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Hoskins v. Board of Education of Lincoln County

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, at Lexington

November 6, 2014

TERESA HOSKINS, Plaintiff,
v.
THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF LINCOLN COUNTY, et al., Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

KAREN K. CALDWELL, Chief District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants, the Board of Education of Lincoln County and School Board Members Jim Kelley, Tom Blankenship, Tim Jackson, Denny Hogue, and Theresa Long (collectively "LCBOE"). (DE 13). Plaintiff Teresa Hoskins filed a complaint alleging that the defendants retaliated against her for taking leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq. The LCBOE asserts that the self-care portion of the FMLA is unconstitutional as applied to a state agency employer and that Hoskins has failed to demonstrate retaliation. The LCBOE contends that Hoskins's contract was not renewed because of mandatory reductions in staff and her relatively low student performance data. Hoskins failed to articulate any facts indicating that the LCBOE's non-retaliatory reason for their employment action was a pretext to mask a retaliatory motive. Therefore, the Court will grant the Defendants' motion for summary judgment.[1]

I.

Hoskins was employed by the LCBOE as a certified preschool teacher beginning in 2009. Hoskins worked under a "limited contract" that was only valid for one school year because she did not have "tenure."[2] Hoskins immediate supervisors included Jane Berry, the Early Childhood Preschool Program Manager, and Karen Hatter, the Superintendent of the Lincoln County School System ("LCSS").

Prior to the 2011-12 school year, Superintendent Hatter sent a notice to all LCSS employees stating that any absence must be authorized and informing all employees of the resources that describe "the various types of leave available and the qualifications for each." (DE 13-2 at 21). Also before the 2011-12 school year, Berry sent Hoskins a letter concerning her numerous absences during the 2010-11 school year. In the letter, Berry expressed concern about Hoskins's near 20% absenteeism rate but acknowledged that the issue could be addressed with a "doctor's statements or an official leave request." (DE 13-2 at 49).

A few months into the 2011-12 school year, Superintendent Hatter requested a district-wide report concerning employee attendance. (DE 13-2 at 6-7). Superintendent Hatter then sent letters to all employees with unauthorized absences, including Hoskins. (DE 13-2 at 7). Superintendent Hatter's letter, sent December 9, 2011, referenced Hoskins's twelve absences and suggested that she investigate whether she qualified for FMLA leave. (DE 13-2 at 21-22). On December 12, 2011, Hoskins filed a request for FMLA leave which the LCSS approved on December 27, 2011. (DE 13-2 at 23). Hoskins took leave as necessary, informed the LCSS of her absences as soon as possible, and was not discouraged from applying for, and later using, FMLA leave. (DE 13-2 at 56-57). When Hoskins used FMLA leave, she provided her lesson plan to her assistant teacher and the substitute teacher, and both teachers implemented the lesson plan as if Hoskins was present. ( See DE 13-2 at 57). Hoskins also acknowledged that the LCSS routinely used the same substitute teacher because that teacher was familiar with Hoskins's class and "knew what to do." (DE 13-2 at 57).

In May 2012, all non-tenured LCSS teachers, including Hoskins, received notices that their contracts would not be renewed for the following school year, 2012-13. (DE 1-2 at 4; DE 13-2 at 12). In her deposition, Superintendent Hatter noted that this practice was common because school budgets were normally not finalized before school districts were required to notify non-tenured teachers that their contracts would not be renewed. Specifically, KRS § 161.750 requires that notices of non-renewal be provided to non-tenured teachers no later than May 15 of the school year during which the contract was in effect. Therefore, schools routinely notified non-tenured teachers that their contracts would not be renewed only to rehire them in the summer when or if sufficient funds become available. (DE 13-2 at 9-11).

Unfortunately for Hoskins, the LCSS preschool program did not receive sufficient funds to maintain its full complement of preschool teachers for the 2012-13 school year, and the preschool program "had to cut two teachers." (DE 13-2 at 43). The preschool met this budgetary constraint through one teacher's retirement and the non-renewal of Hoskins's contract. (DE 13-3 at 3).

Hoskins contends that her contract was not renewed because she took FMLA leave. (DE 13-2 at 59). In support of this contention, Hoskins asserts that Berry told her daughter, over the phone, and her husband, in the parking lot after a Board of Education meeting, that Hoskins's contract would not be renewed because of her absences. (DE 13-2 at 46, 59).

The LCBOE states, and Hoskins does not contest, that the LCSS measures teacher effectiveness through student performance data, as measured by standardized assessments. (DE 13-2 at 36; DE 13-3 at 3). The preschool program provides kindergarten readiness assessments in the fall and spring semester, and the LCSS compares the students' fall and spring scores to determine the students' gains. (DE 13-2 at 36). The students' gains are compiled by classroom teacher and a report compares the "total percentage gain" for each classroom teacher. (DE 13-2 at 24-26). Hoskins's total percentage gain was third to last. (DE 13-2 at 24-26). The second-to-last teacher retired, and the teacher with the lowest total percentage gain had tenure. Therefore, the LCBOE declares that Hoskins contracted was not renewed because the department had to reduce the number of classrooms and Hoskins was the non-tenured teacher whose students had the lowest total percentage gain. (DE 13-3 at 3).

II.

Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is appropriate where the moving party "shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, and the movant may meet this burden by establishing the lack of evidence supporting one or more essential elements of the non-movant's claim. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-25 (1986). Once the moving party satisfies its burden, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986) (internal quotations omitted). Ultimately, the court must determine "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Id. at 251-52.

In evaluating the evidence, the court draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). "A mere scintilla of evidence, however, is not enough for the non-moving party to withstand summary judgment." La Quinta Corp. v. ...


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