Williams v. Pulaski County Special School District
OPINION AND ORDER granting 24 MOTION for Summary Judgment filed by Pulaski County Special School District; pltf's federal claims are dismissed with prejudice and her state law claims are dismissed without prejudice; judgment will be entered accordingly. Signed by Chief Judge J. Leon Holmes on 5/24/11. (vjt)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
No. 4:10CV01143 JLH
PULASKI COUNTY SPECIAL
OPINION AND ORDER
Rafeea Williams alleges race discrimination and age discrimination in violation of Title VII
of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000 et seq., and the Age Discrimination in
Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., and various Arkansas statutes. Pulaski County Special
School District has moved for summary judgment. For the following reasons, the District’s motion
for summary judgment is granted.
In March of 2003, Williams began working as a substitute teacher at Daisy Bates Elementary
School, located within the Pulaski County Special School District. She became a first grade teacher
in 2009. On September 4, 2009, Williams learned that her class’s scheduled period to use the
gymnasium had been moved. She alleges that the change favored a younger, Caucasian female
teacher. Williams alleges that Matthew Mellor, the principal of Daisy Bates, and the other teacher
falsely told her that the change was necessary to accommodate the other teacher’s extracurricular
jump rope team. Williams alleges that the change was really to allow the other teacher to “have
lunch and socialize with her friends[.]” Mellor told her to meet with him at the end of the day, but
Williams refused. She later explained that she refused because she “was not obligated to see him
on [her] time after school” and she already had an appointment with a parent scheduled for later that
day. She contends that Mellor then treated her like “a criminal or young child” by “marching” her
down the hall to his office. Williams asserts that, despite her protests, Mellor insisted that she go
home and suspended her.
On November 27, 2009, Williams filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC alleging
that, because of her race and age, she was suspended and given a disciplinary letter for being absent
during the time she was suspended. On April 28, 2010, Mellor sent a recommendation to the acting
Superintendent of Education that Williams’s employment be terminated. On April 30, 2010, Acting
Superintendent of Education Robert McGill suspended Williams with pay and recommended
terminating her employment contract with the District. On May 13, 2010, the EEOC sent Williams
a right to sue letter. On July 28, 2010, Williams filed another charge of discrimination with the
EEOC alleging that the decision to suspend and recommend her termination was a result of race and
age discrimination. She also added an allegation that the District had retaliated against her for filing
the first EEOC charge. Williams commenced the instant lawsuit on August 10, 2010. On
September 14, 2010, after a hearing, the District’s Board of Education voted to terminate Williams’s
employment contract with the District.
A court should enter summary judgment when “the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure
materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and
that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see also Anderson
v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 2511, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). When
a nonmoving party cannot make an adequate showing on a necessary element of the case on which
that party bears the burden of proof, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 2552, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). The
moving party bears the initial responsibility of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of
material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323, 106 S. Ct. at 2553. If the moving party meets this burden,
“the nonmoving party must come forward with ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue
for trial.’ ” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S. Ct. 1348,
1356, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538 (1986) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)). A genuine issue for trial exists only
if there is sufficient evidence to allow a jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson,
477 U.S. at 249, 106 S. Ct. at 2511. In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court views
the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draws all inferences in his favor,
mindful that summary judgment seldom should be granted in discrimination cases where claims are
often based on inferences. Peterson v. Scott Cnty., 406 F.3d 515, 520 (8th Cir. 2005); Bassett v. City
of Minneapolis, 211 F.3d 1097, 1099 (8th Cir. 2000) (collecting cases). But see Bainbridge v.
Loffredo Gardens, Inc., 378 F.3d 756, 762 (8th Cir. 2004) (Arnold, J., dissenting).
Where direct evidence of discrimination is lacking, a plaintiff’s claims of race and age
discrimination pursuant to Title VII and the ADEA, as well as claims of retaliation, are analyzed
under the familiar McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework. See Young-Losee v. Graphic
Packaging Intern., Inc., 631 F.3d 909, 912 (8th Cir. 2011) (Title VII); Haigh v. Gelita USA, Inc., 632
F.3d 464, 468 (8th Cir. 2011) (the ADEA); Carrington v. City of Des Moines, Iowa, 481 F.3d 1046,
1050 (8th Cir. 2007) (retaliation). Under McDonnell Douglas, the plaintiff must first establish a
prima facie case of discrimination. Fields v. Shelter Mut. Ins. Co., 520 F.3d 859, 864 (8th Cir.
