United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee
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For Angela Delozier, Plaintiff: Harry F Burnette, Donna J Mikel, Burnette, Dobson & Pinchak, Chattanooga, TN.
For Bradley County Board of Education, Johnny McDaniel, Defendants: D Scott Bennett, Mary C DeCamp, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Leitner Williams Dooley Napolitan, PLLC (Chattanooga), Chattanooga, TN.
CURTIS L. COLLIER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
As a result of juvenile and locker room behavior at a Bradley County high school, former Assistant Band Director Angela Delozier (" Plaintiff" ) has brought this employment discrimination case against Defendants Bradley County Board of Education (" BCBE" ) and Johnny McDaniel (" McDaniel" ) (collectively " Defendants" ). Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment (Court File No. 21), arguing Plaintiff has not presented sufficient evidence to support her claims for sex discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation. Plaintiff responded in opposition to Defendants' motion (Court File No. 25) and Defendants filed a reply (Court File No. 30). For the following reasons, the Court will GRANT IN PART and DENY IN PART Defendants' motion for summary judgment (Court File No. 21). Specifically, the Court will DISMISS the Section 1983 claims and DISMISS all claims against McDaniel in his individual capacity.
I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
Plaintiff met Kristan (" Kris" ) Ware (" Ware" ) in 2003 while the two were students at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee. Sharing in common some of the same music-related extracurricular activities and both playing in the church orchestra, they became friends soon after
meeting. In 2010 Ware became the band director at Bradley Central High School (" Bradley Central" ). Plaintiff spent the 2009-2010 school year as the band director at a middle school in Marion County, Tennessee. Ware recommended Plaintiff apply for the assistant band director position that would be opening up at Bradley Central the following school year. Ware attended Plaintiff's interview with Bradley Central administrators, including Principal Todd Shoemaker (" Shoemaker" ). She was hired to begin during the 2010-2011 school year.
Shoemaker, whose role included recommending personnel decisions to BCBE Director of Schools Johnny McDaniel (" McDaniel" ), took into account Ware's opinion of Plaintiff during the hiring process given Ware's role as band director (Court File No. 25-2, Shoemaker Dep., p. 35). As band director, Ware was responsible for setting the assistant band director's responsibilities and delegating tasks to her ( id. at pp. 33-34; Court File No. 25-3, Ware Dep., pp. 47, 79). He generally made the final decisions regarding how the band was run. However, the band director was not responsible for providing performance reviews of the assistant band director and had no formal authority over renewing or terminating the assistant band director's contract (Court File No. 22-3, Ware Dep., pp. 87, 181, 183).
During the 2010-2011 school year, Ware and Plaintiff got along well and maintained a good friendship. During the 2011-2012 year, however, their relationship deteriorated. Ware made several inappropriate comments to Plaintiff, some of which are undisputed. According to Plaintiff, in front of students Ware would say derisively that it must be Plaintiff's " time of the month" and that she was " bi-polar"  (Court File No. 25-1, Delozier Dep., pp. 118-19).
During an incident in December 2011, a romantic interest of Plaintiff sent her flowers at work, which Plaintiff put in the band room. It is undisputed that Ware and several male students began questioning Plaintiff about the mystery suitor. She would not say who he was, however, as the courtship was still in its infancy. Ware, who admits he instigated the line of questioning, would not relent and instead " kept plugging" (Court File No. 25-3, Ware Dep., p. 126). Ware then asked Plaintiff whether she sent the flowers to herself ( id.). As Plaintiff recounts, Ware next suggested she had received the flowers from her " lesbian lover" (Court File No. 25-1, Delozier Dep., p. 112). She recalled that one student chimed in that the attached card probably said " had a great time last night," to which Ware responded, " yeah, so she sent them to herself" ( id. at pp. 112-13). Plaintiff took this to mean that " I played with myself the night before and gave myself flowers because it went so well" ( id. at 113). Ware denies saying anything about Plaintiff having a lesbian lover and said in his deposition that his comment about Plaintiff sending herself flowers was not made to suggest Plaintiff pleasured herself but was made simply
" because whenever a girl wants to make herself feel better, she sends herself flowers" (Court File No. 25-3, Ware Dep., p. 126). Two days later, Plaintiff recalled, she told Ware how inappropriate the conversation was, but he did not apologize or take ownership for it (Court File No. 25-1, Delozier Dep., p. 117).
