Eubank v. Lockhart Independent School District
ORDER GRANTING 44 Motion for Summary Judgment; DISMISSING AS MOOT 66 Motion for Leave to Supplement; DISMISSING AS MOOT 75 Motion to Continue. Signed by Judge Robert Pitman. (ml)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS
LOCKHART INDEPENDENT SCHOOL
Before the Court are Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 44) and the
responsive pleadings and objections thereto. After reviewing the pleadings, the applicable law, and
the factual record, the Court issues the following order.
Beginning in 2007, Plaintiff Magdalena Eubank was employed by Defendant Lockhart
Independent School District (“the District”) as a school counselor, most recently serving in that
capacity at Bluebonnet Elementary. She suffers from diabetes, plantar fasciitis, and intermittent
At some point at the beginning of the 2014–2015 school year, 1 Plaintiff provided the District
with a note from her physician which stated: “Mrs. Eubank is under my care for her medical
conditions. Please allow Mrs. Eubank to check her blood sugar during the day as needed, use the
restroom as needed, and to have a snack during the day if needed. She also should be allowed to
Plaintiff’s Complaint includes allegations of discrimination concerning the 2013–2014 school year.
However, the Court considers only the allegations concerning the time period after March 28, 2014.
Claims arising prior to that date precede Plaintiff’s January 22, 2015, charge filed with the Texas
Workforce Commission by more than 300 days and are thus barred by the applicable statute of
limitations. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e–5(e); Nat’l R.R. Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 109–10
wear athletic shoes during the day due to a medical condition.” On Friday, August 22, 2014, Rita
Sotelo, principal of Bluebonnet Elementary, informed Plaintiff by email that she had received
Plaintiff’s medical note and would honor the doctor’s suggestions. Sotelo encouraged Plaintiff to
take care of her personal medical needs and asked that Plaintiff contact her if she needed anything
During the first week of school, Plaintiff directed a group of third-grade students in her
guidance class to write on a piece of paper whether they believed in God and turn it in to her.
Plaintiff apparently did so to determine whether she should play a religious song for her class. The
next day, a parent called the school to raise concerns about Plaintiff’s actions. The parent stated that
his child felt “put on the spot” and was made uncomfortable. The District asserts that this conduct
violated the District’s Employee Standard of Conduct 3.2.
On August 29, 2014, Sotelo met with Plaintiff and memorialized the meeting in a
Memorandum of Conference. The Memorandum addressed the prior day’s lesson and the resulting
parental concerns. It also noted that Plaintiff had not consistently shown up to work on time. Sotelo
included several directives, such as that Plaintiff would report to work on time and refrain from
making religious references in class. Sotelo wrote that she would meet with Plaintiff at the end of
September to review her compliance with the directives. Plaintiff acknowledged receipt of this
Memorandum with her signature.
Plaintiff followed up on this Memorandum by email on September 4, 2014. In this email, she
brought up the issue of her ADA accommodations. She stated that she had no time to check her
blood sugar or perform other accommodations that had been promised the year before. She pointed
out that she had submitted her physician’s note a few weeks earlier and acknowledged receiving a
Plaintiff makes a number of blanket objections to the District’s summary judgment evidence,
including this email. The Court overrules Plaintiff’s objections for the reasons articulated by the
District. (See Def.’s Resp. to Pl.’s Objs., Dkt. 70).
response from Sotelo telling her to take care of her health needs. Plaintiff stated that there had been
a meeting the prior year that resulted in a letter specifying what her accommodations were and that
she assumed another meeting needed to be held. Plaintiff requested “clear instruction” on what to
do to take care of her needs in the interim.
Sotelo responded within half an hour. She noted that she was not privy to the events of the
prior year, but that she would “gladly accommodate anything [Plaintiff’s] health requires.” She then
provided specific instructions for Plaintiff’s accommodations, offering to watch Plaintiff’s class if
she needed to check her blood sugar levels or have a snack. She stated that she would reach out to
Assistant Superintendent Dan Vera for Plaintiff’s ADA documentation and promised to comply
with the recommendations detailed. She also encouraged Plaintiff to contact Vera directly about
setting up a meeting for the new school year.
Later that same day, Cristina Suarez, a District human resources employee, acknowledged
receipt of Plaintiff’s request for accommodations and stated that Plaintiff’s supervisor would inform
Plaintiff of the date and time for an ADA Interactive Meeting. The next day, Suarez again reached
out to Plaintiff to request additional documentation. Suarez noted that the vague references to
“medical condition(s)” in the physician’s note were not sufficient to demonstrate a disability under
the ADA. She asked that Plaintiff provide additional documentation that establishes Plaintiff’s ADA
disability, its functional limitations, and the need for reasonable accommodations. Plaintiff
responded nearly one week later stating that she did not understand what was needed, as her medical
conditions had not changed since her prior accommodations had been approved. She requested
clarification of what exactly the District required.
On Sunday, September 7, 2014, Sotelo reached out to Plaintiff requesting that she submit
her column for the staff newsletter. It had not been submitted by the preceding Friday, in
accordance with instructions Plaintiff had received earlier in the year. The result was that the
newsletter was published without Plaintiff’s column.
On September 11, 2014, Sotelo issued Plaintiff another Memorandum of Conference. The
two had met to clarify what documentation the District needed to move forward with Plaintiff’s
accommodation request. The Memorandum notes that Sotelo clarified that Plaintiff’s original note
was insufficient because it did not specify a medical condition that establishes an ADA disability, its
functional limitations, and the need for accommodations. While acknowledging that the formal
process had not moved forward because of the inadequate documentation, Sotelo stated she would
continue to allow and encourage Plaintiff to take advantage of all accommodations she had
previously been allowed. She then directed Plaintiff to submit adequate documentation so that the
process could move forward. Plaintiff refused Sotelo’s instruction to sign the memorandum, but
Sotelo did not “write up” Plaintiff for her refusal.
On September 12, 2014, Suarez sent another message to Plaintiff requesting that she submit
additional documentation. Suarez again stated that the physician’s letter should establish her
disability, its functional limitations, and the need for reasonable accommodations. According to
Suarez, the District needed documentation that would enable it to determine whether Plaintiff’s
condition is considered a disability under the ADA.
