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Youngblood v. City of Boston Public Schools

Superior Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

October 31, 2016

Danielle Youngblood
City of Boston Public Schools et al No. 135328


          Peter M. Lauriat, Justice

         The plaintiff, Danielle Youngblood (" Youngblood"), brought this action against the defendants, City of Boston Public Schools (" BPS"), BPS Superintendent Tommy Chang (" Chang") and Marco Curnen (" Curnen") (collectively, " the defendants"), seeking damages arising from the defendants' purported retaliation against her in violation of the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act, G.L.c. 151B, § 4. The defendants have now moved to dismiss Youngblood's Amended Complaint pursuant to Mass.R.Civ.P. (12)(b)(6). For the reasons stated below, the defendants' motion is denied.


         The following facts are taken from Youngblood's Amended Complaint and are accepted as true for purposes of deciding the defendants' motion to dismiss.

         The Amended Complaint is unclear as to when BPS hired Youngblood, but indicates she has worked for BPS as a middle school English Language Arts (" ELA") instructor since at least the 2007 to 2008 school year, and that she attained " permanent teacher status" [1] in September 2010. For the 2010 to 2011 and 2011 to 2012 school terms, BPS assigned Youngblood to teach at the McKay School in East Boston (the " School") where she reported to Curnen, who was the School's principal.

         In December 2010, Youngblood informed Curnen that a student, referred to in the Amended Complaint as John Doe, was sexually harassing her and had given her a note that stated she had " a fat butt." Following John Doe's disciplinary hearing for this incident, [2] Youngblood approached Curnen to suggest the School offer " gender-based learning . . . to provide advisory support to all students to avoid another sexual harassment situation." During this conversation, Youngblood also told Curnen that her male students often asked her questions that were too personal and disregarded her professional role. Curnen responded that the problem " probably [came] from" how Youngblood interacted with her male students.

         On April 29, 2011, Curnen issued Youngblood a written warning, which she and the Boston Teacher's Union grieved on May 5, 2011. The Amended Complaint does not describe the facts alleged in support of this warning, but Youngblood contends that it was related to " a retaliatory campaign" Curnen had orchestrated against her following her complaint about John Doe.

         On June 15, 2011, Youngblood reported to Curnen that a male student, referred to in the Amended Complaint as John Doe #2, had written her a letter threatening an assault and battery on her. Curnen allegedly responded by asking Youngblood why she wanted John Doe #2 to face consequences and telling Youngblood she should handle the situation herself. On an unspecified date following this discussion, but prior to June 23, 2011, Curnen set up a meeting with John Doe #2 and two mediators. The Amended Complaint is unclear as to whether the meeting was in response to the note John Doe #2 gave Youngblood on June 15, 2011; however, during the meeting, one of the mediators asked John Doe #2 whether Youngblood had ever " disrespected him or made him feel unsafe, " John Doe #2 responded, " no, " and stated that he had previously given Youngblood a " hard time" because " she would not allow him to say the N-word in school."

         On June 23, 2011, Curnen completed and issued Youngblood's first-term evaluation (" Spring 2011 Evaluation"). The Spring 2011 Evaluation stated that Youngblood had not met BPS standards regarding " safe, respectful, [and] culturally sensitive and responsive learning communities, " and that Youngblood focused " on her personal presence in the classroom as opposed to the relationship between professional and student." Apparently referencing the December 2010 incident with John Doe, Curnen wrote that Youngblood " continue[d] to define one inappropriate and mistaken decision by one student as 'sexual harassment from a student.'" Prior to the Spring 2011 Evaluation, Youngblood's evaluations had consistently ranked her as having " met or exceeded" all BPS expectations. Her students' ELA scores on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (" MCAS") for the 2010-2011 school year ranked in the eighty-fourth percentile.