Later that spring, Ware asked Plaintiff to remove her keyboard stand from the band room. Plaintiff's then-boyfriend (the one who sent the flowers and is now her husband) was going to help her move the stand with his truck, but he kept getting pulled away by family commitments. Ware admitted that he said to Plaintiff, in front of a room of students, " you've got a man now and he can do this for you" (Court File No. 25-3, Ware Dep., p. 139). Plaintiff recalled that Ware followed this by saying her," needs to figure out what's more important--you or his family" (Court File No. 25-1, Delozier Dep., p. 124). The students erupted in laughter upon a further comment by Ware, which Plaintiff did not hear ( id.). Plaintiff was very distressed by the incident ( id.).
Ware stated that during the 2011-2012 year he felt Plaintiff had become " a little bit more complacent and didn't spend as much effort in her classroom" (Court File No. 25-3, Ware Dep., p. 107). Plaintiff noted that she was given more duties and worked longer hours in the second year (Court File No. 25-1, Delozier Dep., pp. 101-02). In any event, it is undisputed that her performance reviews were universally excellent both years (Court File 25-9, Exhibit 9). The incidents described above, however, led to interpersonal problems between Plaintiff and Ware.
By March, Plaintiff realized she needed to confront Ware head-on about his comments and what she perceived as his lack of respect. It is undisputed that they had a fifteen- or twenty-minute phone call where Plaintiff expressed numerous complaints about Ware's behavior. In addition to smaller, work-related issues, she confronted him about the flowers incident, the keyboard stand incident, and his calling her bi-polar and saying it was her " time of the month" in front of students (Court File No. 25-1, Delozier Dep., p. 140). Plaintiff filed with the Court a copy of notes she wrote for herself, which she used as a reference during the conversation (Court File No. 25-8). Her notes indicated she was going to report Ware for sexual harassment if the behavior did not stop ( id.). Ware does not remember her saying this. However, Ware's wife, Holly Ware (" Holly" ), stated that Ware immediately called her to relate that Plaintiff said she would report Ware for sexual harassment if he did not stop (Court File No. 25-4, Holly Dep., pp. 19-20).
Following the conversation, Plaintiff thought things had improved between her and Ware and they were communicating better (Court File No. 25-1, Delozier Dep., pp. 145, 147). Ware admitted, however, that after Plaintiff confronted him, he no longer wanted to work with her and thought his comments upset her " to the point of no return" (Court File No. 25-3, Ware Dep., p. 158-59). Ware also admits that soon after Plaintiff confronted him, he
arranged a meeting with Principal Shoemaker to discuss the matter. Ware recalled that he " didn't disclosure the full conversation," but " did talk to him about certain aspects of it," including " the [job] performance aspects of it" ( id. at p. 162). Asked in deposition, " do you recall which things you disclosed and which you didn't," Ware replied, " No, I do not" ( id. at 163). Shoemaker similarly recollects little of the conversation, other than that Ware told him Plaintiff was mad at Ware and it had something to do with picking up a piano and that Plaintiff and Ware were not communicating (Court File No. 22-1, Shoemaker Dep., pp. 40; Court File No. 25-2, Shoemaker Dep., p. 43).
