Reed v. Rolla 31 Public School Dist., No. 4:03CV1690 TCM.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Missouri)
Writing for the CourtMummert
Citation374 F.Supp.2d 787
PartiesLynne REED, Plaintiff, v. ROLLA 31 PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al., Defendants.
Docket NumberNo. 4:03CV1690 TCM.
Decision Date01 July 2005
374 F.Supp.2d 787
Lynne REED, Plaintiff,
ROLLA 31 PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al., Defendants.
No. 4:03CV1690 TCM.
United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division.
July 1, 2005.

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Carla G. Holste, Carson and Coil, Jefferson City, MO, Benjamin A. Stringer, Hall and Ansley, Springfield, MO, Craig R. Oliver, Robert M.N. Palmer, Law Office, P.C., Springfield, MO, Eric G. Jensen, O'Reilly and Jensen, LLC, Springfield, MO, for Plaintiff.

Margaret A. Hesse, Michelle H. Basi, Celynda L. Brasher, Tueth and Keeney, St. Louis, MO, for Defendants.


MUMMERT, United States Magistrate Judge.

This action is before the Court1 on the motion of defendants, Rolla 31 Public School District and the members of its Board of Education,2 requesting summary judgment on the claims of plaintiff, Lynne Reed, that (1) her employment contract was not renewed because of her sex, in violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA), Mo.Rev.Stat. §§ 213.010-.1373; (2) her contract was not renewed because of her opposition to gender discrimination and she was denied re-employment in retaliation for her charge of gender discrimination, in violation of the MHRA; (3) she was subjected to malicious prosecution by Defendants when they initiated charges against her to try to force her to resign and then withdrew those charges before the scheduled hearing; and (4) Defendants committed a prima facie tort because even if their actions were legal their motivation was improper and illegal. Also pending is Defendants' motion to strike Plaintiff's response to its Statement of Uncontroverted Facts and certain affidavits submitted by Plaintiff in support of her opposition to Defendants' dispositive motion.


At all times relevant, Plaintiff was employed by the Rolla 31 Public School District (the "District") as the principal of Mark Twain Elementary School ("Mark Twain"). (Stat. Uncontr'd Facts ¶¶ 6-7.4) Also employed by the District was Dennis Cook, Pat Johnson, and Amy Jones. (Id. ¶¶ 18-19, 73.) Cook was the District's

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Maintenance Director; Johnson was the Director of Transportation; and Jones was Cook's and Johnson's secretary. (Id. ¶¶ 62, 73, 80; Johnson Dep. at 7; Cook Dep. at 8.) Cook, Johnson, and Jones worked in the "bus barn," approximately one-half mile from Mark Twain. (Johnson Dep. at 114.)

This action has its genesis in the relationships between Plaintiff, Cook, Jones, and Johnson. A chronological recitation of their dealings with each other and with District administrators is essential to an understanding of Plaintiff's instant claims and their resolution.

Plaintiff and Cook began an affair in January 2002. (Stat. Uncontr'd Facts ¶ 32.) Prior to that, Plaintiff had used the school computer to send several suggestive e-mails to Cook5 and had been informed by the then assistant superintendent, Dr. Leonard Westbrook, that another employee had suggested that she and Cook were in an inappropriate relationship. (Reed Dep. at 69, 252-56.) He told her to "be careful, people might get the wrong idea or words to that effect." (Id. at 73.) Plaintiff did not think that the employee's complaint was taken seriously. (Id. at 71.) It was after this that she and Cook began their affair. (Id. at 72.) During the affair, Plaintiff frequently called Cook on his cell phone, both for work and personal business. (Id. at 134.) The affair was ended by Cook in July 2002. (Id. at 74, 290-91; Stat. Uncontr'd Facts ¶¶ 59, 60.) At the time of the affair, Plaintiff was married to, but separated from, Kevin Schwalje. (Reed Dep. at 26-27; Schwalje Aff. ¶ 2.) Cook was also married. (Cook Dep. at 122.)

After the end of the affair, Plaintiff wrote on July 17 to Cook that she would like to have a chance "at being special to [him] without all the complications" if he ever found himself single. (Reed Dep. at 276.) She was trying to honor his request to "[g]ive him some space" without losing a friend. (Id. at 277.) She wanted to maintain their friendship and, if at some point there was the chance of a "different kind of relationship," she was open to that. (Id. at 291.) After Cook and his wife separated, Cook asked Plaintiff not to call him as frequently. (Id. at 339.)

Plaintiff spoke to Dr. Aaron Zalis several times in September about her concern for Cook. (Reed Dep. at 278.) She thought Cook was becoming more and more irrational and erratic.6 (Id.)

Plaintiff and Cook had what Plaintiff describes as a "confrontation" on September 25 and again on October 4. (Reed Dep. at 322.)

