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Deblanc v. ST. Tammany Parish School Board

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

March 18, 2015



CARL J. BARBIER, District Judge.

Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment (Rec. Doc. 13) filed by Defendant St. Tammany Parish School Board (School Board), Plaintiff Cynthia DeBlanc's opposition thereto (Rec. Doc. 27), and the School Board's reply. (Rec. Doc. 32) Having considered the parties' submissions, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds, for the reasons expressed below, that the motion should be GRANTED.


This litigation comprises Plaintiff's claims against her former employer, St. Tammany Parish School Board, for discrimination and retaliation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. ยง 12111, et seq. (Rec. Doc. 1) Plaintiff alleges that she suffers from "chemo brain" as a result of the two-and-one-half years of extensive chemotherapy and radiation therapy she underwent after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002. (Rec. Doc. 27, p. 1) Plaintiff explains that this condition causes her "to experience compromised short-term memory, difficulty [in thinking] in a linear way, difficulty [in understanding] directions and [reading] maps, and [difficulty in performing] sequential tasks such as filling out forms, and dealing with numbers." Id. at 2. Nonetheless, Plaintiff maintains that the condition "in no way impacts [her] ability to retain emotional data, character data and to perceive the overarching family, environmental and personal dynamics impacting the client, and the reasons involved in providing effective, expert diagnostics." Id.

In December of 2007, Plaintiff interviewed with Darryl Bruno, Mental Health Coordinator for St. Tammany Parish Schools, for a Mental Health Provider position in the St. Tammany Parish Schools. Id. at 1. At the interview, Plaintiff explained her past health problems and her ongoing struggle with "chemo brain." Id. at 1-2. Mr. Bruno hired Plaintiff forty-five minutes after her interview, but according to Plaintiff, he told her, "Do not tell anyone at the schools you have chemo brain." Id. at 2, 4. Plaintiff was a part-time contract employee, and the term of her final contract with the schools was August 22, 2008, to May 18, 2009.[1] (Rec. Doc. 13-1, p. 1; Rec. Doc. 13-4; Rec. Doc. 13-11)

Plaintiff began working as a Mental Health Provider in the St. Tammany Parish Schools in January of 2008. (Rec. Doc. 27, p. 3) Plaintiff did not receive any training or instructions regarding her administrative or clerical duties as a mental health provider; she "was told nothing about time sheets, maps to schools..., expectations about time with clients, office availability, [or] how to interact with people at the front desk when calling for a student." Id . "[I]n-house school counselor[s]" generally referred children to Plaintiff and typically obtained and retained the requisite parental consent forms. Id . When the counselor failed to obtain these forms, Plaintiff "was instructed to do so." Id . Although Plaintiff was not inhibited in her ability to provide treatment, Plaintiff alleges that these administrative tasks "were all the types of tasks with which [she] had difficulty... because of [her] chemo brain disability." Id.

On May 20, 2009, [2] Plaintiff and Mr. Bruno were attending the third day of a five-day work-related workshop for mental health professionals. Id. at 5. During the workshop, Plaintiff remarked that diagnosing difficult patients with Borderline Personality Disorder is as stigmatizing to those patients as racial epithets are to African Americans. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that she stated, "It's tantamount in its damage to calling an African American a nigger.'" Id. at 16. During the lunch break, Mr. Bruno approached Plaintiff and told her that she was fired. Id. at 5. When Plaintiff asked why, Mr. Bruno allegedly stated, "School, " and offered no further explanation. Id . Plaintiff states that Mr. Bruno indicated to her that he would meet with her the following week to discuss his decision. Id . No such meeting took place. Id. at 5-7.

Plaintiff later phoned Mr. Bruno's secretary to inquire about obtaining the Continuing Education Units and pay that she earned by attending the mental health workshop.[3] Id. at 6. Mr. Bruno answered the call and informed Plaintiff that she would receive neither the credits nor pay for her attendance at the workshop. Id . Defendant also refused Plaintiff's request for a meeting to discuss her termination. Id.

