Maryland Federal Court Dismisses Three Lawsuits Against County Boards of Education

Kollman & Saucier
Kollman & Saucier

In the traditional sense, the “three Rs” charmingly stand for “reading, writing and arithmetic.” But retaliation, res judicata, and exhaustion of administrative remedies are the three Rs at the center of last week’s dismissals of three lawsuits involving the Boards of Education for Prince George’s, Montgomery, and Charles Counties in Maryland.

In Smith v. Board of Education of Prince George’s County, the plaintiff, a teacher, was reprimanded after breaking up an altercation between students and denying any knowledge of the incident.  A review of security footage revealed that the teacher assisted in breaking up the fight.  The principal issued the teacher a letter of counseling for misconduct, and the teacher filed a charge of discrimination.  Following the charge, the teacher claimed she received an “unsatisfactory” evaluation.

The teacher sued the Board for unlawful retaliation under Title VII, alleging that the letter of reprimand and negative evaluation were adverse employment actions.  The court explained that an adverse employment action for a Title VII discrimination claim must alter the terms or conditions of employment, whereas an adverse employment action for retaliation under Title VII need only cause a reasonable employee to find the action materially adverse.

While the court suggested that the letter comprised an adverse action in retaliation because it was “highly suggestive of collateral consequences” (specifically, that the plaintiff could be terminated), the Board successfully rebutted that the teacher’s failure to cooperate was the reason for the letter.  The court also found that the teacher had not received “ineffective” performance ratings as she had alleged.

In Pugh v. Board of Education Montgomery County, the plaintiff, who had sought to become a special education teacher for the 2014-2015 school year, claimed that the Board failed to hire her because of her race.  In the same lawsuit, she also alleged that the Board denied her request for a Conditional Degree Certificate to teach special education in 2008 and 2009 due to her race (claims that formed the basis of a lawsuit she had brought against the Board previously).  The Board argued first that the plaintiff failed to set forth a claim of discrimination under Title VII, and that her claim of discrimination based on failure to grant her the CDC was barred by res judicata.

The court agreed with the Board.  First, it found that the plaintiff had not renewed her request for the CDC after the Board initially denied it due to her lack of qualifications.  Additionally, the plaintiff had in fact raised and lost her previous lawsuit based on the Board’s previous denial of the CDC.  As a result, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s case.

In Meadows v. Charles County School Board of Education, et al., a former employee of Keller Transportation brought her claims of discrimination based on religion, national origin, and disability and retaliation against several defendants.  The Board had previously been dismissed, so that the remaining defendant in this case was Keller Transportation.  The court dismissed the employee’s case against Keller for several reasons.

In particular, the court found that the employee failed to exhaust her administrative remedies at the EEOC level.  When the allegations of discrimination must be considered by an administrative body (such as the EEOC) prior to filing a lawsuit, a court does not have jurisdiction over those allegations that the plaintiff failed to allege in the administrative complaint, or those which a reasonable investigation of the charge would not have uncovered.  The court explained that a reasonable investigation would uncover facts not identified in the charge that relate to the subject matter of the charge.  On the other hand, a reasonable investigation would not uncover different forms of discrimination or different types of discriminatory conduct from that identified in the charge.  In this case, the employee’s lawsuit contained allegations of different actions involving a different government agency from what she claimed in her administrative charge.  As a result, the court dismissed her claims because they were outside the scope of her EEOC charge.



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