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Albright v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education

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

December 5, 2017

INEZ ANNETTE ALBRIGHT, Plaintiff,
v.
CHARLOTTE-MECKLENBURG BOARD OF EDUCATION, ERIC WARD, CHAUNEL JOHNSON, and AVERY MITCHELL, Defendants.

          ORDER

          Frank D. Whitney Chief United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Doc. No. 16). For the reasons herein, the Court DENIES the Motion to Dismiss.

         I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Inez Annette Albright (“Plaintiff”) commenced this action on June 19, 2017 in the Superior Court of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. (Doc. No. 1-1). Defendants subsequently removed the action to this Court on August 4, 2017. (Doc. No. 1). After Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint in its entirety, Plaintiff moved to amend. (Doc. No. 4, 7). The Court granted Plaintiff's motion to amend and a subsequent motion to amend. (Docs. No. 9, 13). On October 18, 2017, Plaintiff filed its second amended complaint, asserting a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violating her rights to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution and a claim for tortious interference with contract. (Doc. No. 14). Defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiff's second amended complaint on November 1, 2017. (Doc. No. 16). Defendants contend that the individual defendants, Eric Ward, Chaunel Johnson, and Avery Mitchell, (the “Individual Defendants”) are entitled to qualified immunity on both claims, and that Plaintiff has failed to allege sufficient facts to support its claims against the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education (the “Board”). (Doc. No. 16-1 at 1).

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         In December of 2014, Plaintiff accepted a position with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (“CMS”) as a Behavior Modification Technician (“BMT”) at Harding High School.[1] (Doc. No. 14 at 3). BMTs assist the school staff with discipline issues. (Doc. No. 14 at 3). Harding High School was known for having significant student discipline problems. (Doc. No. 14 at 4). Plaintiff was the only female BMT at Harding High School, and she openly criticized her fellow male security officers' response to fights that occurred on the campus during the 2014-2015 school year. (Doc. No. 14 at 4). At the end of the school year, the principal of Harding High School informed Plaintiff that he would not renew her contract for the 2015-2016 school year. (Doc. No. 14 at 4).

         However, the principal was replaced by Defendant Ward, and Ward hired Plaintiff as a BMT for the 2015-2016 school year. (Doc. No. 14 at 4). In the 2015-2016 school year, Plaintiff continued to voice concerns about security on campus. (Doc. No. 14 at 5). In or around March 2016, Ward discussed a reduction of the number of BMT positions at Harding High School for the next school year, including Plaintiff's position. (Doc. No. 14 at 6). Then, on June 1, 2016, Plaintiff responded to a call that a large number of students had congregated outside the cafeteria and had not gone to class. (Doc. No. 14 at 7). The other BMTs then funneled the students into the G building-the building Plaintiff with a co-worker was assigned to oversee. (Doc. No. 14 at 7). Plaintiff asked her co-worker to come to her aid, but he chose not to respond. (Doc. No. 14 at 7). While urging the students to return to their classrooms, one student began physically attacking Plaintiff. (Doc. No. 14 at 7-8). Three other students joined in, and they continued to attack her until the school resource officer arrived and intervened. (Doc. No. 14 at 8). News of the attack spread and created negative publicity for CMS. (Doc. No. 14 at 9). The Mecklenburg County District Attorney's office cleared Plaintiff of any wrongdoing, and eventually, the students involved were charged, and the main perpetrator convicted of assault. (Doc. No. 14 at 8-9).

         On June 16, 2016, Defendant Johnson, who worked in employee relations for CMS, terminated Plaintiff and informed Plaintiff that she would not be employed as a BMT in the next school year and stated that CMS was blaming her for the incident. (Doc. No. 14 at 10). Johnson acted on the recommendation of Ward and Mitchell, the head of human resources. (Doc. No. 14 at 10). At that time, Plaintiff believed her position had previously been eliminated, as informed by Ward. (Doc. No. 14 at 10). Plaintiff, then, reverted back to her classification as a member of the permanent substitute teacher pool. (Doc. No. 14 at 10-11).

         However, when Plaintiff told Johnson of her classification, Johnson informed her that she was barred from all future employment with CMS because of the June 1, 2016 incident. (Doc. No. 14 at 11). Subsequently, Plaintiff's classification as a member of the permanent substitute teacher pool was removed. (Doc. No. 14 at 11). Plaintiff asked for a hearing before the Board, but counsel for the Board informed Plaintiff that she had no hearing rights because she was not terminated. (Doc. No. 14 at 11). Then, Plaintiff asked the Board for an investigation of the incident and her termination but received no response. (Doc. No. 14 at 11). Despite repeated request for a writing, Johnson and Mitchell stalled. (Doc. No. 14 at 11-12). Eventually, in April 2017, Mitchell responded in writing that “Defendant Johnson had decided that Plaintiff had violated CMS policy and was responsible for the assault, but that Plaintiff had not been disciplined in any manner and had not been terminated. Rather, her BMT contract had ended and was not renewed.” (Doc. No. 14 at 12). Plaintiff requested a hearing with the Board, explaining that by firing her and barring her from employment as a result of the incident on June 1, 2016, a gender double-standard had been applied. (Doc. No. 14 at 12). Male BMTs had fought or beaten students and were cleared for their acts; however, she had been attacked and beaten and fired for violating CMS policy. (Doc. No. 14 at 12). The Board denied Plaintiff's request for a hearing. (Doc. No. 14 at 13). Counsel for the Board informed Plaintiff that she had not been fired and being barred from future employment was not appealable. (Doc. No. 14 at 13).

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         “The purpose of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is to test the sufficiency of a complaint”-“not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999) (quoting Republican Party v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992)). The court accepts all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and draws all reasonable factual inferences from those facts in the plaintiff's favor. Id. at 244 (citations omitted); Mylan Labs., 7 F.3d at 1134. Well-pleaded allegations “must contain sufficient factual matter . . . to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). To be plausible, the factual matter must “allow[] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable.” Id. (citing Bell Atl. Corp., 550 U.S. at 556). A court need not “accept as true allegations that contradict matters properly subject to judicial notice or by exhibit.” Veney v. Wyche, 293 F.3d 726, 730 (4th Cir. 2002) (citations and internal quotations omitted).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         A. Section 1983

         1. ...


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