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Hines v. Boston Public Schools

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

October 15, 2018




         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Frances Hines (“Hines”) asserts claims against Defendant Boston Public Schools (“BPS”) arising under Mass. Gen. L. c. 151B, § 4, the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq. (the “ADA”) and the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 701 et seq. for discrimination, retaliation and failure to accommodate based upon her alleged disability as well as for breach of contract. D. 22. The Court previously dismissed Hines' claim for a violation of due process under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. D. 32. BPS has moved for summary judgment on all remaining counts. D. 44. For the reasons stated below, the Court ALLOWS the motion.

         II. Standard of Review

         The Court grants summary judgment where there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the undisputed facts demonstrate that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “A fact is material if it carries with it the potential to affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable law.” Santiago-Ramos v. Centennial P.R. Wireless Corp., 217 F.3d 46, 52 (1st Cir. 2000) (quoting Sánchez v. Alvarado, 101 F.3d 223, 227 (1st Cir. 1996)). The movant bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Carmona v. Toledo, 215 F.3d 124, 132 (1st Cir. 2000); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the movant meets its burden, the non-moving party may not rest on the allegations or denials in her pleadings, Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986), but “must, with respect to each issue on which she would bear the burden of proof at trial, demonstrate that a trier of fact could reasonably resolve that issue in her favor.” Borges ex rel. S.M.B.W. v. Serrano- Isern, 605 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 2010). “As a general rule, that requires the production of evidence that is ‘significant[ly] probative.'” Id. (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249) (alteration in original). The Court “view[s] the record in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, drawing reasonable inferences in [her] favor.” Noonan v. Staples, Inc., 556 F.3d 20, 25 (1st Cir. 2009).

         III. Factual Background

         The following facts are drawn primarily from BPS's statement of material facts, D. 44, Hines' statement of material facts, D. 46, [1] and other supporting documents[2] and are undisputed unless otherwise noted.

         Hines has been an employee of BPS since 1995. D. 44 ¶ 1. Hines currently works at Higginson Lewis K-2 School. D. 44 ¶ 4. Prior to her position at Higginson Lewis, Hines worked at the Tynan School. D. 44 ¶ 3. Prior to her current position, Hines worked at the David Ellis School (“Ellis School”) as a paraprofessional. D. 44 ¶ 1; D. 22 ¶ 4. As defined by the Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”) between the School Committee of the City of Boston and the Boston Teachers Union, a paraprofessional is a “non-certified individual employed by the Boston School Committee whose function is to assist teachers and other school personnel.” D. 44 ¶ 1; D. 44-4 at 19. The job description for a paraprofessional for the Ellis School Special Education program describes a paraprofessional as someone who assists the classroom teacher with instructional activities, facilitates classroom discipline and performs “Lunch Duty/Bathroom Duty.” D. 44 ¶ 1; D. 44-2 at 4.

         Hines characterizes BPS' treatment of her from 2003 to 2015 as “abusive.” D. 46-2 at 102. In 2003, before Hines worked at the Ellis School, Hines was issued a “letter of reprimand” for “insubordination” and “making inappropriate comments.” D. 44 ¶ 6; D. 44-6 at 42. The letter explained that on several occasions, Hines has been “spoken to” about her behavior by the school principal, a union representative, the teacher in charge, Hines' previous teacher and the current classroom teacher. D. 44-6 at 42. Hines wrote a letter in response, asserting that she had followed instructions while colleagues had been “unprofessional” towards her and engaged in “inappropriate comment[s].” D. 44-6 at 44. She wrote further that, because another teacher's inappropriate behavior had not been addressed in the meeting regarding Hines' reprimand, Hines felt there was “bias” against her. Id.

         In 2004, Hines transferred to the Ellis School. D. 44 ¶ 1; D. 22 ¶ 4. Hines described her relationship with Ellis School principal Carlos Gibb (“Gibb”) at the Ellis School as “not good.” D. 46 at 23. Beginning with Hines' first year at the Ellis School (the 2004-2005 school year), Hines' superiors noted several issues with Hines' performance. D. 44-5 at 12-17. Hines was deemed to have “not met standards” in six categories out of seventeen total categories. Id. at 12-13. Hines' evaluator noted that Hines “ha[d] not demonstrated that she ha[d] enhanced the learning environment in the . . . classroom. In formal and informal evaluations, the students [did] not see her as the person who [could] effectively help them with their daily work.” Id. at 17. Below her signature on the evaluation, Hines wrote that she “[did not] agree with the content of [the] evaluation.” D. 44-5 at 12.

