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Beall v. London City School Dist. Board of Education

June 8, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Holschuh

Magistrate Judge Abel

Memorandum Opinion and Order

Plaintiff brings this action against Defendants, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants violated her equal protection rights, her freedom of association, and her academic freedom as protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. This matter is before the Court on Defendants' motion for summary judgment. (Doc. # 34).

I. Background

Plaintiff, a lesbian, was hired as a teacher for the 2000-2001 school year by Defendant London City School District Board of Education ("Board of Education"). (Amended Complaint at ¶ 5; Affidavit of Jimmie K. Beall at ¶¶ 2-3). Plaintiff was given a one year limited teaching contract and was assigned to teach Law and Society, Psychology and American Government. (Beall Aff. at ¶¶ 2, 4; Deposition of Jimmie K. Beall at pp. 34-36; Deposition of Jeffery A. Thompson at pp. 18-19). Plaintiff's teaching contract was subsequently renewed for the 2001-2002 and the 2002-2003 school years. (Am. Compl. at ¶ 5; Beall Aff. at ¶ 2). During those school years, Plaintiff received positive performance evaluations. (Beall Aff. at ¶ 4; Thompson Dep. at pp. 10-11). In fact, Plaintiff's Principal, Jeffery Thompson, stated that he did not have any concerns with respect to Plaintiff's teaching ability. (Thompson Dep. at p. 11).

Plaintiff also notes that she was actively involved in the school community, attending numerous school functions, including community meetings, parent-teacher organization functions and levy meetings. (Am. Compl. at ¶ 9; Beall Aff. at ¶ 5). Plaintiff contends that, during her employment, she was open and forthcoming about her sexual orientation and often attended school functions with her life partner. (Am. Compl. at ¶ 10). However, Plaintiff contends that she did not discuss her sexual orientation or private life with her students. (Id. at ¶ 11).

On March 25, 2003, Plaintiff was evaluated by Principal Thompson, who recommended that Plaintiff be rehired by the Board of Education under a three year contract. (Beall Aff. at ¶ 6; Thompson Dep. at p. 13). Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff met with Principal Thompson and advised him that she would be starting a unit on Civil Rights/Civil Liberties in her Government class. (Beall Aff. at ¶ 6; Thompson Dep. at pp. 15-16). Plaintiff advised Principal Thompson that the unit would encompass several "controversial" topics, including affirmative action, women's rights and other forms of discrimination. (Beall Aff. at ¶ 6).

On April 9, 2003, Plaintiff showed a Power Point presentation to two of her Government classes concerning the "National Day of Silence," a day where individuals remain silent in an effort to bring attention to the harassment, prejudice and discrimination faced by gay and lesbian students. (Beall Aff. at ¶ 7). Plaintiff remained silent during the presentation. (Id. at ¶ 7; Beall Dep. at pp. 46-49). Principal Thompson explained that he was informed of the presentation and went to Plaintiff's classroom to discuss the matter with Plaintiff. (Thompson Dep. at pp. 26-28). Plaintiff contends that Principal Thompson became visibly agitated after viewing a portion of the presentation. (Beall Aff. at ¶ 8; Beall Dep. at p. 49). Plaintiff also contends that Principal Thompson compared the presentation to teaching religion; Principal Thompson allegedly stated that the subject was "shaky ground" and that he would have to talk to Bob Smith, Assistant Superintendent in charge of curriculum. (Beall Aff. at ¶ 8; Beall Dep. at pp. 52-53). As a result, Plaintiff opted to discontinue the presentation. (Beall Aff. at ¶ 8; Beall Dep. at p. 53).

Two days following the presentation on the National Day of Silence, Plaintiff met with Principal Thompson who advised Plaintiff that he was withdrawing his recommendation for renewal of Plaintiff's teaching contract and would, instead, recommend Plaintiff for non-renewal. (Beall Aff. at ¶ 9). Plaintiff contends that Principal Thompson stated that the reason for non-renewal was due to the uncertainty regarding the number of students enrolled in the School District for the 2003-2004 school year. (Am. Compl. at ¶ 19; Beall Dep. at pp. 55-56).*fn1

Thereafter, Plaintiff met with Principal Thompson and the chair of the Social Studies Department, Ed Maynor. (Beall Aff. at ¶ 10). At this meeting, Plaintiff was told that the reason she was not being recommended for renewal was because she was not "highly qualified" as defined by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. (Beall Dep. at pp. 58-61).*fn2

Plaintiff also contends that shortly after her presentation, Defendant Thomas Coyne, Superintendent for the School District, requested a review of Plaintiff's teaching certification. (Affidavit of Thomas Coyne at ¶ 12). Principal Thompson reviewed Plaintiff's personnel file and submitted a memorandum, dated April 14, 2003, to Superintendent Coyne. (Exhibit 4, attached to Plaintiff's Memorandum in Opposition (Doc. # 48-5); Coyne Aff. at ¶ 14). Upon review, it was determined that Plaintiff held a Political Science Certificate. (Coyne Aff. at ¶ 9). Under Ohio's Education Management Information System ("EMIS"), Plaintiff's Certificate authorized her to teach courses in Government and Politics. (Id.). Teaching courses in Psychology, however, would generate "errors" in EMIS and could ultimately lead to negative "report cards" to parents in the School District and/or a loss of funding for the School District. (Id. at ¶¶ 4-5, 9).

