Smith v. Sch. Bd. For City of Norfolk, Civil Action 2:21-cv-138

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Virginia)
Writing for the CourtRaymond A. Jackson United States District Judge
Docket NumberCivil Action 2:21-cv-138
Decision Date05 November 2021

PAMELA SMITH, Plaintiff,


Civil Action No. 2:21-cv-138

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Norfolk Division

November 5, 2021


Raymond A. Jackson United States District Judge

Before the Court is a joint Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint ("Motion to Dismiss"), pursuant to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("FRCP") Rule 12(b)(6), filed by Defendants School Board for the City of Norfolk, Virginia ("Norfolk School Board"), Dr. Sharon Byrdsong ("Dr. Byrdsong"), Dandridge T. Billups ("Mr. Billups"), Dr. Danielle Belton ("Dr. Belton"), Edna Felton ("Ms. Felton"), and Johnay Brown ("Ms. Brown") (collectively, "Defendants"). Def.'s Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 20. The Court has considered the memoranda of the parties and this matter is now ripe for determination. See Def.'s Mem. Supp. Dismiss, ECF No. 21 ("Def.'s Mem. Supp."); PL's Mem. Opp. to Def.'s Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 23 ("Pl's Mem. Opp."); and Def.'s Reply to Pl's Mem. Opp. to Def.'s Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 24 ("Def.'s Reply"). Upon review, the Court finds that a hearing on this Motion is not necessary. For the reasons stated herein, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is DENIED IN PART and GRANTED IN PART.



Relevant to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss and stated in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the following facts are drawn from the Amended Complaint and attachments thereto. See Am. Compl., ECF No. 19.

Plaintiff Pamela Smith ("Plaintiff) is a former employee of Norfolk Public Schools ("NPS"). Am. Compl. ¶ 2. Specifically, Plaintiff was employed at Ghent Elementary School ("Ghent School") as a classified employee from October 2000 through September 16, 2020. Id., at ¶¶ 2, 12. Pursuant to Plaintiffs most recent employment contract, titled "Classified Personnel Contract" and dated May 30, 2020, Plaintiff was "in a probationary (employment at will) status for the first fifteen (15) weeks of employment if hired from outside the school system or given a new job within the school system." Id. at Ex. A ("Plaintiffs Contract"). During that "probationary period, the employee shall have no right to the administrative review procedures set forth in policies and regulations" of NPS. Id. Plaintiffs Contract also specified that she "may be dismissed for cause." Id. "Should [Plaintiff] file a written request for review within seven (7) working days after notification of the proposed dismissal is given, a review shall be granted." Id. The procedures for this review "shall be in accordance with applicable policies and regulations in effect at the time of the review." Id.

Plaintiff served as an office manager working for the principal in the front office of Ghent School. Id. at¶ 13. Dr. Danielle Belton ("Dr. Belton") is an employee of NPS as the principal of Ghent School and was Plaintiffs direct supervisor during her employment. Id. at ¶¶ 6, 34. Throughout her employment, Plaintiff, as part of her position, "took and stored funds from teachers and programs, disbursed funds from the school safe at the direction of Dr. Belton, and performed other administrative and bookkeeping functions." Id. at¶ 14. Pursuant to the Norfolk School Board


Policy, the principal "shall be responsible to insure that no money, unless placed in a suitable vault or safe, is left in the building overnight." Id. at ¶¶ 37, 38 (citing Ex. C). Accordingly, Dr. Belton "formed and enforced the policies by which Ms. Smith was to keep track of the school safe, document [] incoming cash, generate receipts, disburse funds..., and document safe funds at Ghent School." Id. at ¶ 33.

On occasion, Dr. Belton "directed Ms. Smith to retrieve funds from the school safe and disburse them to teachers and/or administrative staff upon their respective requests, for various expenditures." Id. at ¶ 41. At other times, Dr. Belton instructed Plaintiff to perform various tasks with money from the school safe. Id. at ¶¶ 42-43. Dr. Belton allegedly "instructed Ms. Smith to use funds from the school safe to purchase food supplies for the teachers and staff without accounting for such funds." Id. at ¶ 42. Dr. Belton also, allegedly, "instructed Ms. Smith to provide Dr. Belton cash from the school safe." Id. at ¶ 43. In that instance, "Dr. Belton [allegedly] provided Ms. Smith receipts but no information relating to the use of such funds." Id. Plaintiff states that "Dr. Belton did not properly manage and insure the funds in the school, which she tasked Ms. Smith with handling." Id. at ¶ 44. Plaintiff accuses Dr. Belton, in "knowing her liability," of having "concocted a scheme to defame and terminate Ms. Smith." Id. at ¶ 45.

