United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
ORDER AND MEMORANDUM ON DEFENDANT' MOTIONS FOR
SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOCKET NOS. 42 & 44)
TIMOTHY S. HILLMAN DISTRICT JUDGE.
and Denise Baer (“Plaintiffs”) are husband and
wife. They were terminated from their employment at
Montachusett Regional Technical School District (“Monty
Tech”) and assert several claims against Monty Tech
arising from that termination. Mrs. Baer alleges unlawful
discrimination based on gender pursuant to Title VII (Count
I) and Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151B (Count III), retaliation for
engaging in protected conduct in violation of Title VII
(Count II) and Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151B (Count IV), and
defamation (Count V). Mr. Baer alleges unlawful
discrimination based on association in violation of Title VII
(Count VII) and Chapter 151B (Count IX), unlawful retaliation
in violation of Title VII (VIII) and Chapter 151B (Count X),
and defamation (Count XI). Monty Tech has moved for summary
judgement on all claims. (Docket Nos. 42, 44). For the
reasons stated below, Monty Tech's motion for summary
judgment for Mr. Baer's claims (Docket No. 42) is
granted and with respect to Mrs.
Baer's claims (Docket No. 44) is
granted in part and
denied in part.
Tech is a vocational high school in Fitchburg, Massachusetts.
Before their termination, Plaintiffs worked at the school.
Mrs. Baer was an instructor in the Cosmetology Department and
was a member of the teacher's union. Mr. Baer served as
Coordinator of Cooperative Education and Placement and was
employed on a year-to-year basis.
Sexual Harassment Claim
time the Baer's employment was terminated, Mrs. Baer had
a sexual harassment claim pending against Monty Tech before
the MCAD. She alleged that in 2008, she was sexually harassed
by the superintendent of the school, James Culkeen. After
rejecting Mr. Culkeen's sexual advances, Mrs. Baer was
suspended and demoted. In 2010, Mr. Culkeen was fired due to
inappropriate sexual conduct with other female employees. In
2013, James Hachey, a friend of Mr. Culkeen, became Mrs.
Baer's supervisor. Mrs. Baer alleged that Mr. Hachey also
began harassing and retaliating against her. Mr. Hachey
regularly called Mrs. Baer a “bitch, ” even in
the presence of her students. When she complained, she was
told that her employment was unlikely to continue and that
her difficulties with Mr. Hachey were due to her
“poor” personality, not her gender. Plaintiffs
argue that these complaints of harassment and retaliation
were never investigated.
Events Leading to Termination
was a cosmetology student at Monty Tech. On May 6, 2014,
Anna, a foster child, was placed into Plaintiffs' home by
the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families
(“DCF”). In November 2014, Plaintiffs discovered
that Anna and her friend stole and used their credit card.
Shortly thereafter, Plaintiffs discovered that Anna planned
to run away. Plaintiffs reported their concerns to DCF and,
on January 22, 2015, DCF removed Anna from Plaintiffs'
home. According to Plaintiffs, Anna had experienced multiple
abusive relationships in her past. One manifestation of this
past trauma was her propensity to run away.
Anna was removed from Plaintiffs' home, DCF placed her
with the family of another Monty Tech student and she
continued to attend Monty Tech. In February 2015, Anna's
new foster parents contacted the school to raise concerns
about Mrs. Baer's treatment of Anna since she was removed
from Plaintiffs' home. On March 10, 2015, Mr. Barrett,
Anna's new foster parent, met with Mr. Hachey, Monty
Tech's Principal, Thomas Browne, and Monty Tech's
social worker, Kathleen Hanson, to further discuss his
to Mrs. Baer, after she informed DCF of Anna's intentions
to run away, Anna changed her behavior towards Mrs. Baer. For
instance, she would tell her friends to “hold her
back” while making threatening gestures towards Mrs.
Baer. Mrs. Baer reported these incidents to Principal Browne,
who informed her that the school would not intervene in
“personal matters” and that any issues regarding
Anna should be addressed with Ms. Hanson.
