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Messick v. Board of Education of Wicomico County

United States District Court, District of Maryland, Southern Division

December 18, 2014

STACY MESSICK, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF WICOMICO COUNTY, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

George L. Russell, III United States District Judge.

Pending before the Court is Defendant Judith Bresler’s Motion for More Definite Statement (ECF No. 14), Defendants Wicomico County Board of Education (the “Board”), current and former Board members Marvin Blye, Tyrone Chase, Larry Dodd, Carolyn Elmore, Donald Fitzgerald, Ronald Willey, Michelle Wright, and Cathy Townsend’s (collectively the “Board Defendants”) Motion to Dismiss or in the Alternative for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 15), and Defendant John E. Fredericksen’s Motion to Dismiss or in the Alternative for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 16). Pro se Plaintiffs Stacy Messick and Stephanie Moses’s response was due November 26, 2014. (See ECF No. 31). To date, Plaintiffs have not filed a response. Accordingly, Defendants’ Motions will be considered unopposed. No hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D.Md. 2014). For the reasons set forth below, Fredericksen and the Board Defendants’ Motions for Summary Judgment will be granted and Bresler’s Motion for More Definite Statement will be denied as moot.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

On November 1, 1995, Moses accepted employment with the Wicomico County Public School System (“WCPS”) as a Personnel Specialist. She was later promoted and re-classified as the Coordinator of Human Resources. In that capacity, Moses was required to meet, negotiate, and work cooperatively with employees of the WCPS, as well as heads of bargaining units and Union Representatives. Prior to September 2011, Moses’s job performance was generally satisfactory.

Messick is an adult female born in 1980. On July 20, 2009, she began working for the WCPS as the Coordinator of Employee Relations. In that capacity Messick was also required to meet, negotiate, and work cooperatively with employees of the WCPS, as well as heads of bargaining units and Union Representatives. Prior to September 2011, Messick’s job performance was generally satisfactory.

Messick alleges, beginning in July 2010, Defendant John E. Fredericksen, Ph. D., Superintendent of the WCPS, harassed and discriminated against her by continually questioning her work performance and educational credentials based on her age and sex. She further alleges she was issued a disciplinary Memorandum on September 28, 2011 (the “September 28 Memorandum”), which underscored this ongoing harassing behavior and disparate treatment. Messick submitted to the Board a rebuttal to the September 28 Memorandum and requested that it be removed from her file.

Moses similarly alleges there were no documented concerns with her job performance until September 29, 2011, when Fredericksen issued her a disciplinary Memorandum (the “September 29 Memorandum”) citing his displeasure with her handling of the potential hiring of an employee. Moses also submitted to the Board a rebuttal to the September 29 Memorandum and requested that it be removed from her file. Plaintiffs collectively allege, however, the Board denied them unspecified rights afforded to all other employees facing potential disciplinary action.

On October 18, 2011, Plaintiffs met with Dave White, President of Wicomico County Education Association, to discuss the budget, personnel issues, upcoming negotiations, and the county council. White later relayed to Fredericksen that, during this meeting, Plaintiffs continuously changed the subject to topics such as: (1) Plaintiffs’ insistence that White assist them in an attempt to thwart Fredericksen’s contract renewal efforts; (2) Plaintiffs’ attempts to persuade White to delay the implementation of Fredericksen’s upcoming media campaign; and (3) Fredericksen’s alleged affair with the former President of the Board.

On October 25, 2011, Plaintiffs filed a formal appeal and discrimination complaint with the Board concerning the September 28 and 29 Memoranda, reiterating their request that the Memoranda be removed from their files and requesting that Fredericksen’s discriminatory actions cease. In conjunction with requesting a formal administrative appeal, Plaintiffs demanded that the Board instruct Fredericksen to refrain from directly addressing them in any supervisory capacity without the involvement of Cathy Townsend, Assistant Superintendent of the WCPS. Plaintiffs allege the Board discriminated and retaliated against them by not promptly and fairly investigating their appeal.[1]

On December 5, 2011, Fredericksen notified Plaintiffs that he became aware of, and was extremely concerned about, the content of Plaintiffs’ October 18, 2011 meeting with White. He advised Plaintiffs that disciplinary action may result. On December 9, 2011, Plaintiffs filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on the basis of sex and age discrimination and retaliation.

On December 28, 2011, Plaintiffs met with Fredericksen to discuss the content of, and Fredericksen’s concern with, Plaintiffs’ October 18, 2011 meeting with White. Despite Plaintiffs having denied making an attempt to thwart his authority as Superintendent, Fredericksen placed Plaintiffs on administrative leave following the December 28, 2011 meeting. Plaintiffs contend they were unfairly denied an opportunity to respond to Fredericksen’s accusations prior to being placed on administrative leave. Further, that this depravation was inconsistent with other disciplinary matters handled by the Board.

On January 11, 2012, Plaintiffs received termination letters. Fredericksen advised Plaintiffs that he found White to be credible in reporting Plaintiffs’ wish to sabotage his chances for reappointment as Superintendent, intent to delay a school media project he had desired, and spreading false rumors about his alleged affair with another Board member. As a result, Fredericksen lost the necessary faith, trust, and confidence that Plaintiffs, as senior members of his leadership team, were interested in working with him in a team-oriented manner. The termination letters outlined, as the reason for Plaintiffs’ terminations, Fredericksen’s inability to work with Plaintiffs because of their continued attempts to undermine his authority as Superintendent.

On August 20, 2014, Plaintiffs filed their Complaint pro se alleging sex and age discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-16 et seq. (2012) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 633a et seq. (2012) (Counts I, II), violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 1983, 1985 (2012) (Count III), and violations of various state law torts, including Intentional ...


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