United States District Court, D. Maryland
CATHERINE C. BLAKE, District Judge.
Adriane Streiff sues her former employer, the Anne Arundel County Board of Education ("Board"), alleging the Board terminated her employment as a lunch/recess monitor, limited her employment as a substitute teacher, tolerated the rude conduct of her co-workers, and neglected her concerns about the treatment of her daughter in retaliation for asserting her daughter's entitlements under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12213, and the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 790-794f. The Board now seeks summary judgment on the grounds that Streiff has not made out a prima facie case of retaliation and that, even if she had, the Board's actions were justified by Streiff's harassment of her co-workers. That motion has been fully briefed and no hearing is necessary to its resolution. See Local Rule 105.5 (D. Md. 2014). For the reasons explained below, that motion will be granted.
The Benfield Elementary School operates under the control of the Board. ( See Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 6, Bozzella Aff. 1, ECF No. 30-8.) Streiff was the parent of A.S., a student at Benfield. ( See Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 1, Streiff Dep. 27.) She also served both as a lunch/recess monitor and, when needed, as a substitute teacher. ( See Streiff Dep. 10-11, 15-16.) A.S.'s education was guided by an individualized education plan ("IEP") administered by the Board. ( See Streiff Dep. 82-83.) That IEP initially included what Streiff describes as "language support." (Opp. Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 1, Streiff Aff. 3, ECF No. 37-2.)
In October 2010, however, the Board informed Streiff that it would be substituting for A.S.'s IEP an alternative educational plan that lacked language support. ( See Streiff Dep. 83-84; Streiff Aff. 3.) Streiff objected to that decision at the meeting at which it was finalized. ( See Streiff Dep. 84.) In the months that followed, she expressed concern about A.S.'s education to two of A.S.'s teachers, Lynn Skallos and Susan Linthicum, as well as the school's psychologist and speech pathologist. ( See Streiff Dep. 158-60; Streiff Decl. 3.) After Skallos rejected three requests to meet with Streiff about A.S.'s education in late February and early March, Streiff brought her concerns to Teresa Sacchetti, Benfield's principal, who convened two meetings on the subject. ( See Streiff Dep. 103, 157-58; Streiff Decl. 4-5.) Meanwhile, Streiff's professional relationship with Skallos, Linthicum, and other of her co-workers deteriorated. ( See Streiff Dep. 100-01; Streiff Aff. 5-6.) Streiff told Sacchetti that she feared Skallos and Linthicum's neglect of her complaints concerning A.S., as well as their personal animosity toward her, were in retaliation for those complaints. ( See Streiff Aff. 5.)
On the evening of April 14, Streiff and Linthicum encountered one another in a Safeway supermarket. ( See Streiff Dep. 54-57; Streiff Aff. 7.) The next morning, Linthicum described that encounter as harassing in a complaint to Sacchetti. ( See Opp. Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 6, Sacchetti Dep. 142, ECF No. 37-7; Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 3, Sacchetti Aff. 1-2, ECF No. 30-5.) After speaking with Linthicum, Sacchetti called Streiff's home. ( See Sacchetti Dep. 154; Streiff Dep. 34.) Refusing to speak with Streiff, Sacchetti told Streiff's husband that Streiff should not report to work that day. ( See Streiff Dep. 34; Opp. Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 5, Vince Streiff Aff. 3, ECF No. 3.) Later that day, Sacchetti formally terminated Streiff's role as a lunch/recess monitor. ( See Sacchetti Dep. 161.) Several weeks later, Sacchetti determined that Streiff could no longer serve as a substitute teacher at Benfield, ( see Sacchetti Aff. 3), although she was free to work at other schools operated by the Board, ( see Bozzella Aff. 3). Sacchetti explained that she took those actions on the basis of Linthicum's complaint. ( See Sacchetti Aff. 3.) That complaint resonated in part because it was consistent with a similar complaint that Streiff had harassed A.S.'s second grade teacher several years before. ( See Sacchetti Aff. 3.)
The parties have completed discovery. On the basis of that record, the Board now moves for summary judgment.
I. Standard of Review
Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), summary judgment should be granted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a) (emphases added). Whether a fact is material depends upon the substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Accordingly, "the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment." Id. at 247-48. The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant and draw all reasonable inferences in his favor. See, e.g., Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007); Greater Balt. Ctr. for Pregnancy Concerns, Inc. v. Mayor & City Council of Balt., 721 F.3d 264, 283 (4th Cir. 2013). At the same time, the court must not yield its obligation "to prevent factually unsupported claims and defenses from proceeding to trial." Bouchat v. Balt. Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 526 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting Drewitt v. Pratt, 999 F.2d 774, 779 (4th Cir. 1993)).
The Rehabilitation Act prohibits programs receiving federal funds from discriminating against disabled persons. See 29 U.S.C. § 794(a). To evaluate alleged violations of that prohibition, the Rehabilitation Act incorporates by reference certain provisions of the ADA, including 42 U.S.C. § 12203. See 29 U.S.C. § 794(d). That provision, in turn, proscribes "discriminat[ion] against any individual because such individual has opposed any act or practice made unlawful by" the ADA. 42 U.S.C. § 12203(a). Streiff's twin claims of retaliation under the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA thus converge on a single inquiry.
Absent direct evidence of retaliation, a plaintiff may prove discrimination under the ADA or Rehabilitation Act via the familiar burden-shifting framework described in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973). See, e.g., Rhoads v. FDIC, 257 F.3d 373, 391-92 (4th Cir. 2001).
Pursuant to this framework, a plaintiff first must make out a prima facie case of [retaliation]. The burden of production then shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate, non-discriminatory justification for its allegedly [retaliatory] action. Finally, if the employer carries this burden, the plaintiff then has an opportunity to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the ...