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Webb v. Paducah Board of Education

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

February 15, 2018

CAROLYN WEBB, PLAINTIFF
v.
PADUCAH BOARD OF EDUCATION, et al., DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Thomas B. Russell, Senior Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants Paducah Board of Education, Superintendent Donald Shively, and Paducah Public School Transportation's (“Defendants”) Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, [R. 16]. Plaintiff Carolyn Webb responded, [R. 24], and Defendants replied, [R. 27]. Fully briefed, this matter is now ripe for adjudication. For the reasons stated herein, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, [R. 16], is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of Plaintiff Carolyn Webb's employment with the Paducah Board of Education (“the Board”). In 2011, she was initially hired as a substitute bus driver, and then, effective December 5, 2011, she became a regular bus driver. [R. 28 at 27 (102:14-103:20) (Webb Depo.).] Pursuant to a series of one-year employment contracts, Webb was employed by the Board until May 15, 2015 when she received a letter from Superintendent Donald Shively, [R. 28-8], stating that her contract would not be renewed for the following year. [R. 28 at 20-21 (74:3-77:12).]

         Webb alleges that the non-renewal of her contract stemmed from an altercation that occurred between herself and her supervisor, Steven Spraggs, over her request for a day off from work in order to attend her grandson's high school graduation. [Id. at 6 (21:2-16).] Webb initially requested the day off on April 15, 2015, to which Spraggs responded that he could not guarantee that day off because it was during the last week of school.[1] [Id. (21:10-14).] Later, Spraggs denied her request via text message. [Id. at 7 (22:15-22).] Interpreting this initial denial to not be definite, Webb entered a request for leave for the same date on AESOP, an electronic human resources portal, which Spraggs denied on April 29, 2015. [Id. (23:11-24:19)]; R. 28-5 (AESOP Absence Approval Status).] Subsequently, during Webb's yearly evaluation, Webb again asked Spraggs for the day off. [R. 28 at 8 (29:5-12).] Webb testified that Spraggs instructed her to ask his supervisor, Troy Brock. [Id.] Webb states that she then called Brock, and, after discovering that she had the wrong date for the graduation, discussed the proper date she would need off in order to attend the graduation. [Id. at 8-9 (29:17-31:8).] Afterwards, Webb texted Spraggs to apologize for giving him the wrong date, and Spraggs told her to come to his office later to discuss her request. [Id. at 10 (34:21-36:4).]

         On May 14, 2015, Webb went to Spraggs's office where the following incident ensued. Webb recounts that Spraggs accused her of “going over his head” by calling Brock to request off for the graduation. [Id. at 13 (46:9-47:25).] Webb denied this accusation, recalling that Spraggs instructed her to call Brock. [Id.] Webb states that Spraggs was very upset, told her “I'm not going to give you nothing, ” stood up, slammed his chair into the desk, and stepped around the desk toward Webb. [Id. (48:9-22).] Webb remembers that this caused her to feel frightened of Spraggs so she immediately left the office. [Id.] Furthermore, Webb states that by being so aggressive, Spraggs was effectively “bullying, intimidating, and humiliating” her. [Id. (49:6-14).] Spraggs remembers this incident differently. In his declaration, Spraggs stated that after he informed Webb that her request was denied, “she became extremely belligerent and accused [him] of being unreasonable” and “left [his] office in anger.” [R. 16-2 at 3.]

         On May 15, 2015, Webb met with Spraggs, a representative of the Kentucky Education Association (KEA), and Will Black, the Assistant Superintendent, where she received the letter stating that her employment contract would not be renewed for the following year. [R. 28 at 20 (74:3-77:8).] Subsequently, Webb completed the term of her contract, ending June 30, 2015, [Id. at 22 (83:18-23).], and began working at PATS transportation, [Id. at 25 (95:17-96:8)].

         On July 20, 2016, Webb filed a pro se complaint in McCracken Circuit Court, and it was removed to this Court on August 11, 2016. On May 25, 2017, Defendants filed the Motion for Summary Judgment that is currently before the Court.

         STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the record, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, reveals “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). A genuine dispute of material fact exists where “there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). The Court “may not make credibility determinations nor weigh the evidence when determining whether an issue of fact remains for trial.” Laster v. City of Kalamazoo, 746 F.3d 714, 726 (6th Cir. 2014) (citing Logan v. Denny's, Inc., 259 F.3d 558, 566 (6th Cir. 2001); Ahlers v. Schebil, 188 F.3d 365, 369 (6th Cir. 1999)). “The ultimate question is ‘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.'” Back v. Nestlé USA, Inc., 694 F.3d 571, 575 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52).

         As the party moving for summary judgment, Defendants must shoulder the burden of showing the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact as to at least one essential element of Webb's claims. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see also Laster, 746 F.3d at 726 (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986)). Assuming Defendants satisfy their burden of production, Webb “must-by deposition, answers to interrogatories, affidavits, and admissions on file- show specific facts that reveal a genuine issue for trial.” Laster, 746 F.3d at 726 (citing Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324).

         DISCUSSION

         Webb alleges various claims against Defendants: (1) wrongful discharge due to race discrimination; (2) hostile work environment based on race discrimination; (3) retaliation; and (4) age discrimination under the ADEA. [See R. 24 at 1 (Webb Response).] The Court will address each claim in turn.

         I. Wrongful Discharge due to Race Discrimination

         Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1), makes it an unlawful employment practice “to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin . . ..” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). In a disparate treatment case, such as the one at hand, “the plaintiff must establish that the adverse employment action was motivated, in part, by the plaintiff's protected-group status.” Lewis-Smith v. W. Kentucky Univ., 85 F.Supp.3d 885, 897 (W.D. Ky. 2015), aff'd (Jan. 12, 2016) (McKinley, J.). The employer does not violate Title VII unless there is a discriminatory basis. See St. Mary's Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 514 (1993) (“We ...


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