United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Texarkana Division
O. Hickey United States District Judge
the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.
(ECF No. 34). Plaintiff filed a response. (ECF No. 47).
Defendants filed a reply. (ECF No. 56). The Court finds the
matter ripe for consideration.
case is an employment-discrimination action brought under
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §
1983, and the Arkansas Civil Rights Act (“ACRA”).
Plaintiff is an African-American woman who previously worked
for Separate Defendant Texarkana Arkansas School District
(“TASD”) as a teacher. Plaintiff alleges that
Defendants engaged in discriminatory practices against her on
the basis of race by suspending her without pay, imposing
burdensome working conditions, engaging in harassment, and
making her working conditions intolerable. (ECF No. 1).
October 16, 2013, Plaintiff stated to her seventh grade
science class that soy products degenerate the male hormone
and that soy milk would “make the male want to be
female.” (ECF No. 54-2). The students began discussing
amongst themselves whether boys who used soy products would
grow up to be homosexual. On the same day, a parent of one of
Plaintiff's students called Separate Defendant Theresa
Cowling (“Cowling”), Plaintiff's junior-high
principal, complaining that Plaintiff's statements upset
the student. Cowling shared the parent's complaint with
Separate Defendant Robin Hickerson (“Hickerson”),
TASD's assistant superintendent for secondary education
and human resources.
October 17, 2013, Plaintiff's students were asked to
provide written statements regarding Plaintiff's October
16, 2016 science class. One student informed Cowling that she
had recorded Plaintiff's statements with her cell phone.
The student gave the recording to TASD. On October 18, 2013,
Plaintiff met with Cowling, Hickerson, and Separate Defendant
Becky Kesler (“Kesler”), TASD's
superintendent. Plaintiff was informed that she would be
suspended with pay for three days for allegedly making
inappropriate comments to her class. Cowling and Hickerson
conducted an investigation into Plaintiff's actions.
November 4, 2013, Plaintiff received written notice that as a
result of the investigation, she would be suspended without
pay for five days for making inappropriate comments to her
class. Plaintiff was also informed in writing that she would
be required to participate in a six-week improvement plan
used by TASD to correct teachers' deficiencies. The
notice stated that the plan was necessary for Plaintiff due
to her: (1) failure to maintain a professional relationship
with students in connection with the in-class soy discussion;
(2) failure to follow the seventh grade science curriculum
map; (3) failure to maintain a professional relationship with
students regarding a September 23, 2013 incident where
Plaintiff made physical contact with a student's rear for
walking behind Plaintiff's desk; (4) failure to maintain
an up-to-date teacher webpage; and (5) reported wrongful
assignment of tardies to students.
February 18, 2014, Plaintiff filed a charge of racial
discrimination against Defendants with the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). On March 7,
2014, Plaintiff submitted a written letter of resignation to
TASD, effective June 30, 2014. On August 10, 2014, the EEOC
issued a Notice of Right to Sue to Plaintiff. On November 26,
2014, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit alleging employment
discrimination. Defendants assert that they are entitled to
summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's
standard for summary judgment is well established. When a
party moves for summary judgment, “[t]he court shall
grant summary judgment if the movant 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); Krenik v. County of LeSueur, 47 F.3d 953, 957
(8th Cir. 1995). This is a “threshold inquiry of . . .
whether there is a need for trial-whether, in other words,
there are genuine factual issues that properly can be
resolved only by a finder of fact because they reasonably may
be resolved in favor of either party.” Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). A fact is
material only when its resolution affects the outcome of the
case. Id. at 248. A dispute is genuine if the
evidence is such that it could cause a reasonable jury to
return a verdict for either party. Id. at 252.
deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court must
consider all the evidence and all reasonable inferences that
arise from the evidence in a light most favorable to the
nonmoving party. Nitsche v. CEO of Osage Valley Elec.
Co-Op, 446 F.3d 841, 845 (8th Cir. 2006). The moving
party bears the burden of showing that there is no genuine
issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as
a matter of law. See Enterprise Bank v. Magna Bank,
92 F.3d 743, 747 (8th Cir. 1996). The nonmoving party must
then demonstrate the existence of specific facts in the
record that create a genuine issue for trial.
Krenik, 47 F.3d at 957. However, a party opposing a
properly supported summary judgment motion “may not
rest upon mere allegations or denials . . . but must set
forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue
for trial.” Id. at 256.
is no ‘discrimination case exception' to the
application of summary judgment, which is a useful pretrial
tool to determine whether any case, including one alleging
discrimination, merits a trial.” Torgerson v. City
of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1043 (8th Cir. 2011).
Accordingly, the Court applies the same summary judgment
standard to discrimination cases as it does to all others.
assert that they are entitled to summary judgment on
Plaintiff's Title VII, ACRA, and §1983 claims, as
well as on the issue of whether compensatory damages related
to emotional distress are available in this
case. The Court will now address each in turn.
