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Robinson v. Bridgeport Public Schools

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

July 15, 2016

PATRICK ROBINSON, Plaintiff,
v.
BRIDGEPORT PUBLIC SCHOOLS, a public school district in Nebraska, CHUCK LAMBERT, in his official capacities, JUSTIN CORMAN, in his official capacities, LINDA NORMAN, in her official capacities, KAY ANDERSON, in her official capacities, SCOTT LINDERS, in his official capacities, JEFF POHL, in his official capacities, CRAIG BARNETTE, in his official capacities, MATTHEW ASCHE, in his official capacities, and DAVID MILLER, in his official capacities, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          RICHARD G. KOPF SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff filed his Complaint (Filing No. 1) in this matter, and this court has given him leave to proceed in forma pauperis. The court now conducts an initial review of his Complaint to determine whether summary dismissal is appropriate under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).

         I. SUMMARY OF COMPLAINT

         Plaintiff, a 47-year-old male, worked for defendant Bridgeport Public Schools (“BPS”) from August 2013 to March 2015 as a curriculum and assessment coordinator. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 6.) Plaintiff alleges that BPS, along with its former and current superintendent, school board members, and high school principal, discriminated and retaliated against him and subjected him to a hostile work environment, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2000e-17.

         Plaintiff claims that in December 2013, two BPS teachers falsely accused him of using an electronic device to initiate inappropriate contact with a minor female student, and BPS failed to follow statutory protocol for reporting such crimes for investigation, which resulted in harassment and a hostile work environment that irreparably damaged Plaintiff’s reputation and resulted in loss of his job. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF pp. 5 & 8.)

         Specifically, Plaintiff asserts that BPS has never given him documentation regarding the accusation, nor did it reveal the identity of Plaintiff’s accusers until his termination hearing. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 8.) In December 2013, when Plaintiff was first accused of wrongdoing, he twice asked school officials for information and was rebuffed. Later that month, Robinson started preparing a complaint of discrimination with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). In January 2014, a BPS teacher told Plaintiff that he had heard about the allegations against Plaintiff from a BPS counselor. Robinson requested that the school superintendent begin an immediate investigation into the counselor’s breach of confidentiality.

         Also in January 2014, Plaintiff told a school board member about the EEOC complaint that Plaintiff had initiated, but not formally filed, after which Plaintiff received a letter from the superintendent stating that the investigation into Plaintiff’s alleged conduct had been concluded. That same month, Plaintiff filed a “testing security violation report” with the superintendent and the Nebraska Department of Education. The superintendent ordered Plaintiff to withdraw the report, which he refused to do. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 9.)

         Plaintiff then asked, and was denied, permission from the superintendent to discuss with the school board the hostile work environment at BPS and how Plaintiff had been treated. Plaintiff then contacted the school board president, who allowed him to meet with the board in executive session. During this meeting, Plaintiff requested that the board investigate how he had been treated and that the board make clear to BPS staff that he had been found not guilty of misconduct. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 10.)

         In February 2014, the superintendent notified Plaintiff that an evaluation of his performance had been completed although Plaintiff had not participated in a performance review. In March 2014, Plaintiff again requested, but was denied, permission to meet with the school board to get an update on Plaintiff’s prior request to investigate. Plaintiff then filed “certification investigation requests” with the Nebraska Department of Education against the school superintendent and principal “for their failure to follow Nebraska statutes pertaining to child abuse reporting and failure to follow various [BPS] school board policies.” (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 11.) In May 2014, Plaintiff submitted a letter to the school board requesting a grievance hearing, but received no response.

         In July 2014, Plaintiff was accused of insubordination when he refused to answer the new BPS lawyers’ and superintendent’s questions without his attorney present. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 11.) On August 5, 2014, Plaintiff filed an EEOC complaint against BPS for discrimination based on age and gender. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 12.) On August 11, 2014, Plaintiff filed an EEOC complaint against the Nebraska State Education Association and the Bridgeport Education Association for denying him union representation in meetings with school administrators in March 2014.

         In August 2014, Plaintiff informed the superintendent of unusually high and suspicious special education test scores. During a teacher’s union meeting on August 28, 2014, Plaintiff (who was not present) was “subjected to vitriolic, hateful comments by several [BPS] teachers.” (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 13.) Plaintiff’s subsequent request that the superintendent perform “harassment investigations” into the teachers who made such comments was ignored. On August 31, 2014, Plaintiff complained to the Nebraska Department of Education about his mistreatment and requested an investigation of the offending personnel at the teacher’s union meeting.

         After a meeting with Plaintiff on September 4, 2014, regarding Plaintiff’s investigation request, the superintendent placed Plaintiff on indefinite administrative leave with pay and barred him from BPS property. Plaintiff was then notified that the superintendent had distributed a memorandum to the BPS “community” instructing them to “refrain from communicating” with Plaintiff and “to secure communications from” Plaintiff, and also threatening to seize social media account information from people who communicated with Plaintiff. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 14.)

         During Plaintiff’s administrative leave, two teachers contacted Plaintiff regarding testing security procedures, as both teachers had been informed that students were aware of state writing subject prompts prior to testing. Plaintiff told the teachers to contact the superintendent and/or the state to inform them of the security breach. On January 31, 2015, Plaintiff contacted the Nebraska Department of Education office himself to inform them of the testing breaches described by the teachers, despite the fact that Plaintiff was on forced administrative leave.

         On February 2, 2015, the superintendent issued to Plaintiff a Notice of Intent to Terminate his employment. Plaintiff was not allowed to personally pick up a copy of his personnel file, but the file was delivered to his home by a sheriff’s deputy on February 18, 2014. The file did not contain any letters of reprimand, counseling statements, or performance improvement plans, according to Plaintiff. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 15.) At Plaintiff’s termination hearing on March 6 and 7, 2015, Plaintiff finally learned the identity of his accusers, and his employment was terminated. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 17.)

         Plaintiff asserts that BPS’s Findings of Fact in support of his termination include Plaintiff’s alleged inappropriate conduct with a minor female student, a charge of which he had been cleared; insubordination, despite the lack of any reprimands during his employment; incompetent performance, for which Plaintiff had never been reprimanded or questioned; improper relationship with a textbook salesperson, which Plaintiff refuted with evidence presented at the hearing; and sending inappropriate emails to a co-worker, an offense that occurred during Plaintiff’s prior contract year.

         The right-to-sue notice attached to Plaintiff’s Complaint reflects that Plaintiff filed suit in this court within 90 days of his receipt of the right-to-sue notice from the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1) (a charging party has 90 days from the receipt of the right-to-sue notice to file a civil complaint based on a charge of discrimination).

         Plaintiff asserts claims under Title VII for discrimination, retaliation, and a hostile work environment. ...


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