In December 2019, Plaintiff informed Dr. Belton that she would take Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") leave beginning in January 2020. Id. at ¶ 46. That same month, Plaintiffs FMLA leave was certified for January 15, 2020 through March 9, 2020. Id. at ¶¶ 48 (citing Ex. E), 53-54. In January 2020, prior to Plaintiffs FMLA leave departure date, Plaintiff attempted to finish work that had come in over the holiday break, which "was a yearly occurrence" at Ghent School. Id. at ¶ 49. Plaintiff told Dr. Belton what work she had left to do before taking leave and that she would like to have this work finished before she left. Id. at ¶¶ 51-52. Dr. Belton allegedly told


Plaintiff to "not worry" about the remaining tasks until she returned to work. Id. at ¶ 53. Plaintiff believes that Dr. Belton "intentionally instructed Ms. Smith to leave work uncompleted so that she would later be accused of violation of school board policy." Id. at ¶ 56. Plaintiff also believes that Dr. Belton, Ms. Felton, and Ms. Brown "used Ms. Smith's FMLA leave as an opportunity to pin Ms. Smith as a scapegoat for alleged financial inconsistencies that were caused by Dr. Belton's policies at Ghent [School]." Id. at ¶ 55.

While on FMLA leave, Dr. Belton and Ms. Brown, who works in the Human Resources Department, called Plaintiff repeatedly to assist with financial taskings. Id. at ¶¶ 8, 57. On February 24, 2020, Dr. Belton and Ms. Brown contacted Plaintiff several times "over the course of the day through multiple phone calls" and "inquired into the receipt book," asking "where the receipt book was kept, what type of receipts were in the book, inquiries about specific receipts, and other questions about receipts and records outside of the standard receipt book." Id. at ¶¶ 58-60. Plaintiff informed Ms. Brown that she would be better able to answer the questions in person, but she could not come to the school while on FMLA leave. Id. at ¶ 63. Ms. Brown allegedly called Plaintiff "half a dozen times, both for her own help and on behalf of Ms. Felton and Dr. Belton." Id. at ¶ 64. On March 4, 2020, while still on FMLA leave, Ms. Brown again contacted Plaintiff "regarding additional receipt records that were not typically kept in the receipt book." Id. at ¶ 66.

Plaintiff eventually learned that the receipt book inquiries were part of an audit and financial investigation into the financial records at Ghent School. Id. at ¶¶ 65-68, 71. In addition to the aforementioned conversations, over the course of her FMLA leave, Plaintiff received numerous other calls and texts from Ms. Brown, Dr. Belton, and Ms. Felton, not all of which Plaintiff answered. Id. at ¶ 69. Plaintiff believes Dr. Belton, Ms. Felton, and Ms. Brown forced her to perform functions of her position and some functions outside her position while she was on


FMLA leave. Id. at ¶¶ 73-74. In so doing, "Ms. Brown, Dr. Belton, and Ms. Felton required Ms. Smith to participate in the audit beyond de minimis contributions" during her FMLA leave. Id. at ¶ 72. Plaintiff alleges that these contacts affected her emotionally while she was recovering from surgery and "cost time while she was working pursuant to their requests." Id. at ¶¶ 75-76. Plaintiff believes that the contacts she received from Ms. Brown and Dr. Belton during her FMLA leave "advanced the retaliatory investigation into Ms. Smith." Id. at¶ 77. Plaintiff also believes that the contacts and work performed during her leave would ultimately be used to terminate her employment at NPS. Id. at ¶¶ 83-86.

Plaintiff returned to work on March 9, 2020, but Dr. Belton "confronted" Plaintiff and instructed her to leave the premises in front of her coworkers. Id. at ¶¶ 92-93. That same day, Plaintiff was placed on paid administrative leave, pending the outcome of an official internal investigation of a financial matter at Ghent School. Id. at Ex. F. During the internal investigation, Ms. Brown instructed Plaintiff to remain off NPS properties unless granted permission. Id. Plaintiff believes that "during the investigation, "Ms. Felton[] and Ms. Brown accused Ms. Smith of embezzling and misappropriating funds." Id. at ¶ 105. Plaintiff alleges that she was placed on leave, in part, "because of the questioning she faced while on FMLA leave." Id. at ¶ 78. Plaintiff furthers that "[t]he records under investigation in this audit had previously been audited in July 2019 and no issues with Ms. Smith's performance or handling of funds had been found." Id. at ¶ 82. "Ms. Smith was never interviewed about the alleged practices and policies under audit and investigation." Id. at¶ 88. Instead, she was "asked to supply information to Dr. Belton, Ms. Felton, Ms. Brown and NPS, all while on FMLA leave." Id. Plaintiff accuses Dr. Belton, Ms. Felton, and Ms. Brown of using Plaintiffs FMLA leave "as an opportunity to pin Ms. Smith as a scapegoat for alleged financial inconsistencies." Id. at ¶ 55.


As part of this scheme, Plaintiff alleges that, "[b]eginning on or about March 9, 2020, Dr. Belton forced teachers and staff at Ghent Elementary School to fill out forms asserting that Ms....

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