         In September 2011, Youngblood contacted Curnen about her application to the Performance Review Program for Initial Licensure (" PRPIL"). Youngblood alleges that the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education required her to participate in the PRPIL program, though the precise consequences of a failure to participate are unclear. During their conversation, Curnen agreed to sign the " Principal's Agreement" Youngblood needed to certify she had Curnen's approval to participate in the PRPIL program. Curnen also instructed Youngblood to set up a meeting with him and her prospective mentor.[3]

         Youngblood unsuccessfully tried to set up a meeting with Curnen regarding her PRPIL application throughout the rest of September, October, and December 2011. Curnen was never able to confirm a day or time for the PRPIL meeting, but nonetheless continued to initiate meetings with Youngblood to share his observations of her classroom.[4]

         On Thursday, December 1, 2011, Curnen asked Youngblood to send him certain data about her students, including parent communication logs and writing samples with grading rubrics attached, by the following day. Youngblood told Curnen she would get him the data as soon as possible, but was out sick the following day. When Youngblood returned on Monday, December 5, 2011, Curnen approached Youngblood during her planning period and asked for the data again. Youngblood responded she needed at least one more day " to put together a polished presentation, " but Curnen maintained that he needed the information the same day. When Youngblood presented the information to Curnen in his office at the end of the school day, he handed her a preprinted term evaluation in return (" Fall 2011 Evaluation").

         The Fall 2011 Evaluation stated Youngblood had not met BPS standards regarding " equity and high expectations" and " instructional planning and implementation." The Amended Complaint states that Curnen " copied and pasted" prescriptions for improvement, but does not indicate from where the prescriptions were " copied and pasted." When Youngblood told her colleagues about the Fall 2011 Evaluation, they suggested she sign up for a peer assistance program that Curnen had apparently told Youngblood's colleagues about, but had never mentioned to her. Shortly thereafter, Youngblood emailed Curnen and invited him to observe her classroom so that he could see her teaching was in accord with the prescriptions set forth in the Fall 2011 Evaluation, but Curnen did not respond.

         During a January 20, 2012 post-observation meeting, Youngblood mentioned a 2011 incident to Curnen where John Doe had written a letter to her that stated, " Ms. Youngblood you got a fat butt. Shhh!!!" [5] Youngblood told Curnen that the note constituted sexual harassment, that she was offended as a woman, and that John Doe's conduct was " hurtful and violating." Curnen agreed that John Doe had engaged in inappropriate conduct, but told Youngblood that the behavior did not constitute sexual harassment. Curnen also told Youngblood that " her primary identity in the classroom was as a teacher, and her identity of 'womanhood' was secondary."

         On January 27, 2012, Youngblood informed Curnen that John Doe had told her she had a " Brazilian bubble butt" [6] several times that day. Youngblood alleges she repeatedly, and explicitly stated that she neither felt comfortable nor safe around John Doe, " and " explicitly requested that a meeting take place of only men, where [John Doe] would be provided with a supportive male perspective, who could support that student's understanding of the necessity of healthy gender-based interaction." Curnen never arranged the requested meeting, and allegedly told Youngblood that a representative from the BPS Equity Office would address her concerns about John Doe.

         On January 30, 2012, Youngblood told Curnen that she urgently needed him to sign the Principal's Agreement so she could send in her PRPIL application materials. Curnen signed the agreement, but also noted on the agreement that Youngblood's performance did not currently meet BPS standards. Youngblood submitted her PRPIL application the following day.

         At an unspecified time thereafter, Curnen told Youngblood that his most recent evaluation of her " left him with reservations." Youngblood responded that she was working with a " peer assistant" " who had given her valuable feedback and high marks." Youngblood also told Curnen her peer assistant had tried to set up a meeting with him to discuss his or her support for Youngblood's PRPIL application, but Curnen did not respond to the peer assistant's emails until just before the application deadline.[7] Shortly after this conversation, Youngblood spoke to the director of the PRPIL program, who asked Youngblood to ask Curnen to call her to confirm his position on the Principal's Agreement. Youngblood alleges that Curnen ignored the PRPIL ...

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