On September 16, 2014, Plaintiff sent an email to Sotelo informing her that she was
experiencing dizziness and that she was under medical care for the condition. She requested that
someone be close to her in the morning during crossing guard duties 3 or any other duty involving
moving traffic as a safety precaution. Sotelo sent a response the same day that informed Plaintiff
that Sotelo would personally stand close to her in the morning and that she would help in any way
According to Sotelo, Plaintiff had been assigned crossing guard duties in duty schedules created
before Sotelo joined the District. Plaintiff had complained to Sotelo because she felt crossing guard
duties negatively impacted how others would perceive her as a professional.
she could. Plaintiff then responded that she simply did not feel safe doing crossing guard duty at all.
Sotelo replied within twenty minutes, reassigning Plaintiff to another duty station and informing her
she would contact the human resources department to expedite the ADA process.
Sotelo held another conference with Plaintiff concerning her performance on October 14,
2014. At some point before the meeting, Plaintiff had discussed a student’s discipline with her class.
The student had been disruptive during a lesson, leading Plaintiff her to refer the student to the
main office. While the student was gone, Plaintiff engaged the class in a discussion about what
punishment would be appropriate for the student’s behavior. This discussion continued after the
student returned to the classroom, with Plaintiff asking the student in front of the class what his
punishment should be. According the Memorandum of Conference, this approach was
inappropriate “because it causes embarrassment to the individual student and could expose some
student information that may be confidential or sensitive in nature.”
Plaintiff submitted a rebuttal to Sotelo’s Memorandum that laid out her own version of
events. She agreed that she perhaps should not have made an example out of her student and
further stated that she should not have requested assistance from Sotelo because “she basically did
nothing to ensure [the student] would think about his actions.” Plaintiff again noted that her
accommodations had not yet been formally approved. Though acknowledging Sotelo had stated
Plaintiff’s accommodations would be honored, Plaintiff noted that she was choosing not to take
advantage of them until she received formal notice of their approval.
Sotelo issued Plaintiff two further performance directives on October 17, 2014. The first
concerned Plaintiff’s arriving to work late and informing Sotelo only after she was to have been at
work. The second directed Plaintiff to be absent no more than two days per month on average. This
directive was motivated by what Sotelo viewed as Plaintiff’s excessive absences. Plaintiff responded
to these directives by email on October 20, 2014. She blamed Sotelo for her absenteeism and stated
she had only been late on about two occasions. She also accused Sotelo of threatening, intimidating,
and harassing her. Finally, she acknowledged receipt of two formal approval letters for her requested
accommodations, though she accused the District of backdating the letters.
On October 24, 2014, Sotelo formally reprimanded Plaintiff for her failure to set up small
group counseling services with an agency called Connections Individual and Family Services. This
was a project assigned earlier in the year. The column Plaintiff sent Sotelo for the September 7
newsletter indicated that she was working on the project. However, Sotelo stated that she learned in
a conversation with Bernadette Spears, who appears to be affiliated with the agency, that Plaintiff
had not made progress on the assignment. The reprimand also noted Plaintiff’s confrontational
behavior during meetings.
Plaintiff provided Sotelo a sharply worded rebuttal in which she alleged that Sotelo was
engaged in hostility, harassment, and persecution. She denied that she had not been working with
the agency to set up small group services. As proof, she pointed to an email she wrote Spears two
days after being reprimanded. Plaintiff recalled in that email that she spoke about small groups with
Spears a week or two earlier, which resulted in an agreement that they would “pray about it.” In her
rebuttal, Plaintiff shifted the blame for the lack of small group services onto other teachers who had
not referred students for the service. Plaintiff accused Sotelo of being “against counseling” and
criticized what Plaintiff viewed as poor communication. Plaintiff concluded: “I am begging you to
please stop the hostility, the harassment and persecution. What you are doing is wrong and I am
asking you to please stop [i]n the name of Jesus Christ I am praying to God that you stop. May God
have mercy on you and whoever is allowing you to do this to me in Lockhart ISD.”
Around October 29, 2014, Assistant Superintendent Vera directed Plaintiff to meet with him
on October 31 to discuss Plaintiff’s performance issues. The next day, Plaintiff drafted a letter that
she circulated to certain Bluebonnet Elementary staff members. The letter stated that Plaintiff was
having “tremendous difficulties” working with Sotelo and notified the staff of her upcoming
meeting with Vera. Plaintiff requested that the recipients of the letter support her by providing an
evaluation of her work if requested by Vera or other administrators.
At the meeting held on October 31, 2014, Vera addressed concerns with Plaintiff’s
performance and informed her that he intended to recommend that the District’s Board of Trustees
(“the Board”) terminate her contract. He also provided her with an opportunity to resign by
November 3, 2014, to avoid that outcome, which Plaintiff declined. Vera reassigned Plaintiff to
work at the Special Education campus until her contract status was resolved.
The same day, Sotelo again reprimanded Plaintiff for three performance-related issues. The
first concerned errors found in seven of fifteen Student Residency Questionnaires which Plaintiff
had been responsible for completing. These questionnaires helped identify which students qualified
for homelessness benefits. According to the District, Plaintiff’s errors caused students to miss out
on needed services or receive benefits to which they were not entitled. The second issue concerned
Plaintiff’s October 30 letter, which found its way to Sotelo. The third concerned Plaintiff’s use of
the school copier to reproduce her “personal propaganda” letter during work hours.
Over the days that followed, Plaintiff filed a number of grievances with the District. These
grievances alleged discrimination, retaliation, harassment, and the denial of her ADA
accommodations. Subsequent investigations by Assistant Superintendent Larry Ramirez found
Plaintiff’s complaints to be unfounded. Plaintiff complained that Ramirez was not impartial.
On December 15, 2014, the Board voted to propose the termination of Plaintiff’s contract.
Plaintiff thereafter received a written notice that included a list of ten reasons for her dismissal. On
December 29, 2014, Plaintiff requested a hearing on the matter from the Texas Education Agency,
which appointed an independent hearing examiner and scheduled a hearing for February 16–17,
2015. Following the hearing, the hearing examiner issued a Recommendation finding sufficient
evidence to substantiate seven of the ten reasons for termination put forward by the District. The
examiner concluded that the working relationship between Plaintiff and the District was
“irretrievably broken” and recommended the Board enter an order terminating Plaintiff’s
employment for good cause. The Board adopted the examiner’s findings and terminated Plaintiff’s
employment as of March 12, 2015.
