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Scarlett v. City of Boston

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

July 19, 2018

LISA SCARLETT
v.
CITY OF BOSTON.

          Heard: March 5, 2018.

          Civil action commenced in the Superior Court Department on June 12, 2014. The case was heard by Robert L. Ullmann, J., on a motion for summary judgment.

          Mitchell J. Notis for the plaintiff.

          Lena-Kate K. Ahern, Assistant Corporation Counsel, for the defendant.

          Present: Vuono, Hanlon, & Wendlandt, JJ.

          WENDLANDT, J.

         After the defendant Boston public school department (BPS) declined to renew her employment contract to work as a second grade teacher, the plaintiff, Lisa Scarlett, brought an action in two counts, alleging, inter alia, that BPS violated G. L. c. 151B, § 4, by discriminating against her on the basis of her race (count I). A Superior Court judge allowed BPS's motion for summary judgment and dismissed her complaint. On appeal, we apply the familiar three-stage McDonnell Douglas paradigm for assessing an employer's motion for summary judgment with respect to an employee's claim of racial discrimination in the context of a work force reduction. See McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-805 (1973). See also Wheelock College v. Massachusetts Commn. Against Discrimination, 371 Mass. 130, 138 (1976). Finding that Scarlett met her burden under this paradigm, we reverse the judgment as to count I.[1]

         Background.

         We briefly summarize the material facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the nonmoving party, reserving additional facts for later discussion. Sullivan v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 444 Mass. 34, 35 (2005). In November of 2009, Scarlett, a black woman of Jamaican descent, was hired as a full-time provisional teacher, teaching second grade in a general education classroom at the David A. Ellis elementary school (Ellis school), a school which is part of BPS. Provisional teachers are hired under one-year contracts. Every spring, BPS issues "reasonable assurance letters" to provisional teachers whom it intends to retain for the following school year.[2] Scarlett received a reasonable assurance letter in the spring of 2010, and her contract was renewed for the 2010-2011 school year. Again, Scarlett taught second grade in a general education classroom.

         In October of 2010, BPS entered into an interim settlement agreement with the civil rights divisions of the United States Departments of Justice and Education regarding services provided to "English Language Learner" (ELL) students. Pursuant to the settlement agreement, BPS agreed to provide ELL students with sheltered English immersion (SEI) programs in core content classes, and also to train and to hire a sufficient number of teachers to serve ELL students.[3] In order to adequately serve its diverse student body, [4] BPS began requiring its provisional teachers either to obtain English as a second language (ESL) certification or to attend ESL "category" trainings.[5]

         In the 2010-2011 school year, the racial demographics of the student body and staff at the Ellis school were as follows:

Student Body

Staff

Hispanic

61.4%

28.2%

Black

37.0

46.2

White, Asian or other/multiracial

1.5

23.1 (White)

Native American

0

2.6

         As previously indicated, Scarlett's race is black. Approximately forty percent of Ellis school students were ELL students.

         In February of 2011, Norman Townsend became principal of the Ellis school, and shortly thereafter was informed that BPS faced a $63 million budget shortfall for the upcoming 2011-2012 school year. BPS was required, as a result, to reduce staff. The Ellis school was no exception; Townsend was forced to reduce the Ellis school staff, including some provisional teachers. In doing so, Townsend prioritized maintaining the services, including the SEI program, [6] it was providing to its ELL students, many of whom required services in Spanish.

         There were seven provisional teachers, including Scarlett, whose contracts were subject to nonrenewal in view of the budget shortfall: two Hispanic SEI teachers (one was ESL certified and the other was not, but had majored in Spanish in college); three ESL certified white teachers (two of whom taught SEI classes and one of whom taught music); and two black teachers (Scarlett and a math specialist). Scarlett and the math specialist both lacked SEI teaching experience, and the math teacher also lacked ESL certification. Scarlett had been working on her ESL certification and received it on June 17, 2011, three days after BPS informed her that her contract would not be renewed for the 2011-2012 school year.

         In connection with the annual "probable organization" meeting, during which BPS administration representatives met with leadership from the Ellis school to decide how properly to staff the school for the upcoming 2011-2012 school year, Townsend recommended that neither Scarlett nor the other black provisional teacher (the math specialist) be renewed.[7] Scarlett did not receive a reasonable assurance letter, and in June of 2011, [8] BPS informed Scarlett that, due to budget constraints, her contract would not be renewed for the 2011-2012 school year.[9]The math ...


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