2008). A prima facie case of discrimination requires proof that (1) the plaintiff is a member of a
protected class; (2) the plaintiff met the employer’s legitimate expectations; (3) the plaintiff suffered
an adverse employment action; and (4) the adverse employment action occurred under circumstances
giving rise to an inference of discrimination. Wheeler v. Aventis Pharms., 360 F.3d 853, 857 (8th
If the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, then the burden shifts to the employer to
articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. Thomas v.
Corwin, 483 F.3d 516, 529 (8th Cir. 2007). If the employer provides a legitimate reason, the
plaintiff must then show that the proffered reason is a pretext for the unlawful discrimination. Id.
Where an employee is unable to show pretext, summary judgment is appropriate. Pierce v. Marsh,
859 F.2d 601, 604 (8th Cir. 1988).
In the instant case, there are a number of allegations of discriminatory conduct, but it is
unclear which ones serve as part of Williams’s lawsuit. In her first EEOC charge, Williams alleged
that because of her race and age, her class’s gymnasium period was changed, she was suspended on
September 4th, 2009, and she received a disciplinary letter for her absence during her suspension.
In her second EEOC charge, Williams alleges that her second suspension and recommendation for
termination resulted from impermissible discrimination. In her complaint, Williams states that she
is suing regarding discrimination which occurred “on or about September 4, 2009.” This is
consistent with the factual allegations of her complaint which only discuss the circumstances of the
change to her class schedule and her alleged suspension by Mellor. Her complaint does not discuss
the disciplinary letter, her later suspension, and her ultimate termination. However, in its motion for
summary judgment, the District treats Williams’s complaint as if it attempts to state a claim for race
discrimination and age discrimination regarding her second suspension and eventual termination.
Also, Williams refers to her termination in her response to the District’s motion. The discipline
letter was not raised in Williams’s complaint and has remained unmentioned after the first EEOC
Construing Williams’s pro se complaint broadly and in light of the District’s discussion of
her second suspension and later termination, the Court concludes that Williams seeks relief from the
District for the following incidents of alleged discrimination: (1) that her class’s gymnasium period
was moved; (2) that she was sent home against her wishes by Mellor; and (3) that she was suspended
Williams meets the first prong of her prima facie case since she is a fifty-eight year old
African-American. However, there is evidence indicating that Williams may not have been meeting
the District’s legitimate expectations. In his affidavit, Mellor testified that, on August 28, 2009, he
learned that six first grade students from Williams’s classroom were discovered unsupervised.
According to Mellor, Williams was unaware of the students’ absence from her classroom. Mellor
testified that, when he confronted Williams regarding this incident, she became insubordinate and
began screaming at him. Mellor testified that he had to speak to Williams about her failure to
complete lesson plans or grade books for her students. Mellor also testified that Williams failed to
complete state-mandated student assessments even after she was notified of this requirement. Mellor
testified that, on November 18, 2009, Williams took her students on a field trip to a location which
had not been approved. Mellor testified that these actions violated District procedure and policy.
Not even the liberal construction of pleadings afforded to pro se litigants allows them to
raise a claim which was expressly stated in an EEOC charge but then entirely omitted in the
subsequent complaint. C.f. Hinnenkamp v. City of St. Cloud, 178 Fed. App’x 620, 621 (8th Cir.
Mellor also testified that Williams was repeatedly insubordinate and engaged in a pattern of
“incompetent performance, conduct which materially interfered with the continued performance of
her duties, repeated and material neglect of duty and failure to follow reasonable written regulations
and policies, and conduct unbecoming a professional teacher dating back to the 2008-2009 school
year.” These allegations, and others like it, were included in both Mellor’s letter and McGill’s letter
recommending her termination. Williams has not offered any evidence tending to show that any of
Mellor’s testimony is false. Nor has she provided any evidence that these allegations do not
constitute grounds for terminating her or that other similarly situated teachers committed similar
violations and were not terminated. However, the evidence indicates that the District’s Board of
Education found the allegations regarding student assessments and the grade and lesson plan books
to be “not true.” Further, Williams has worked for the District as a substitute teacher since 2003 and
there is no evidence that the District was unhappy with her performance prior to the 2008-2009
academic year. Hence, for the sake of argument, the Court will assume that a question of fact exists
regarding whether Williams was qualified for her position as a teacher.
