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Parker v. Lancaster County School Board

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

November 4, 2019

STEVEN D. PARKER, Ed.D., Plaintiff,
v.
LANCASTER COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          M. Hannah, United States District Judge.

         This matter comes before the Court on three motions:

(1) Defendant Kenya Moody's Motion to Dismiss ("Ms. Moody's Motion to Dismiss"), (ECF No. 8);
(2) Defendant Audrey Thomasson's Motion to Dismiss ("Chair Thomasson's Motion to Dismiss"), (ECF No. 5); and,
(3) Defendant Carolyn Young's Motion to Dismiss ("Ms. Young's Motion to Dismiss"), (ECF No. 11).

         Plaintiff Steven D. Parker, Ed.D. ("Dr. Parker") responded to each of the motions to dismiss, (ECF Nos. 12-14), and Ms. Moody and Chair Thomasson replied, (ECF Nos. 16, 15). Ms. Young did not reply to Dr. Parker's response and the time to do so has expired.

         These matters are ripe for disposition. The Court dispenses with oral argument because the materials before it adequately present the facts and legal contentions, and argument would not aid the decisional process. The Court exercises jurisdiction over Dr. Parker's federal claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331[1] and supplemental jurisdiction over Dr. Parker's state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1361.[2] For the reasons stated below, the Court will grant Ms. Moody's Motion to Dismiss, deny Ms. Young's Motion to Dismiss, and grant in part and deny in part Chair Thomasson's Motion to Dismiss.

         I. Background

         A. Allegations in the Complaint

         Dr. Parker, the former Superintendent of the Lancaster County Public School Division, brings claims against the School Board as well as two of its members-Ms. Moody and Ms. Young-and the Chair of the School Board-Chair Thomasson. (Compl. 1-2, ECF No. 1.) The claims arise from events surrounding the School Board's decision not to renew Dr. Parker's employment contract. Dr. Parker alleges three counts as follows:

Count I:42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). Dr. Parker alleges that the School Board, Ms. Moody, and Chair Thomasson "discriminat[ed] [against Dr. Parker] for testifying, assisting, or participating in an investigation of racial harassment." (Id. 9.)
Count II: 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). Dr. Parker alleges that the School Board, Ms. Moody, and Chair Thomasson "discriminat[ed] [against Dr. Parker] for opposing an unlawful employment practice." (Id. 10.)
Count III: Dr. Parker alleges that Ms. Young and Chair Thomasson defamed him when they spoke to a reporter following the meeting during which the School Board decided not to renew Dr. Parker's employment contract. (Id. 11.)

         The School Board answered the Complaint, (ECF No. 7), and Ms. Moody, Chair Thomasson, and Ms. Young each filed a Motion to Dismiss.

         B. Factual Background[3]

         On May 14, 2014, Dr. Parker entered into a three-year employment contract to serve as Superintendent of Lancaster County Public School Division. (Compl. ¶ 17.) The School Board later extended this contract to June 30, 2019. (Id. ¶ 18.) Dr. Parker contends that he was an "excellent employee" and "satisfactorily performed his job duties" during his tenure as Superintendent. (Id. ¶ 21.) Dr. Parker says that he "received a 'highly effective' overall performance rating, including ratings (out of 5) of 4.6 for the 2014-2015 school year, 4.9 for the 2015-2016 school year, 5.0 for the 2016-2017 school year, and 4.86 for the 2017-2018 school year." (Id. ¶ 22.) Dr. Parker states that approximately two months before the School Board voted not to renew his contract, Ms. Young, a member of the School Board, "commend[ed] him for his 'excellent' efforts on the workforce trajectory and his outreach to the business community." (Id. ¶ 38.)

         In May 2018, approximately nine months before the School Board voted not to renew Dr. Parker's contact, Dr. Parker contends that Chair Thomasson told Dr. Parker and the Assistant Superintendent that they "need[ed] to hire more African-American administrators even if such candidates are less qualified than Caucasian candidates." (Id. ¶ 23.) Dr. Parker states that he "strongly opposed this practice." (Id.) Dr. Parker contends that when he later told Chair Thomasson that he did not support a goal "implying a race-based hiring quota," Chair Thomasson said, "[y]ou work for us, and you will do what we tell you to do." (Id. ¶ 30.)

         In August and September 2018, discussions began between the School Board and Dr. Parker regarding the renewal of Dr. Parker's employment contract. (Id. ¶ 24.) At that time, all members of the School Board expressed the intent to renew Dr. Parker's contract. (Id. ¶ 25.)

         On November 6, 2018, Dr. Parker received his performance report for the 2017-2018 school year, a 4.86 out of 5, and was informed that he "needed to complete his professional goals for the current year, including '[d]iversity in hiring administrators that reflect the makeup of the community.'" (Id. ¶ 26.) Three days later, Dr. Parker became aware of a racial harassment complaint against Ms. Moody, a member of the School Board. (Id. ¶ 27.) In response, Dr. Parker hired a third-party to investigate the complaint. (Id. ¶ 28.)

         Approximately twenty days later, Dr. Parker received a proposed contract that included a two-year term. (Id. ¶ 32.) Dr. Parker asked for a four-year term, but a member of the School Board told him that the terms were "non-negotiable as [the School Board] was 3-to-2 in favor of the terms" and that "[b]oard members Ms. Young and Ms. Moody were not in favor of the contract terms." (Id. ¶ 33.) Dr. Parker alleges that the school board member further implied that "Ms. Moody would not agree to the contract terms because ... she believed Dr. Parker was responsible for a racial harassment complaint [sic] filed against her." (Id.) On December 4, 2018, Dr. Parker and the School Board again discussed his contact terms, and it was at this time that Ms. Moody "advised Dr. Parker that she was not voting to renew his contract because of lack of diversity." (Id. ¶ 35.)

         On December 11, 2018, approximately seven days after these discussions, the third-party investigator issued findings from the racial harassment investigation involving Ms. Moody. (Id. ¶ 37.) The report stated that "Ms. Moody violated [School Board] policy" and Ms. Moody's statements "constituted racial harassment and are part of a continuing pattern of behavior regarding comments to Caucasian teachers." (Id.) The report listed Dr. Parker as a staff member interviewed. (Id.) The investigator submitted her report to a School Board subcommittee. (Id.) On December 17, 2018, ...


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