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Tigner v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools

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

October 23, 2019



          Robert J. Conrad, Jr. United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, (Doc. No. 16), and the Magistrate Judge's Memorandum and Recommendation (“M&R”), (Doc. No. 21).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Kimberly Tigner (“Plaintiff”) is a Career Development Liaison in the Career and Technical Education Department (“CTE Department”) at Defendant Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools[1] (“Defendant”). Plaintiff, an African American, alleges that since 2016, she has been subjected to discriminatory conduct, retaliation, and a hostile work environment because of her race. Specifically, in January 2016, Debra Dunn (“Dunn”), Plaintiff's immediate supervisor, circulated a petition among Plaintiff's coworkers, gathering signatures of white colleagues who considered Plaintiff's natural hairstyle to be unprofessional and inappropriate for the workplace. As a result of the petition, Jimmy Chancey (“Chancey”), the director of the CTE Department, spoke with Plaintiff about her hair, and the negative attention humiliated Plaintiff and caused her to change her hairstyle.

         In or around July 2016, Plaintiff's seventeen-year-old son came to Plaintiff's office, and Dunn complained to multiple coworkers that she felt threatened by the presence of Plaintiff's son because he was an African American male. Dunn directed several employees to look up information about Plaintiff's son to confirm their suspicions that he had a criminal record. Upon learning of this, Plaintiff sent an email to Akeshia Craven-Howell (“Craven-Howell”), the Assistant Superintendent, on July 8, 2016. Craven-Howell sent Plaintiff a calendar invitation to discuss the matter, but the meeting never occurred. Plaintiff then reached out to Human Resources (“HR”), and in mid-July, Chancey told Plaintiff that HR directed him to handle the conflict between Dunn and Plaintiff. Chancey accused Plaintiff's son of having a criminal record and banned him from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' property. Plaintiff alleges that her son could not return to school for two weeks until she was able to obtain evidence to prove the allegations regarding his criminal record were false.

         Dunn began a daily ritual of walking out of her way to pass by Plaintiff's desk multiple times a day and standing there until Plaintiff acknowledged her presence and spoke to her. In addition, with Dunn's encouragement, other white employees made jokes at Plaintiff's expense, spoke to Plaintiff in a derogatory way, or outright ignored and refused to speak to Plaintiff.

         From March 2, 2016 through February 13, 2017, Plaintiff complained about the discriminatory conduct to Chancey, Craven-Howell, and HR. HR advised Plaintiff that Dunn's and Chancey's conduct was not violating any employment policy and suggested Plaintiff resolve the issues internally. After HR deputized Chancey to handle the conflict within the CTE Department, Chancey advised Plaintiff to be more polite to Dunn. On February 13, 2017, Plaintiff spoke to Employee Relations Manager Sandra Gero about the discrimination, but Gero stated that she supported Chancey's decisions.

         On March 3, 2017, Defendant issued Plaintiff an unfounded letter of reprimand and intentionally locked Plaintiff out of work programs and software that were necessary for Plaintiff to perform her job. Defendant disciplined Plaintiff again on March 3, 2017 because Plaintiff did not perform another coworker's job functions. Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on March 20, 2017. (Doc. No. 5-1.)

         During the summer of 2017, Plaintiff applied for five internal positions with Defendant for which she met or exceeded the requirements. Defendant did not consider Plaintiff for any of the positions, stating that although Plaintiff met the written qualifications, she did not meet the unwritten qualifications.

         At the end of 2017, Craven-Howell gave Plaintiff a negative performance evaluation for 2016-2017, stating that Plaintiff was not a team player because she filed a discrimination charge.

         Plaintiff asserts claims for violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on protections set forth in 42 U.S.C. § 1981, race-based discrimination in violation of Title VII, and retaliation in violation of Title VII. Defendant moved to dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint. In the M&R, the Magistrate Judge recommended that Defendant's motion be granted in part and denied in part. The Magistrate Judge first concluded that claims based on events occurring in January and July 2016 are time barred because the events occurred more than 180 days prior to Plaintiff filing her discrimination charge. The Magistrate Judge then concluded that Plaintiff fails to state claims for violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, failure to promote, and hostile work environment and recommended that these claims be dismissed. As to Plaintiff's retaliation claim, the Magistrate Judge concluded that the allegations are sufficient to state such a claim and recommended that Defendant's motion be denied as to this claim. Plaintiff timely filed her objections to the M&R.


         A district court may assign dispositive pretrial matters to a magistrate judge for “proposed findings of fact and recommendations.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). The Federal Magistrate Act provides that a district court “shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specific proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” Id. § 636(b)(1); Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 199 (4th Cir. 1983).

         The standard of review for a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim is well known. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). “A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) ‘challenges the legal sufficiency of a complaint,' including whether it meets the pleading standard of Rule 8(a)(2).” Fannie Mae v. Quicksilver LLC, 155 F.Supp.3d 535, 542 (M.D. N.C. 2015) (quoting Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir. 2009)). A complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss will survive if it contains enough facts “to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Facial plausibility means allegations that allow the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for ...

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