March 12, Plaintiffs met with Ms. Hanson. According to
Plaintiffs, “[t]he actual substance of what happened
between Ms. Hanson and/or Mr. and Mrs. Baer has been reported
by multiple defense witnesses in wildly inconsistent ways.
What is consistently reported, however, is that Ms.
Hanson's response to whatever actually happened was, at
the very least, unusual.” (Docket No. 53, at 2-3).
After the meeting, Ms. Hanson developed an “emergency
plan” so that her colleagues could interrupt her and
pretend she was needed elsewhere if they observed that she
was in a confrontational situation.
March 17, 2015, Principal Browne met with Mrs. Baer to
discuss a dispute she had with her students regarding the
dress code. Principal Browne told Mrs. Baer that he met with
Anna's foster parents, who raised concerns that Mrs. Baer
was treating Anna unfairly. Mrs. Baer denied any such
treatment. Principal Browne reiterated his expectation that
Anna's past experiences with Plaintiffs would not impact
her experience in the classroom. Ms. Hanson instructed Anna
to spend Mrs. Baer's class period in her office. On March
17, 18, and 19, Anna did not attend Mrs. Baer's class.
March 19, 2015, Plaintiffs approached Ms. Hanson outside of
her office and then followed her into her office. Mrs. Baer
accused Ms. Hanson of using two students to undermine her
authority in the classroom. According to Mrs. Baer, Aryana,
Anna's foster sister, started to act disrespectfully
toward Mrs. Baer only after meeting with Ms. Hanson. Ms.
Hanson told Mrs. Baer that she did not encourage Aryana to
act disrespectfully but to talk to Mrs. Baer about her
missing assignments noted on her progress report.
that confrontation, David Pirri, Monty Tech's adjustment
counselor, called Ms. Hanson's office to interrupt the
meeting as she had requested. Mr. Pirri then walked to Ms.
Hanson's office, opened the door, and asked her to step
outside. Ms. Hanson began to cry after leaving her office.
Principal Browne was then called out of a meeting and found
Ms. Hanson hiding in the corner of the Dean's office away
from the window. The next day, Ms. Hanson provided Principal
Brown with a written statement detailing her interactions
with Plaintiffs. According to Mr. Pirri, Ms. Hanson struggled
emotionally after the confrontations.
Dr. Sheila Harrity, the school's Superintendent,
determined an investigation into Plaintiffs' conduct was
necessary. On March 24, 2015, Plaintiffs were placed on paid
administrative leave. That day, Mrs. Baer obtained a
harassment prevention order against Anna, and on the next
day, Plaintiffs filed a criminal complaint against Anna for
stealing their credit card the year before. According to
Plaintiffs, they filed the criminal complaint and sought the
harassment order to challenge Anna's credibility in Monte
Tech's subsequent investigation.
March 25 and March 30, 2015, Tammy Crocket, Monty Tech's
Business Manager, and Principal Browne conducted several
interviews with teachers, administrators, and students
regarding Mrs. Baer's alleged misconduct. According to
Plaintiffs, Mrs. Baer provided a list of more than a dozen
witnesses that could have corroborated her version of events,
none of whom were interviewed. In addition, Plaintiffs claim
that the six students interviewed were all Anna's close
friends, whose complaints had “little, if anything, to
do with Anna.” (Docket No. 50 ¶ 50).
upon the interviews with school personnel that concerned the
confrontation with Ms. Hanson, Principal Browne found Ms.
Hanson's version of events credible and concluded that
Plaintiffs were verbally aggressive and intimidating towards
Ms. Hanson. Principal Browne also found that “student
testimony during the investigation interviews was consistent
and supported the allegation that Mrs. Baer had singled out
Anna M. by skipping over her when collecting grades and
passing out materials and by refusing to allow Anna M. to
participate in freshmen service day.” Id.
¶ 57. Further, Principal Browne concluded that student
testimony supported the allegation that Mrs. Baer posted
quotes in the classroom about lying that were directed at
Anna. Superintendent Harrity concluded that Mrs. Baer
retaliated against Anna and denied her equal educational
opportunities. In addition, ...