United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
RYA W. ZOBEL, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Ronald Gautreau brings this age discrimination case against
his former employer, Hopkinton Public Schools, and four of
its administrators. Aged 43 when the district hired him in
2002, plaintiff taught a middle school woodshop course for
years without incident. Then, in 2014, his position was
reduced to part-time status, and he accepted a full-time
position with another school. Plaintiff, a resident of New
Hampshire, claims that the reduction amounted to a
constructive discharge and that defendants' action
violated the Massachusetts statute prohibiting discrimination
based on age. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151B (“ch.
151B”). He exhausted administrative remedies and
brought the instant suit in state court. Defendants removed
to this court based on diversity jurisdiction and have moved
for summary judgment. (Docket # 32).
summarize the relevant facts in the light most favorable to
plaintiff, the nonmoving party. See Planadeball v.
Wyndham Vacation Resorts, Inc., 793 F.3d 169, 172 (1st
hired plaintiff in 2002, when he was 43 years old, for the
position of middle school engineering/technology teacher; he
also served as boys' basketball coach. Plaintiff was at
all relevant times a member of the local teachers'
association, and the terms of his employment were negotiated
in accordance with a collective bargaining agreement.
Defendant Keller became the middle school principal beginning
in the 2010-2011 school year, and his relationship with
plaintiff soon grew contentious. In February of 2011, Keller
placed the first of several “memoranda of
understanding” (“MOU”) in plaintiff's
personnel file. Defendants used MOUs, signed by both parties,
“to document a discussion between an evaluator and an
educator regarding a verifiable, serious concern.”
Docket # 33-2, at 67.
first such documented incident, plaintiff chastised several
students for damaging a classroom display they had been
instructed not to touch. The students reported that plaintiff
had left the classroom to take a phone call, during which
time they were unsupervised and damaged the display. When
plaintiff returned and saw the damage, he threw the rest of
the display to the ground, “slammed” a wooden
drawing board on a desk such that debris flew into a
student's face, and called the offending students
“idiots.” Accompanied by his union
representative, plaintiff met with Keller and denied leaving
the classroom, calling the students “idiots, ” or
doing anything more forceful than “firmly
placing” the wooden board on the desk. Although
plaintiff filed a responsive letter disputing the MOU, he did
not grieve it.
next dispute arose over plaintiff's parking behavior. In
October 2011, Keller forbade any staff from parking in front
of the special education building, because those spots were
needed for visitors. In November 2012, plaintiff nonetheless
parked there to unload classroom supplies from his truck, and
was disciplined for doing so. No. other teachers were
disciplined for parking violations.
November 2012, plaintiff received another MOU, his second.
This memo disciplined plaintiff for asking that students
provide him with a video of a recent on-campus student fight,
which plaintiff admits he did. School administrators had,
prior to plaintiff's request, instructed students to
delete and refrain from sharing any such video.
next memorandum, dated January 14, 2013, was styled a
“counseling memo, ” and addressed a parent's
complaint that plaintiff had sold sports memorabilia to her
son in December 2012. See Docket # 33-2, at 89.
Plaintiff admitted having done so, and arranged to return the
money and retrieve the item sold. Counseled that such a
transaction created a clear conflict of interest, plaintiff
nonetheless maintains that other teachers (of indeterminate
age) sold jewelry, tutoring sessions, and music lessons
without consequence. Keller knew of no teachers other than
plaintiff who sold anything to students.
January 2013, plaintiff incurred a third MOU. This one
documented various unsafe conditions observed by defendants
Keller and Assistant Superintendent DeMello and the
(non-party) interim superintendent during a January 8
noticed during that visit a lack of eye protection during a
woodcutting activity, no posted safety rules, a student
cutting an unsecured board, and others walking freely through
work areas. As a result, Keller - with DeMello's support
- informed plaintiff on January 9 that before he could resume
use of power equipment in the classroom, he would be required
to take a remedial safety course; reinstruct students in
equipment safety; post safety rules; and pass a safety
inspection. The safety inspection was conducted by the
director of technical education at a nearby vocational high
school and an OSHA-certified carpentry teacher at that
school. Neither was an expert in classroom safety, and no
other classrooms were inspected. Plaintiff grieved this MOU,
which Keller investigated and denied; plaintiff then
initiated a Level II grievance, the resolution of which is
unclear from the record.
another MOU soon followed. Dated February 7, 2013, this
fourth and final memo stemmed from a parent complaint Keller
received concerning comments plaintiff allegedly made to her
child. After the child burned herself with a glue gun for a
second time in plaintiff's class, she alleged that
plaintiff explained to her that a “cutter” was
someone who deliberately engages in self-harm, and inquired
whether she was doing so with the glue gun. Plaintiff denies
concedes that the only other teacher to receive as many MOUs
as plaintiff was also between 45 and 55 years
Curricular Shift: Project Lead the Way
shifts at the school for the 2013-2014 academic year
exacerbated mounting tensions between plaintiff and Keller.
Administrators decided to implement a new technology
education curriculum called “Project Lead the
Way” (“PLTW”) which would move from more
traditional woodshop activities to emphasize engineering and
design concepts. The interim superintendent had successfully
implemented PLTW in his previous school district and, along
with defendants DeMello and Keller, determined that its
content was better aligned to state science standards.
Keller, with then-Director of Secondary Education Berlo,
presented the proposal to the superintendent and school
committee, who approved it.
resisted the change, stressing the value to students of
hands-on learning. Keller responded “to the effect
that” plaintiff's methods “might have been
good when you first started teaching, but that's old
school, ” and characterized PLTW as “the way of
the future.” Docket # 33-2, at 9 (Gautreau Deposition).
Defendants paid plaintiff to attend PLTW training in the
summer of 2013; although they did not ordinarily compensate
staff for ...