         In 2005, Hines fractured her leg in a car accident. D. 46 at 16, 20; D. 46-2 at 19. Hines took six months of medical leave to undergo surgery and physical therapy before returning to the Ellis School. D. 44-4 at 2-5; D. 46 at 20; D. 46-2 at 19-20. Before Hines began working for BPS, Hines was diagnosed with a “cognitive impairment” that, according to Hines, means she needs “things written for [her]” and she does not “process as fast as somebody else.” D. 46-2 at 22.

         In September 2006, Hines filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (“MCAD”) alleging that she had been discriminated against by BPS, Gibb and George Martin, the Ellis School assistant principal, on the basis of “Race [and] Color.” D. 44 ¶ 8; D. 44-5 at 60-63; D. 46 at 11. Hines alleged that Gibb, who is Hispanic, and Martin, who is Caucasian, discriminated against her as an African-American woman by yelling at her, making rude hand gestures towards her and treating her differently than other employees. D. 44 ¶ 10; D. 44-5 at 60-63; D. 46 at 13. The MCAD issued a lack of probable cause finding on July 12, 2008. D. 44 ¶ 10; D. 44-5 at 65. Hines appealed and a hearing, the MCAD affirmed its finding. D. 44-5 at 73.

         Hines continued to receive mixed performance evaluations. For example, in her evaluation for the 2006-2007 school year, an evaluator noted that Hines' “handling of discipline ha[d] improved over the past two years.” D. 44-5 at 47. The evaluator also noted, however, that Hines failed to give “follow up [] directions” to students and did not “inform students what she expected.” D. 44 ¶ 11; D. 44-5 at 46. That year, Hines was rated as “meets expectations” in all but two categories. D. 44-5 at 42-45.

         In 2008, Hines underwent a follow-up surgery for her leg and received further physical therapy. D. 46-2 at 20. When Hines returned from medical leave, she was assigned to work in a classroom with Ms. Salant. D. 46 at 13. According to Hines, in October 2008, Salant yelled “so very loudly that one of [Hines'] students started crying uncontrollably.” D. 46-1 at 9; D. 46 at 13. According to Hines, Hines requested a transfer, but her request was not granted. D. 46 at 13-14.

         On November 20, 2008, Hines filed another complaint with the MCAD alleging retaliation by BPS for filing her previous MCAD complaint. D. 44 ¶ 14; D. 44-5 at 75; D. 46 at 11. Hines alleged that after returning from medical leave she had been assigned to work with a teacher (Salant) who BPS knew had “harass[ed]” and “disrespected” Hines in the past. D. 44-5 at 75. Hines further alleged that when she asked to switch to another classroom, she was ignored. Id. The MCAD issued a lack of probable cause finding as to the 2008 MCAD complaint on March 28, 2011. D. 44-5 at 79-82.

         On November 21, 2008, Hines wrote to Gibb, the principal of the Ellis School, and requested an accommodation to enter school through the front door because walking around to the back entrance was made difficult by a “walking disability.” D. 46 at 14; D. 46-2 at 47. BPS asserts that Hines did not submit this request to the BPS Office of Equity. D. 46-2 at 93.

         In 2010, Patricia Niles-Randolph took over for Gibb as principal of the Ellis School. D. 44 ¶ 16. On April 9, 2010, Niles-Randolph wrote a letter to Hines regarding Hines “Leaving Students Unsupervised, ” “Leaving [the] School Building during Contractual Work Time” and “Disrupting the School Assembly by Shouting Derogatory and Threatening statements” concerning Hines' conduct on March 18, 2010. D. 44 ¶ 19; D. 44-7 at 10. The letter explained that Hines' conduct was “unacceptable.” D. 44-7 at 10. On April 18, 2013, Hines wrote a letter in response, denying the allegations in the letter and explaining, among other things, that at the time in question, one of the students had “assault[ed]” her and she had gone to the teacher's lounge to ice her injured foot. D. 44-7 at 17. Hines subsequently also corresponded several times with Niles-Randolph about her perceived need for more personnel to supervise the students with disabilities. D. 44-7 at 18. In response, Niles-Randolph convened an “Investigatory Meeting” with Hines on April 30, 2010. D. 44-7 at 13. In directing Hines to attend the meeting, Niles-Randolph advised Hines that her “allegations and concerns if substantiated [would] constitute a sincere need to reevaluate [Hines'] classroom placement.” D. 44-7 at 13.

