Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Gautreau v. Hopkinton Public Schools

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

April 19, 2018




         Plaintiff 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).

         I. Factual Background[2]

         1 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 Cir. 2015).

         A. Disciplinary History

         Defendants 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.

         In the 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.

         The 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.

         Also in 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.

         The 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.

         Also in 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 classroom visit.

         They 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.

         Yet 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 these comments.

         Keller concedes that the only other teacher to receive as many MOUs as plaintiff was also between 45 and 55 years old.[3]

         B. Curricular Shift: Project Lead the Way

         Programmatic 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.

         Plaintiff 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 ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.