Following an investigation on Plaintiff’s charge of discrimination filed in January 2015, the
Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (“EEOC”) sent Plaintiff a right-to-sue letter in
November 2015. The EEOC notified Plaintiff that its investigation failed to substantiate her
allegations of non-accommodation, discrimination, and retaliation. Plaintiff filed this lawsuit against
the District on November 11, 2015. Plaintiff asserts four claims under the Americans with
Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq.; the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act
(“TCHRA”), Tex. Lab. Code § 21.001, et seq.; and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. These claims are: (1) failure to
make reasonable accommodations for her disability; (2) discrimination; (3) retaliation; and (4) First
Amendment retaliation. The District filed its Motion for Summary Judgment on November 1, 2016.
Summary judgment is appropriate under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
only “if the movant shows there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A dispute is genuine only if the
evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 254 (1986). “A fact issue is ‘material’ if its resolution could affect the
outcome of the action.” Poole v. City of Shreveport, 691 F.3d 624, 627 (5th Cir. 2012).
The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of “informing the district
court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes
demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317,
323 (1986). “[T]he moving party may [also] meet its burden by simply pointing to an absence of
evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Boudreaux v. Swift Transp. Co., 402 F.3d 536, 544
(5th Cir. 2005). The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to establish the existence of a
genuine issue for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585–87
(1986); Wise v. E.I. Dupont de Nemours & Co., 58 F.3d 193, 195 (5th Cir. 1995). After the non-movant
has been given the opportunity to raise a genuine factual issue, if no reasonable juror could find for
the non-movant, summary judgment will be granted. Miss. River Basin Alliance v. Westphal, 230 F.3d
170, 175 (5th Cir. 2000). The court will view the summary judgment evidence in the light most
favorable to the non-movant. Rosado v. Deters, 5 F.3d 119, 123 (5th Cir. 1993).
ADA & TCHRA Accommodation Claims
The ADA prohibits covered entities from discriminating against qualified individuals on the
basis of disability. 42 U.S.C. § 12112. Discrimination includes the failure to make reasonable
accommodations for disabled persons. Id. § 12112(b)(5)(A). The TCHRA similarly prohibits
discrimination on the basis of disability. Tex. Lab. Code § 21.051(1). Plaintiff alleges that the District
violated these statutes by failing to make reasonable accommodations for her disabilities.
To prevail on an ADA failure-to-accommodate claim, a plaintiff must establish that: (1) she
is a qualified individual with a disability; (2) the disability and its consequential limitations were
known by the employer; and (3) the employer failed to make reasonable accommodations for the
plaintiff’s limitations. Feist v. La. Dep’t of Justice, 730 F.3d 450, 452 (5th Cir. 2013). Courts interpret
the requirements of the TCHRA similarly. Rodriguez v. ConAgra Grocery Prods. Co., 436 F.3d 468,
473–74 (5th Cir. 2006). Accordingly, the Court’s analysis concerning the ADA in the following
sections is equally dispositive of Plaintiff’s TCHRA claims. See id.
The District argues that Plaintiff cannot establish her failure-to-accommodate claim because
she has not shown that she is disabled under the ADA. Defendant also argues that the District
provided all requested accommodations, which demonstrates that there is no dispute over whether
reasonable accommodations had been provided. Plaintiff responds that she has demonstrated her
disability, alleging that her diabetes, plantar fasciitis, and vertigo were known to the District. Further,
Plaintiff argues that the District failed to engage in good faith in an interactive process to
accommodate Plaintiff’s disability, pointing to a delay between her request for accommodations and
the District’s formal notice that the accommodations had been approved. As the Court finds the
provision of accommodations is dispositive here, Plaintiff’s disability will be assumed.
The Court disagrees with Plaintiff that the delay in formally approving her accommodations
creates a fact issue sufficient to avoid summary judgment. Plaintiff does not seriously dispute that
she received accommodations for her ailments at all times relevant to this controversy. Her
arguments concerning the delay of formal approval create—at most—a fact issue as to whether the
District engaged in the interactive process in good faith. However, the ADA creates a cause of
action for failure to accommodate, not for failure to engage in an interactive process alone. The
Seventh Circuit has put the issue succinctly:
While the EEOC regulations accompanying the ADA do suggest that “it may be
necessary for the [employer] to initiate an informal interactive process with the
[employee]” to determine an appropriate accommodation, 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(o)(3)
(emphasis added), there is no separate cause of action for a failure of that interactive
process. In this area of the law, we are primarily concerned with the ends, not the
means: “Because the interactive process is not an end in itself, it is not sufficient for
[an employee] to show that [an employer] failed to engage in an interactive process
or that it caused the interactive process to break down.”
Bunn v. Khoury Enters., Inc., 753 F.3d 676, 683 (7th Cir. 2014) (quoting Rehling v. City of Chicago, 207
F.3d 1009, 1015–16 (7th Cir. 2000)).
Though not stated directly, Fifth Circuit precedent likewise shows that an employer’s failure
to engage in the interactive process creates liability when such failure prevents reasonable
accommodations. See Griffin v. UPS, Inc., 661 F.3d 216, 224 (5th Cir. 2011) (“[W]hen an employer’s
unwillingness to engage in a good faith interactive process leads to a failure to reasonably accommodate an
employee, the employer violates the ADA.”) (emphasis added). That is simply not the case here. From
the time of Plaintiff’s first request to the time of formal approval, the record evidence shows that
Plaintiff was repeatedly assured that she could take advantage of all accommodations she had
requested. Accordingly, no failure-to-accommodate claim lies under the ADA or TCHRA.
A contrary reading of governing precedent would not change this Court’s conclusion. “An
employer cannot be found to have violated the ADA when responsibility for the breakdown of the
‘informal, interactive process’ is traceable to the employee and not the employer.” Id. (quoting
Loulseged v. Akzo Nobel Inc., 178 F.3d 731, 736 (5th Cir. 1999)). The record shows that—
notwithstanding the District’s constant provision of accommodations—the delay in formal approval
was due in large part to Plaintiff’s failure to provide appropriate documentation for her disability.
“An employee who needs an accommodation because of a disability has the responsibility of
informing her employer.” EEOC v. Chevron Phillips Chem. Co., 570 F.3d 606, 621 (5th Cir. 2009). The
Fifth Circuit has recognized that “where the disability, resulting limitations, and necessary reasonable
accommodations, are not open, obvious, and apparent to the employer, the initial burden rests
primarily upon the employee . . . to specifically identify the disability and resulting limitations, and to
suggest the reasonable accommodations.” Taylor v. Principal Fin. Grp., 93 F.3d 155, 165 (5th Cir.
