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Bain v. Wrend

United States District Court, D. Vermont

July 28, 2016

DAVID BAIN, Plaintiff,
v.
TRACY WREND, as Superintendent for Lamoille South Supervisory Union and Individually, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER RE: DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS FOR FAILURE TO STATE A CLAIM (DOC. 7)

          Geoffrey W. Crawford, United States District Court Judge.

         Plaintiff, David Bain, brings this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against Tracy Wrend, in her official capacity as Superintendent for the Lamoille South Supervisory Union and her individual capacity. Plaintiff claims Defendant violated his federal constitutional rights during the course of his employment. Plaintiff also asserts state law claims of wrongful discharge in violation of public policy, violations of the Vermont Fair Employment Practices Act ("VFEPA"), and intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED").

         Pending before the court is Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiffs First Amended Complaint (the "Amended Complaint") for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. A hearing on the motion was held on May 18, 2016. For the reasons that follow, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 7) is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         Background

         The court accepts as true the allegations in Plaintiffs Amended Complaint and draws all inferences in Plaintiffs favor, as it must on a motion to dismiss. See Littlejohn v. City of N. Y., 795 F.3d 297, 306-07 (2d Cir. 2015). However, the court emphasizes that by summarizing the following alleged facts in this decision it expresses no judgment as to whether the allegations are actually true.

         I. Plaintiffs Interactions with Defendant from 2008 to Early 2014

         Plaintiff worked as a teacher at the Peoples Academy School from 1989 to 2014. He taught a variety of subjects at both the middle and high school level, including computer technology and business. Plaintiff also supervised student extracurricular programs and acted as a class advisor. He "enjoyed a positive relationship with the school and its students, and was re-contracted for his position year-in and year-out from 1989 to 2014." (Doc. 3 at ¶ 6.)

         In 2008, Defendant became the Superintendent for the Lamoille South Supervisory Union. According to the Amended Complaint, Defendant's administration began "targeting" certain teachers and administrative personnel for "inappropriate criticism and attack." (Id. at ¶ 8.) "[Treatment of teachers was divided along a very clear line drawn between those who supported [Defendant] regardless of transgression, and those who expected [Defendant] to be held accountable for the discharge of her duties on behalf of the public, " as well as between "those who the Superintendent believed had influence in the community and those that did not." (Id. at ¶¶ 9, 10.) Specifically, Defendant "targeted and attacked those teachers and administrators who spoke out against matters affecting the public welfare; the proper administration of the school; and the health, safety and welfare of children." (Id. at ¶ 11.)

         Sometime during that year, another teacher employed by the Lamoille South Supervisory Union was warned and directed not to have inappropriate contact with students, not to be alone with a child, and not to socialize with children outside of school. Defendant "possessed information that the teacher violated these directives, " and "addressed the situation by arranging for the transfer of the teacher from the Lamoille South Supervisory Union to another school district."[1] (Id. at ¶¶ 15, 17.) Plaintiff was a "vocal critic" of the way in which Defendant handled this situation. (Id. at ¶ 19.)

         Defendant's response to the 2008 episode "was not an isolated incident." (Id. at ¶ 20.) Rather, "[o]n multiple occasions, [Defendant] handled serious incidences according to [her] self-interest in preserving her appearance of competence, and shielding herself from scrutiny at the expense of the health, safety and well-being of students." (Id. at ¶ 21.) Plaintiff remained "a vocal critic" of Defendant's decision-making and the manner in which she handled these situations. (Id. at ¶ 24.) Other teachers, administrators, school employees, students, and parents "also questioned, addressed, and/or criticized [Defendant] for her actions, inactions, and misdeeds that threatened both student and teacher alike." (Id. at ¶¶ 31-32.) But Defendant's only response to "serious allegations" against her was to "put[] them aside, " "cover[] them up, " and "intimidate[e] ... the complainant and anyone who criticized her actions, " seeking instead to "shield [herself] from scrutiny, " "hide problems at the schools, " and "create the appearance of success where failure resided." (Id. at ¶¶ 34-35.)

