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Johnson v. Lexington County School District Two

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division

March 26, 2018

Kindra Simon Johnson, Plaintiff,
v.
Lexington County School District Two, Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION

         Plaintiff Kindra Simon Johnson filed this action against her former employer, Defendant Lexington County School District Two alleging that she was subjected to (1) retaliation for engaging in protected activity, (2) a hostile work environment because of her race and (3) discrimination because of her race and disability, all in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2000e-17, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12213.[1] (ECF No. 1 at 14 ¶ 76-17 ¶ 95.) Additionally, Plaintiff alleges a claim that her termination occurred because of race discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (ECF No. 1 at 17 ¶ 96-18 ¶ 105.)

         This matter is before the court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (ECF No. 42.) In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 73.02(B)(2)(g) D.S.C., the matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Kaymani D. West for pretrial handling. On January 12, 2018, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation in which she recommended that the court grant Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment as Plaintiff's section 1983 race discrimination claim. (ECF No. 57 at 44.) Plaintiff filed objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, which are presently before the court. (ECF No. 61.) For the reasons set forth below, the court ACCEPTS IN PART the Magistrate Judge's recommendation and GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment on Plaintiff's section 1983 race discrimination claim.

         I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND TO PENDING MOTION

         The facts of this matter are discussed in the Report and Recommendation. (See ECF No. 57.) The court concludes, upon its own careful review of the record, that the Magistrate Judge's factual summation is accurate and incorporates it by reference. The court will only reference herein additional facts viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff that are pertinent to the analysis of her claims.

         Defendant is “one of five districts in Lexington County [South Carolina] and is governed by a seven member Board of Trustees elected by the voters of the District” and “encompasses a land area of 92 square miles” to include “Lexington County's largest municipalities, the cities of West Columbia and Cayce.” Lexington Cty. Sch. Dist. Two, https://www.google.com/url?sa= t&rct=j&q=&esrc's&source=web&cd=8&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjnkbFioHaAhVX4 2MKHcWnCJUQFghEMAc&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.govwiki.info%2Fpdfs%2FSchool%25 20District%2FSC%2520Lexington%2520County%2520School%2520District%2520Two%2520 2016.pdf&usg=AOvVaw0giqTSXo2gNiIYRC6L0jB (last visited Mar. 22, 2018). Plaintiff is a black woman who Defendant hired in December 2009 as a Coordinator of Title I and Academic Assistance and a teacher for the English for Speakers of Other Languages (“ESOL”) program. (ECF 47-1 at 6:34:12-23 & 6:35:25-36:9.) At all relevant times, Plaintiff's immediate supervisor was Debbie Gunter, the Director of Title I and a white woman. (ECF No. 1-1 at 2 ¶ 5; ECF No. 47-1 at 36:153:9-10 & 37:160:16-17.)

         Throughout her employment with Defendant, Plaintiff asserts that her race negatively affected her job in the following particulars:

Okay. There -- there's all white school board, and there's never been - there's never been a white - a black superintendent at all. Only one black school board member in the history of the district. Therefore, I had -- I had -- we had this -- I had this fear that -- that my race would -- would be a factor on -- on the job. My boss [Gunter] did not treat me the same as the white -- other white employee whom she supervised. For example: When I had the foot surgery, I was out of work for six whole weeks. I returned to work on crutches. I -- I was teaching at two schools and working at the district office, doing both jobs, and she did not ask me how I -- how I was feeling, if I needed help. She didn't even offer to help me carry materials. The white employee who she supervised [Janet Renahan] was out for one day -- just one day versus me, comparatively, six weeks. And when she returned to work, after being out for one day for a medical procedure, my boss asked her how she was feeling, how she was doing; she showed concern for her, but showed no concern at all for me.

         (ECF No. 47-1 at 23:103:17-104:11.)

The school board is an all-white school board, only one African-American in the history of the school board. There's never been a black superintendent. They've all been white. I was one of the very few blacks at the district level. And the program that I work with - the ESOL program, which consisted of mostly minority children, the board made decisions that the State Department actually had to intervene, because the decision they were making would violate some of the federal laws. And because I was the one who was working with that program, I felt direct discrimination ‘cause --because I didn't receive the -- the support that I should have received. And it was mainly minority children, as well as the teachers in the program who were also feeling like they were being targeted because they are African-American, or of color.

