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Hall v. Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

June 10, 2014

FELICIA CHEVETTE HALL, Plaintiff,
v.
CHARLOTTE MECKLENBURG SCHOOLS, CHARLOTTE-MECKLENBURG BOARD OF EDUCATION, Defendants.

ORDER

GRAHAM C. MULLEN, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the Court on Defendant Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 24) and Memorandum in Support (Doc. No. 25), Plaintiff Felicia Chevette Hall's Response in Opposition (Doc. No. 30) and Memorandum (Doc. No. 31), and Defendant's Reply in Support (Doc. No. 32). For the reasons stated below, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Defendant Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education ("Defendant" or the "Board") is the governing body of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools ("CMS" or the "District"), a local government unit that encompasses the City of Charlotte and much of the greater Charlotte area. (Compl. ¶¶ 3-4, Doc. No. 1.) In the 2009-2010 school year, Plaintiff, an African American, was employed by Defendant as an English Teacher at South Mecklenburg High School ("SMHS"). (Def.'s Mem. Supp. at 2, Doc. No. 25.) At the conclusion of the school year, Defendant notified Plaintiff that it had voted to approve the Superintendent's recommendation to non-renew Plaintiff's employment contract. ( Id. ) However, because this non-renewal decision was part of a District-wide reduction in force, Plaintiff was allowed to apply for other positions within the District. ( Id. ) Plaintiff applied for a position as an English Teacher at Mallard Creek High School ("MCHS"). The Principal of MCHS, Kelly Gwaltney ("Gwaltney"), recommended Plaintiff's hire, and Plaintiff began working in September 2010. ( Id. ) Plaintiff was informed that she would have to complete the 2010-2011 school year before she would be recommended for tenure. (Compl. ¶ 18.)

During the 2010-2011 school year, Plaintiff received three formal observations and evaluations from MCHS administrators. (Pl.'s Mem. Resp. Opp'n at 3, Doc. No. 31.) Plaintiff was first observed by Assistant Principal Jonathan Kay ("Kay") on November 1, 2010. ( Id. ) She was next observed by Dean of Students Dorothy Dae ("Dae") on December 3, 2010. ( Id. ) Gwaltney conducted Plaintiff's final observation on March 14, 2011. ( Id. ) Plaintiff was also observed by a peer, Teacher Marcia Rose, on March 7, 2011, and received a supplemental formal observation from a fourth administrator, Assistant Principal John Floyd ("Floyd"), on March 31, 2011. ( Id. ) Floyd observed Plaintiff in the three standards that are observable in a formal classroom setting-Standard II (classroom management), Standard III (content knowledge), and Standard IV (pedagogy). (Aff. John Floyd at 2, Doc. No. 24-5.) Plaintiff signed each of her evaluations by the administrators and, at that time, added no comments to the "Teacher Comments" box. (Def.'s Mem. Supp. at 3, Doc. No. 25.)

After the supplemental observation, Floyd completed Plaintiff's Teacher Summary Rating Form ("summative evaluation")-a document on which teachers eligible for career status must achieve certain ratings. (Aff. John Floyd at 3, Doc. No. 24-5.) This evaluation was completed in the "McRel system, " a computer program that teachers and administrators working in CMS use to view and complete evaluations, add comments, and sign documents with electronic signatures. ( Id. ) Floyd then conducted a meeting with Plaintiff to discuss her summative evaluation. Prior to this meeting, Floyd notified Plaintiff that the summative evaluation was ready to be viewed by her in the McRel system. ( Id. at 4.) Floyd also informed Plaintiff that if she wished to bring any artifacts, they had to justify a higher rating in a Standard, and they had to show an impact on student achievement. ( Id. at 4.)

On April 11, 2011, Floyd conducted the meeting with Plaintiff in his office, at which Gwaltney was present and participated. ( Id. at 5.) During the meeting, Floyd discussed the ratings Plaintiff received in each of the five Standards on the summative evaluation, and he allowed Plaintiff to discuss her performance for each of these Standards. ( Id. ) Plaintiff signed the evaluation on April 14, 2011. (Pl.'s Dep. at 105, Doc. No. 24-1.) On April 29, 2011, she went into the McRel system and entered comments in the "Teacher Comments" box on the summative evaluation. ( Id. at 105-06.)

