Spears v. Jefferson Parish Sch. Bd.

Decision Date17 June 2014
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 13-6266
PartiesSYLVIA A. SPEARS v. JEFFERSON PARISH SCHOOL BOARD ET AL.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Louisiana
MAGISTRATE JUDGE

JOSEPH C. WILKINSON, JR.

ORDER ON MOTION

In this employment discrimination action, plaintiff, Sylvia A. Spears, sues her former employer, defendant Jefferson Parish School Board (the "Board"), and defendant Dr. James Meza, the superintendent of the Jefferson Parish Public School System (defendants are collectively referred to herein as the "School System" or "defendant"). Plaintiff alleges that defendants discriminated and retaliated against her based on her race (African-American), age, sex and disability, and retaliated against her for having engaged in protected activity, in violation of Title VII, 42 § U.S.C. 2000e et seq.; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (the "Age Discrimination Act"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq.; the Americans with Disabilities Act (the "Disabilities Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.; and the Family Medical Leave Act. 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. Spears also brings state law claims of fraud and mental anguish. Complaint, Record Doc. No. 1.

All parties to this action have consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Record Doc. No. 25.

The School System filed a motion to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) and (6), Record Doc. No. 13, arguing that the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction overplaintiff's claims under Title VII, the Age Discrimination Act and the Disabilities Act because she failed to exhaust her administrative remedies. In support of this argument, defendant submitted two discrimination charges that Spears filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") and the Notices of Right to Sue that the EEOC issued for each charge. The School System also moves to dismiss plaintiff's claims under the Disabilities Act and the FMLA, her retaliation claims and her state law claims, contending that none of these claims entitle Spears to relief and that she failed to plead her fraud claims with particularity as required by Fed. R. Civ. P. 9. Finally, Dr. Meza argues that he is not a proper defendant in either his individual or official capacity under Title VII, the Age Discrimination Act, the Disabilities Act or the Family Medical Leave Act and that all claims against him under these statutes must be dismissed.

Spears filed an untimely memorandum in opposition without seeking leave to do so. Record Doc. No. 18. The School System received leave to file a reply memorandum. Record Doc. Nos. 21, 22, 23. Although defendant objects to plaintiff's untimely memorandum, defendant has had a full opportunity to respond to plaintiff's arguments in its own reply memorandum. The court has therefore considered plaintiff's memorandum.

Having considered the complaint, the record, the submissions of the parties and the applicable law, and for the following reasons, IT IS ORDERED that defendants' motion to dismiss is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART as follows.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

All allegations are taken from plaintiff's complaint, which are assumed to be true solely for purposes of the pending motion; the EEOC charges and right-to-sue notices attached to defendant's motion; and the record of Civil Action 12-1991-R, a related case previously filed in this court by Spears against the Jefferson Parish Public School System.

Spears began her career with the Jefferson Parish School System in 1983 as a teacher. She became Acting Principal of Waggaman Special School ("Waggaman") on July 2, 2004 and was appointed Principal of that school on August 1, 2005. She remained in that position until June 30, 2007.

Spears "was reassigned, involuntarily, to Cuillier Career Center ["Cuillier"] on July 25, 2007 as 'Principal' filling the vacancy for the Assistant Principal out on leave." Complaint, Record Doc. No. 1 at ¶ 7. The then-current Principal of Cuillier retired at the same time. Plaintiff's complaint is unclear, but it appears that the Principal of Cuillier was not replaced and that Spears filled the vacancy of Assistant Principal. She alleges that she "petitioned the Board to open the position" of Principal and that she "remained at Cuillier for approximately 2 years as 'Principal' without further consideration despite the fact that she was qualified for the position. In 2010, while at Cuillier, plaintiff was reclassified as a 'Principal on Special Assignment.'" Id. at ¶ 8.

At the time of her initial assignment to Cuillier, Spears was 57 years old and had been with the School System for 24 years. She was replaced as Principal of WaggamanSpecial School by a 47-year-old Caucasian male, who allegedly had "little or no experience," but was paid a salary that was $5,000 more than Spears was paid.

