Teacher sues school after termination, alleging discrimination… | TCTA
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Teacher sues school after termination, alleging discrimination and retaliation

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A teacher employed with a charter school began efforts to celebrate Black History Month with a parade on campus. The principal informed her that, due to testing, the school did not have time for a parade that year. The teacher, who is African American, then sent an email filing a discrimination grievance against the principal. The following day, the principal called a meeting with all teachers involved in the parade. The principal explained that the school had a three-prong approach to Black History Month and provided an alternative of hanging posters around the school. The teacher accused the principal of calling the meeting in response to her grievance the day prior.

Grievances were then filed against the teacher. The school placed the teacher on paid leave while it investigated the grievances. The teacher returned to work two days later. Thereafter, the school received additional grievances regarding the teacher. These stated that other teachers felt harassed and alleged that the teacher was creating a hostile work environment. The school placed the teacher on leave for a second time it investigated.

As a result of the investigation, the area superintendent terminated the teacher's employment, stating that the teacher was "unnecessarily confrontational, threatening, and with the intent/effect of bullying and intimating co-workers," and that her conduct "created a toxic work environment, which was unacceptable" to the school. The school formally terminated the teacher's employment due to "misconduct."

The teacher then sued the school for racial discrimination, retaliation and creation of a hostile work environment due to race. A district court dismissed the lawsuit and the teacher appealed.

The court of appeals began its analysis by noting that it is unlawful to terminate an employee "because of race, sex, or national origin."

In this case, there was no direct evidence that the termination was based on race, so the court found that the teacher must prove the following factors: that she (1) is a member of a protected class; (2) was qualified for her position; (3) was subject to an adverse employment action; and (4) that others similarly situated were treated more favorably.

The court noted that she had met the first three conditions. For the fourth, the teacher argued that a white teacher was similarly situated to her and was treated more favorably in that the white teacher was retained despite similar misconduct. However, the court disagreed that the white teacher was treated more favorably, noting that the white teacher had no history of grievances being filed against her as to cause the superintendent to open a similar investigation to the one that was opened against the complaining teacher. Rather, the sole complaint against the white teacher was by the complaining teacher herself.

The court of appeals then looked at the teacher's claim of a hostile work environment.

To prove a hostile work environment, the teacher must show that (1) she is a member of a protected class; (2) she suffered unwelcomed harassment; (3) the harassment was based on her membership in a protected class; (4) the harassment affected a term, condition, or privilege of employment; and (5) the employer knew or should have known about the harassment and failed to take prompt remedial action.

In this case, although the teacher felt bullied and harassed, she did not specify any objectively offensive conduct attributable to her race that was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of her employment. For example, there was no evidence that the teacher was subjected to race-based comments, slurs, or derogatory remarks. Occasional workplace critiques and disagreements between two teachers who did not get along are not evidence of the type of hostile workplace environment that could allow her to sustain a lawsuit.

Finally, regarding the claim of retaliation, the court of appeals stated that the teacher must show (1) she participated in a protected activity; (2) her employer took an adverse employment action against her; and (3) a causal link exists between the protected activity and the adverse employment action.

Here, the teacher provided no evidence that she was terminated because she filed a complaint of discrimination. To the contrary, the court found that evidence supported the superintendent's finding that the teacher created a toxic work environment by being confrontational and threatening, with the intent and effect of bullying her co-workers.

The court of appeals upheld the judgment of the district court and dismissed the lawsuit.