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Olmsted v. Saint Paul Public Schools

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

August 1, 2016

Timothy Olmsted Plaintiff- Appellant
v.
Saint Paul Public Schools Defendant-Appellee

          Submitted: February 10, 2016

         Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Minnesota - Minneapolis

          Before SMITH and COLLOTON, Circuit Judges, and ERICKSON, [1] District Judge.

          SMITH, Circuit Judge.

         Timothy Olmsted, a former tenured teacher with the Saint Paul Public School District ("District"), resigned from his teaching position with the District after several student-related complaints were made against him. The District accepted Olmsted's resignation. Later, Olmsted attempted to unilaterally rescind his resignation and resume his teaching role, but the District refused to reinstate him. Olmsted sued the District for, among other things, breach of his employment contract. The District moved for summary judgment, and the district court[2] granted summary judgment in favor of the District. Olmsted appeals the district court's decision, arguing that his resignation could be rescinded because when he resigned he (1) was under duress and (2) relied on material misrepresentations from the District. We affirm.

         I. Background

         Olmsted worked for the District as a teacher from 1995 until his resignation in 2012. During the 2011 school year, families of several students alleged that Olmsted racially discriminated against certain students and exhibited other inappropriate conduct toward students. The District investigated the allegations, and on January 12, 2012, the District placed Olmsted on paid administrative leave "pending further investigation of allegations of serious misconduct." The District notified Olmsted that he could contact his union representatives and provided him with the union representatives' contact information. Some students filed a federal lawsuit against the District. See J.W. v. St. Paul Pub. Sch. Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 625, 12-cv-01369 (D. Minn.).[3]

         While the District investigated, Olmsted asked Margaret Luger-Nikoli ("Luger"), a union attorney with Education Minnesota, to represent him against the District. Olmsted understood that Luger would correspond with the District on his behalf. When Luger began representing Olmsted, she contacted the District's counsel, Jeff Lalla, with whom she had a good working relationship, and said, "if this is going to a higher level, basically, if this is going to become a termination case, can you please tell me [when] that happens."

         Luger testified that on March 8, 2012, Lalla called and informed her that the District "would propose termination at a school board meeting." Luger asked Lalla for the basis of the District's termination decision, and Lalla replied that the investigation had uncovered additional issues. When pressed by Luger for specifics, Lalla provided her with examples from the District's written report, but Lalla did not specify any particular charges to be brought against Olmsted. At that point, Lalla told Luger that he had not begun drafting formal charges against Olmsted, and he suggested that if Olmsted resigned, the District would not issue a report of the findings of the investigation to the Board of Teaching. Luger asked that Lalla delay drafting formal charges until she had an opportunity to discuss the situation with Olmsted.

         Luger relayed the information that she had received from Lalla to Olmsted. Luger discussed Olmsted's potential alternative responses despite not knowing what charges the District planned to pursue formally. Luger advised Olmsted that he could (1) acquiesce in the termination, (2) negotiate a separation, or (3) go to a hearing. Olmsted only "vaguely" remembers Luger informing him of these options. Olmsted testified that he did not consider these options to be real choices; instead, he felt like the District was placing a "gun to [his] head" forcing him to resign. Olmsted discounted the seriousness of the allegations and characterized them as "ridiculous." He also remembers Luger informing him that he had a statutory right to a hearing if the District brought termination charges.

         On March 11, 2012, prior to the District taking any action, Olmsted e-mailed Luger a draft resignation letter. In the e-mail, Olmsted requested that in exchange for his resignation, he receive his sick days, a clean file, a letter of recommendation, and an opportunity to continue to teach driver's education. Within five minutes, Luger responded: "Tim, Let's talk tomorrow. Do not turn this in to anyone until we have a chance to discuss it." When Luger spoke with Olmsted by phone, he reiterated that he would like to receive his sick days and continue to teach driver's education in exchange for his resignation.

         Luger then negotiated with Lalla on Olmsted's behalf. The District agreed to permit Olmsted to exhaust his accumulated sick days if he was demonstrably ill, but it would not allow him to continue to teach driver's education. Luger conveyed the District's response to Olmsted. Based on the District's counteroffer, Olmsted agreed to go on sick leave and resign at the end of his banked sick leave, which ran through October 2012.

         On March 16, 2012, Olmsted submitted his notice of resignation to the District, effective as of October 8, 2012. The District's school board accepted and approved Olmsted's offer of resignation. The District never filed termination charges nor took any disciplinary action against Olmsted. Almost three months after his resignation, on June 12, 2012, Olmsted wrote the District to rescind his resignation. In the purported rescission letter, Olmsted declared that he is currently employed as a driver's education teacher and requested to resume his duties in that position. The District responded by letter, dated June 18, 2012, declining to accept Olmsted's resignation withdrawal or to grant his request to resume teaching driver's education.

         Olmsted sued the District for, among other things, breach of his employment contract. The District moved for summary judgment, and the district court granted summary judgment in the District's favor. The district court determined that Olmsted's breach-of-contract claim hinged on the validity of his resignation. The district court ...


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