(ECF No. 47-1 at 39:166:12-167:2.)

The school board -- the ESOL program is this program that I -- I worked with, and the school board had a history of discriminatory practices for the -- for the kids and the -- and the teachers in that program. For example, when the Somali Band Two students from Africa wanted to enroll in Lexington Two, they were denied enrollment. When I met with the school board and presented to the school board about the students, I was told they have some of the -- they have language problems. I don't -- I don't view that as a -- as a problem when that's their heritage language. But that's what I was told. Also, the school board had wanted the students to be separated from the general population for part of the school day until they -- until they learned English, and the State Department intervened and would not approve that. Also, the students who wanted to attend their zoned school in their neighborhood, the students who were not fluent in English, they were not allowed -- allowed to enroll unless they signed a waiver to waive their rights for English support. That -- those are all violations. They -- they were bused to another school. They were -- the school where they wanted to enroll was not in Title 1. The school they were bused to was a high poverty school, which is a Title 1 school, and it was not where they were zoned to -- to attend school. So with the school board having that type of attitude towards the program, and I'm the one -- I am one of the people who advocated so strongly for those children, and did not agree with those decisions, and made it known that I did not agree, I had to blow the whistle on a lot of those practices and -- and reported it to the State Department when we had audits in the -- in -- in the - and then the district received -- the superintendent would receive a letter, different letters from the State Department saying, “This is not allowed, ” various letters. But the school --but that attitude the school board had, I did not feel like they were going to support that one -- the one -- one of the people who was advocating so strongly for -- for students that they already had demonstrated that they were not treating them equally to other students. And with them being a[n] all white school board and -- and only having one black school board member in the history of that district, I did not feel like I was going to get a fair chance at all.

(ECF No. 47-1 at 47:197:1-198:21.)

         On February 12, 2015, Dr. Angela Cooper, Defendant's Chief Human Resources Officer, was provided with a text message exchange that included Plaintiff. (ECF No. 42-3 at 1 ¶¶ 1, 5 & 2 ¶ 6.) Upon review of the text messages sent by Plaintiff (see ECF No. 42-6), Dr. Cooper concluded that she would need to make a recommendation regarding the discipline Plaintiff should receive to Defendant's Superintendent. (Id. at 2 ¶¶ 8, 9.) On February 25, 2015, Defendant placed Plaintiff on administrative leave “pending an investigation of inappropriate text messages sent to another employee and for interference and misrepresentation of school operations.” (ECF No. 47-1 at 44:187:24-188:2; ECF No. 47-23.) On March 23, 2015, Plaintiff was informed that Defendant's Superintendent would be recommending Plaintiff's termination to Defendant's Board. (ECF No. 47-22.) On March 31, 2015, Defendant's Board accepted the Superintendent's recommendation regarding Plaintiff's termination “for violation of policies IJNDB[2] (Use of Technology) and GBEB[3] (Staff Conduct).” (ECF No. 47-23.) Defendant's termination of Plaintiff took effect on April 1, 2015. (ECF No. 47-1 at 6:35:19-20.)

         As a result of the aforementioned, Plaintiff filed an action on October 27, 2015, in the Court of Common Pleas for Lexington County (South Carolina) alleging claims for (1) hostile work environment and discrimination on account of race (Counts 1 and 4), retaliation (Count 2) and disability discrimination (Count 3). (ECF No. 1-1 at 14-18.) After removing the matter to this court on December 2, 2015 (ECF No. 1), Defendant answered the Complaint on December 4, 2015, denying its allegations. (ECF No. 5.) On April 12, 2017, Defendant filed its Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 42.) Plaintiff filed opposition to the Motion for Summary Judgment on May 17, 2017, to which Defendant filed a Reply to Plaintiff's Response in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment on May 24, 2017. (ECF Nos. 47, 48.)

         In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil Rule 73.02 D.S.C., the Magistrate Judge issued her Report and Recommendation on January 12, 2018, recommending that Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment be granted as to all Plaintiff's claims. (ECF No. 57.) On February 9, 2018, Plaintiff filed objections to the Report and Recommendation. (ECF No. 61.)

         II. ...


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