1996). Further, the interactive process serves to identify the disability and “the precise job-related
limitations” posed by that disability. 29 C.F.R. § Pt. 1630, App.
Plaintiff has testified that her medical conditions have not impaired her major life functions
during any relevant time, with the exception of a short period of dizziness. (Eubank Dep., Dkt. 4424, at 6–7). Additionally, the physician’s note plaintiff offered to the District only vaguely references
“medical conditions” and a few requested accommodations. (Physician’s Note, Dkt. 44-3, at 27). In
this situation—where Plaintiff’s limitations are not readily apparent and the documentation provides
little elaboration—the District could reasonably request further documentation as part of the
interactive process to identify Plaintiff’s limitations and appropriate accommodations. See Griffin, 661
F.3d at 225 (finding that no reasonable juror could find the employer had not engaged in the
interactive process in good faith though employer had asked for further documentation to establish
employee’s disability). Plaintiff does not demonstrate that the delay in formal approval was due to
any factor other than her failure to provide the additional documentation. Instead, she points out
that she had used the same note in prior years without any problem. (Pl.’s Resp., Dkt. 64, at 14).
Plaintiff has not provided any authority to show that the District’s prior acceptance of vague
documentation requires it to do so in perpetuity.
As the undisputed evidence shows that Plaintiff received her requested accommodations at
all times relevant to this dispute, Plaintiff’s ADA and TCHRA failure-to-accommodate claims fail as
a matter of law. Even if Plaintiff could establish that a delay in formal approval of accommodations
that were already informally provided is a violation of the ADA, she has provided no evidence to
show that she did not cause the delay. Accordingly, the District is entitled to summary judgment on
ADA & TCHRA Discriminations Claims
To make a prima facie case of disability discrimination under the ADA and TCHRA, a
plaintiff must show: (1) she suffered from a disability; (2) she was qualified for the job; (3) she was
subject to an adverse employment action; and (4) she was either replaced by a non-disabled
employee or treated less favorably than non-disabled employees. Milton v. Tex. Dep’t of Criminal Justice,
707 F.3d 570, 573 (5th Cir. 2016). If the plaintiff makes such a showing, the burden shifts to the
employer to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action.
Delaval v. Ptech Drilling Tubulars, L.L.C., 824 F.3d 476, 479 (5th Cir. 2016). If the employer provides
such reasons, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to establish that the reasons are a pretext for
discrimination. Id. The plaintiff must rebut each reason offered by the employer. Laxton v. Gap Inc.,
333 F.3d 572, 578 (5th Cir. 2003).
Though Defendant argues that Plaintiff has not established a prima facie case, the Court will
assume that such a showing has been made for the purposes of this analysis. Defendant has offered
seven non-discriminatory reasons for Plaintiff’s termination. These are: (1) unprofessional and
insubordinate communication; (2) inefficiency, incompetency, inability or unwillingness to perform
assigned duties; (3) an inappropriate lesson with students in which she asked them to disclose
whether they believe in God; (4) disclosing a student’s private educational information and using the
student’s disciplinary situation for a classroom discussion; (5) failure to follow policy in reporting
absences and tardiness; (6) refusal to comply with policies, orders, instructions, regulations, and/or
directives; and (7) failing to meet acceptable standards of conduct for employees. These reasons
were substantiated by the independent hearing examiner and adopted by the Board in voting to
terminate Plaintiff’s contract.
In order for Plaintiff’s claims to move forward in light of the above reasons, Plaintiff must
show that each reason is a pretext for discrimination. Delaval, 824 F.3d at 479. Plaintiff correctly
points out that there are a number of ways to establish pretext. (Pl.’s Resp., Dkt. 64, at 20).
However, as discussed below, the factual record undermines each of the arguments Plaintiff
False, Unworthy of Credence, Disparate Treatment
The Court begins with Plaintiff’s argument that pretext may be shown here because the
District’s stated reasons for her termination were false or unworthy of credence. Laxton, 333 F.3d at
578. Plaintiff does not dispute that she committed the underlying conduct giving rise to the
District’s reasons for termination. Rather, she downplays the significance of the conduct or suggests
that others were not fired for similar infractions. (Pl.’s Resp., Dkt. 65, at 26–28).
First, concerning her unprofessional and insubordinate communications, she points out that
she was the only employee ever fired on that basis despite complaints that Assistant Superintendent
Larry Ramirez engaged in similar behavior. However, no evidence in the record establishes that she
and Ramirez were similarly situated in any respect. Plaintiff points to the deposition of
Superintendent Rolando Treviño, wherein he acknowledged that Ramirez had been investigated
following complaints that Ramirez was abrasive with District staff. (Treviño Dep., Dkt. 64-2, at 35).
Treviño testified that he could not recall the outcome of the investigation as he did not participate in
it, but that he did not believe any discipline was imposed. (Id.). This evidence does not show that the
behavior Ramirez had been accused of was in any way similar to Plaintiff’s, nor does it show that the
accusations had even been substantiated. Further, Ramirez and Plaintiff had substantially different
positions, job responsibilities, and supervisors. Thus, the District’s response to Ramirez’s conduct is
not probative of discrimination in Plaintiff’s case. See Bryant v. Compass Grp. USA Inc., 413 F.3d 471,
478 (5th Cir. 2005); Cardiel v. Apache Corp., 559 Fed. App’x 284, 288 (5th Cir. 2014).
As to the District’s second reason—concerning Plaintiff’s errors on the Student Residency
Questionnaires—Plaintiff argues that a jury could disbelieve the reason because no one else had ever
been fired for that reason and because the errors were resolved the same day they had been
discovered. (Pl.’s Resp., Dkt. 64, at 26). Plaintiff points to no evidence showing that anyone else has
made the same errors, so the fact that no one else has been fired for doing so has no probative
force. Plaintiff’s argument that the errors were quickly remedied “centers on her subjective
estimation of the practical significance of her [violation] . . . [and] is unavailing . . . .” Boyd v.