In the morning on October 4, Plaintiff told Zalis that she could not do anything else to help Cook and that Zalis needed to do something. (Id. at 324.) She also told him she "had some concerns about [Cook's] mental state as ... Cook had threatened to commit suicide." (Reed Aff. ¶ 15.) Zalis was then the assistant superintendent, having assumed the position in the 2002/03 school year. (Zalis Dep. I at 9-11.) His duties included human resources and the supervision of support services, including transportation and maintenance. (Id. at 10.)

Zalis testified in his deposition that Plaintiff told him in their October 4 conversation that she was concerned about

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Cook. (Id. at 26.) She appeared to be upset. (Id. at 24, 26.) He asked Plaintiff if she and Cook had more than a friendship. (Id. at 24.) Plaintiff replied that they had not. (Id.) Plaintiff did tell him that she wanted to back out of that friendship. (Reed Aff. ¶ 15.) Zalis and Plaintiff also spoke about Plaintiff's calls to Cook's cell phone. (Zalis Dep. II at 97-98.) Plaintiff informed Zalis that she would stop calling Cook's cell phone. (Id. at 43, 151.) Cook, however, complained to Zalis that he was continuing to get "too many" phone calls from Plaintiff, "[p]articularly after [being] fired."7 (Id. at 151.)

Plaintiff took personal leave on two days, October 7 and 8, to "clear [her] head" about the Cook situation. (Reed Dep. at 62-63.) She disputes, however, that she informed Zalis of the reason for the leave. (Id. at 63-64.) Cook came to Plaintiff's office the day she returned from personal leave. (Mumma Dep. at 26-27.) His appearance disturbed her secretary, Charlene Mumma, because she thought their relationship was going to be restricted to work-related items. (Id. at 27-28.)

On November 2, Plaintiff successfully completed a supervisory test on preventing sexual harassment. (Defs.Ex. Q.) This interactive computer program defined sexual harassment as a behavior and cautioned that adults are responsible for their own behavior and its consequences. (Defs. Ex. P at 15.) A hostile work environment was defined as "one in which unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature creates an uncomfortable work environment for some members of the community[,]" including conduct that is "sexually explicit talk, sexually provocative photographs, foul or hostile language or inappropriate touching." (Id. at 32.) One pre-test question asked whether an employee's foul and obscene language could be interpreted as sexually harassing if it was not addressed to her co-workers. (Id. at 18.) Another pre-test question asked whether a student's persistent requests for a date with another student could be considered sexual harassment. (Id. at 19.) And, a third question asked whether off-color jokes during team meetings could be interpreted as sexually harassing if the jokes were "all in fun." (Id. at 20.) "What is harmless joking to one person may be grossly offensive to another." (Id. at 42.) The program further cautioned that intent was not relevant, but impact was. (Id. at 48.) Also, it was noted that "[m]ost workplace sexual harassment is based on power and not on romance." (Id. at 64.) Three problems were possible consequences of an office romance, including the problem that would arise if the romance went sour. (Id. at 66.) Additionally, persons offended by a hostile work environment need not be the direct participants or targets of such environment. (Id. at 71.) It was further noted that retaliation against an employee who has complained about harassment or participated in an investigation into harassment is illegal and could lead to serious consequences. (Id. at 74.) The consequences of harassment or retaliation for supervisors was particularly serious. (Id. at 79.) One section of the program addressed humor and cautioned that "it [was] easy to harass someone accidentally through ill-considered attempts at humor, teasing or sarcasm." (Id. at 84.)

On November 13, Plaintiff learned that Cook had been confronted by Donna Shults, a District secretary, and Amy Jones about seeing them both at the same time. (Reed Dep. at 250, 353.) At a meeting orchestrated by another woman, Stacy Miller, Plaintiff and Shults had found out that Cook had a relationship with Plaintiff, Jones, and Shults. (Shults-Murphy Dep. at 36-37.) At one point — Shults could not

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recall if it was during this meeting — Shults told Plaintiff that Cook and Jones were calling her (Plaintiff) a stalker. (Id. at 100-01.) Plaintiff understood from Shults that Cook's and Jones' affair had started in May 2002 and was ongoing. (Reed Dep. at 354.) Plaintiff did not report this affair to the administration because she thought they already knew. (Id. at 296.)

Approximately the same day, November 13, Cook and Jones went to Zalis' office to tell him that there were rumors of a relationship between them. (Zalis Dep. I at 39, 41; Zalis Dep. II at 7.) Pat Johnson had told Zalis in August that she had a feeling that there was something between them. (Id. at 42.) Shults also informed Zalis and Dr. Terry Adams, the superintendent,8 of a relationship between the two when Zalis was later inquiring about a relationship between Cook and Plaintiff. (Zalis Dep. II at 6-7, 10-12.) Shults further informed Zalis that she and Cook were dating. (Id. at 11-12.)

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