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Sammarco v. Board of Education of Prince George's County

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

September 16, 2013

CONSTANCE JEANNE SAMMARCO
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY

MEMORANDUM

CATHERINE C. BLAKE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Plaintiff Constance Jeanne Sammarco, a former employee of defendant Prince George’s County Public Schools, representing herself, filed this action alleging hostile work environment, retaliation, and discriminatory treatment based on race and age in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”). The school board has moved to dismiss Ms. Sammarco’s complaint for failure to state a claim. For the reasons stated below, the board’s motion will be granted.

BACKGROUND

Ms. Sammarco, a 62-year-old white female, taught high school English at Fairmont Heights High School in Prince George’s County from 2003 to 2012. (Compl., ECF No. 1, ¶¶ 1-2). It appears that Nakia Nicholson became principal of Fairmont Heights in 2009. (Id. ¶¶ 9-10). In 2010, Ms. Sammarco began receiving negative performance evaluations from Ms. Nicholson, which are attached to the school board’s motion to dismiss.[1] (Id. ¶¶ 10-11; Def.’s Mot., ECF No. 8, Exs. 2, 4, 7-8). In her complaint, Ms. Sammarco details her dissatisfaction with the way in which Ms. Nicholson managed the school, conducted observations and evaluations of Ms. Sammarco, and provided feedback. She alleges that Ms. Nicholson focused on hiring younger teachers, and that she treated younger teachers and black teachers more favorably. (Compl. ¶¶ 15-39). Ms. Sammarco makes similar allegations about her assistant principals, Donna Daniel and Michael Austin, alleging, for example, that they unreasonably observed her teaching and made false statements about her. (Id. ¶¶ 42-43, 46). Ms. Sammarco also alleges that her department head, Eleanor Conwell, Corporal Sharon Gay, a school employee, and the mentor teacher assigned to help her improve her teaching, Jonathan Wemple, made false statements about her, negatively evaluated her, and failed to follow school policies in their dealings with her. (Id. ¶¶ 49-60).

After two years of negative formal evaluations and, according to these evaluations, the failure of Ms. Sammarco to improve, Ms. Nicholson recommended that Ms. Sammarco be terminated. (Def.’s Mot., ECF No. 8, Ex. 9 (“Termination Letter”)). The findings in these evaluations were apparently mirrored by negative observations and reprimands Ms. Sammarco received from both of her assistant principals, her department head, and her mentor teacher. (See Compl. ¶¶ 41-43, 46-47, 50, 59).

Ms. Sammarco subsequently was placed on administrative leave by Superintendent William Hite on August 17, 2012, pending a final resolution of the termination process. Ms. Sammarco appealed the termination recommendation, and the hearing examiner affirmed Dr. Hite’s recommendation on June 18, 2013. (See Correspondence, ECF No. 15). In her complaint, Ms. Sammarco alleges that five Prince George’s County schools employees involved in her administrative appeal also treated her unfairly and/or made false statements about her. (Compl. ¶¶ 61-70).

Ms. Sammarco appears to have begun alleging that she was being treated unfairly at the high school based on race and age in letters she wrote to various entities sometime in the spring of 2012, as well as by filing suit under Title VII and the ADEA on April 26, 2012. (Id. ¶ 7). Her suit initially was dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, but she received a right to sue letter from the EEOC in February 2013, (ECF No. 1-1), and she filed this action in April 2013.

ANALYSIS

When ruling on a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must “accept the well-pled allegations of the complaint as true, ” and “construe the facts and reasonable inferences derived therefrom in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Ibarra v. United States, 120 F.3d 472, 474 (4th Cir. 1997). “Even though the requirements for pleading a proper complaint are substantially aimed at assuring that the defendant be given adequate notice of the nature of a claim being made against him, they also provide criteria for defining issues for trial and for early disposition of inappropriate complaints.” Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir. 2009). “The mere recital of elements of a cause of action, supported only by conclusory statements, is not sufficient to survive a motion made pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6).” Walters v. McMahen, 684 F.3d 435, 439 (4th Cir. 2012) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). To survive a motion to dismiss, the factual allegations of a complaint “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations and alterations omitted). “To satisfy this standard, a plaintiff need not ‘forecast’ evidence sufficient to prove the elements of the claim. . . . However, the complaint must allege sufficient facts to establish those elements.” Walters, 684 F.3d at 439 (quotations and citation omitted). “Thus, while a plaintiff does not need to demonstrate in a complaint that the right to relief is ‘probable, ’ the complaint must advance the plaintiff’s claim ‘across the line from conceivable to plausible.’” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