Corrections Corp. of Am., 616 Fed. App’x 717, 721 (5th Cir. 2015). “Employment discrimination laws
are ‘not intended to be a vehicle for judicial second-guessing of business decisions, nor . . . to
transform courts into personnel managers.’” Bryant, 413 F.3d at 478 (quoting Bienkowski v. Am.
Airlines, Inc., 851 F.2d 1503, 1507–08 (5th Cir. 1988)).
The District’s third reason for terminating Plaintiff’s employment is the lesson in which she
asked students to disclose in writing whether they believed in God. Plaintiff first argues that a jury
could believe the reason is pretextual because it happened only once in the first week and was not
repeated. (Pl.’s Resp., Dkt. 64, at 26). This argument again centers on Plaintiff’s subjective view of
her own violation and does not suffice to establish pretext. See Boyd, 616 Fed. App’x at 721.
Plaintiff’s next argues is that a jury could disbelieve the reason because faculty members lead the
school each day in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, which includes the words “under God.” There
is, however, little similarity between Plaintiff’s actions and the “ceremonial deism” of the Pledge,
which the state may not in any case compel students to recite. See Croft v. Perry, 604 F. Supp. 2d 932,
937, 941 (N.D. Tex. 2009); W. Va. State Bd. of Educ. v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943).
The fourth reason for Plaintiff’s termination is her use of a student’s “private educational
information” and disciplinary situation in a class discussion. Plaintiff asserts that this reason is “silly”
because she did what “any good teacher” would do. (Pl.’s Resp., Dkt. 64, at 27). Plaintiff’s evidence
of what “any good teacher” would do is the affidavit of Gayle Champion, a teacher at Bluebonnet
Elementary. Champion states that she has “often used a student’s discipline as a chance to teach
students about consequences” and that she knows of other teachers who have done the same
without being disciplined for it. (Champion Aff., Dkt. 64-3, at 42). This evidence is exceedingly
vague and fails to establish that either Champion or the other unnamed teachers are similarly
situated to Plaintiff. Moreover, notwithstanding Plaintiff’s position in litigation, the record
demonstrates that Plaintiff did not believe she had acted appropriately at the time of the violation.
(Resp. to Oct. 14 Mem., Dkt. 43-5, at 69 (“The students had questions and yes I agree may be [sic] I
should not have addressed their questions in reference to behavior and consequences when the
opportunity presented itself.”); Answer to Nov. 3 Mem., Dkt. 43-7, at 38 (noting that she
apologized to the teacher, student, class, and student’s parent following the incident)).
The fifth given reason is Plaintiff’s failure to follow policy concerning absences and
tardiness. Plaintiff argues that a jury could disbelieve this reason because it refers to a single incident
and employees cannot be terminated for a single violation of this policy. (Pl.’s Resp., Dkt. 64, at 27).
However, the record contradicts the assertion that there was only a single incident at issue. The
District disclosed in discovery that Plaintiff had been late “on a number of occasions” and was
“frequently absent.” (Resp. to Interrog., Dkt. 64-3, at 29). Plaintiff also acknowledged being late on
more than one occasion. (Oct. 19 Resp. to Directives, Dkt. 43-6, at 4 (“I have only been late about 2
times . . . .”); Answer to Nov. 3 Mem., Dkt. 43-7, at 39 (“I am at work at about 7:15 am every day
except for 2 occasions . . . .”)). Thus, the District’s typical response to a single violation is irrelevant
and does not demonstrate pretext.
The sixth reason—failure to comply with policies, instructions, or directives—encompasses
several violations. The first is Plaintiff’s late submission of a newsletter column. Plaintiff argues that
this occurred only once. Again, however, this argument goes to her subjective assessment of the
violation’s significance and does not establish pretext. See Boyd, 616 Fed. App’x at 721. The second is
Plaintiff’s failure to set up small group counseling. Plaintiff argues that a jury could disbelieve this
reason because Plaintiff had attempted to set up the services. (Pl.’s Resp., Dkt. 64, at 28). The only
evidence Plaintiff provides as support is a reference to her column in the school newsletter stating
that she was working with a counseling center to serve students in small groups. (Hr’g Tr., Dkt. 643, at 9). This conclusory assertion is not probative of any actual attempt Plaintiff may have made to
comply with her obligations. See Lechuga v. S. Pac. Transp. Co., 949 F.2d 790, 798. (“Conclusory
statements in an affidavit do not provide facts that will counter summary judgment evidence . . . .”).
The third violation is Plaintiff’s refusal to sign a memorandum as directed. Plaintiff does not dispute
the underlying conduct, but points out that Sotelo decided not to write her up for it at the time of
the violation. Plaintiff does not explain why that decision insulates her conduct from legitimate
consideration when evaluating her record of non-compliance with supervisors’ directives.
The seventh and final reason is Plaintiff’s failure to meet acceptable standards of conduct.
According to Plaintiff, this reason concerns the errors she made on the Student Residency
Questionnaires. The analysis above adequately addresses this reason.
As to each of the above violations, Plaintiff has not made the showing necessary to establish
that the District’s reasons for terminating her employment were false or unworthy of credence. She
has similarly failed to show that similarly situated employees were treated more favorably as to any
of the above reasons. Accordingly, Plaintiffs arguments on these grounds fall short of establishing
that the District’s reasons were pretextual.
Plaintiff next argues that pretext may be inferred because the District’s reasons for firing her
have shifted and changed over time. See Burrell v. Dr. Pepper/Seven Up Bottling Grp., Inc., 482 F.3d 408,
415 (5th Cir. 2007). Plaintiff’s points out that only six general concerns were discussed in the
October 31, 2014, conference at which Assistant Superintendent Vera informed her he planned to
recommend her termination. (Nov. 3 Mem., Dkt. 64-4, at 27). The official Notice of Proposed
Termination, dated December 16, 2014, included ten reasons. (Notice of Proposed Termination,
Dkt. 64-4, at 30). Following a hearing, an independent hearing examiner sustained seven of the ten
proposed reasons, which formed the basis of the Board’s ultimate decision to terminate Plaintiff’s
contract. (Recommendation of the Independent Hearing Examiner, Dkt. 44-22, at 24).
