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Routen v. Suggs

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division

January 12, 2018

IRMA JEAN ROUTEN PLAINTIFF
v.
DEXTER SUGGS, individually and in his official capacity as Superintendent; and LITTLE ROCK SCHOOL DISTRICT DEFENDANTS

          FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

          J. LEON HOLMES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Irma Jean Routen sued Dexter Suggs in his individual and official capacities[1] and the Little Rock School District, alleging age and sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Arkansas Civil Rights Act, Arkansas's age discrimination law. She also alleges violations of the Equal Pay Act and the Arkansas Teacher Fair Dismissal Act of 1983. On December 4, 2017, the parties appeared and announced ready for a trial to the Court.

         Routen's Equal Pay Act claim is based on the disparity between her pay and that of Danny Fletcher. Her age and sex discrimination claims are based on action taken in 2014 that had the effect of reducing her pay.

         Routen works for the Little Rock School District supporting fine arts in the elementary schools. She currently works under a 9.25-month Teacher's Contract with a primary responsibility listed as “TEACHER.” (Def. Ex. 1 at 13). Routen has worked in the District since 1991 when she began as a teacher. In 2002, the District was awarded a grant that funded its elementary music program. At least part of the grant was dedicated to paying the salary of an employee who would support fine arts in the elementary schools of the District. Dr. Danny Fletcher, the District's director of fine arts, chose Routen for that position. Routen was paid out of the grant funds until the grant expired in 2009. Thereafter, Routen continued performing the same duties as she had under the grant but was paid from the District's general fund.

         Routen's job since 2002 has been to oversee the elementary fine arts program and provide support to elementary fine arts teachers of prekindergarten through Grade 5. (Document #60 at 13, Pl. Ex. 4). The elementary fine arts curriculum calls for each student to receive 40 minutes of instruction in music and 40 minutes of instruction in art once each week. In her role, Routen reported to and was evaluated by Fletcher until 2010. In 2010, Routen began reporting to Sadie Mitchell, the associate superintendent for elementary schools. Mitchell oversees the operation of elementary schools and elementary principals. The evidence is in conflict as to whether Routen still reports to Mitchell. Mitchell and other witnesses testified that Routen reported to her for no more than two years, after which Fletcher again became her supervisor. Routen testified that Mitchell continues to be her supervisor. Fletcher testified that it is unclear to whom Routen reports.[2]

         Fletcher became the District's director of fine arts in 2001, and he remains in that position today. He works under an 11-month Teacher's Contract with a primary responsibility listed as “ADMINISTRATOR.” (Def. Ex. 19). As the District's director of fine arts, Fletcher is the head of the fine arts program for all grades. Routen, however, is the person directly responsible for overseeing the elementary fine arts program, while Fletcher retains the direct responsibility for overseeing the secondary school fine arts programs. The District's secondary fine arts curriculum includes approximately 160 course offerings, several Advanced Placement courses, and numerous off-campus activities, such as fine arts competitions and band participation at athletic events.

         During the time period relevant to the issues in this case, Fletcher has been paid on the District's administrator's salary schedule, whereas Routen has been paid on the teacher's salary schedule. Fletcher holds an administrator's certificate; Routen does not. (Pl. Ex. 6). As an example of the disparity in pay, for the 2011-12 school year, Fletcher was paid a salary of $105, 948.00, while Routen was paid a salary of $79, 792.86. (Def. Ex. 1, 19). Fletcher receives an annual education stipend of $3, 000; Routen receives $500. (Def. Ex. 20; Pl. Ex. 8, 11, 14). Fletcher receives a car stipend of $720; Routen receives no car stipend. (Id.)

