.
• In 2015, plaintiff applied and interviewed for the varsity football coaching position at Freedom High School. See Id. at 5.
• When plaintiff appeared for the 2015 varsity football coach interview, he overheard the principal, Doug Fulton, say: "This nigga will not be my next Head Varsity Football coach." Id. Plaintiff also overheard laughter from an unidentified community participant and from Athletic Director Brett Miller. See id.
• During the interview, Fulton also commented that he did not need another "disability" in his school. Id.
• In his amended complaint, plaintiff alleges that his disability does not impact his ability to perform the essential functions of his job as a teacher and a coach. See id.
• On September 9, 2015, an unnamed student emailed plaintiff to let him know that Fulton had called plaintiff "something racist." Id. at 6.
• In a separate incident, assistant principal Chaudhry Neelum and Fulton requested that a student ask plaintiff to escort the student to the bathroom to "baptize" him. Am. Compl. at 6.
• When the student made the request of plaintiff, plaintiff immediately denied the request and reported the request to a special education teacher. See id.
• The next day, the student informed plaintiff that Neelum and Fulton had asked the student to make the request. See id.
• Later, Fulton and two assistant principals came to plaintiffs class and requested that plaintiff come to the office. See id.
• In response, plaintiffs students began chanting "Coach Phillips is in trouble." Id.
• In a meeting with the principal and assistant principals, plaintiff was provided with a performance evaluation that stated: "Mr. Phillips needs to make sure that when he first receives information that could severely effect [sic] the health and/or safety of a student, he needs to inform the program teachers and the administration right away. Even if the student is telling Mr. Phillips out of a close relationship, it is Mr. Phillips' professional duty to pass on sensitive information." Id. at 6-7.
• Plaintiff felt humiliated and singled out by this language. See Id. at 7.
• Prior to this 2015 performance evaluation, plaintiff had not received any feedback concerning his performance for ...

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