The Court finds that the record does not support Plaintiff’s arguments regarding
inconsistency. First, it is not at all clear that the “concerns” Vera addressed in his conference with
Plaintiff were intended to be the District’s final and exhaustive list of reasons for Plaintiff’s
termination. Second, the official Notice provided in December listed several broad, overlapping
categories of violations. As Plaintiff recognizes, the same conduct could support more than one of
the official reasons for termination. (See Pl.’s Resp., Dkt. 64, at 26, 28). For example, Plaintiff’s
errors on the Student Residency Questionnaires fell under the second and seventh reasons—
incompetency and failure to meet acceptable standards of conduct. (See id.). Third, Plaintiff
overlooks that conduct following Vera’s October 31, 2014, conference was used to substantiate the
reasons offered in the December 16 Notice. (See, e.g., Recommendation of the Independent Hearing
Examiner, Dkt. 44-22, at 28).
Finally, while the hearing examiner sustained only seven of the ten grounds proposed by the
District, the examiner still found some evidence supporting the other three. One of these reasons
was Plaintiff’s failure to put forth a reasonable effort to achieve a rapport with students, parents, the
community, other staff, and the Board. (Id. at 31). The examiner concluded that Plaintiff had not
failed to establish a rapport, except as to Sotelo, Vera, and perhaps others. (Id.). Another reason was
Eubank’s conscious misrepresentations to other staff concerning District affairs. The examiner
concluded that Plaintiff “may have engaged in making conscious misrepresentations.” (Id.) The
failure of proof was not in showing the representations were false, but rather demonstrating
Plaintiff’s awareness of their falsity. (See id.). The final reason not fully substantiated was “any other
grounds constituting good cause for termination.” (Id.). As to this ground, the hearing examiner
merely noted that certain of Plaintiff’s acts could fall within multiple grounds provided for dismissal,
and that the examiner’s failure to discuss it in one category should not be interpreted to exclude it
from any other. (Id.). Accordingly, the record is clear that the refinement to seven reasons does not
represent “shifting justifications,” but rather the intervention of a deliberative process imposing a
burden of proof that does not apply here. See Little v. Republic Ref. Co., Ltd., 924 F.2d 93, 97 (5th Cir.
1991) (“We do not try in court the validity of good faith beliefs as to an employee’s competence.”). 4
Plaintiff also argues that the District has adopted inconsistent stances with respect to
whether any one of the seven justifications would have sufficed for Plaintiff’s termination.
According to Plaintiff, the District previously maintained that Plaintiff’s termination was based on
the “totality of the evidence” and Treviño testified that no single reason was sufficient to justify her
termination. (See Pl.’s Resp., Dkt. 64, at 24). She asserts that the District’s reference to “seven
different legitimate, non-retaliatory reasons” constitutes a shift in the District’s justifications giving
rise to an inference of pretext. (See id.). Contrary to Plaintiff’s assertion, however, Treviño did not
testify that no single reason could support Plaintiff’s termination; he testified that his own decision
to propose her termination was based on all of the given reasons, not just one. (Treviño Dep., Dkt.
64-2, at 34). Moreover, the District’s argument that plaintiff must rebut each of the District’s
legitimate, non-discriminatory reason merely states Plaintiff’s legal burden. See Delaval, 824 F.3d at
479. It does not demonstrate a change in position that gives rise to an inference of pretext.
The summary judgment evidence indicates that the District’s stated justifications have at all
times concerned the same conduct by Plaintiff. Plaintiff has not shown that these justifications have
changed in any meaningful way as the course of events progressed toward Plaintiff’s termination or
thereafter. Accordingly, this argument provides no basis from which to infer pretext.
Linking Adverse Action to Protected Activity
Plaintiff argues that a jury could find the District’s reasons to be pretextual because the
District “has repeatedly connected [Plaintiff’s] complaints of discrimination and retaliation to her
The District bears the burden of proof in hearings before a hearing examiner under the Texas
Education Code. Tex. Educ. Code § 21.256(h). Here, however, Plaintiff bears the burden of
persuasion at all times. St. Mary’s Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 507 (1993); Wilson v. Exxon Mobil
Corp., 575 Fed. App’x 309, 313 (5th Cir. 2014).
proposed and ultimate termination.” (Pl.’s Resp., Dkt. 64, at 21). Again, however, the record does
not permit such an inference.
Plaintiff asserts that the District disclosed in discovery that several of Plaintiff’s complaints
concerning her ADA accommodations motivated her termination. (See Pet’r’s Resp., Dkt. 64-3, at
140). Plaintiff fails to mention that this list was responsive to Plaintiff’s request for examples of her
“‘conscious misrepresentations’ of facts to school officials.” (See id.). Conscious misrepresentations,
even when concerning ADA accommodations, can furnish a legitimate basis for adverse
employment action. See Wilson v. Univ. of Tex. Health Ctr., 973 F.2d 1263, 1267–68 (5th Cir. 1992);
Plumlee v. City of Kennedale, 795 F. Supp. 2d 556, 564 (N.D. Tex. 2011) (“Plaintiff is not immune from
adverse action for misconduct merely because defendant learned of the misconduct during its
investigation of plaintiff’s race-discrimination complaint. Nor was defendant required to disregard
what it believed to be evidence of plaintiff’s misconduct because of the circumstances under which
that evidence came to light.”).
The Court also notes that Plaintiff’s misrepresentations were not considerations in the
Board’s ultimate decision to terminate her contract. The hearing examiner found insufficient
evidence to show that Plaintiff was consciously aware of the falsity of her statements, but
nonetheless found that the remaining substantiated misconduct provided sufficient basis for
Plaintiff’s termination. (Recommendation of the Independent Hearing Examiner, Dkt. 44-22, at 24–
36). As the parties have acknowledged, it was the hearing examiner’s findings, not the accusations of
Sotelo or Treviño, that the Board adopted as the basis for Plaintiff’s termination.
As an employee’s conscious misrepresentations furnish a legitimate basis for termination,
and because Plaintiff’s misrepresentations in any case were not factors in her ultimate termination,
the Court finds that Plaintiff’s argument on this ground fails to show pretext.
Plaintiff’s final argument is that the temporal proximity between Plaintiff’s complaints and
the District’s adverse employment actions gives rise to an inference of pretext. (Pl.’s Resp. at 24).
