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Krpan v. Board of Education of Howard County

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

August 15, 2013



Ellen Lipton Hollander United States District Judge

John William Krpan, the self-represented plaintiff, sued the Board of Education of Howard County, Maryland (the “Board”), defendant, asserting five claims of employment discrimination: (1) sex discrimination, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq.; (2) national origin discrimination, in violation of Title VII; (3) age discrimination, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) 29 U.S.C. §§ 621 et seq. (the “ADEA”); (4) disability discrimination, in violation of Title I and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”), as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq.; and (5) disability discrimination, in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. §§ 701 et seq. See Complaint at 3 (ECF 1 at 3).[1] He seeks compensatory damages of $100, 000 and injunctive relief.

Defendant has filed two motions that are now pending: a Partial Motion to Dismiss (ECF 5), seeking dismissal of the claim based on national origin discrimination (i.e., Count Two), alleging failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; and a Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF 16) as to the remaining claims. The motions have been fully briefed, [2] and no hearing is necessary to resolve them. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, I will grant both Motions.

Factual Background

Plaintiff, who is in his late 50s, has been deaf since birth. ECF 1 at 5. He communicates primarily through American Sign Language (“ASL”). Plaintiff asserts: “ASL is his national origin, as is a language for a native American Indian, Alaskan or Pacific Islander. It is accepted as a foreign or world language or for a language other than English in Maryland.” ECF 1 at 6.[3]

Plaintiff has taught ASL for 30 years. ECF 1 at 6. During the 2005-2006, 2006-2007, and 2007-2008 school years, Mr. Krpan was employed as an ASL teacher in Fauquier County, Virginia. During the 2008-2009 school year, Mr. Krpan taught ASL in the Prince George’s County Public School System (“PGCPS”). See ECF 16-4. He also holds various professional certifications in several fields of education for grades Pre-K through 12. ECF 1 at 4. But, his certifications are not content-based. See Defendant’s Ex. 23 at 1, 6, 12. ECF 1 at 3, 6.

On February 2, 2011, Krpan applied for employment as a teacher of ASL in the Howard County Public School System (“HCPSS”).[4] Although he proceeded through several interviews, Krpan was not hired. Id. at 8-9. That decision has spawned this litigation.

Individuals applying for teaching positions in Howard County fill out an online employment application for every position of interest. According to the “HCPSS’ Teacher and Related Professional Application and Hiring Process, ” see ECF 16-3, an applicant must submit three professional references, which “must be mailed directly to the HCPSS by each individual serving as a reference and should address performance during the most recent school year.” Id. (emphasis added). Of import here, “[e]xperienced teachers must request a reference from their most current principal. Additional references should be from an assistant principal, department chair or team leader.” Id. The website then describes the three-step interview process for obtaining employment with HCPSS. Applicants must first pass a screening interview. If the applicant passes the initial screening, he or she is referred by the Office of Human Resources to a Curriculum Interview. Id. Then, “[b]ased upon the Curriculum Interview results, system needs, and a completed application packet, candidates may be referred to a Site-Based Interview, ” as positions become available. Id. The Office of Human Resources retains the authority to make an offer of employment.

On or about February 2, 2011, plaintiff submitted an online application to HCPSS. See Defendant’s Ex. 2. In his application, he listed his employment history, including his most recent employment with PGCPS. Id. Mr. Krpan initially moved smoothly through the application process. At his first interview he scored in the “highly recommended” category and was marked as a Critical Shortage Candidate based on the content area that he taught, American Sign Language. See “Preliminary Interview Report” (ECF 16-6). On May 12, 2011, Donna Culan, a Specialist in the HCPSS Office of Human Resources responsible for World Languages, referred Mr. Krpan for a curriculum interview with Debbie Espitia, World Languages Coordinator, which was conducted on May 18, 2011. See “HCPSS Curriculum Interview Email”, Ex. 6 to Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF 16-8). In the second interview Mr. Krpan earned a perfect score. See “Curriculum Interview Report, ” Ex. 7 to Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF 16-9). The interviewer’s written comments described Krpan as “very experienced and enthusiastic” and noted his “public relations skills.” Id.

On May 19, 2011, Ms. Culan sent Mr. Krpan an email message with the subject “HCPSS Application File, ” advising Krpan that there were “a few missing pieces” for his job application. In particular, she informed plaintiff that his file was “currently missing” three professional references as well as official transcripts from each college or university that he attended. See Ex. 8 to Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF 16-10).

Ms. Culan informed plaintiff on June 27, 2011, of a part-time ASL teaching position for the 2011-2012 school year. Defendant’s Ex. 9. She also told plaintiff that she had only one of the three required references. Id.

