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Baldwin v. Independent School District No. 1 of Tulsa County

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

February 9, 2017

BELINDA BALDWIN, Plaintiff,
v.
INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 1 OF TULSA COUNTY, OKLAHOMA, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          FRANK H. MCCARTHY United States Magistrate Judge.

         Defendant Tulsa School District's Motion for Summary Judgment is before the court for decision. [Dkt. 33]. The matter has been fully briefed. [Dkt. 33, 36, 37]. Plaintiff's sole remaining claim is against Independent School District No. 1 of Tulsa County (the District) under 42 U.S.C. §1983 for the alleged violation of procedural due process in connection with the suspension of her employment and her resignation. The District seeks summary judgment on that claim.[1]

         BACKGROUND

         Dissatisfied with Plaintiff's job performance, the District Superintendent decided to seek Plaintiff's dismissal from her employment with the District. Plaintiff was suspended immediately with full pay and benefits and informed that the due process procedure for dismissal would be initiated, including Plaintiff's right to a hearing before the school board. At the same time, Plaintiff was given the option of resigning. If she resigned, she would receive pay and benefits through the end of the school year, but there would be no hearing and she would waive any and all claims against the District. After considering her options overnight, including consulting her partner and a financial advisor, Plaintiff resigned.

         Plaintiff now claims that she was denied due process. The District responds that Plaintiff received all the process she was due before her suspension and that she freely and voluntarily waived her due process rights thereafter by resigning. For the reasons set forth herein, the court agrees with the District.

         LEGAL STANDARDS

         Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c), summary judgment is appropriate if the pleadings, affidavits and exhibits show that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). A genuine issue of fact exists only "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). To survive a motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party "must establish that there is a genuine issue of material fact" and "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585-86, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1455-56, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). However, the factual record and reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom must be construed in the light most favorable to the non-movant. Gullickson v. Southwest Airlines Pilots' Ass'n., 87 F.3d 1176, 1183 (10th Cir. 1996). When a motion for summary judgment is made and supported by evidence, the party opposing summary judgment may not rest on mere allegations or denials, but must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).

         UNDISPUTED FACTS

         The Court is required to view the facts in the light most favorably to the non-moving party, Plaintiff. Gullickson, 87 F.3d at 1183. Taken in that light, the material facts are as follows.[2]

         Plaintiff was employed by the District as a principal at Eisenhower International Elementary School (Eisenhower) during the 2012-3013 and 2013-2014 school years under a certified administrator's contract which, under Oklahoma law entitled Plaintiff to certain due process prior to dismissal or nonreemployment.

         In the 2012-2013 school year the District implemented the Tulsa Model of the state-mandated Teacher Leadership Education System (TLE). Plaintiff received training on the implementation of the TLE, including the required observation and evaluation timelines. The adequacy of Plaintiff's training is not an issue. Plaintiff was expected to follow the TLE evaluation process during the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 school years.

         Deficiencies in Plaintiff's evaluation of teachers and her implementation of the TLE at Eisenhower were addressed with Plaintiff on March 7, 2013, and April 12, 2013. On April 12, 2013, Plaintiff received and signed a Personal Development Plan (PDP) wherein the expectation was communicated that Plaintiff would adhere to all TLE processes and guidelines. The PDP addressed Plaintiff's failure to comply with the timeline and process of implementing the TLE and her less than candid reporting on the status of the TLE implementation. Plaintiff was advised that she would receive an “ineffective rating” on the indicator of “Organization and School Management: Teacher Observation and Evaluation” in her 2012-2013 evaluation. She was also informed that any repeat of such actions “would result in a recommendation for immediate dismissal.” [Dkt. 33-8]. A follow-up of the PDP was completed and signed by Plaintiff on May 13, 2013. Plaintiff was found to have remedied her previous deficiencies. However, the follow-up report advised Plaintiff she was required to effectively complete the TLE process for the 2013-2014 school year, and failure to do so could be the basis for dismissal or nonreemployment.

         During the 2013-2014 school year, on October 25, 2014, a goal setting plan was completed as part of the evaluation system for administrators. Among the goals was a directed goal for Plaintiff to encourage effective open and honest communication between and among teachers, staff, and the larger community. The directed goal advised that failure to comply or repetition of unsatisfactory performance could result in dismissal or nonreemployment at any time. Plaintiff received and signed another PDP on November 21, 2013, which was related to the directed goal and addressed untruthful and false information shared by Plaintiff. The PDP stated that failure to comply with the PDP or a repeat of unsatisfactory performance may result in dismissal or nonreemployment.

         In her position as principal, Plaintiff was the sole TLE evaluator of certified staff at Eisenhower for the 2013-2014 school year. A report generated by the District showed that Plaintiff conducted at least 13 observation conferences under the TLE on December 20, 2013. The number of conferences performed in a single day raised concerns about whether the required amount of time was spent for each conference. An investigation was conducted and certain teachers at Eisenhower were interviewed on January 14, 2014 and February 4, 2014. It was determined that Plaintiff had violated the state-mandated TLE process on more than one occasion. A recommendation was made to the District Superintendent that Plaintiff be suspended pending the initiation of a dismissal proceeding. The Superintendent made the decision to suspend ...


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