On April 11, 2003, Superintendent Coyne sent an email to members of the Board of Education regarding the possibility that Plaintiff's teaching contract would not be recommended for renewal. (Exhibit 5, attached to Plaintiff's Memorandum in Opposition (Doc. # 48-6); Coyne Aff. at¶ 15). In the email, Superintendent Coyne noted that Plaintiff may be recommended for non-renewal due to her limited Certificate. (Exhibit 5, attached to Plaintiff's Memorandum in Opposition (Doc. # 48-6)). Superintendent Coyne also noted that "the situation is tainted by the fact that [Plaintiff] presented a class on gay rights ... and would not talk in class because all gay persons were supposedly keeping quiet...." (Id.).

On April 21, 2003, and pursuant to procedures established by Ohio Revised Code § 3319.11 as well as the collective bargaining agreement between the School District and the Teachers Union, Superintendent Coyne recommended to the Board of Education that Plaintiff's teaching contract not be renewed. (Coyne Aff. at ¶ 16). On April 21, 2003, Plaintiff and her Union representative, Toni Dymek, met with the members of the Board of Education concerning her teaching contract. (Beall Aff. at ¶ 12). Plaintiff contends that Dymek suggested to the Board of Education that the recommendation that Plaintiff's contract not be renewed was based on her sexual orientation. (Beall Dep. at p. 68). Additionally, Maynor indicated to the Board of Education that the enrollment numbers for the following year would justify retaining Plaintiff as a teacher. (Id. at pp 67-68).

Nevertheless, the Board of Education voted to non-renew Plaintiff's teaching contract. (Deposition of Nancy Smith at p. 8; Deposition of Marvin Peterson at p. 22; Deposition of Vicijean Geer at p. 10; Deposition of James Roddy at pp. 9-10). Following the meeting with the Board of Education, Plaintiff received written notice that her teaching contract would not be renewed. (Beall Aff. at ¶ 13; Exhibit 7, attached to Plaintiff's Memorandum in Opposition (Doc. # 48-8)).

II. Discussion

A. Standard

Defendants have moved for summary judgment with respect to Plaintiff's claims.*fn3

Although summary judgment should be cautiously invoked, it is an integral part of the Federal Rules, which are designed "to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327 (1986) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 1). The standard for summary judgment is found in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c):

[Summary judgment] . . . shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

Summary judgment will be granted "only where the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, where it is quite clear what the truth is . . . [and where] no genuine issue remains for trial, . . . [for] the purpose of the rule is not to cut litigants off from their right of trial by jury if they really have issues to try." Poller v. Columbia Broadcasting Sys., 368 U.S. 464, 467 (1962) (quoting Sartor v. Arkansas Natural Gas Corp., 321 U.S. 620, 627 (1944)). See also Lansing Dairy, Inc. v. Espy, 39 F.3d 1339, 1347 (6th Cir. 1994).

Moreover, the purpose of the procedure is not to resolve factual issues, but to determine if there are genuine issues of fact to be tried. Lashlee v. Sumner, 570 F.2d 107, 111 (6th Cir. 1978). The court's duty is to determine only whether sufficient evidence has been presented to make the issue of fact a proper question for the jury; it does not weigh the evidence, judge the credibility of witnesses, or determine the truth of the matter. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986); Weaver v. Shadoan, 340 F.3d 398, 405 (6th Cir. 2003).

In a motion for summary judgment, the moving party bears the initial burden of showing that no genuine issue as to any material fact exists and that it is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Leary v. Daeschner, 349 F.3d 888, 897 (6th Cir. 2003). All the evidence and facts, as well as inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts, must be considered in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88 (1986); Wade v. Knoxville Util. Bd., 259 F.3d 452, 460 (6th Cir. 2001). Additionally, any "unexplained gaps" in materials submitted by the moving party, if pertinent to material issues of fact, justify denial of a motion for summary judgment. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157-60 (1970).

"[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48 (emphasis in original). A "material" fact is one that "would have [the] effect of establishing or refuting one of [the] essential elements of a cause of action or defense asserted by the parties, and would necessarily affect [the] application of [an] appropriate principle of law to the rights and obligations of the parties." Kendall v. Hoover Co., 751 F.2d 171, 174 (6th Cir. 1984). See also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. An issue of material fact is "genuine" when "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. See also Leary, 349 F.3d at 897.

If the moving party meets its burden, and adequate time for discovery has been provided, summary judgment is appropriate if the opposing party fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. The nonmoving party must demonstrate that "there is a genuine issue for trial," and "cannot rest on her pleadings." Hall v. Tollett, 128 F.3d 418, 422 (6th Cir. 1997).

When a motion for summary judgment is made and supported as provided in this rule, an adverse party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of the adverse party's pleading, but the adverse party's response, by affidavits or as otherwise provided in this rule, must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. If the adverse party does not so respond, summary judgment, if appropriate, shall be entered against the adverse party.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e).

The existence of a mere scintilla of evidence in support of the opposing party's position is insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the opposing party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. The nonmoving party must present "significant probative evidence" to demonstrate that "there is [more than] some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Moore v. Phillip Morris Companies, Inc., 8 F.3d 335, 340 (6th Cir. 1993). The court may, however, enter summary judgment if it concludes that a fair-minded jury could not return a verdict in favor of the nonmoving party based on the presented evidence. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52; Lansing Dairy, Inc., 39 F.3d at 1347.

B. Application

Plaintiff asserts claims against Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides in relevant part as follows:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State ... subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress ....

42 U.S.C. § 1983.To succeed on a claim under § 1983, Plaintiff must show that (1) a person (2) acting under color of state law (3) deprived her of rights secured to her by the United States Constitution or its laws. Waters ...

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