On or about July 15, 2011, Gina Massella, the Principal of Howard High School, and Assistant Principal Kedre Fairley interviewed Mr. Krpan for a part-time ASL teacher position for the 2011-2012 school year, and found him “qualified for the position.” But, Massella informed plaintiff that she did not have the authority to offer him the position and that the Office of Human Resources would be in touch with him. See Ex. 10 to Motion for Summary Judgment, Affidavit of Gina Massella (ECF 16-12).

On August 1, 2011 and August 2, 2011, Ms. Culan of the HCPSS Office of Human Resources and Mr. Krpan exchanged several noteworthy emails. Ms. Culan emailed plaintiff on August 1, 2011, informing him that she was “[w]rapping up” his file and needed a copy of his “final evaluation” from the PGCPS and a reference from Mr. Krpan’s supervisor at the PGCPS. Defendant’s Ex. 11. Plaintiff responded: “There was no evaluation from PGCPS and the ASL program was cut due to the budget. It was just one year employment unfortunately but successful. I provided you with the current references.” Id. Ex. 11 to Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF 16-13). Ms. Culan responded that she only had three references in Mr. Krpan’s file, and none were from his supervisor at PGCPS. She asked: “Should there also have been one from a supervisor from PGCPS? Thanks!” ECF 16-13 at 5. Krpan responded: “No, there is no need for a reference from PGCPS.” Mr. Krpan noted that he had two current references and a reference from Fauquier County Public Schools demonstrating his “successful employment” there for 29 years. Id. Ms. Culan replied: “My manager is requesting a reference from your most recent school system which is PG. I can send an email or make a phone call if you provide me with the name and contact information for an administrator who also served as an evaluator. Thanks so much!” Id.

By email on August 2, 2011, Krpan requested that Ms. Culan contact Fauquier County Public Schools. Regarding his employment with Prince George’s County, Mr. Krpan wrote:

Again, there was no evaluation. It was just one year of temporary employment with the Creative Arts Department. The program folded. I explained this in all three interviews.
Beside that, I was out of work due to the work-related injuries in my classroom for 8 months. I stopped my two boys from fighting. They were not injured but injured me instead. They broke my left thumb and torn [sic] my right knee. I had the cast and the surgery. WC has my records for them...Please feel free to call Janelle Downes, Fauquier County Public Schools...for a reference. You have a copy of her letter. ”

Ex. 11 to Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF 16-13).

Ms. Culan responded, id.:
Was the Creative Arts Department part of the Central Office or at a particular school? In this position, there was someone you needed to report to, someone who served as your supervisor. Please share that person’s name with me as a point of contact. Thank you!

Mr. Krpan wrote: “It was part of the school. I had multiple supervisors but I respectfully decline to offer this supervisor information. Please call Janelle Downes [of the Fauquier County Public School System in Virginia] instead.” Id.

And, Ms. Culan answered, in part, id.:
It is HCPSS practice to have a reference from the most recent teaching experience for any teacher applicant—in your case, this would be from PGCPS. Because you respectfully declined to provide me with the name/names of supervisor(s) during your year in PGCPS, I was required to contact that school system to inquire as to whether or not you were eligible for rehire there.
PGCPS informed me that you are not eligible for rehire in that school system.
Before your file can move forward in HCPSS, more information is needed as to this. Please share what you can regarding this.

On August 2, 2011, Ms. Culan emailed Mr. Krpan asking that he authorize Prince George’s County to share information with HCPSS about Krpan’s time with that school district.

Defendant’s Ex. 12; ECF 16-14 at 2. Mr. Krpan authorized the disclosures by Homer McCall in the Division of Recruiting, Staffing and Certification in the Office of Human Resources in PGCPS. Ex. 15 to Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF 16-17 at 2). Ms. Culan wrote to plaintiff on August 2, 2011: “[T]hank you again for your efforts to ensure your application file is complete and it can continue to move through our process.” ECF 16-14.

Also on August 2, 2011, Damon R. Felton, Esq., Assistant Counsel for the Maryland State Education Association, sent an email message to Ms. Culan, stating: “Mr. John Krpan asked me to confirm that I am representing him with the appeal of his non-renewal from PCGPS that is currently pending before the State Board of Education. During his time with PGCPS [plaintiff] was only able to teach approximately the first and last month of the school year because of a work related injury that kept him out most of the year.” Ex. 13 to Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF 16-15). Upon receipt of Mr. Felton’s email, Ms. Culan wrote to Mr. Krpan: “Thank you for having Mr. Felton contact me . . . . The HCPSS application and hiring process requires ...

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