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Goudeau v. East Baton Rouge Parish School Board

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

July 31, 2012

SHEILA GOUDEAU
v.
EAST BATON ROUGE PARISH SCHOOL BOARD, ET AL

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For Sheila Goudeau, Plaintiff: Craig Sterling Watson, LEAD ATTORNEY, Baton Rouge, LA.

For East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, Shilonda Shamlin, Individually and in her official capacity as Principal, John Dilworth, In his official capacity as Superintendent, Charolette Placide, Individually and in her official capacity, Defendants: Carla S. Courtney-Harris, Pamela Wescovich Dill, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Hammonds & Sills, Baton Rouge, LA; Karen D. Murphy, LEAD ATTORNEY, Murphy's Law, APLC, Geismar, LA.

OPINION

FRANK J. POLOZOLA.J.

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RULING

This matter is before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment by the defendants. [1] Plaintiff has filed an opposition to the motion. [2] No oral argument is required on this motion. For reasons which follow, Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. Factual Background

Plaintiff Sheila Goudeau (" Plaintiff" ) is a certified teacher employed by the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board and is currently teaching at Villa del Rey Elementary School. Prior to holding this position, she taught at Riveroaks Elementary School from 2001 to 2009. Shilonda Shamlin (" Shamlin" ) became principal of Riveroaks in 2006. Both parties agree that initially, Plaintiff and Shamlin enjoyed a

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good working relationship. The record reveals that Plaintiff volunteered in various ways to assist Shamlin, and also served on several school committees, including the School Improvement Team where she kept minutes of the monthly meetings.

Plaintiff taught fifth grade until the 2008-2009 school year, when she was reassigned to teach the fourth grade by Shamlin. It was during this time that Plaintiff claims that Shamlin directed her " both verbally and in writing" to change students' grades from an " F" to a " D." Plaintiff also claims she was directed not to give a student a grade lower than a 60. Plaintiff contends she tried on many occasions to give her students the proper grade which they earned, but she was circumvented by not only Shamlin, but by the office secretary responsible for actually placing the students' grades on the report cards. Plaintiff contends that there were several occasions when the office secretary changed the grades the Plaintiff gave to the student to a higher grade. Plaintiff also alleges that not only was she given a directive by Shamlin to change grades but other fourth grade teachers at Riveroaks were given the same directive from Shamlin about changing grades.

During grade level meetings Plaintiff attended with other fourth grade teachers, Plaintiff claims Shamlin announced to the teachers that no grade could be given to a student that was less than a 60 so the child would have the opportunity to bring up the grade. Plaintiff also claims Shamlin's " Monday Morning Memos" also set forth this mandatory grade change policy. Plaintiff contends none of the fourth grade teachers agreed with Shamlin's grading policy, but the teachers followed the mandate out of fear they would receive repercussions from Shamlin.

Plaintiff states that as a result of the pressure of this grading policy and the harassment she suffered for speaking out about it, she also began suffering from stress, anxiety, and crying spells. In fact, Plaintiff alleges that the same year she was nominated for teacher of the year, Shamlin transferred her to another school. In support of her motion, Plaintiff has offered deposition testimony of other teachers who testified that they were harassed into implementing Shamlin's grading policy and threatened by Shamlin if they failed to follow the grading policy. Plaintiff contends that she was personally threatened with being written up by Shamlin and also was threatened with a transfer if she did not comply with Shamlin's grading policy.

Plaintiff reported Shamlin's grading policy to Paula Johnson, Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Support for the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board and the supervisor for Riveroaks Elementary. She received complaints about Shamlin's Monday Morning Memos, but characterized these as " personal" issues. Johnson allegedly investigated the grading complaint but ultimately concluded that Shamlin's instructions did not change grades because " an F was still an F." [3]

On May 9, 2009, Plaintiff filed an " Official Complaint Against Employee Form," which prompted a Level I meeting with Shamlin on May 22, 2009, which Plaintiff claims was abruptly ended when she refused to sign a letter written by Shamlin and presented to the Plaintiff. At the Level III hearing held by Herman Brister, Interim Chief Academic Officer, it

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was found that Shamlin " failed to adhere to the Board approved grading scale outlined in the Pupil Progression Plan for the 2008-2009 school year." [4] When asked in his deposition if Shamlin asked someone to change a grade from a 38 to a 60, for example, would this violate the Pupil Progression Plan, Brister testified in the affirmative, as he should have. Superintendent John Dilworth, who succeeded Charlotte Placide as Superintendent of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, also confirmed his belief that Shamlin failed to follow the grading plan, but took no action against Shamlin stating he " didn't oversee it close enough." [5]

Plaintiff filed suit against the Defendants alleging that she suffered retaliation for asserting her First Amendment right to free speech, violation of substantive due process under the 14th Amendment, violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and a claim under the Louisiana Whistleblower Statute codified at Louisiana Revised Statute 23:967.

Defendants acknowledge the directive by Shamlin to change low Fs to high Fs, referring to this practice as " helping the students succeed." [6] Defendants state this " culture of helping students succeed" was reflected in Shamlin's October 8, 2007 Monday memorandum. [7] Defendants contend Plaintiff never expressed her problems with Shamlin's policy until 2009, after the relationship between Shamlin and Plaintiff had deteriorated due to her move to fourth grade and Shamlin's issues with Plaintiff's teaching performance after observation. Defendants concede that Brister concluded at the Level III Grievance Hearing that Shamlin's policy technically violated the Pupil Progression Plan, but also note that Brister found insufficient evidence to show that Shamlin actually directed any teacher at Riveroaks to change students' grades. [8]

Defendants contend Plaintiff was not reprimanded in any way for choosing not to give her students a 50/60 F rather than the grade actually earned. The Defendants fail to explain the policy was in violation of the Board's rules. Defendants further contend Plaintiff knew of the grading policy in 2007 when she took the minutes of the meeting where this policy was initially discussed, and did not complain about the grading policy until 2009 after her relationship with Shamlin had already deteriorated. This argument fails to take into consideration that it was Shamlin who violated the Board's policy whether the Plaintiff or any other teacher complained about it. Defendants move for summary judgment on all of plaintiff's claims.

The Court now turns to a discussion of the law and jurisprudence applicable to this case.

II. Law and Analysis

A. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment should be granted if the record, taken as a whole, " together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a

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judgment as a matter of law." [9] The Supreme Court has interpreted the plain language of Rule 56(c) to mandate " the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." [10] A party moving for summary judgment " must 'demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact,' but need not negate the elements of the nonmovant's case." [11] If the moving ...


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