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Eswarappa v. Community Action Inc.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

July 27, 2017




         This is an action alleging unlawful employment discrimination on the basis of age and national origin. Plaintiff Sunita Eswarappa, who is proceeding pro se, was employed as a teacher at Community Action Inc./Head Start (“CAI”) for approximately seven weeks. She alleges that she was unlawfully terminated from her position because of her age and national origin in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1) (“ADEA”), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., and Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151B § 4. She has also alleged claims for discrimination based on a hostile work environment and retaliation.[1]

         CAI has moved for summary judgment on all claims. For the reasons stated below, that motion will be granted.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are undisputed.

         CAI is a private non-profit organization that provides resources and opportunities for children living in poverty in the Haverhill, Amesbury, and Newburyport areas. (Espinola Aff. ¶ 2). It offers a Head Start program that provides services for infants, toddlers, and children through age five. (Id.).

         Sunita Eswarappa is a resident of Andover, Massachusetts. (Compl. ¶ 1). She is a 59-year-old woman who is originally from India. She graduated from the University of Mysore in India in 1982 with baccalaureate degrees in economics, political science, and sociology. (Id. at 2). She also has associate degrees in early childhood education and general studies. (Id.).

         1. The Application and Hiring Process

         Sometime between June and August 2011, Eswarappa applied for a position as a teacher at CAI. (Paterniti Aff. Ex. B; Pl. Ex. 2).[2] The Director of Children Services for the Head Start Program, Christina Espinola, coordinated her interviews for the position of preschool teacher. (Espinola Aff. ¶ 3). Following the interviews, Espinola made a recommendation to CAI's Policy Council that they hire Eswarappa, and the Council approved her recommendation. (Id.).[3]Eswarappa contends that she was hired in a full-time position, while CAI contends that she hired in a seasonal position. (Pl. Ex. C; Espinola Aff. ¶ 4). It is undisputed that she was hired in August 2011 and began work in early September. (Compl. ¶¶ 4-5; Def. SMF ¶ 3).

         2. Orientation and Training

         CAI has a 90-day orientation period that is “intended to give new employees the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to achieve a satisfactory level of performance and to determine whether the new position meets their expectations.” (Paterniti Aff. Ex. O). CAI uses that orientation period to “evaluate employee capabilities, work habits, and overall performance.” (Id.). Either the employee or CAI may terminate the employment relationship at any time during or at the end of the orientation period, with or without cause or advance notice. (Id.). All new employees “work on an orientation basis for the first 90 calendar days after their date of hire.” (Id.).

         All first-year teachers at CAI generally receive the same training. (Espinola Aff. ¶ 7). Eswarappa received training from September 6 through September 9, 2011. (Pl. Dep. at 21-22, 42). She contends, without any detail, that she did not receive the same training as other new teachers. (Pl. SMF ¶ 7). On September 7, 2011, she signed a copy of her job description, which indicated that her position was “teacher.” (Paterniti Aff. Ex. C). On the same day, she signed CAI's code of conduct. (Pl. Dep. at 36-37). Around the same time, she also received a copy of CAI's employee handbook. (Id. at 35-37).

         Eswarappa also contends that she did not receive a teaching manual that CAI provided to other teachers. (Pl. SMF ¶ 4). CAI contends that it does not have a teaching manual and did not provide one to any new teacher. (Espinola Aff. ¶ 12).

         3. Eswarappa's Employment and Performance

         a. Work Schedule

         The parties dispute the number of hours Eswarappa was hired to work. Eswarappa contends that she was hired to work 40 hours per week. (Pl. Ex. 2).[4] CAI contends that she was hired to work 30 hours per week. (Espinola Aff. ¶¶ 4, 9). It is undisputed, however, that she received two e-mails from Espinola informing her that she was only supposed to work 30 hours per week and that if she continued to work more than 30 hours per week without prior approval, there might be “serious discussion and possible disciplinary measures.” (Paterniti Aff. Ex. G).

         Eswarappa worked more than 30 hours every week she was employed at CAI. (Paterniti Aff. Ex. F). She contends that she was not able to complete all of her work in 30 hours. (Id.; Pl. Dep. at 131). She never, however, sought prior authorization to work such a schedule. (Espinola Aff. ¶ 10). CAI paid Eswarappa for all hours submitted on her time sheets. (Id.).

         b. Classroom Observations

         CAI regularly assigns supervisors or administrators to observe teachers in the classroom.[5](Id. at 18). Tiffany Ghrist, an Education Specialist, was assigned to observe Eswarappa's classroom on October 25 and 26, 2011. (Id. at 18-19). Ghrist shared her observation notes with Espinola, and informed her that she was concerned about Eswarappa's job performance. (Id. at 19).

         On October 25, 2011, Ghrist observed a child eat a carrot off of the floor in front of Eswarappa with no intervention. (Paterniti Aff. Ex. H). She also observed Eswarappa ask several children to stack chairs without giving them any instruction or direction. (Id.). While some children were stacking chairs, the others sat and waited without any activity to do. (Id.). Ghrist also observed Eswarappa speak to her assistant teacher, Keyla Gandulla, in a harsh tone in front of the children and a parent. (Id.).

         On October 26, 2011, Ghrist observed Eswarappa lead her class in an activity called track painting. (Id.). No direction was given on what to do or how to use the materials. (Id.). Ghrist observed that there was “[n]o conversation or discussion on learning or what was happening other than if the child wrote their names or not and to correct what was happening.” (Id.). One child appeared unsure what to do after leaving the teacher-led activity, and Eswarappa did not provide any assistance or help find another activity for that child. (Id.). Two children who were playing at a water table were told to leave because they had “been there awhile, ” and Eswarappa did not provide any warning or help finding another activity. (Id.).

         In addition to a report of Ghrist's observations, Espinola also received input about Eswarappa's performance from other teachers. (Espinola Aff. ¶ 20). Keyla Gandulla, Eswarappa's assistant teacher, reported that Eswarappa had told her “I'm in charge, I don't want to hear from you, ” or words to that effect. (Id.). Another teacher reported that she appeared to not be a good fit for the job. (Id.).

         Espinola also personally observed Eswarappa in the classroom. (Id. at 21). According to Espinola, she was concerned that Eswarappa was “not providing developmentally appropriate instruction.” (Id.). She observed an activity in which Eswarappa would tap each child on the head, and, when tapped, they were supposed to say and spell their names. (Id.). The children were not able to follow the directions and do the activity, but she persisted for more than ten minutes. (Id.). Espinola ultimately stepped in to redirect the children, and later explained that she intervened because it became clear that the exercise was not developmentally appropriate for the children. (Id.).

         4. Eswarappa&# ...

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