Title VII Race-Discrimination Claims
assert that summary judgment is appropriate on
Plaintiff's Title VII race- discrimination claims against
TASD, and against Cowling, Hickerson, and Kesler in both
their individual and official capacities. The Court will
first address the individual-capacity claims, and then will
address the remaining race-discrimination claims.
Individual Capacity Title VII Race-Discrimination
argue that summary judgment is appropriate on Plaintiff's
individual-capacity Title VII claims. The Court agrees.
Eighth Circuit has instructed that Title VII claims are
applicable to employers, but not to individuals. See Van
Horn v. Best Buy Stores, L.P., 526 F.3d 1144, 1147 (8th
Cir. 2008) (noting that Title VII provides for actions
against employers but not supervisors); Powell v. Yellow
Book USA, 445 F.3d 1074, 1079 (8th Cir. 2006)
(“Title VII addresses the conduct of employers only and
does not impose liability on coworkers.”). Plaintiff
has asserted Title VII claims against Cowling, Hickerson, and
Kesler in their individual capacities. The Court finds that
Plaintiff's individual-capacity Title VII
race-discrimination claims must fail because there is no
individual liability under Title VII.
the Court finds that Defendants' summary judgment motion
should be granted on Plaintiff's Title VII
race-discrimination claims against Cowling, Hickerson, and
Kesler in their individual capacities.
Remaining Title VII Race-Discrimination Claims
argue that summary judgment is appropriate on Plaintiff's
Title VII race-discrimination claims against TASD. The Court
has not presented any direct evidence of race discrimination,
so the Court will analyze her claims under the McDonnell
Douglas burden-shifting framework. Gibson v. Am.
Greetings Corp., 670 F.3d 844, 853 (8th Cir. 2012).
Under this familiar framework, Plaintiff must first establish
a prima facie case of discrimination. Id.
If Plaintiff successfully establishes a prima facie
case, Defendants may rebut the prima facie case by
articulating a non-discriminatory reason for their actions.
Id. If Defendants offer a non-discriminatory reason
for their actions, the burden then shifts back to Plaintiff
to show that Defendants' proffered reason was merely
pretext for discrimination. Id.
Prima Facie Case
Plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of race
discrimination. To do so, she must demonstrate that: (1) she
is a member of a protected class; (2) she was meeting her
employer's legitimate job expectations; (3) she suffered
an adverse employment action; and (4) the circumstances give
rise to an inference of discrimination. Id.
“Circumstances giving rise to an inference of
discrimination include treating similarly situated employees
who are not members of the protected class in a different
manner.” Id. at 853-54. A failure to establish
even one element of a prima facie case defeats a
Title VII discrimination claim. Tatum v. City of
Berkeley, 408 F.3d 543, 550-51 (8th Cir. 2005). In this
case, Defendants argue that Plaintiff cannot satisfy the
third and fourth prima facie elements-that she
suffered an adverse employment action and that a similarly
situated employee outside her protected class was treated
argue that Plaintiff cannot satisfy the third prima
facie element with respect to her placement on an
improvement plan because, by its definition, an improvement
plan is not punitive and does not constitute an adverse
employment action. Plaintiff offers no argument in response
as to whether the improvement plan satisfies this prima
adverse employment action must have a materially adverse
impact on the terms or conditions of a plaintiff's
employment. Sowell v. Alumina Ceramics, Inc., 251
F.3d 678, 684 (8th Cir. 2001). There must be a tangible
change in working conditions that produces a material
employment disadvantage. Cooney v. Union Pacific
Railroad, Co., 258 F.3d 731, 734 (8th Cir. 2001). For
example, termination, reduction in pay or benefits, and
changes that affect an employee's future career prospects
generally meet this standard. Spears v. Mo. Dep't of
Corr. & Human Res., 210 F.3d 850, 853 (8th Cir.
2000). However, minor changes in working conditions that
merely inconvenience an employee or alter an employee's
work responsibilities do not suffice. Id. (citing
Ledergerber v. Strangler, 122 F.3d 1142, 1144 (8th
record shows-and Plaintiff concedes in her deposition
testimony-that teacher improvement plans are mandated by the
state of Arkansas and are used by schools to identify and
correct deficiencies in a teacher's teaching method.
Plaintiff's improvement plan required her to complete
certain assignments over a six-week period. Plaintiff does
not argue or offer evidence that the improvement plan
resulted in her termination, reduction in pay or benefits, or
any changes which affected her future career prospects.
Instead, the Court finds that the improvement plan resulted
in minor changes to her work responsibilities, as it required
her to complete certain assignments in addition to her
regular work. Thus, the improvement plan alone cannot amount
to an adverse employment action. See Givens v. Cingular
Wireless, 396 F.3d 998, 998 (8th Cir. 2005) (holding
that placing an employee on a performance improvement plan,
without more, does not constitute an adverse employment
action). Therefore, the Court finds that Plaintiff cannot
satisfy the third prima facie element with respect
to her placement on an improvement plan.
also argue that Plaintiff cannot satisfy the fourth prima
facie element with respect to her suspension because she
cannot point to any similarly situated employees who received
more favorable treatment. Plaintiff points the Court to five
white TASD employees who ...