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Washington v. Alief Independent School District

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

September 27, 2019

CHIKITA WASHINGTON, Plaintiff,
v.
ALIEF INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND OPINION

          LEE H. ROSENTHAL CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Chikita Washington sued her former employer, the Alief Independent School District, alleging that she was unlawfully terminated because of her race, in violation of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983. (Docket Entry No. 1). The District moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim under § 1981, and, in the alternative, for failure to state a claim under § 1983. (Docket Entry No. 6). Washington timely filed an amended complaint, alleging that her § 1981 claim is brought through § 1983 and that the District had a “well-established custom of promoting animus against racial minorities.” (Docket Entry No. 10). She responded to the District’s motion to dismiss by arguing that the amended complaint made the motion moot. (Docket Entry No. 11). The District filed a separate motion to dismiss the first amended complaint, acknowledging that its earlier challenge to the § 1981 claim was moot, but reasserting its motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because Washington did not allege sufficient facts to plead the District’s liability. (Docket Entry No. 15). Washington responded. (Docket Entry No. 17).

         Based on the amended complaint, the motion and response, and the applicable law, the court grants the District’s motion to dismiss, without prejudice. (Docket Entry No. 15). Washington may amend no later than October 17, 2019. The reasons for this ruling are set out below.

         I. Background

         The facts are drawn from Washington’s amended complaint allegations. Washington, an African-American woman, alleges that she was unlawfully terminated from her employment as a special education teacher and student council manager at Taylor High School, because of her race. (Docket Entry No. 10). According to Washington, on January 13, 2018, she learned that Evaline Nguyen, a Taylor High student and student council member, was in the hospital. (Id. at ¶ 12). Washington went to the hospital to see Nguyen the following day. (Id. at ¶ 13). Nguyen’s mother told Washington that Nguyen “had received a text from a friend”; posted on social media that “today is the day I’m going to end it all”; and then consumed Drano. (Id.). Nguyen’s mother spoke little English, and another student translated for Washington. (Id.). Nguyen asked Washington to tell the school counselor what had happened. (Id. at ¶ 14). Washington informed Nguyen’s counselor, named Moore, [1] as well as Destiny Lewis, one of the school’s associate principals, about the suicide attempt. (Id.).

         On January 17, Taylor High teacher Stephanie Johnson asked Washington about Nguyen’s absence. (Id.). Washington told Johnson that she could not discuss the matter with her. (Id.). Johnson asked if she could visit Nguyen, and Washington told her to ask Nguyen’s parents for permission. (Id.). That night, Johnson and two other teachers, Arielle Brooks and another teacher named Deransburg, [2] visited Nguyen at the hospital. (Id.).

         On January 18, Brooks told Washington that Nguyen’s mother had told Brooks about Nguyen “having some problems with” her father, [3] and Nguyen’s mother could not believe that her child would “do what she did.” (Id. at ¶ 15). Brooks understood Nguyen’s mother to accuse her husband of abusing their daughter. (Id.). Brooks talked to her husband and her father, a retired police officer. (Id.). They believed that Nguyen’s father had abused his daughter. (Id.). Brooks asked Washington for her thoughts on “the alleged child abuse.” (Id.). Washington told Brooks that “she had known the Nguyens for three years and, although the parents were separated, they both supported their daughter and her efforts at the Student Council.” (Id.).

         On January 23, Washington met with Stacie Gibson, the District’s Human Resources Director. (Id. at ¶ 11). Gibson asked Washington about Nguyen, and Washington related the described events. (Id.). Washington was placed on paid administrative leave until April 3, 2018, for failing to report possible child abuse. (Id. at ¶ 16).

         On January 26, Washington met with Elizabeth Veloz-Powell, the District’s Human Resources Superintendent, and Darrell Alexander, the District’s Human Resources Executive Director. (Id.). At that meeting, Veloz-Powell told Washington that she would remain on administrative leave pending an investigation. (Id.). Veloz-Powell showed Washington a letter stating that “they believed” that Washington failed to report possible child abuse to Child Protective Services, as requKimberlyRubiired by law, and that the failure would be reported to the State Board for Educator Certification. (Id.).

         On February 8, Washington again met with Veloz-Powell, who asked her to resign. (Id. at ¶ 17). Washington refused. (Id.). She told Veloz-Powell that the teacher’s union would appeal any decision to terminate her employment. (Id.). Washington exhausted her administrative remedies, and, on March 20, resigned effective May 29, 2018. (Id.).

         In this lawsuit, Washington alleges that she was replaced by a Caucasian teacher, (id. at ¶ 18); that similarly situated non-African-American employees had not received similar discipline- administrative leave pending the investigation and report to the State Board-for similar conduct (id.); and that the District had a history of racial animus, (id. at ¶ 30). She further alleges that Brooks tried to recant her statement that Washington failed to report the suspected child abuse, but the District would not consider it. (Id. at ¶ 18).

         II. The Legal Standard for a Motion to Dismiss

         Rule 12(b)(6) allows dismissal if a plaintiff fails “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). Rule 12(b)(6) must be read in conjunction with Rule 8(a), which requires “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2). A complaint must contain “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Rule 8 “does not require ‘detailed factual allegations, ’ but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ’ but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         The court should generally give a plaintiff at least one chance to amend under Rule 15(a) before dismissing the action with prejudice, unless it is clear that to do so would be futile. See Pervasive Software Inc. v. Lexware GmbH & Co. KG, 688 F.3d 214, 232 (5th Cir. 2012); Carrollv. Fort James Corp., 470 F.3d 1171, 1175 (5th Cir. 2006) (“[Rule 15(a)] evinces a bias in favor of granting leave to amend.” (quotation omitted)); Great Plains Tr. Co. v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co., 313 F.3d 305, 329 (5th Cir. 2002). “Whether leave to amend ...


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