         For many years, the District has received desegregation payments from the State of Arkansas under a desegregation order issued by this Court. In 2013, the parties to the desegregation order agreed to a settlement that would phase out desegregation funding over a four-year period. The District would continue to receive approximately $37.3 million in desegregation funding until 2017. In 2018, the State will cease to pay desegregation funding to the District. In the 2013-14 school year, then-superintendent Dexter Suggs implemented a district-wide review of staffing and assignments. In order to address the impending loss of desegregation funds, the superintendent formed a committee to recommend staffing cuts and realignment. The District's human resource administrator, Robert Robinson, and associate superintendent for accountability, Dennis Glasgow, were members on this committee. The District's chief financial officer, Kelsey Bailey, also participated in the process of identifying appropriate means of reducing the budget through cuts and realignment of staff. Budget cuts were implemented in phases over three years, beginning with employees who were not classroom teachers. According to Robinson, every District employee was impacted by the budget cuts over the three-year period. Robinson himself was eventually demoted from director to coordinator. Glasgow's position also was eventually eliminated and he retired.

         In January 2014, as a part of the first phase of budget reductions, the superintendent notified the school board that he intended to eliminate the positions of four female directors, all of whom were older than 50 years of age: Karen DeJarnette, Wanda Huddle, Marion Woods, and Routen. (Pl. Ex. 10). DeJarnette was director of planning, research and evaluation. Huddle was senior director of curriculum instruction. Woods worked in professional development at the elementary level. These position eliminations were made at the recommendation of the committee.

         Routen had been working under an 11-month contract. (Def. Ex. 1 at 7). Although Routen's position was eliminated, she was not terminated; rather, she was reassigned to a 9.25-month contract with the same duties. (Def. Ex. 1 at 9; Def. Ex. 10). Routen has been working under a 9.25-month contract ever since. (Def. Ex. 1). The effect was to reduce Routen's annual salary from, for example, $83, 509.99 for the 2013-14 school year, to $70, 634.60 for the 2014-15 school year. (Pl. Ex. 12, 13).

         As comparators, Routen points to two younger female District employees who received pay increases during the same time-frame that the four directors had their positions eliminated. Sabrina Stout was a literary specialist and received a pay increase when her contract was increased from an 11-month to a 12-month contract. (Pl. Ex. 25, 27, 28). Danyell Cummings took on some of the duties of DeJarnette's former position but received no extra pay as a result of taking on those additional duties. However, her contract for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years was for 12 months each year, and she received what appears to be a step increase of almost $3, 000 for the 2014-15 school year. (Pl. Ex. 29, 30). Stout was 39 years of age at the relevant time, while Cummings was 40.

         Glasgow explained that he recommended eliminating Routen's position because he thought that Fletcher could assume the duties for the elementary fine arts program. (Def. Ex. 4). He explained that Routen's position was only created as a result of the grant that the District received in 2002. He believed that Fletcher had handled elementary fine arts before Routen was assigned to do so and that Fletcher could handle that responsibility again if Routen's position were eliminated. He also explained that while the District's fine arts program had two persons in support positions-Fletcher serving as director and Routen serving as coordinator assigned to the elementary schools-the science department had none. The State requires the District to test math, literacy, and science and to meet certain standards in these areas. The academic performances of schools in the State are judged by these test results. The thrust of Glasgow's testimony is that since the District employs no one to support the science curriculum, a subject on which the State mandates testing and judges academic performance, it could manage with only one person to support the fine arts, which is not a subject on which the State mandates testing or by which the State judges a school's academic performance.

         Routen's claims fall into three categories: the Equal Pay Act claim, the discrimination claims on account of sex and age, and the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act claim.

         As to the Equal Pay Act claim, Routen says that she and Fletcher perform substantially similar work, so her salary should be equal to his. “To establish an equal pay claim, a plaintiff must show by a preponderance of the evidence that (1) she was paid less than a male employed in the same establishment, (2) for equal work on jobs requiring equal skills, effort, and responsibility, (3) which were performed under similar working conditions.” Hunter v. Neb. Pub. Power Dist., 282 F.3d 1021, ...


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