United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division
J. CONRAD, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
MATTER comes before the Court on Defendant's
Motion for Sanctions, (Doc. No. 46), and Motion for Summary
Judgment, (Doc. No. 48), and the parties' associated
briefs and exhibits. The Magistrate Judge issued a Memorandum
and Recommendation (“M&R”) on Defendant's
Motion for Sanctions, (Doc. No. 58), recommending that
Defendant's Motion for Sanctions be granted due to
Plaintiff's failure to comply with discovery and failure
to appear at her deposition. Plaintiff filed a timely
Objection to the M&R, (Doc. No. 60). After having been
fully briefed, the motions are ripe for adjudication.
following facts are undisputed, or when disputed, are taken
in the light most favorable to Ms. Phyllis Gaston
(“Plaintiff”). In 2014, Plaintiff was enrolled in
the Graduate Teaching Program at the University of North
Carolina at Charlotte (“UNC Charlotte” or
“UNCC”). In August 2014, Plaintiff informed
individuals at UNC Charlotte that she had “secured a
full time teaching position in order to be certain that [she
would] be prepared for the Spring, 2015 course.” (Doc.
No. 50-3 at 5). On November 14, 2014, Plaintiff met Marty
Godwin, the Assistant Superintendent and Human Resources
(“HR”) Administrator for Defendant Anson County
Board of Education (“Defendant” or “the
Board”),  at a UNC Charlotte career fair. (Doc. No.
1 at 9). Mr. Godwin and Plaintiff discussed the potential of
Plaintiff teaching at Anson County in the Spring. In this
initial conversation, Plaintiff represented that she intended
to serve as a full time lateral entry teacher and indicated
that she had the necessary qualifications to serve in this
capacity. (Doc. No. 1 at 9; Doc. No. 52 at 1).
November 26, 2014, Plaintiff submitted a job application to
Defendant that made the following representations:
(1) Plaintiff had one year of experience teaching high school
(2) Plaintiff had completed three months of student
teaching/internship under the supervision of teacher Kendl
Bostleman in seventh grade English/Language Arts during the
2012-2013 school year;
(3) Plaintiff anticipated receiving a teaching license on May
31, 2015 through a “College/University program”
and would apply for the license when she was eligible.
(4) Plaintiff had received “State Advanced
Certification” as highly qualified in English and
Reading and Language Arts.
(Doc. No. 52-1 at 3-6). However, none of the materials on
file with the Board or with UNC Charlotte show that Plaintiff
had one year of experience teaching high school English or
that she had ever received a certification as a highly
qualified teacher. Moreover, Plaintiff had not completed
three months of student teaching in the spring of 2013;
rather, she received a grade of “W” and no credit
for her student teaching in 2013. (Doc. No. 50-3 at 3). Thus,
it appears that Plaintiff misrepresented her qualifications
on her application to the Board.
December 3, 2014, the Board created a “New Hire
Alert” for Plaintiff, which listed her job title as a
substitute teacher, with an hourly pay of $98/day. (Doc. No.
52-2 at 2). Because Plaintiff had no certifications at the
time the Board hired her, the term certified was crossed out.
(Id.). At Plaintiff's behest, the Board's HR
Supervisor, Joy Drake, signed a letter on December 4, 2014,
stating that Plaintiff was “employed with Anson County
Schools as an 8th Grade English Language Arts teacher
effective December 3, 2014. This is a full time
position.” (Doc. No. 51-1 at 3). This letter was
supposedly provided to UNC Charlotte to release Plaintiff
from her teaching program at UNC Charlotte. (Doc. No. 51
Ms. Drake had been informed that Plaintiff qualified for a
lateral entry license, Ms. Drake gave Plaintiff a draft of a
“Temporary Full-Time” form contract. (Doc. No. 1
at 10; Doc. No. 51 ¶ 5). Ms. Drake noted on the
unofficial copy that the “official contract w[ould] be
available after December Board Meeting.” (Doc.
No. 51-2 at 2). Because Plaintiff never provided the Board
with the necessary materials for the Board to apply for
lateral entry licensure on her behalf, the Board hired her as
a full-time, uncertified, substitute teacher, (Doc. No. 51
¶ 6; Doc. No. 51-3 at 2; Doc. No. 52 ¶ 13).
Plaintiff acknowledged this status on April 2, 2015 after Ms.