         Defendant's "targeting of her critics increased as her deficiencies became ever more prevalent, " but Plaintiff "persisted" in his criticisms, and "became a vocal and active proponent in matters of public concern involving [Defendant]." (Id. at ¶¶ 36-37.) The school in which Plaintiff worked and that Defendant oversaw "was deeply affected by the misdeeds of [Defendant], " as "[t]eachers and administrators became incapable of performing their jobs for fear of retaliation for doing anything more than meekly supporting [Defendant's] decision making, no matter how inappropriate." (Id. at ¶ 40.)

         II. February 2014 Meeting and Subsequent Allegations Against Plaintiff

         In February 2014, at a meeting "with other concerned school personnel, " Plaintiff addressed issues related to Defendant's conduct, including "sweeping-under-the-rug allegations involving student abuse, teacher mistreatment, and proper administration being sacrificed to create the appearance of success." (Id. at ¶ 41.)

         In the "wake" of this meeting, Plaintiff "became a full-blown target for a series of attacks by [Defendant] that ranged from trumped up innuendo to outright lies." (Id. at ¶ 42.) After Plaintiff complained of another incident of student abuse and criticized Defendant's failure to address the problem, he was charged by Defendant for failing to report abuse. Though this allegation was "unfounded, " (id. at ¶ 43), Defendant sent Plaintiff home from work as punishment. She did not investigate or punish the teacher who had engaged in the abuse, but rather "protected]" that teacher and "[swept] the allegation under the rug." (Id. at ¶ 44.)

         Sometime thereafter, Defendant alleged that Plaintiff was "grooming"[2] a student, despite there being "no legitimacy to this claim." (Id. at ¶ 46.)

         III. Last Chance Agreement

         On May 27, 2014, Plaintiff entered into a "Last Chance Agreement" (the "LCA") with the Morristown School District and the teacher's union.[3] The LCA stated that:

As an alternative to the School District seeking [Plaintiffs] discipline (including potential discharge) for just cause (e.g., insubordination, failure to report a reportable incident under school policy and state law, interfering with a school investigation, unprofessional boundaries with a student, dishonesty with the administration and unprofessional behavior in communications with colleagues), [Plaintiff], the [union], and the School District have agreed to enter this Last Chance Agreement as a "full, final, and complete resolution of the matter."

(Doc. 7-1 at 1.) The LCA called for Plaintiffs suspension without pay for ten days and required him to waive his rights to a disciplinary hearing to challenge the suspension. It also noted that the parties agreed it was Plaintiffs "last chance" and if he engaged in any misconduct or failed to follow all school policies and procedures going forward he would be terminated for "just cause." (Id. at 1-2.) Specifically, the LCA noted that all of Plaintiff s "communications and interactions with colleagues, students, and adults must be professional, respectful, and appropriate" going forward. (Id. at 1.)

         IV. Events Following Plaintiffs Signing of the LCA and Plaintiffs Termination

         After Plaintiff signed the LCA, Defendant began "engaging] in a pattern of nit-picking attack" on Plaintiff, so as to create a "false paper trail of [Plaintiffs] 'infraction[s]' and 'unprofessionalism.'" (Doc. 3 at ¶ 52.) Thereafter, Defendant alleged that Plaintiff had divulged confidential information regarding the grooming incident to another student, in violation of the terms of the LCA. As a result, Plaintiffs employment was terminated in September 2014 after a hearing before the Morristown Board of School Directors (the "Board").[4] Plaintiff, who was fifty-two years old at the time, was replaced by a "much younger and less qualified individual." (Id. at ¶ 67.) Defendant "continued to attack and destroy [Plaintiffs] reputation" such that he has been unable to "obtain employment to which he is a qualified and suitable candidate." (Id. at ¶62.)

         Analysis

         Plaintiff brings his federal claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides a civil claim against "[e] very person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected any citizen of the United States ... to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution." See Kletschka v. Driver, 411 F.2d 436, 448-49 (2d Cir. 1969) (purpose of § 1983 is to "provide a remedy when federal rights have been violated through the use or misuse of a power derived from a State.").

         Defendant argues that Plaintiff released all of his present claims when he signed the LCA. She also contends that the Amended Complaint does not adequately plead a First Amendment retaliation claim or a "stigma-plus" claim under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Finally, should the court exercise its supplemental jurisdiction ...


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