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Bailey v. Mansfield Independent School District

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

November 21, 2019

STACY BAILEY, Plaintiff,
v.
MANSFIELD INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT; DR. JIM VASZAUSKAS; and DR. KIMBERLY CANTU, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Sam A. Lindsay United States District Judge

         Before the court is Defendants' Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss and Brief in Support (Doc. 14), filed October 2, 2018. Having considered the motion, response, reply, pleadings, and applicable law, and for the reasons that follow, the court denies in part and grants in part Defendants' Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 14).

         I. Factual Background and Procedural History

         In this civil action, Plaintiff Stacy Bailey (“Bailey”), an elementary school art teacher employed by the Mansfield Independent School District (“Mansfield I.S.D.”), asserts federal law claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law claims against Defendants Mansfield I.S.D.; its Superintendent, Dr. Jim Vaszauskas (“Superintendent Vaszauskas”); and its Associate Superintendent for Human Resources, Dr. Kimberly Cantu (“Dr. Cantu”). Bailey alleges Defendants violated her rights to equal protection and due process under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution by unlawfully discriminating against her because of her sexual orientation and status as a lesbian, including stigmatizing her, making false allegations that she was engaging in unprofessional acts, placing her on an eight-month administrative suspension, and eventually transferring her to a different school after she allegedly shared a photograph of her same-sex fiancé along with other family photographs with second-grade students and mentioned to her fourth-grade students that a certain artist was married to someone of the same sex. Bailey further alleges Defendants' actions burdened her constitutionally protected right to marry. In addition, Bailey brings state law claims against Defendants for alleged violations of the Equal Protection Clause of the Texas Constitution, Article I, § 3, and the Texas Equal Rights Amendment, Article I, § 3a.

         The court now sets out the allegations upon which it relies in deciding the pending motion to dismiss, accepting all well-pleaded facts in the complaint as true and viewing them in the light most favorable to Bailey. Sonnier v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 509 F.3d 673, 675 (5th Cir. 2007). The facts are drawn from Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint (“Complaint”), the live pleading. See First Am. Compl. (Doc. 13).

         Bailey is a teacher with Mansfield I.S.D. who taught art for ten years at Charlotte Anderson Elementary School. Bailey “is lesbian/gay and was born that way.” Id. ¶ 15. Mansfield I.S.D. repeatedly gave Bailey exemplary performance evaluations and, for two of her ten years, selected her as “Teacher of the Year.” Bailey was open about her sexual orientation at work among her colleagues but never used sexual or mature terms with her students.

         On August 23, 2017, while providing an introduction to a class in the form of a “First Day of School” PowerPoint, Bailey shared various photographs of her parents, her family, her “future wife, ” her best friends, and pictures of herself as a child in an effort to engage the students. “The photo of [Bailey's] future wife was an endearing photo of [her] and her future wife dressed as characters from the children's movie ‘Finding Nemo.'” