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Blackwell v. Gaither

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

February 26, 2019

SONIA S. BLACKWELL, Plaintiff,
v.
TONI ANN GAITHER, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          ROBERT J. CONRAD, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on initial review of the Amended Complaint, (Doc. No. 4). Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis. (Doc. No. 3).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Pro se Plaintiff filed this action on September 12, 2018, pursuant to the Age Discrimination Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 623 et seq., and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.

         Plaintiff, an African American woman over the age of 40, has filed this action against her former employer, FairView Kids Care, and its Administrative Director Toni Ann Gaither. Plaintiff claims that she was discriminated against, received unequal terms of employment, and was harassed and retaliated against based on her age and race. She claims that she was treated differently from white employees and was ultimately terminated from her employment.

         Plaintiff alleges that she was hired to work as a 3-year-old teacher on February 1, 2016, with a co-teacher. During her interview, Gaither made a comment that an employee named Wanda, whom Plaintiff later discovered was Black, would “jump off a bridge” if Gaither told her to. (Doc. No. 4-1 at 1). Plaintiff worked in the 3-year-old class for a month and a half then was moved to a 2-year-old class with a co-teacher named Colleen. One morning when the breakfast was pancakes, Colleen asked the kids if they know about “Aunt Jemima, I know Ms. Sonia does.” (Doc. No. 4-1 at 3). Plaintiff mentioned the incident to Gaither, who asked Plaintiff if she wanted Gaither to address it and Plaintiff said no because she thought it might be a one-time event. Plaintiff continued working with Colleen and noticed how mean Colleen was to the kids and even harmed them at one point. Plaintiff did not report Colleen because she was new and “was beginning to see how things went” at the school. (Doc. No. 4-1 at 3).

         After about two months of employment while Plaintiff was still new, Plaintiff came inside with her half of the class and left one of the children outside with other teachers. Another teacher reported the incident to Gaither and Plaintiff received a write-up.

         Plaintiff started working in a 4-year-old class in September with co-teacher Ashley Porter. Although co-teachers' responsibilities were supposed to be shared, Porter would not help clean the room and take out the trash. Plaintiff mentioned this to Gaither who said she would take care of it. Porter called in a lot without having time to use and Plaintiff was left alone in the class with an occasional floater. When Porter was present, she would often go down the hall to talk to Gaither, leaving Plaintiff alone with the kids. Plaintiff continued to do her job and the kids liked her. When Porter became pregnant her laziness got worse and she started spitting in the classroom trash can. Plaintiff mentioned this to Gaither, who “did not like it, ” and told Plaintiff to talk to Porter herself. (Doc. No. 4-1 at 4).

         On September 20, 2016, Porter and Plaintiff received a warning letter from Gaither about keeping proper paperwork in the classroom which was both teachers' responsibility. Plaintiff went to see Gaither because she was new, had never touched the paperwork because Porter had been completing it, and Plaintiff saw no reason to check her work. (Doc. No. 4-1 at 4). Gaither seemed to understand but later claimed this was Plaintiff's second write-up. Plaintiff sought and received instruction on how to complete the paperwork from Tommie Dean then made sure the paperwork was completed and correct from that point onward.

         Plaintiff heard that Porter said that she and Plaintiff did not like each other. Plaintiff confronted her and Porter said that they were not working together as a team. Plaintiff said she was trying to be a team player but Porter brushed her off. Porter then started keeping notes on Plaintiff and reported to Gaither about her.

         Plaintiff's work schedule was 8:30 to 5:30 and Porter's was 9:00 to 6:00. Plaintiff occasionally switched schedules with Porter so that Porter could take her daughter to dance class when Plaintiff's part-time job schedule permitted. Plaintiff was unable to switch work hours with Porter on one occasion, Porter reported this to Gaither, and Plaintiff was called into an office for a meeting with Pastor Paul Hill, Gaither, and Sandy Jennings. Plaintiff explained that she would cover Porter when she was able but that it was not her responsibility to do so. Plaintiff was told that she might need to decide which job was more important to her and that she needed to change the hours of her part-time job. Plaintiff was told that Porter has more education than Plaintiff and that she should defer to Porter's choice of schedule despite Plaintiff's seniority. The next day, Pastor Hill told Plaintiff he agreed with her that she should not have to change her schedule to accommodate Porter. Porter was unhappy that Plaintiff would not help her with the schedule and continued to document notes on Plaintiff and report them to Gaither.

         In December 2016, Plaintiff was accused by a parent of pulling a child off the toilet, causing him to bite his tongue. Plaintiff was called into a meeting and Gaither started to tell her she was fired. Plaintiff explained that Porter had taken the kids to the bathroom that day. Porter was called into the meeting and admitted she took the children to the bathroom. Nothing was done to Porter. Later, Plaintiff found out that Porter had told another teacher that Plaintiff was going to get fired that day, which Porter would not have known unless she and Gaither had discussed it.

         After Porter stopped working at the school, Wendy Dickens was hired as Plaintiff's co-teacher. Plaintiff could tell by the way Dickens acted that she was keeping an eye on Plaintiff. Dickens left Plaintiff to clean the room and spent a lot of time out of the classroom talking to Gaither as Porter had done. Gaither told Plaintiff she noticed this on classroom cameras but did nothing about it.

         On March 28, 2017, Plaintiff was asked about an incident where another teacher said she heard Plaintiff say “shout up” to a child. (Doc. No. 4-1 at 6). The child's parents did not say anything about the incident or treat Plaintiff differently. Plaintiff said she was overwhelmed in the class because she had no help, and the child was making fun of another who had spilled milk, then they were walking through it without Dickens doing anything to help. Gaither told Plaintiff to address the issue with Dickens and Plaintiff said it was a “race issue.” (Doc. No. 4-1 at 7). Gaither said she is not prejudiced. Plaintiff explained she ...


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