On June 12, 2009, Mr. Bruno filed a complaint against Plaintiff with the Louisiana State Board of Social Work Examiners.[4] (Rec. Doc. 13-5, pp. 1-2) In it, Mr. Bruno described a number of grievances. He stated that other social workers had observed Plaintiff receiving shoulder and back rubs from her student-patients and offering the same to another social worker. Id. at 1. Mr. Bruno also accused Plaintiff of continuing to counsel a student after the student's parent refused counseling services. Id . Finally, Mr. Bruno questioned Plaintiff's ability to effectively counsel students. Mr. Bruno referenced Plaintiff's habit of discussing personal matters on her cell phone and eating with children present, constant disorientation on campus, lack of organizational skills, and cultural incompetency. Id. at 2. As an example of the latter, Mr. Bruno described Plaintiff's May 20, 2009, remarks from the mental health workshop, which he described as being the "last straw as her Supervisor." Id . Mr. Bruno noted that while he was "sympathetic to [Plaintiff's] condition, the number of complaints against her performance as a Clinical Social Worker" left him with no alternative but to file the official complaint. Id . The Board of Social Work informed Plaintiff of the Complaint with a letter dated June 24, 2009. (Rec. Doc. 27, p. 8) Following an investigation, the Board of Social Work found that Plaintiff had seen a few children without first obtaining a parent's consent.[5] Id. at 7.

Plaintiff hired an attorney, Elvige Cassard, to represent her in obtaining her continuing education credits and salary. Id. at 6. On June 18, 2009, Mr. Cassard sent a letter to Mr. Bruno informing him of the representation and making certain demands. (Rec. Doc. 13-6, pp. 1-2) First, Mr. Cassard asked Mr. Bruno to write to Plaintiff and explain his decision to terminate her. Id. at 1. Additionally, Mr. Cassard explained that Plaintiff was owed "all amounts due in connection with her employment" under Louisiana law. Id. at 1-2. Mr. Cassard noted that Plaintiff was owed $324 in wages, $189 to cover the cost of the Continuing Education Units Plaintiff would have earned at the workshop had she not been terminated, $600 in penalties to date, and $200 in attorneys' fees to date. Id. at 2. Mr. Cassard demanded payment of the total amount of $1313 by June 25, 2009. Id.

On March 17, 2010, Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (Rec. Doc. 13-3) Plaintiff indicated that her complaint of discrimination was based on "Disability." Id . Plaintiff wrote that she believed she had been terminated "because of [her] medical condition in violation of the [ADA]."[6] Id . She did not check the box for "Retaliation" in her Charge. Id . She did, however, check the box for "Retaliation" in the questionnaire she completed when submitting her Charge of Discrimination. (Rec. Doc. 27-1, p. 20)

On March 8, 2012, Plaintiff filed an "Amended Charge" with the EEOC. (Rec. Doc. 13-7, p. 1) In the amended charge, Plaintiff indicated that she based her Charge of Discrimination on "Retaliation" and "Disability." Id . She further amended her Charge by including additional information about her medical condition, alleging that both her termination and Mr. Bruno's complaint with the Louisiana State Board of Social Work Examiners amounted to discrimination and retaliation under the ADA. Id. at 1-2.

On October 24, 2013, Plaintiff filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. (Rec. Doc. 1) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant discriminated and retaliated against her in violation of the ADA when Defendant terminated her on May 20, 2009, and filed a Complaint against her with the Louisiana State Board of Social Work Examiners on June 12, 2009. Id . Plaintiff asserts that she had "fully complied with all prerequisites and conditions precedent to jurisdiction in this Court under the ADA."[7] Id. at 1. Among other things, Plaintiff seeks back pay, front pay, benefits, medical expenses, compensatory damages arising from her "pain and suffering and mental anguish and distress, " and attorneys' fees. Id. at 5-6.

Defendant filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment (Rec. Doc. 13) on September 26, 2014. Plaintiff opposed the motion on March 3, 2015.[8] (Rec. Doc. 27) ...

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