Prior to the conversation between Ware and Shoemaker, neither Ware nor anyone else had brought complaints about Plaintiff to Shoemaker ( id. at 163-64). After the conversation, Shoemaker made several attempts over the following days to locate Plaintiff in the band room during her planning periods in order to discuss the matter ( id. at 43). Each time, however, he could not find her there and she had not signed out ( id.). He never emailed or called her to set up a time to speak ( id.). One of the duties of both the band director and assistant band director was to go to nearby Lake Forest Middle School (" Lake Forest" ) to help develop band students there. Ware had this responsibility during the fall semester, and during the spring semester Plaintiff would go to Lake Forest during the second of four periods. Instructors were not expected to sign out when going to Lake Forest. Plaintiff would then sometimes take her lunch break and third period planning time at home. There is no dispute that teachers were allowed to take lunch anywhere they would like as long as they did not have lunch duty. They were also allowed to spend planning periods off campus, though they were supposed to sign out when doing so. However, Ware knew Plaintiff was taking some planning periods away from school and never told her not to or to sign out when doing so (Court File No. 25-3, Ware Dep., pp. 109, 116). Ware does not deny he also left school for various reasons during his planning periods without signing out. He claims that sometimes he was given permission by Shoemaker to leave without signing out, but Shoemaker said he did not remember ever giving such permission (Court File No. 25-25, Ware Exhibit Correction Sheet; Court File No. 25-2, Shoemaker Dep., pp. 30-31).
In any event, after meeting with Ware and failing on several occasions to find and speak to Plaintiff during her planning period, Shoemaker concluded that Plaintiff should not be renewed because (1) " she wanted to be somewhere else" and (2) " there was some kind of issues going on between her and Kris" (Court No. 25-2, Shoemaker Dep., p. 47; Court No. 25-19, Answer to Interrogatory No. 1). He never cited Plaintiff's absence from school as a reason for nonrenewal but said he felt it was indicative of Ware and Plaintiff not communicating (Court File No. 22-1, Shoemaker Dep., p. 49) (" There's definitely communication issues because if she's not there during her planning time, then, you know, something's going on." ).
On May 22, 2012, several days after Plaintiff received her latest positive performance evaluation, Shoemaker informed her that her contract was not being renewed for the following school year. According to Plaintiff, Shoemaker refused to specify why she was not being renewed
other than stating that " Kris Ware and I had a meeting and decided this is the best course of action" (Court File No. 25-1, Delozier Dep., p. 161). Asked in deposition if he had said that, Shoemaker replied that he " can't remember the conversation we had" (Court File No. 25-2, Shoemaker Dep., p. 82-83).
Within hours of being notified that her contract would not be renewed, Plaintiff received a Facebook message from Ware's wife accusing Plaintiff of " running [her] mouth about Kris to people in town," and asking " how does it feel to be blindsided like you blindsided us?" (Court File No. 25-14). Holly admitted in deposition that when she asked how it felt to " blindsided," she was referring to Plaintiff's contract not being renewed (Court File No. 25-4, Holly Dep., p. 28).
Plaintiff sought a meeting with the school district's upper administration, sending them an email outlining her complaint of sexual harassment and attaching her notes from the call where she confronted Ware. She met with Shoemaker and Bradley County Schools Secondary Supervisor Dan Glasscock (" Glasscock" ). According to Plaintiff, Glasscock told her that her contract was not renewed because she and Ware had problems and she had to go because Ware was the band director and she was the assistant director, which he compared to a conflict between an assistant and head football coach (Court File No. 25-1, Delozier Dep. p. 172). She also recalled that he told her Ware told Glasscock that Ware did not feel comfortable working with Plaintiff after she accused him of sexual harassment ( id. at 172-73). In his deposition, Glasscock stated that, aside from holding the meeting with him, Shoemaker, and Plaintiff, he did not conduct interviews regarding what he admits was an allegation of sexual harassment (25-11, Glasscock Dep., p. 58). He closed the inquiry after the meeting, and Plaintiff was later replaced with a male employee.
After filing a discrimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Plaintiff filed the instant suit in February 2013.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Summary judgment is proper when " the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the burden of demonstrating no genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Leary v. Daeschner, 349 F.3d 888, 897 (6th Cir. 2003). The Court views the evidence, including all reasonable inferences, in the light most favorable to the non-movant. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986); Nat'l Satellite Sports, Inc. v. Eliadis, Inc., 253 F.3d 900, 907 (6th Cir. 2001). However, the non-movant is not entitled to a trial based merely on its allegations; it must submit significant probative evidence to support its claims. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; McLean v. Ontario, Ltd., 224 F.3d 797, 800 (6th Cir. 2000). Should the non-movant fail to provide ...