         On May 3, 2010, Niles-Randolph wrote to Hines in response to her correspondence “requesting needed support in the workplace.” D. 44-7 at 22. Niles-Randolph wrote that “[i]n pursuant [sic] of the earnest concern for your safety and wellbeing within the classroom environment and to minimize the need for you to require medical treatment for job related stress or injuries, ” Hines would be assigned to a kindergarten classroom at the Ellis School beginning May 10, 2010. Id. Niles-Randolph opined that Hines' assistance in the new classroom would be “welcomed” and that “the change [would] provide a safer more manageable student environment for [Hines] to work in.” Id. The next day, Hines wrote to Niles-Randolph that she had “never ask[ed] for a support staff because of [her] inability to manage [her] classroom students.” D. 44-7 at 24. Rather, Hines had requested support staff because her students were being “punished and disciplined for 40 minutes during Lunch and recess in the classroom, and they [were] exhibiting unsafe behaviors and the administrators [were] aware that [Hines] [had] a walking disability.” Id. Additionally, Hines asserted she had not received a response from Niles-Randolph regarding “verbal[] abuse” by Catherine MacCuish, the coordinator for a cluster of classrooms at the Ellis School. Id. Finally, Hines requested that she remain in the Special Education Program, rather than switching to the new kindergarten, regular education classroom as Niles-Randolph had proposed. Id.; D. 44 ¶ 19.

         On May 12, 2010, Hines submitted a “Voluntary Self-Identification Form” for employees with disabilities to the BPS Office of Equity, requesting that BPS “modify [her] work schedule” to accommodate her disabilities. D. 44 ¶ 24; D. 44-7 at 32; D. 46-2 at 49. Where asked to describe the nature of her disabilities on the form, Hines wrote: “[w]alking disability, Attention Deficit, Learning Disability, On File at Central Office. Please accomdate [sic] as needed.” D. 46-2 at 49. Hines also wrote that she had previously requested accommodations that had not been provided from Gibb, Niles-Randolph and MacCuish. Id. With the form, Hines submitted a letter from her doctor explaining that Hines had a “weak left leg, ” a “stiff knee, ” attention deficit disorder and a “learning disability.” D. 44-7 at 34; see D. 44-7 at 36. Hines' doctor did not, however, list any recommended accommodations for these disabilities. D. 44 ¶ 24; D. 44-7 at 34. Larry Faison (“Faison”), the senior equity specialist at the BPS Office of Equity, attests that he and Hines discussed her request for an accommodation over the phone, in person and over email in months after Hines submitted her request. D. 44-7 at 27; see D. 44 ¶ 25.

         After Hines' initial exchanges with Faison in the BPS Office of Equity, and while Hines' 2008 MCAD complaint was pending, Hines filed two more administrative complaints against BPS. Hines first filed a complaint with the United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) on July 19, 2010 alleging retaliation by BPS against Hines for having filed the 2006 and 2008 MCAD complaints. D. 44 ¶ 15; see D. 44-5 at 84. OCR closed the complaint effective January 14, 2011, finding insufficient evidence of her claims. D. 44 ¶ 20; D. 44-6 at 9. On December 22, 2010, Hines filed a complaint with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), alleging age-based discrimination by BPS against Hines. D. 44 ¶ 15; D. 44-6 at 12. After an investigation, the EEOC closed the file on Hines' charge on June 7, 2011. D. 44 ¶ 21; D. 44-6 at 20.

         In September 2010, Faison requested further documentation from Hines regarding her disability, D. 44 ¶ 25; D. 44-7 at 36, but, according to Faison, the Office of Equity did not hear back from Hines until February 25, 2011, D. 44 ¶ 26; D. 44-7 at 27. On February 25, 2011, Hines submitted a letter from her doctor dated January 19, 2011, which noted that Hines was feeling “under alot of pressure at her job resulting in poor sleep and increasing alopecia” and recommended Hines take three months off of work to recover. D. 44 ¶ 26; D. 44-7 at 27, 38. Hines attached a clinical neuropsychology report to her letter, in which the clinician recommended the following accommodations for Hines: assigning Hines to a small class with a single teacher, giving Hines written instructions to make her job responsibilities clear, having Hines attend professional development workshops and assigning a peer mentor to Hines to “help her learn ways to cope with difficult class situations and for support.” D. 44-7 at 42.

         Also in February 2011, Norman Townsend (“Townsend”) became the principal of the Ellis School. D. 44 ¶ 22; D. 44-6 at 50. At the time, Hines was on a leave of absence as was recommended by her doctor. D. 44 ¶ 22; D. 44-6 at 50. Faison attests that he spoke to Hines before she returned from her medical leave in April 2011, explaining that he was working with Townsend to respond to Hines' requested accommodations. D. 44 ¶ 27; D. 44-7 at 27. Townsend confirmed that he spoke with Faison regarding Hines' accommodation. D. 44-6 at 51. According to Faison, Hines declined the support of a peer mentor. D. 44-7 at 28. When Hines returned from medical leave on April 15, 2011, Townsend attests that he met with Hines to discuss her new assignment, which would last until the end of the school year. D. 44-6 at 51. Townsend attests that he explained ...

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