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Pacheco v. Waldrop

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Paducah Division

February 5, 2015

SHAWNDA PACHECO, Plaintiff
v.
NANCY WALDROP, individually and in her official capacity as Superintendent of the McCracken County School System, Defendants and VICTOR ZIMMERMAN, individually and in his official capacity as Principal of Reidland High School

Decided February 3, 2015

For Shawnda Pacheco, Plaintiff: Thomas L. Osborne, LEAD ATTORNEY, Thomas L. Osborne PLLC, Paducah, KY.

For Nancy Waldrop, Individually and in her official capacity as superintendent of the McCracken County School System, Victor Zimmerman, Individually and in his official capacity as principal of Reidland High School, Defendants: Regina A. Jackson, LEAD ATTORNEY, Michael A. Owsley, English, Lucas, Priest & Owsley LLP, Bowling Green, KY; Gorman Bradley, Jr., Bradley, Freed, and Grumley PSC, Paducah, KY.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Thomas B. Russell, Senior United States District Judge.

This matter is before the Court upon Defendants' motion for reconsideration. (Docket #35). Plaintiff has not responded.[1] Defendants have replied. (Docket #37). This matter is now ripe for adjudication. For the following reasons, the Defendants' motion for reconsideration (Docket #35) is GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

The facts of this case are explained in greater detail in this Court's order granting in part and denying in part Defendants' motion for summary judgment.

This litigation arises out of the termination of Plaintiff Shawnda Pacheco from her teaching position at Reidland High School (" RHS" ). Pacheco learned from Taylor Ballard, another teacher at RHS, of a possible bomb attack on RHS being planned by two students. The school administration investigated the threat and determined the students had been discussing the video game Minecraft. Pacheco, unaware of the result of the investigation, became concerned when she observed the two students still in class. Pacheco reported the threat to the Paducah Sun in an indirect fashion. Specifically, Pacheco dictated a letter which an RHS student typed, had the student sign the letter in the student's own name. Pacheco mailed the letter the next day, which was also the day after the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. In full, the letter stated:

Dear sir,
As a student at Reidland High School, I see fights dealt with promptly, tobacco abuse punished according to school regulations, and even profanity is dealt with promptly. But we have a student, someone who sits in class with us, who has brought weapons twice and most recently plotted a map of bomb and gun attack sites around the school area. The student has yet to be punished for anything. Is it that Doctor Waldrop, the Superintendent, is afraid to enforce school rules? Is he being protected because of some minority status? Although he's not a minority. Is he special ed? Regardless the rest of us sit in class with him knowing he's dangerous. What would you do Mr. Editor? (Docket #1, Ex. 1).

The Paducah Sun, upon receiving the letter, contacted the McCracken County Sheriff's office. Law enforcement met with Nancy Waldrop, RHS's superintendent. Since the nature of threat could not initially be corroborated, the decision was made to cancel RHS classes on December 18, 2012. This day happened to be one on which final exams were planned, which were rescheduled for after the winter break. Reidland Middle School, which was physically attached to RHS, was also canceled. RHS investigated the letter to the editor and discovered it had been written on behalf of Pacheco. Waldrop fired Pacheco for insubordination and conduct unbecoming a teacher.

Pacheco filed this lawsuit claiming she was wrongfully terminated in violation of her First Amendment Right to Free Speech and that Waldrop and Defendant Victor Zimmerman violated the Kentucky Whistleblower Act by terminating her. Defendants moved for summary judgment on all claims. This Court conducted a Pickering balancing test and ruled Pacheco's First Amendment interest was outweighed by RHS's interest. Specifically, Pacheco's First Amendment interest were outweighed because her report was false, could have been verified or dispelled by merely inquiring with the school administration, and caused significant disruption to the school. (Docket #33). This Court ruled Pacheco's Whistleblower claim could proceed.

Defendants now move for reconsideration of this Court's ruling on Pacheco's ...


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