Summers v. Torres

Decision Date10 March 2023
Docket Number9:22-CV-00029-MJT-ZJH
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Texas




No. 9:22-CV-00029-MJT-ZJH

United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Lufkin Division

March 10, 2023



This case is assigned to the Honorable Michael J. Truncale, United States District Judge. On December 30, 2022, Judge Truncale referred Defendants Lynn P. Torres and Lufkin Independent School District's (“LISD”) (collectively, “Defendants”) pending Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint (“Motion to Dismiss” or “Motion”) (Doc. No. 17) to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for consideration and disposition. Doc. No. 36. On February 16, 2023, Judge Truncale also referred Defendants' pending Motion to Compel Discovery from Plaintiff (“Motion to Compel”) (Doc. No. 37). Doc. No. 39.

The undersigned begins this report by noting that Plaintiff Calvasha Summers's First Amended Complaint (Doc. No. 13) is riddled with pleading deficiencies, and difficult to decipher in multiple places. From what the undersigned can understand from Summers's operative complaint, the undersigned recommends that Summers lacks Article III and prudential standing to continue prosecuting some of her claims, and granting Defendant's instant Motion because Summers's employment discrimination and Section 1983 claims fail to pass muster under Iqbal and Twombly.


Accordingly, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 17) should be granted, and Defendants Motion to Compel Discovery from Plaintiff (Doc. No. 37) should be denied as moot.

I. Factual and Procedural History

Plaintiff Calvasha Summers is an African-American woman who has worked as a guidance counselor at Lufkin High School (“LHS”), within the Lufkin Independent School District (“LISD” or “the District”), since 2017. First Am. Compl., Doc. No. 13 at 4, 7-8, ¶¶ 12, 17.

A. The “Soul to Soul” Gala

The events underlying this lawsuit begin in January 2019, during a gala for an LHS African-American success initiative, known as “Think Tank.” Id. at 9-11, ¶¶ 18-24. Think Tank was an LISD initiative for African-American LISD students, as a way to incorporate “community and parent involvement” with the District. Id. at 9, ¶ 18. Each year, Think Tank hosted a gala called “Soul to Soul” (“STS”), where LISD students, parents, and other allied members of the Lufkin community, held an awards ceremony for high-achieving African-American students. Id.

At the January 2019 STS gala, an African-American male staff member served as the “master of ceremonies” (“master”). Id. at 11, ¶ 24. Part of the master's duties during the gala included introducing LISD's new Superintendent Lynn Torres to audience members at the STS gala. Id. When the master asked Torres to speak to the audience, however, she allegedly refused.[1]Id. at 11-12, ¶ 24. On February 4, 2019, Torres held a Think Tank meeting with STS staff and


parents to hold a constructive conversation regarding the success of the January STS gala. Id. at 12, ¶ 25. During this meeting, a parent of an LISD student voiced their concern regarding Torres's alleged failure to participate during the event, and asked why she did not address the attendees nor congratulate STS students. Id. at 12-13, ¶ 30. Torres allegedly “did not react,” and the meeting concluded with all members planning to hold a second gala in March 2019. Id. at 13, ¶ 31.

Three days after the Think Tank meeting, however, Torres sent an email correspondence to all STS committee members, including Summers, stating that Torres would terminate the Think Tank, in part, because “Summers has asked to step down from chairing the Soul[-]to[-]Soul event.”[2] Id. at 13-14; Ex. 1, Doc. No. 13-2.[3] In its place, Torres noted that LISD would continue hosting future initiatives for African-American students, and attached a shared document for all members to post ideas to replace STS. Doc. No. 13 at 14; Ex. 1, Doc. No. 13-2.

On February 14, 2019, Assistant Superintendent Kurt Stephens summoned Summers to a meeting, where Stephens informed Summers that Superintendent Torres “felt [Summers] had ambushed Torres at the [gala] and prompted [the STS parent] to ask [ ] questions of Torres.” Id. at 14, ¶ 36. According to Stephens and Torres, Summers allegedly set up this “ambush” by “intentionally inviting parents to ‘roast' Torres.” Id. at 14-15, ¶¶ 36-37. As such, Stephens repeatedly requested Summers schedule a meeting with Torres to apologize, to which Summers refused. Id. at 15-16, ¶¶ 39-41. Soon afterward, Stephens purportedly requested that LHS Principal Brendan Boyd summon Summers to Boyd's office to meet with Stephens privately. Id.