A. Plaintiff's Failure to Meet Defendant's Performance Expectations

In its policy governing employee performance and non-renewal processes for teachers and administrators, Defendant sets certain performance expectations for teachers seeking to attain career status. (Aff. Kelly Gwaltney at 3, Doc. No. 24-3.) Teachers are evaluated on the basis of five Standards: Standard I (leadership), Standard II (classroom management), Standard III (content knowledge), Standard IV (pedagogy), and Standard V (teachers reflect on their practice). ( Id.; Aff. John Floyd at 2, Doc. No. 24-5.) According to this policy, a teacher eligible for career status must achieve ratings of at least "Proficient" in each of the five Standards on the summative evaluation and also a rating of above "Proficient" in at least one of the Standards ( e.g., "Accomplished" or "Distinguished"). ( Id. )

Plaintiff received a rating of "Proficient" in every Standard except Standard I (leadership), in which she received a rating of "Developing"-a rating below that of "Proficient." (Ex. 16, Doc. No. 24-2.) Therefore, because Plaintiff did not receive a rating above "Proficient" in any of the five Standards and performed below Proficient in one of the Standards, she did not meet Defendant's performance expectations for a teacher eligible for career status.

B. The Superintendent's Recommendation and the Board's Decision to Deny Plaintiff Career Status

On June 9, 2011, Superintendent Peter Gorman notified Plaintiff that, based on the ratings she received in her summative evaluation, she did not meet Defendant's performance expectations for attaining career status. (Ex. 19, Doc. No. 24-2.) He informed Plaintiff that he intended to recommend the non-renewal of her employment contract and that she be denied career status. ( Id. ) He then informed Plaintiff that she had the right to request and receive a Board hearing regarding his recommendation. ( Id. ) Plaintiff requested and received a hearing regarding the Superintendent's recommendation, at which she was represented by an attorney. (Exs. 19-21, Doc. No. 24-2; Aff. John Floyd at 7, Doc. No. 24-5.)

The Board adopted the Superintendent's recommendation and included the following findings and conclusions in its written decision issued August 18, 2011:

The Employee's contract of employment is non-renewed and the Employee is denied career status... because the Employee did not meet the level of performance determined by the Board to be sufficient to justify awarding continued employment and career status.... [T]he Board hereby non-renews Employee's employment contract, effective the end of the 2010-2011 school year.

(Ex. 23, Doc. No. 24-2.)

C. Plaintiff's Charges Filed with the EEOC

On January 26, 2012, Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). (Exs. 2-3, Doc. No. 24-1.) Plaintiff asserted that Defendant's decision to non-renew her contract and to deny her career status was discrimination based on race. ( Id. ) The EEOC issued Plaintiff a Notice of Right to Sue for this Charge on January 30, 2013. (Ex. C, Doc. No. 1-1.) This action was timely filed within ninety days of Plaintiff's receipt of the notice.

On September 13, 2012, Plaintiff filed a second Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC, this time alleging that she was "discriminated against in retaliation for complaining of unlawful employment practices that violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended." (Exs. 4-5, Doc. No. 24-1.) Particularly, Plaintiff asserted that she was offered a teaching position with Whitewater Middle School, another CMS school, on August 15, 2012, but later learned that "CMS Human Resources would not clear [her] for hire." ( Id. ) She also asserted that, on September 5, 2012, she was informed that she was not offered a position with Gaston County Schools because she "had not been recommended for tenure by CMS." ( Id. ) Additionally, Plaintiff stated that, on September 5, 2012, CMS General Counsel informed her that she "would not be able to meet with Mr. Heath Morrison, CMS Superintendent, because of [her] pending EEOC charge against CMS." ( Id. ) Accordingly, Plaintiff alleged that she was discriminated against ...


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