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Welch-Walker v. Guilford County Board of Education

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

December 10, 2014

GUILFORD COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, MICHELLE THIGPEN, individually and in her capacity as Principal, Defendants.


JOI ELIZABETH PEAKE, Magistrate Judge.

This matter is before the Court on a Motion to Dismiss [Doc. #14] filed by Defendant Guilford County Board of Education ("Defendant Board of Education") and Defendant Michelle Thigpen ("Defendant Thigpen"). Plaintiff Ledra Welch-Walker is a former elementary school teacher who asserts claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants violated her Fourteenth Amendment due process rights by not renewing her probationary teaching contract. Plaintiff also claims that Defendant Thigpen maliciously interfered with her teaching contract in violation of North Carolina law. For the reasons stated below, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss should be granted, and this action should be dismissed.


Plaintiff Ledra Welch-Walker, proceeding pro se, alleges in her Complaint that she was employed by Defendant Board of Education pursuant to a probationary teaching contract. (Compl. [Doc. #2] ¶ 5.) Plaintiff alleges that in August 2009 she was transferred from Parkview Elementary School to Colfax Elementary School where Defendant Thigpen was the principal. (Id. ¶¶ 8, 16.) Plaintiff alleges that when she was transferred to Colfax, Defendant Thigpen was unhelpful in setting up Plaintiff's second-grade classroom and in helping acclimate Plaintiff to her new environment at Colfax. Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant Thigpen required Plaintiff to submit her lesson plans every Monday, gave Plaintiff extra duties preparing a newsletter, and told Plaintiff to change the order in which she taught her subjects. Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant Thigpen placed students who had parents with "strong personalities" in her classroom. Plaintiff states that she began having problems with the parents of the students in her classroom, and that after the school's open house, the parents "started bombarding" her with numerous emails and phone calls. (Id. ¶ 38.) Plaintiff states that the parents began an online blog about Plaintiff "expressing their desire to get rid of Plaintiff." (Id. ¶ 40.) In September 2009, Defendant Thigpen allegedly told Plaintiff that the parents were complaining about Plaintiff's homework assignments, guided reading, and newsletters. Plaintiff claims that the parents violated school policy by complaining directly to the principal rather than to her. Plaintiff further contends that on September 23, 2009, Defendant Thigpen "held a secret meeting with a parent who asked Defendant Thigpen to remove his son from Plaintiff's classroom because he did not like Plaintiff or her teaching style." (Id. ¶ 43.) Three days later, Defendant Thigpen allegedly "wrote Plaintiff up based upon the Parent's allegations" without giving Plaintiff an opportunity to respond. (Id. ¶ 44.)

Plaintiff further alleges that in October 2009, Defendant Thigpen placed her on an "action plan." Plaintiff also alleges that during that same month, a parent sneaked into her classroom before school and began ransacking Plaintiff's desk. When Plaintiff entered the room, the parent started yelling at Plaintiff. Plaintiff exited the room, but the parent followed her into the hallway screaming. Defendant Thigpen came into the hallway, saw the parent, and the parent told Defendant Thigpen that she wanted Plaintiff fired and her son removed from Plaintiff's classroom. (Id. ¶¶ 47-53.) The parent then allegedly stated that she wanted a meeting with administration and did not want "that Black Supervisor to be at this meeting." (Id. ¶ 54.) Defendant Thigpen then allegedly asked the parent, "You don't want to have this conversation now do you?" (Id. at 57.) Plaintiff alleges that she is black but these parents and Defendant Thigpen are white. (Id. at 59.) According to Plaintiff, Defendant Thigpen "communicated to parents that she too wanted Plaintiff gone, that her hands were tied, and that it was her goal to have Plaintiff gone by November 01, 2009." (Id. ¶ 58.)