at 16, ¶ 42. Once again, Stephens asked Summers to apologize to Superintendent Torres. Id., ¶ 43. Each time Stephens requested Summers apologize, he mentioned that apologizing to Torres would ensure that her relations with LISD would remain “un-strained” Id. at 15-16, ¶¶ 40-43. And, each time, Summers refused to apologize for having done nothing wrong. Id. at 16, ¶ 44.[4]

B. Alleged Discrimination and Reprisal Following the Soul-to-Soul Gala

In the wake of the STS gala and Stephens's requests of Summers to apologize, Stephens allegedly admitted that “he had put [Summers] in a worse position” because he told Summers how Torres felt, but Summers refused to apologize. Doc. No. 13 at 16, ¶ 45. Summers alleges the following events demonstrate that Defendants have discriminated and retaliated against her, in violation of Chapter 21 of the Texas Labor Code and Title 28 U.S.C. § 1983.

i. Denied Conference Requests

In September 2019, Summers requested permission to attend a conference in Irving, Texas. Doc. No. 13 at 17, ¶ 46. In October 2019, LISD informed Summers that it would send one staff member to a conference.[5] Id. at 18, ¶ 50. Summers asked her campus principal Brandon Boyd if LISD had any funds to cover the costs of the conference so that she may attend. Id. Boyd replied to Summers in an email denying her request, stating that the school does not set aside money for any training or staff development unless that department submits a budget request in the spring of the previous school year. Id. at 19, ¶ 54. Summers therefore paid for the conference out of her


own pocket, even though LISD allegedly paid for its technology team, consisting of all white staff members and students, to attend an annual conference in Galveston. Id., ¶¶ 55, 56.

ii. “Empower” School Club

In October 2019, Summers and two other African-American educators filled out an application to start a diverse club for female students at LHS, called “Empower.” Id. at 17, ¶ 47. In what Summers deems “unusual,” LISD required Summers and the sponsoring staff members to present data and meet with campus administration regarding why LHS needed this club. Id. Eventually, LISD approved of “Empower.” Id., ¶ 48.

Later that same month, “Empower” reached out to obtain media coverage from the local media outlet “KTRE” to report a story about the club. Id. at 18, ¶ 49. However, a KTRE reporter informed Summers that Superintendent Torres's Public Relations staff member, Sheila Adams, ordered KTRE to “hold off” on the story because “Empower” was not yet an official LISD club. Id. In December 2020, Sheila Adams ignored “Empower's” request to place notice of their fundraiser in the LHS newsletter. Id. at 24, ¶ 75.

iii. Denied Promotions

In July 2020, LISD hired a white former counselor, Brandie Knight, as LISD's “Success Coach”-a new position in the District that had not been posted online or otherwise for other staff members to apply. Id. at 19-20, ¶¶ 59-60. When Summers asked why the position was not posted, Torres explained that the “Success Coach” position was a lateral move and not a promotion.[6] Id. at 20, ¶ 62.


Also in July 2020, Summers applied for the position of “Director of Counseling,” along with her “Hispanic White” coworker, Gabriela Murphy.[7] Id. at 21, ¶¶ 65, 66. Historically, this position required administrative certification, which Summers has accomplished, while allegedly, Murphy has not. Id., ¶¶ 64, 67. During this July 2020 round of applications, however, LISD dispensed with its previous certification requirement, and hired Murphy for the position. Id., ¶ 67.

Next, in January 2021, Summers applied for the position of “go-center advisor.” Id. at 25, ¶ 77. The interview panel for this position consisted of one white man who was allegedly not employed by LISD, and no black administrators were on the panel. Id. In the end, LISD did not offer Summers the position, but instead, hired a person with purportedly less experience and qualifications.


iv. Extra Duties Stipend

In March 2021, Summers complains that LISD told her she would receive a stipend to take on extra duties. Id. at 25, ¶ 78. Summers signed a contract but did not receive her stipend until the following school year. Id.

C. Internal Grievances

On July 22, 2020, Summers filed her first internal grievance with the LISD school board. Doc. No. 13 at 24, ¶ 74. Summers therefore complains about the following events that took place after she filed her grievance.[8]

i. Performance Evaluations

Next, Summers complains about her performance evaluation for the 2020-21 school year. Doc. No. 13 at 8, ¶ 17(c)(iii), 25 ¶¶ 17(c)(ii)-(v), 79. For each school year from 2017 until 2020, Summers received a “perfect 4 or Exceeds Performance” evaluation. Id., ¶ 17(c)(ii). However, during the 2020-21 school year, Summers received a “3,” which signifies a “merely Proficient” evaluation. Id., ¶ 17(c)(iii). On September 7, 2021, Gabriela Murphy sent a letter to Summers, serving as “written proof” that Murphy changed Summers's evaluation from a “3” to a “4”...

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