Construing her complaint liberally, Ms. Sammarco appears to be alleging disparate treatment based on race and age, hostile work environment, and retaliation for protected activity. The school board argues that Ms. Sammarco failed to properly serve the defendants, that her claims are not ripe, and that she has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Because, as explained below, Ms. Sammarco has not plausibly alleged any cognizable claim under Title VII or the ADEA, [2] the court will assume, without deciding, that service was effective and that her complaint is timely.

I. Disparate Treatment

Title VII makes it illegal for an employer “to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e–2(a). In order to state a prima facie claim of discrimination under Title VII, a plaintiff must plausibly allege: “(1) membership in a protected class; (2) satisfactory job performance; (3) adverse employment action; and (4) different treatment from similarly situated employees outside the protected class.” Coleman v. Md. Court of Appeals, 626 F.3d 187, 190 (4th Cir. 2010). “A similar analysis is conducted for [a plaintiff’s] claim of age discrimination, except that the fourth element is satisfied with proof of replacement by a substantially younger worker—not proof of replacement by someone entirely outside the ADEA's protected class.” Dugan v. Albemarle Cnty. Sch. Bd., 293 F.3d 716, 721 (4th Cir. 2002).

Ms. Sammarco has failed to state a prima facie claim of disparate treatment under Title VII and the ADEA because she has not plausibly alleged that she was satisfactorily performing her duties, nor that similarly situated employees of a different race or age received more favorable treatment. All of the grievances Ms. Sammarco levels at her principal and ten other Prince George’s county employees revolve around her unhappiness with the teacher evaluation process and the administrative appeals process. She obviously feels that the school district has treated her unfairly, and she vigorously disagrees with the negative evaluations, reprimands, training, and advice she received during her tenure. The evaluations with which she disagreed, however, are consistent in their negative findings; according to her complaint, she was negatively observed and reprimanded by her two assistant principals, her department head, and her mentor teacher, in addition to her principal; and she was given opportunities to improve over the course of two years. All of these facts, as alleged, preclude an inference that Ms. Sammarco was meeting the legitimate expectations of the school district. See Warch v. Ohio Cas. Ins. Co., 435 F.3d 510, 516-18 (4th Cir. 2006) (affirming that plaintiff did not meet performance prong of a prima facie claim under Title VII because he received reprimands “based on concrete, specific observations and [his employer] accompanied its reprimands with explicit instructions on how to improve”); Hart v. Broadway Services, Inc., 899 F.Supp.2d 433, 442 (D. Md. 2012) (finding plaintiff failed to show he was performing his duties at a level meeting his employer’s “legitimate expectations, ” even though he had “three positive performance evaluations” in his file, because “[i]n the final two years before [he] was terminated, his performance was decidedly poor.”).

Furthermore, Ms. Sammarco has not shown that younger individuals or teachers of other races were treated more favorably than her. See Haywood v. Locke, 387 F. App’x 355, 359 (4th Cir. 2010) (“Such a showing would include evidence that the employees ‘dealt with the same supervisor, [were] subject to the same standards and . . . engaged in the same conduct without such differentiating or mitigating circumstances that would distinguish their conduct or the employer's treatment of them for it.’”) (quoting Mitchell v. Toledo Hosp., 964 F.2d 577, 583 (6th Cir. 1992)).[3] She has also not pled any other circumstance which would give “rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination.” Bryant v. Aiken Regional Medical Centers, Inc., 333 F.3d 536, 545 (4th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). It is not plausible that the entire cadre of administrators and fellow educators that Ms. Sammarco alleges participated in her observation, evaluation, termination, and appeals process and made false statements about her performance were collectively discriminating against her based on race or age. Ms. Sammarco was negatively evaluated by both white and black employees. (E.g., Compl. ¶¶ 9-10, 56, 59). Her complaint contains only conclusory allegations that younger teachers or teachers of different races were treated more favorably. (Compl. ¶¶ 28-31, 35, 40). In fact, there is no indication that ...


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