On October 25, 2009, plaintiff filed a race discrimination charge with the EEOC. She alleged that the School System had transferred her involuntarily to Cuillier as a "Principal on Special Assignment" and had given her a contract dated September 10, 2009, making this her permanent assignment. She complained that her pay had been reduced to the Assistant Principal pay rate and she had not been paid at the "Principal-high school pay rate" since being transferred from her previous middle school. The date of the alleged race discrimination was September 10, 2009. Record Doc. No. 13-2 at p. 1.

On July 14, 2011, the Board advertised to hire a Principal for Cuillier and subsequently hired "a younger African-American male, with little or no experience, as Principal with a salary greater than the plaintiff." Spears contends that her salary was less than male assistant principals and principals with less experience than she, "a factor that is based on gender and race," and was less than "Caucasian females with regard to race and experience." Id. at ¶ 10.

In 2004, plaintiff was diagnosed with lupus erythematosus, fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis. The Board became aware of her illness during her tenure as principal at Waggaman. On December 29, 2011, her medical conditions flared up, causing "extreme pain and discomfort" and requiring emergency medical attention. Spears alleges that herconditions limit her "day-to-day activities, such as climbing stairs, walking and excessive sun exposure." Id. at ¶ 13.

Spears requested medical leave from January 17 through August 1, 2012. On March 27, 2012, she was placed on approved medical leave, retroactively effective to January 17, 2012. The Board held plaintiff's medical leave request for three months, during which she "was marked absent from work and docked for unexcused absences for the entire period until her leave was approved." Id. at ¶ 23. On April 5, 2012, Spears received notice from the Board that her leave was approved through May 25, 2012. On April 12, 2012, she applied for extended leave through September 28, 2012. Neither the Board nor its Human Resources Department acknowledged the request, and the application was never processed.

The EEOC issued to Spears a Notice of Right to Sue on June 1, 2012, regarding her October 25, 2009 charge of race discrimination. Defendant's Exh. B, Notice of Right to Sue, Record Doc. No. 13-2 at p. 2.

On July 14, 2012, the Board sent a notice of termination to Spears. Plaintiff's complaint is again unclear in that Spears alleges both that she did not receive any wages during the entire period after her December 29, 2011, medical flare-up, Record Doc. No. 1 at ¶¶ 25, 28, 29, and that she received wages beginning at some unspecified time during that period, but it was not as much as she should have received. Id. at ¶¶ 28, 29.

Spears alleges in her complaint that defendant changed her employment status to reduce her income from that of a principal to that of assistant principal and that "[t]he status of assistant principal was never identified on plaintiff's pay-stub until after the plaintiff began challenging the defendant regarding her principal's grade after being promoted in 2004." Id. at ¶ 36. Rather than accept termination when she learned of it in July 2012, she was "forced to retire" two years early, with the result that she did not receive her full retirement benefits. She claims she suffered mental anguish as a result of the significant decrease in her income and her forced early retirement.

On August 1, 2012, Spears filed Civil Action No. 12-1991-R(2) in this court against the Jefferson Parish Public School System. She alleged that defendant had violated the Age Discrimination Act, the Disabilities Act, the Family Medical Leave Act "and relative state law" based on "her age, disability and frequent medical problems." Her sole factual allegations were that she had been "replaced by and [sic] young Caucasian male [at Waggaman] and place[d] at Cuillier Career Center as Principle [sic] on special assignment," and "was replace[d] by a younger African male, who became the Principle [sic]," apparently at Cuillier. C.A. No. 12-1991-R(2), Complaint, Record Doc. No. 1.

The Jefferson Parish Public School System moved to dismiss that case based on plaintiff's failure to exhaust administrative remedies and defendant's lack of procedural capacity. C.A. No. 12-1991, Record Doc. No. 22. Chief Judge Vance granted the motionon May 2, 2013, and the action was dismissed without prejudice on the basis that defendant lacked procedural capacity to be sued. C.A. No. 12-1991, Record Doc. No. 28.

On February 27, 2013, while defendant's motion to dismiss C.A. No. 12-1991 was pending, Spears filed a second EEOC charge against the School System. She checked the boxes for race, age and disability discrimination and retaliation. She stated that she had been denied medical leave without a reason between January 17 and August 8, 2012; she was being terminated effective July 31, 2012, for no legitimate reason; and she was forced to retire involuntarily on August 8, 2012. She alleged discrimination because of her age, race...

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