Henderson v. Walled Lake Consol. Schools

Decision Date16 November 2006
Docket NumberNo. 05-1814.,05-1814.
Citation469 F.3d 479
PartiesTeresa Anne HENDERSON, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. WALLED LAKE CONSOLIDATED SCHOOLS, a Michigan School District, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

M. Michael Koroi, Plymouth, Michigan, for Appellant. Neil H. Goodman, Clark Hill PLC, Birmingham Michigan, for Appellees.

ON BRIEF:

M. Michael Koroi, Plymouth, Michigan, for Appellant. Neil H. Goodman, Clark Hill PLC, Birmingham, Michigan, for Appellees.

Before BATCHELDER and McKEAGUE, Circuit Judges; ACKERMAN, Senior District Judge.*

OPINION

McKEAGUE, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff-appellant Teresa Anne Henderson brings suit alleging she was subjected to sexual harassment by her high school soccer coach. She asserts various claims under state and federal law, alleging the coach, the school district and several school administration officials are liable for sexual harassment, civil rights violations, gross negligence and slander. The defendants' motion for summary judgment was granted by the district court because plaintiff had failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact on any of her claims. On appeal, we affirm.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

In January 2002, Russell Todd Crawford, then 29 years old, applied for the position of head coach of the girls varsity soccer team at Walled Lake Western High School in Oakland County, Michigan. After he was interviewed and references were contacted and a criminal background investigation was completed, Crawford was hired and commenced coaching in February 2002.1 From the outset, he made it clear to team members and their parents that he was in charge, advising parents that any complaining about coaching decisions would result in reduction of their daughter's playing time. Plaintiff Teresa Anne Henderson ("Teresa"), who had been the team captain the year before, was told by Crawford that she would not be the captain during the 2002 season because she had an attitude. His "take charge" demeanor included the use of obscenities, as he often addressed his own players in demeaning and vulgar terms.

Crawford's inappropriate conduct took other forms as well. He would engage players in flirtatious conversations and make sexually suggestive remarks. He would often invite players to his home for "team meetings" and was known to communicate with them by telephone and email at unusual hours. He began to express special interest in one player in particular, Jill Byrd, and even communicated his desire for her to Teresa. Teresa discouraged Crawford from pursuing a relationship with Jill, but he ignored the advice and then threatened the entire team with "consequences" if anyone disclosed his relationship with Jill. Based on her discussions with Jill, Teresa understood that Jill was uncomfortable with Crawford's special attention and that Jill viewed his advances, which came to include fondling, hugging and kissing, as unwelcome and offensive.

In early to mid-April 2002, Jill's parents became concerned about late evening communications between Crawford and their daughter. They reported their concerns to Assistant Principal Kevin Clarke. Clarke convened a meeting the next day, attended by himself, Crawford, Principal Lawrence Barlow, and Athletic Director David Yarbrough. Crawford was somber and attentive at the meeting, which lasted 30 to 45 minutes. He admitted that he had occasionally made phone calls and sent e-mail messages to team members at odd hours. He acknowledged that he had stayed late after practice on one occasion talking with Jill in the school parking lot. Remarking that he had a Masters Degree in psychology, Crawford acknowledged that when players confided in him, he sometimes engaged them in counseling-type discussions.

As a result of the meeting, a five-point memorandum was issued to Crawford. Although no copy of the memo has been made a part of the record, its substantive contents are not in dispute.2 Crawford was prohibited from: (1) communicating with team members between the hours of 9:30 p.m. and 7:00 a.m.; (2) sending e-mail messages to team members without also sending a copy to Clarke; (3) counseling team members regarding personal matters; (4) conducting activities with team members off-campus unless a parent was present; and (5) engaging in a relationship with a team member that might be construed as inappropriate. In addition to the memo, Clarke took other measures. He had Jill Byrd's parents notified of the contents of the memo; he occasionally attended soccer practices and regularly attended the team's games; and he regularly spoke with players about "how things were going." As it turned out, these measures were ineffectual.