Drake informed Plaintiff that she was not invited to the new
teacher orientation because she was “not being paid as
a certified teacher yet” and that Plaintiff would
“be invited to attend in August once [her] license
ha[d] cleared licensure.” (See Doc. No. 51-4
at 2). Defendant alleges that after Plaintiff had begun
teaching at Anson County Middle School, the Board became
aware that Plaintiff was attempting to complete her student
teaching internship-a UNC Charlotte field experience
course-while being paid as a full-time
record is replete with Plaintiff's negative performance
reviews while teaching at Anson Middle School. Despite
consistent feedback, Plaintiff did not seem to heed the
Board's recommendations for improvement. Ultimately,
Plaintiff received two formal write-ups from the Board in
April 2015-one for leaving her class in the hands of another
teacher without obtaining prior authorization to do so, and
the second for being the only staff member to not complete
the mandatory, assigned safety training modules.
April 24, 2015, the school principal Mr. McLaurin informed
Plaintiff that she was being reassigned from her full time
English/Language Arts class to the Computer Lab. (Doc. No.
52-5). Plaintiff alleges that prior to this reassignment,
Plaintiff had “reported numerous incidents of sexual
and general harassment” and that she was preparing
“to write up a group of white male students for another
incident of sexual harassment” on April 24, 2015-the
same day she was reassigned. (Id.). Her reassignment
was to be effective starting Monday, April 27, 2015, and Mr.
McLaurin instructed Plaintiff to “[s]ee Mrs. Harrington
first thing on Monday morning to get the key . . . .”
(Id.). On April 27, 2015, instead of reporting to
the computer lab as instructed, Plaintiff went to her former
classroom and “found a substitute teacher in her
English/Language Arts classroom.” (Doc. No. 1 at 11).
Subsequently, Plaintiff left the school early and went to HR
and visited with her University Supervisor at UNC Charlotte.
(Doc. No. 50-7 at 2). Plaintiff alleges that when she arrived
home on April 27, 2015, her Anson County School email account
had been deactivated. (Doc. No. 1 at 12). The next day on
April 28, 2015, when Plaintiff arrived at work, she alleges
that her ID card had been deactivated. (Id.). When
Plaintiff was let into the building, she discovered that a
substitute had been requested for the Computer Lab.
(Id.). Subsequently, Plaintiff demanded that she
speak with Mr. Adams, the assistant principal.
(Id.). Multiple witnesses have testified to the fact
that Plaintiff interrupted a closed-door meeting between Mr.
Adams, a parent, and a student. (See generally Doc.
No. 52-6). The record establishes that Plaintiff caused a
public disruption in front of school personnel, students, and
at least one parent-shouting and accusing both the principal
and assistant principal of being white supremacists and
threatening that she intended to file a lawsuit.
(id.). After this scene, Plaintiff alleges that she
went and spoke to Ms. Drake, requesting that Ms. Drake give
Plaintiff her contract. (Doc. No. 1 at 12). Ms. Drake did not
comply with Plaintiff's request, allegedly informing
Plaintiff that she was a substitute. (Id.).
date of Plaintiff's termination, and whether Plaintiff
was terminated at all, are disputed. Plaintiff alleges that
Mr. Godwin called Plaintiff on May 8, 2015 and informed her
that she had been terminated. (Id. at 13). On the
contrary, Defendant alleges that Plaintiff was never
terminated. (Doc. No. 49 at 13). Rather, Defendant claims
that Plaintiff was merely removed from its system in January
2016, when the Chief Financial Officer for the Board was
reviewing certain records and realized that Plaintiff had not
been separated or terminated. (Doc. No. 51-5).
being alerted to this, the Board's superintendent
directed that May 1, 2015- Plaintiff's last pay date-be
considered Plaintiff's last day of employment and also
directed that Plaintiff be “deactivate[d]” as a
substitute “if that ha[d] not been done yet.”
(See id.). On May 7, 2015, the Board informed UNC
Charlotte that it would not be able to provide a student
teaching certification for Plaintiff for the following
(1) Formal student teacher arrangement protocol was not
followed by UNCC nor Mr. Gaston[;]
(2) Ms. Gaston's application [the Board] ha[d] on file
indicate[d] that she ha[d] completed student [teaching] prior
to becoming a substitute teacher for [the Board]; and
(3) [Ms. Gaston] d[id] not have a contract with ACS.
(Doc. No. 53-7 at 4). Mr. Godwin explained that the decision
reflected that “normal student teaching is addressed
through the HR department with signed documentation”
and that Plaintiff's position as a substitute teacher