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Huber v. Jefferson County Public Schools

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

July 19, 2019

LINDA HUBER PLAINTIFF
v.
JEFFERSON COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS; and IMAN TALAAT in her individual and official capacity, Retired Principal of Liberty High School DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINON AND ORDER

          GREG N. STIVERS, CHIEF JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (DN 4). The motion is ripe for adjudication. For the reasons below, the motion is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         PLAINTIFF Linda Huber (“Huber”) was employed by Jefferson County Public Schools (“JCPS”) beginning in 1993 as a business and career coordinator for the district's various middle schools. (Compl. ¶ 7, DN 1-1). In 2001 she was permanently reassigned to Liberty High School (“Liberty”) as its “Community Liaison.” (Compl. ¶ 8). As Community Liaison, Huber worked closely with Liberty's “Discovery Program” in addition to planning and coordinating other career-and community-oriented programming. (Compl. ¶¶ 8-9).

         Huber left Liberty in November 2009, allegedly as the result of “harassment, humiliation and systemic discrimination” over the years at Liberty, but particularly once Iman Talaat (“Talaat”) became the school's principal. (Compl. ¶ 10). Huber attributes this discrimination to her conservative political views and refers to instances where school personnel asked her to remove a pro-life sign from her car parked in the school's parking lot and prohibited her from mentoring students on a project concerning abortion, though those with opposing political stances were not similarly admonished. (Compl. ¶¶ 12, 16-19, 21). Huber asserts that Talaat was aware of her conservative views and “used her position to harass, intimidate, terrorize and destroy [her] career[] . . . .” (Compl. ¶¶ 22-23). Huber provides that on at least one occasion, Liberty's administrator-curriculum director, Sandra Harris (“Harris”), had to defend Huber in a meeting with Talaat regarding her political and religious beliefs. (Compl. ¶ 22). Huber further contends she was discriminated against based on her age as one of many Liberty employees over forty years of age whom Talaat wished to remove from the school. (Compl. ¶ 37). Huber alleges Talaat instructed other employees to “collect and construct false evidence” against her in order to support termination. (Compl. ¶ 25).

         Huber alleges that on October 1, 2009, she received a political email from a fellow Liberty employee encouraging recipients not to buy certain newly released stamps featuring Muslims on them. (Compl. ¶ 39). Huber provides that she forwarded this email to her sister-in-law. (Compl. ¶ 39). After apparently learning of the email, Talaat allegedly accosted Huber in her office: screaming, walking in an aggressive manner, forcing Huber against a wall, and accusing her of “hating” and being “racist” against Muslims. (Compl. ¶ 39). Huber, shaken from the ordeal, claims she packed her belongings, left at her usual time and never returned to her job at Liberty. (Compl. ¶ 39).

         After this incident, Huber wrote JCPS superintendent, Donna Hargins, on April 24, 2012, to inform her of her confrontation with Talaat and of Talaat's other actions. (Compl. ¶ 41). Huber alleges she received no response from JCPS, so she hired an attorney to meet with the district's department dealing with compliance and investigations but was again “met with resistance and apathy.” (Compl. ¶ 43).

         Huber alleges Julia Foster (“Foster”) initiated an investigation into Talaat's conduct after she left her job at Liberty and confirmed that Talaat forced employees to make false statements against Huber. (Compl. ¶ 28). After Foster's investigation, Huber claims JCPS hired an ex-FBI agent to further investigate claims of abuse, harassment, and intimidation leveled against Talaat. (Compl. ¶ 29). During this investigation, the ex-FBI agent interviewed Huber. (Compl. ¶ 30). Huber states that she was unaware of all the steps Talaat had taken to harass her until the summer of 2016 when she obtained copies of records from the investigation, including interviews with Liberty faculty showing numerous instances where Talaat targeted Huber because of her religious and political affiliations. (Compl. ¶ 31). Huber alleges that, unknown to her, Talaat “had actively targeted her, and informed her ‘inner circle' of teachers and administrators as much.

         Huber uncovered further information in 2018, when she became aware for the first time of the full extent to which Talaat conspired to remove her from her position at Liberty. (Compl. ¶ 34). Two Liberty employees, including the assistant principal during Huber's tenure, “attested to the fact that during some administrative staff meetings” Talaat identified Huber as someone Talaat targeted for her religious and political beliefs. (Compl. ¶¶ 34-36). Huber further alleges that Talaat's targets all share the characteristic of being older than forty. (Compl. ¶ 37).

         On February 13, 2019, Huber filed the present action in Jefferson Circuit Court in Louisville, Kentucky. (Compl. 1). Huber first asserts that JCPS and Talaat discriminated against her based on her age in violation of the Kentucky Civil Rights Act (“KCRA”). (Compl. ¶¶ 48-54). She also asserts state claims for civil conspiracy and hostile work environment. (Compl. ¶¶ 55-68). Huber further asserts two federal claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1983. She contends that JCPS and Talaat deprived her of her First Amendment rights by isolating, humiliating, and harassing her for her religious and political beliefs. (Compl. ¶¶ 69-80). Huber also asserts a Section 1983 claim for retaliation because JCPS and Talaat took adverse employment action against her for exercising her First Amendment rights, and no action was taken to investigate her complaints of discrimination, harassment, hostility and abuse. (Compl. ¶¶ 81-93). Defendants removed the action to this Court on March 18, 2019. (Notice Removal 1, DN 1).

         Defendants now seek to dismiss Huber's claims under Rule 12(b)(6), arguing all her claims are time-barred. (Defs.' Mot. Dismiss 1-12, DN 4). Huber responds that the “discovery rule” articulated in Urie v. Thompson, 337 U.S. 163 (1949), permits her claims to proceed because she did not become aware of the full extent of the illegal actions taken against her until 2018. (Pl.'s Resp. Defs.' Mot. Dismiss 3-8, DN 5 [hereinafter Pl.'s Resp.]). Alternately, Huber argues equitable tolling applies. (Pl.'s Resp. 5). In their Reply, Defendants disagree and contend that this rule does not apply to her state law claims, her pleadings do not foreclose its applicability to her federal claims, and that she has failed to demonstrate equitable tolling is appropriate. (Defs.' Reply Mot. Dismiss 2-7, DN 6 [hereinafter Defs.' Reply]).

         II. JURISDICTION

         The Court has subject matter jurisdiction over this matter because Plaintiff's Section 1983 claim presents a ...


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