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Simani v. Beechnut Academy

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

February 28, 2018



          Kenneth M. Hoyt United States District Judge.


         Pending before the Court is the defendant's, Beechnut Academy (the “defendant”), motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 10). The plaintiff, Cheryl Simani (the “plaintiff”), has filed a response in opposition to the motion (Dkt. No. 11), to which the defendant has filed a reply (Dkt. No. 12). After having carefully considered the motion, response, reply, the record and the applicable law, the Court determines that the defendant's motion for summary judgment should be GRANTED.


         The plaintiff, a Caucasian Orthodox Jew, worked as a teacher for the defendant from August of 2009, until she was terminated in June of 2014. The plaintiff is a certified teacher and has a Master's Degree in Educational Technology. During her employment with the defendant, the plaintiff was primarily responsible for teaching students who spoke English as a second language. As part of her responsibilities, the plaintiff was required to attend annual training sessions on HISD's policies including grading methods and policies, how to prepare and assess report cards, student failure prevention, and how to enter grades.[2] Nevertheless, the plaintiff failed and/or refused to enter student grades timely and according to HISD policy.

         During the 2013-14 school year, the failure rate in the plaintiff's English class began to increase. The plaintiff started with a 2% failure rate in Cycle 1 that increased to 22% in Cycle 2, and to 50% in Cycle 3. The plaintiff's failure rate increased to 64% by Cycle 5.[3] In January 2014, Beechnut teachers were required to enter student grades into the school's grading system by the close of business on January 22, 2014. However, on January 21, 2014, the plaintiff sent an email to the LCIL and the AC, stating that she was having trouble entering grades into the system. Although the plaintiff was provided with instructions on how to remedy the problem along with support from an IT technician, the plaintiff failed to enter all of her students' grades and missed the deadline.[4] The plaintiff received an extension to January 23; however, the plaintiff failed to comply and refused to produce a hard copy of the grades as instructed. As a result, the plaintiff received a 48-hour notice that a meeting would be held to discuss her failure to meet the grade reporting deadlines. After the meeting, the plaintiff was placed on a performance improvement plan and informed that continued violation of these policies and procedures could result in further disciplinary action including termination.

         On February 18, 2014, administration met with the plaintiff to discuss her failure rate. The plaintiff was again counseled concerning HISD's grading policies and how to correct her current grading system, and to follow the HISD grading practices. On April 18, 2014, the parent of a student, “T”, visited the school to meet with the plaintiff regarding T's failing grade. The plaintiff had confused T with another student and did not have T's grades prepared for the meeting. The plaintiff's grading methods were again assessed and determined to not be in accordance with HISD's policy.[5] On May 1, 2014, the plaintiff received another 48 hour notice of meeting to discuss T's grades and the plaintiff's grading practices. The meeting was postponed; however, the plaintiff was placed on administrative leave. In the interim the plaintiff employed an attorney who forwarded the plaintiff's charge of discrimination to the defendant asserting racial and religious discrimination. Later, the plaintiff amended her charge of discrimination to add a claim of retaliation.


         A. The Defendant's Contentions

         With respect to the plaintiff's Title VII discrimination claim, the defendant argues that the plaintiff cannot establish that she was subjected to an adverse action or was treated less favorably than any similarly situated employee. The defendant alleges that it is entitled to summary judgment because it had legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for counseling the plaintiff on her grading practices and in ultimately terminating her employment. In addition, the defendant contends that the plaintiff cannot rebut their proffered legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for its actions. Thus, the defendant avers that summary judgment is appropriate dismissing all claims in this action.

         B. The Plaintiff's Contentions

         In response, the plaintiff argues that the record demonstrates that the defendant's proffered legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its actions were a pretext for discrimination. In addition, the plaintiff argues that the record presents evidence that creates a sufficient issue of material fact with respect to her Title VII claims. The plaintiff further alleges that evidence that supports her claim of retaliation requires proof of a but-for character in order to terminate her. Thus, the plaintiff urges the Court to deny the defendant's motion.


         A. Summary ...

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