Within two to three weeks after the memo issued, several noteworthy incidents occurred, only some of which are relevant to assessment of plaintiff's claims. On April 15, after a soccer match, Teresa reportedly went home and took an overdose of pain medication (approximately 11 tablets of ibuprofen and vicodin), in reaction to Crawford's persistent offensive and intimidating conduct.3 At another game, a freshman member of the team, Shannon Steffen, approached Teresa and told her, in an emotionally distressed state, that Crawford had just asked her to feel his genitals. Teresa also witnessed Crawford treat other players in a physically abusive and intimidating manner. On one occasion, on or about April 29, Henderson was asked to serve as "look-out" on the team bus as Crawford huddled with Jill Byrd under a blanket. On exiting the bus, Jill seemed shocked and upset and told Teresa that Crawford had kissed her, fondled her breasts and placed his hand in her pants.

On or about May 2, Jill informed Teresa that she had broken-off the relationship with Crawford and told him she was acting at least partly on Teresa's recommendation. She said Crawford was furious and threatened to hurt Teresa; that he said he would break her nose and "take out her knees" so she would never play soccer again. Crawford told Jill that Teresa and teammate Liz Krall had urged her to break-off the relationship only because they "wanted him in a sexual way." Within an hour, Teresa received a call from Crawford, who angrily confronted her about having interfered with his relationship with Jill. He told Teresa he would not coach the team in the next game unless she "fixed things up" between him and Jill. An hour and a half later, he confronted Teresa again face to face on the practice field. When she told Crawford she was quitting the team, he said he would hunt her down and fix it so she would never play soccer again. Teresa went home distraught and told her parents Crawford had threatened her. She did not play in the team's match on Friday, May 3.

On Sunday, May 5, a soccer team parents' meeting was held in one family's home to discuss Coach Crawford. During the meeting, a call was received reporting that Crawford had a gun to his head and was threatening to pull the trigger. The police were called. City of Novi police officers responded and found Crawford at his home. They found him to be cooperative; they recovered an automatic pistol from his residence; and believing that he might be depressed and suicidal, they transported him to a local hospital for evaluation.

In the meantime, on May 4, Crawford had communicated his resignation to Clarke by e-mail. He was officially terminated by letter from Clarke on Monday, May 6, 2002, and advised that he was prohibited from entering onto high school property. Teresa transferred to a different high school for her senior year.

Plaintiff Teresa Henderson commenced this action in the Eastern District of Michigan on July 24, 2003. Named as defendants are Walled Lake Consolidated Schools, Walled Lake Western High School, Russell Todd Crawford, Principal Lawrence Barlow, Assistant Principal Kevin Clarke, Athletic Director David Yarbrough, and School District Superintendent James Geisler. Plaintiff's amended complaint contains 10 counts, including claims for sexual harassment and sex discrimination, in violation of Michigan's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, M.C.L. §§ 37.2101 et seq., and Title IX, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681 et seq.; civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging denial of due process and equal protection; tort claims for assault, gross negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress and slander; and claims for violations of plaintiff's rights under Michigan's Constitution.

All defendants but Crawford moved for summary judgment after the close of discovery.4 The motion was granted in its entirety on August 23, 2004. In a 29-page opinion, the district court thoroughly analyzed plaintiff's claims against the moving defendants and explained why it found them wanting. The district court denied plaintiff's motion to alter or amend its judgment on November 10, 2004. The district court dismissed the outstanding claims against Crawford without prejudice on May 10, 2005, and plaintiff timely filed notice of appeal. Plaintiff-appellant Henderson challenges the district court's ruling on most but not all of her claims. She insists the record presents genuine issues of material fact that warrant a trial.

II. ANALYSIS
A. Standard of Review

The court of appeals reviews de novo an order granting summary judgment. Johnson v. Karnes, 398 F.3d 868, 873 (6th Cir.2005). Summary judgment is proper "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in its favor. Id. Not just any alleged factual dispute...

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