The Court concludes as a matter of law that Mellor’s decision to reschedule Williams’s
gymnasium period was not an adverse employment action because it was not a “material
employment disadvantage” but rather a “minor changes in working conditions that” at most “merely
inconvenience[d]” Williams. See Brannum v. Mo. Dept. of Corr., 518 F.3d 542, 549 (8th Cir. 2008)
(internal quotations and citation omitted). Williams “suffered no diminution in her title, salary, or
benefits.” Harlston v. McDonnell Douglas Corp., 37 F.3d 379, 382 (8th Cir. 1994); Brown v. Lester
E. Cox Med. Ctrs., 286 F.3d 1040, 1045 (8th Cir. 2002). Therefore, the District is entitled to
summary judgment on Williams’s claim that she was discriminated against when her class’s
gymnasium period was moved.
Regarding Williams’s claim that she was suspended by Mellor on September 4, 2009, the
District argues that, pursuant to the Arkansas Teacher Fair Dismissal Act, specifically Ark. Code
Ann. § 6-17-15018, Mellor did not have the authority to suspend Williams. However, that Act
“applies only to suspensions that are imposed in connection with a superintendent’s recommendation
of termination or nonrenewal[.]” McGough v. Pine Bluff Sch. Dist., 79 Ark. App. 235, 240, 85
S.W.3d 920, 923 (Ark. Ct. App. 2002). Here, Mellor’s decision to send Williams’s home despite
her protest was not connected with a recommendation of termination or nonrenewal. Hence, the
District’s argument that Mellor’s conduct cannot, under state law, constitute a suspension is
unpersuasive. A jury could conclude that a principal’s decision to send a teacher home against her
will constitutes a suspension.
If Williams was suspended without pay, Mellor’s action would likely constitute an adverse
employment action. See McClure v. Career Sys. Dev. Corp., 447 F.3d 1133, 1137 (8th Cir. 2006).
However, if Williams’s pay was unaffected by the suspension, then Mellor’s decision to send her
home would probably not be a adverse employment action. See Dodge v. City of Belton, Mo., No.
10-0038-CV-W-ODS, 2011 WL 529708, *3 (W.D. Mo. Feb. 4, 2011). Williams, who has the
burden of proof, neither alleges nor offers any evidence indicating that her pay was affected when
Mellor sent her home. Even if her suspension was an adverse employment action, Williams must
still show that the facts surrounding Mellor’s actions raise an inference of discrimination. The only
possible argument on these facts is that Mellor sent Williams home in retaliation for her complaints
about his decision to provide preferential treatment to a younger, Caucasian employee by shifting
the gymnasium schedule.
Even if this theory sufficed to establish the fourth prong of Williams’s prima facie case, she
has offered no evidence undermining Mellor’s legitimate, nondiscriminatory explanations for
sending her home. The District explains that Mellor sent Williams home because she was upset
about his decision to switch the her class’s time in the gymnasium and acted insubordinately.
Williams’s factual allegations in her complaint strongly support these explanations. Williams states
that she was upset about Mellor’s decision to change the gymnasium schedule, took her students to
his office and accused him of “showing bias and preferential treatment to [the other teacher] and
against me.” She told Mellor that she “couldn’t understand why everyone else got what they wanted
and [she] couldn’t even get what was given to [her].” She also refused to meet with him at the end
of the day to discuss the matter. Williams even compared herself to a slave and Mellor to a master
while discussing the situation with him in front of her Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers
representative. Apart from Williams’s legally conclusory allegations that Mellor discriminated
against her, nothing in the complaint indicates that the District’s explanations are pretextual. The
District is entitled to summary judgment on Williams’s claim that she was discriminated against
when Mellor sent her home.