Plaintiff asserts that pretext “can also be shown with temporal proximity alone.” (Id.). This is
curious, as the case Plaintiff cites for this proposition states just the opposite. Ameristar Airways, Inc.
v. Admin. Review Bd., U.S. Dep’t of Labor, 650 F.3d 562, 569 n.21 (5th Cir. 2011) (“[T]emporal
proximity standing alone is not enough to sustain the plaintiff’s ultimate burden.”). The Court
seriously doubts the probative value of temporal proximity in this case given the frequency and
timing of Plaintiff’s undisputed misconduct. However, the Plaintiff has put forward no other
colorable argument to show pretext and “temporal proximity standing alone is insufficient to
establish an issue of fact as to pretext after an employer has provided a non-retaliatory reason.”
Aryain v. Wal-Mart Stores Texas LP, 534 F.3d 473, 487 (5th Cir. 2008). Accordingly, the Court need
not address this issue.
In sum, Plaintiff has not demonstrated that the District’s legitimate, nondiscriminatory
reasons for terminating Plaintiff’s employment were pretextual. Accordingly, the District is entitled
to summary judgment as to Plaintiff’s ADA and TCHRA discrimination claims.
ADA & TCHRA Retaliation
A plaintiff establishes a prima facie case of retaliation by showing that (1) she participated in a
protected activity; (2) her employer took an adverse action against her; and (3) there is a causal
connection between the protected activity and the protected actions. Feist, 730 F.3d at 454. As with
discrimination claims, if the employee establishes a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the
employer to offer a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for the action. Id. If the employer makes that
showing, the burden shifts back to the employee to show that the employer’s reason is merely a
pretext for retaliation, which the employee may accomplish by demonstrating that the adverse action
would not have occurred “but for” the employer’s retaliatory motive. Id.
The parties dispute whether Plaintiff’s complaints were too disruptive to be considered
protected activity under the ADA. For example, the District points to the hearing examiner’s
conclusion that Plaintiff demonstrated a lack of ability to write a grievance in a “professional,
rational, productive, and forthright manner.” (Recommendation of the Independent Hearing
Examiner, Dkt. 44-22, at 33). The examiner further found that certain of Plaintiff’s communications
were “unprofessional, disrespectful, and inappropriately harsh in word in tone.” (Id. at 28).
According to the examiner, “[t]he credible evidence shows that [Plaintiff] threw up a shield of
grievances, complaints about her accommodations, and mean-spirited missives every time she
received corrective action.” (Id. at 33). Characterizing Plaintiff’s communications as “bullying and
personal attacks,” the examiner concluded that, “given the desperation evident in [Plaintiff’s]
writings when her performance deficiencies were exposed,” the working relationship between
Plaintiff and the District “ha[d] irretrievably broken down.” (Id.).
The Court finds the hearing examiner’s conclusions and characterizations well supported by
the summary judgment evidence and accordingly holds serious doubts as to whether Plaintiff’s
complaints fall under the ADA’s protection. See Kaplan v. City of Arlington, 184 F. Supp. 2d 553, 565
(N.D. Tex. 2002) (holding that plaintiff’s opposition to perceived discrimination was not protected
activity where her grievances and rebuttals were consistently hostile and inflammatory and she made
unsupported accusations against her supervisors). It is unnecessary to make that determination,
however. As detailed extensively above, Plaintiff has not shown that the District’s legitimate, nonretaliatory reasons are pretextual. Thus, even if the Court were satisfied that Plaintiff had established
a prima facie case, her retaliation claims would still fail as a matter of law.
First Amendment Retaliation
Plaintiff’s final claim arises under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff alleges that the District violated
her First Amendment rights by retaliating against her for her protected speech.
To establish a First Amendment retaliation claim in the public employment context, the
plaintiff must establish that: (1) an adverse employment action was taken; (2) she spoke on a matter
of public concern; (3) her interest in speaking outweighs the employer’s interest in efficiency; and (4)
the protected speech precipitated the adverse employment action. Gibson v. Kilpatrick, 838 F.3d 476,
481 (5th Cir. 2016).
Plaintiff identifies three communications as protected speech. The first is her October 30,
2014, letter to her colleagues. (Oct. 30 Letter, Dkt. 44-4, at 48). In this letter, Plaintiff states that she
is having difficulty working with Sotelo and that she is under extreme stress. She suggests that others
may be having experiences similar to her own. She then asks her colleagues to help her by providing
presumably positive references to Superintendent Vera ahead of their October 31, 2014, meeting.
(Id.). The second is an email sent December 13, 2014. (Dec. 13 Email, Dkt. 64-4, at 24). In this
message, Plaintiff informs her colleagues of the “important Board Meeting” at which the District
was to propose her termination. (Id.). She details her positive qualifications, outlines her allegations
of “unspeakable acts” committed against her, and requests support at the upcoming meeting. (Id.).
The third is a letter signed by several faculty members expressing that Plaintiff “should not have her
contract terminated.” (Jan. 27 Letter, Dkt. 64-4, at 3).
The District argues that these communications did not involve a matter of public concern.
This is a question of law. Kennedy v. Tangipahoa Parish Library Bd. of Control, 224 F.3d 359, 366 (5th Cir.
2000), abrogated on other grounds as stated in Cuviller v. Taylor, 503 F.3d 397, 401 n.4 (5th Cir. 2007). The
Court determines whether Plaintiff’s communications involved a matter of public concern by
looking at the content, form, and context of her statements. Lane v. Franks, 134 S. Ct. 2369, 2380
(2014) (citing Connick v. Myers, 461 U.S. 138, 147–48 (1983)). These factors weigh against a finding
that Plaintiff spoke on a matter of public concern.
The content of Plaintiff’s communications concerned her dispute with the District and her
proposed termination before the Board. “Speech is not on a matter of public concern if it is made
solely in ‘furtherance of a personal employer-employee dispute.’” Salge v. Edna Indep. Sch. Dist., 411
F.3d 178, 187 (5th Cir. 2005) (citing Kennedy, 224 F.3d at 372). “Typically, an employee speaks in
furtherance of his personal employer-employee dispute when he discusses personnel matters directly
impacting his job or criticizes other employees or supervisors’ job performance.” Id. Plaintiff’s
communications do just that. Her October 30, 2014, letter discusses her “tremendous difficulty”
working with Sotelo, criticizes her supervisors’ “accusations and actions,” and enlists support ahead
of her meeting with Vera. (Dkt. 44-4, at 48). The Court does not agree with Plaintiff that her isolated
supposition that others “may be facing similar circumstances” touches on a matter of public
concern. It still goes to “personnel matters directly impacting [her] job” and is a criticism of her
supervisor’s job performance. Salge, 411 F.3d at 178.