Plaintiff also accuses Defendant Thigpen of taking confidential information about the disability of one of Plaintiff's daughters and informing Defendant Board of Education about it in an effort to prejudice the Board against Plaintiff. In addition, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Thigpen accused Plaintiff of not giving a student his medicine and noted the incident in Plaintiff's personnel file, even though Plaintiff provided evidence that she had in fact given the student his medicine. Plaintiff states that when she complained to school personnel about her treatment, she was told that she should resign. Plaintiff alleges that she was subsequently suspended with pay for a few days. When she returned from suspension, her belongings were packed up. Plaintiff alleges that in May 2010, she received written notice that she was being recommended for non-renewal of her teaching contract. She then requested a hearing and copies of the documents that were to be provided as the basis for the non-renewal. Plaintiff alleges that she received the documents on May 17, 2010. Plaintiff states that ten days later, on May 27, she received a telephone call and was told that she had three hours to send her response. (Id. ¶ 87.) She was told that the Board "was going to hold a hearing without her." (Id. ¶ 88.) She "rushed to prepare something, but was not able to accurately refute the hundreds of documents in the time allotted." Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff was informed that she had not been renewed. (Id. ¶ 89.)

After the non-renewal, Plaintiff filed a claim for unemployment benefits. Plaintiff contends that Defendant Board "presented evidence in support of the denial of Plaintiff's unemployment benefits, " but that she was nevertheless approved for benefits. (Id. ¶ 91.) Plaintiff charges that the "accusations utilized by Defendant Board in their attempt to deny Plaintiff's unemployment claim were not creditable, and were only used in the furtherance of discriminatory practices perpetrated against the Plaintiff by the Defendant." (Id. ¶ 92.) Plaintiff alleges that she has applied for many jobs but "has not been able to teach because of the non-renewal on her record." (Id. ¶ 97.)

Plaintiff's First Cause of Action is labeled as a claim for violation of procedural due process against all Defendants. Plaintiff states that she is proceeding under section 1983 and section 1988. (Compl. [Doc. #2] at 12.) She claims that Defendants deprived her of her liberty interest in future employment. She says that Defendant Board was aware of the stigmatization and hardship that would follow a non-renewal and failed to provide for adequate pre-deprivation process. Plaintiff contends that the actions of Defendants represent an arbitrary use of governmental power.

Plaintiff's Second Cause of Action is against Defendant Thigpen individually for malicious interference with contract. Plaintiff alleges that "an express and/or implied contractual relationship for continued employment existed between Defendant Board and Plaintiff, " that Defendant Thigpen knew of this contractual relationship, that Defendant Thigpen willfully gave false statements to Defendant Board and others implicating Plaintiff in misconduct, and by doing so induced Defendant Board not to perform its contractual obligations and to terminate Plaintiff's employment. (Id. ¶¶ 110-117.)

Plaintiff also states that she does not have sufficient information to determine whether her termination was the result of intentional racial discrimination. (Id. ¶¶ 118-119.) She says that she may wish to add such claims in the future. Plaintiff seeks injunctive and declaratory relief as well as damages.

Defendants move to dismiss claiming that, first, Plaintiff cannot establish a deprivation of due process because she has not alleged a protected liberty or property interest. (Defs.' Br. [Doc. #15] at 5-8.) Defendants also argue that Plaintiff failed to appeal the non-renewal of her probationary contract as allowed under North Carolina law, and that she was not entitled to a pre-deprivation hearing. (Id. at 8-15.) To the extent Plaintiff raises contentions regarding racial discrimination, Defendants contend that Plaintiff's Complaint should be dismissed as an attempt to circumvent the limitation period for Title VII claims, because the suit was filed more than 90 days following Plaintiff's receipt of the EEOC's Notice of Rights. (Id. at 10-11.) They also argue that Plaintiff has failed to allege facts to state a claim upon which relief may be granted as to the malicious interference with contract claim. As to that claim, Defendants argue that Plaintiff has failed to allege interference by Defendant Thigpen with a valid contract between the Plaintiff and a third party. Defendants also argue that Defendant Thigpen, as principal, had a legitimate business interest in the performance of one of her teachers and, thus, Plaintiff cannot state a claim for malicious interference. Finally, Defendants contend that claims against Defendant Thigpen are barred by qualified and public official immunity, and that punitive damages are not recoverable in this suit.


A. Standard

A plaintiff fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) when the complaint does not "contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the ...

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