Regarding Williams’s claim that she was suspended2 and terminated on account of her race
and age, the District contends that she was suspended and then terminated because she (1) failed to
complete state-mandated assessments of her students, (2) refused to complete and maintain grade
books or lesson plan books, (3) was repeatedly insubordinate to her supervisors, and (4) failed to
follow District policy by endangering the safety of students. McGill suspended Williams with pay
Since the District continued to pay her, Williams may not be entitled to relief for this
suspension. See Dodge, 2011 WL 529708, *3.
until the hearing before the Board for the abovementioned reasons. According to its meeting
minutes, the Board found the first two reasons for terminating Williams were “not true.” However,
the Board found the last two reasons “true” and voted to terminate Williams. Since the Board
concluded that the first two reasons were not true, the Court will disregard these reasons.3
Nevertheless, insubordination and endangering children in violation of school policy constitute
legitimate, nondiscriminatory justifications for suspending and terminating a teacher. Kiel v. Select
Artificials, Inc., 169 F.3d 1131, 1135 (8th Cir. 1999) (“Our cases have repeatedly held that
insubordination and violation of company policy are legitimate reasons for termination.”).
Consequently, the burden shifts back to Williams to provide evidence that these justifications for
suspending and terminating her were pretextual.
Williams submitted no evidence at all in opposing the District’s motion for summary
judgment. Her allegations either are conclusory assertions of discrimination or do not undermine
the District’s explanations for suspending and terminating her. Without some evidence that the
District’s explanations are a pretext for discrimination, the District is entitled to summary judgment
on Williams’s claim for wrongful suspension and termination because of her age and race.
Williams’s claim that the District retaliated against her for filing her first EEOC charge also
fails. Just as she offers no evidence indicating that the District’s legitimate, nondiscriminatory
explanations for suspending and terminating her are pretextual, similarly Williams fails to offer any
evidence that the District’s explanations mask a retaliatory motive. See Phillips v. Matthews,
Cf. Hutson v. McDonnell Douglas Corp., 63 F.3d 771, 777 (8th Cir. 1995) (“[P]roof that
the defendant’s articulated explanation is false or incorrect does not, standing alone, entitle the
plaintiff to judgment; instead, the showing must be that the explanation is a pretext for
547 F.3d 905, 911 (8th Cir. 2008) (“[The plaintiff] offers no evidence other than speculation to
support a connection between her termination and” protected activity.); Rose-Maston v. NME Hosps.,
Inc., 133 F.3d 1104, 1109 (8th Cir. 1998); Helfter v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 115 F.3d 613, 616
(8th Cir. 1997) (conclusory affidavit and deposition testimony do not preclude summary judgment).
The District is entitled to summary judgment on Williams’s claim of retaliation.
Because this Court has jurisdiction over Williams’s employment discrimination claims, the
Court has the authority to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state-law claims.
28 U.S.C. § 1367(a) (“[I]n any civil action in which the district courts have original jurisdiction, the
district court shall have supplemental jurisdiction over all other claims that . . . form part of the same
case or controversy. . . .”). The district court may decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over
a claim under section 1367(a) if the district court has dismissed all claims over which it had original
jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3). Out of respect for the principles of federalism and for the
courts of the State of Arkansas, the Court will exercise its discretion under section 1367(c) to decline
to exercise supplemental jurisdiction with respect to Williams’s state-law claims. Cf.
Carnegie-Mellon Univ. v. Cohill, 484 U.S. 343, 350 n.7, 108 S. Ct. 614, 98 L. Ed. 2d 720 (1988)
(“[I]n the usual case in which all federal-law claims are eliminated before trial, the balance of factors
to be considered under the pendant jurisdiction doctrine—judicial economy, convenience, fairness,
and comity—will point toward declining to exercise jurisdiction over the remaining state-law
claims.”); Condor Corp. v. City of St. Paul, 912 F.2d 215, 220 (8th Cir. 1990) (stating that the
district court should have declined pendant jurisdiction after dismissing the federal claims because
of “the necessity to provide great deference and comity to state court forums to decide issues
involving state law questions.”). Williams has expressed an interest in bringing state-law claims
against a number of individuals. The Court has already declined to address those claims in this
action. Consequently, if she wishes to pursue her claims, Williams will find herself in state court
anyway. The factors weigh against the Court exercising supplemental jurisdiction over Williams’s
For the foregoing reasons, Pulaski County Special School District’s motion for summary
judgment is GRANTED. Document #24. Rafeea Williams’s federal claims for employment
discrimination based on race and age and for retaliation are dismissed with prejudice. Her claims
that arise under the laws of the State of Arkansas are dismissed without prejudice.
IT IS SO ORDERED this 24th day of May, 2011.
J. LEON HOLMES
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?