Plaintiff’s December 13, 2014, email to staff also concerns her employment dispute. (Dkt.
64-4, at 24). The purpose of the email was to get others to attend the meeting at which the Board
would vote on her contract termination. Plaintiff asserts in her message that she had always
performed to the best of her ability and received excellent evaluations. However, she continues,
“[s]ome [District] person(s) have relentlessly tried to force [her] to resign” as counselor. (Id.). She
then claims that these persons committed unspeakable acts against her, including having police
escort her on campus—an act of “hostility and harassment”—banning her from campus, and
“detain[ing]” her in the Special Education building. (Id.). All of this concerns her personal dispute
with the District.
Only two sentences could even conceivably be argued to concern anything else. The first
points out that another employee had been fired. This, however, is not tied to any other discussion
in the letter and appears to be offered only to suggest the likely outcome of the Board meeting. The
second is her assertion that the outcome of the meeting will have an impact for other employees.
Again, however, the email discusses no “impact” beyond Plaintiff’s potential termination.
The content of the final communication—the January 27, 2015, letter from faculty—also
exclusively relates to Plaintiff’s employment situation. (Dkt. 64-4, at 3). Not one sentence concerns
anything other than reasons why the District should not terminate Plaintiff’s contract. (See id.).
Accordingly, the content of each of Plaintiff’s communications weighs heavily against finding that
they involved a matter of public concern.
The Court does not agree with Plaintiff that it is enough that her communications impliedly
concerned “Sotelo’s ability to effectively run Bluebonnet Elementary.” (Pl.’s Resp., Dkt. 64, at 30).
First, as noted above, speech that merely criticizes employees or a supervisor’s job performance does
not involve a matter of public concern. Salge, 411 F.3d at 187. Second, the Fifth Circuit recently
rejected a similar argument in Gibson v. Kilpatrick, 838 F.3d 476 (5th Cir. 2016). That case involved a
police chief’s First Amendment retaliation claim asserted against the city’s mayor. Id. at 480. The
Fifth Circuit acknowledged that “one could contend that how the mayor treats the police chief is a
matter of public concern, given the public’s interest in effective city governance.” Id. at 485.
Nonetheless, the court cautioned that, “because ‘at some level of generality almost all speech of state
employees is of public concern,’ we must be careful not to conclude speech is a matter of public
concern merely because it involves public employees.” Id. (quoting Gillum v. City of Kerrville, 3 F.3d
117, 121 (5th Cir. 1993)). Pointing out that the lawsuit involved an employment dispute and that the
police chief had only sought personal relief, the Court held that the content of the police chief’s
speech did not concern a public matter. Id.
Similarly to the police chief in Gibson, Plaintiff alleges a public interest in Sotelo’s treatment
of staff and inability to run the school effectively. However, Plaintiff’s communications concerned
only the “internal grievance” or her employment dispute. See id. Moreover, Plaintiff sought only
personal rectification in the form of favorable personal references or the Board’s decision not to
terminate her contract. The communications do not reveal that Plaintiff was attempting to prevent
Sotelo from engaging in the complained-of conduct in the future or otherwise seek redress that
reached beyond her own situation. See id. (“The suit asks only for personal relief. . . . He chose not to
seek an injunction to prevent the mayor from engaging in such future behavior.”). Following Gibson,
the Court concludes that the content of Plaintiff’s speech did not involve a matter of public concern.
The Court next addresses the form of Plaintiff’s communications. Plaintiff’s initial letter and
subsequent email were private communications, disseminated selectively among District faculty and
staff. See Chavez v. Brownsville Indep. Sch. Dist., 135 Fed. App’x 664, 674 (5th Cir. 2005) (“The form
and context of Chavez’s speech are even more clearly private in nature. The form of this speech was
private as the memorandum was only distributed to BISD employees.”). While not dispositive, the
private nature of these communications nonetheless remains “part of the context . . . to be
considered in determining whether the speech addressed a matter of public concern.” Davis v. West
Cmty. Hosp., 755 F.2d 455, 461 (5th Cir. 1985). This factor thus weighs slightly against finding that
the first two communications involved a matter of public concern. The third communication
appears to have been presented publicly at the School Board meeting. The form of this
communication weighs more toward finding that it concerned a public matter.
Finally, the Court evaluates the context of Plaintiff’s communications. Plaintiff maintains
that her communications involved matters of public concern because they were “made against the
backdrop of public debate about Ms. Sotelo’s ability to . . . effectively run Bluebonnet Elementary.”
(Pl.’s Resp. at 30). As proof, Plaintiff points to a conclusory statement in Gayle Champion’s affidavit
that Plaintiff’s letter “reflected a debate in the community about Bluebonnet Elementary School, Ms.
Sotelo, and Superintendent Treviño,” and vague references to “complaints” against Sotelo. (See
Champion Aff., Dkt. 64-3, at 42); see Lechuga, 949 F.2d at 798 (“Conclusory statements in an affidavit
do not provide facts that will counter summary judgment evidence . . . .”). Plaintiff has also
produced a local newspaper article detailing a Board meeting at which parents raised concerns about
a number of recent staffing changes at the District. (Lockhart Post-Register Article, Dkt. 64-2, at
165–66). One individual mentioned Plaintiff specifically. (Id.).
While Plaintiff’s evidence suggests that there was public interest in the District’s staffing
changes, the Court does not agree that Plaintiff’s communications were made within the context of
this public debate. As discussed above, Plaintiff’s communications concerned only her own
situation, not any broader staffing issues that may have been the subject of discussion at the Board
meeting reported by the local newspaper. Nor did Plaintiff's communications address any
complaints against Sotelo or Treviño other than her own. It is thus clear that the context of
Plaintiff’s communications was her “personal employment dispute” rather than a broader public
debate about the District’s staffing policies. See Gibson, 838 F.3d at 487. This factor weighs against
finding that Plaintiff’s communications involved a matter of public concern.
On balance, the Court finds that Plaintiff’s communications did not involve a matter of
public concern and thus cannot support a First Amendment retaliation claim. The District is
therefore entitled to summary judgment on this claim.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court GRANTS the District’s Motion for Summary
Judgment. (Dkt. 44). The Court further DISMISSES the District’s Motion for Leave to Supplement
and Motion for Continuance as moot. (Dkts. 66, 75).
SIGNED on January 17, 2017.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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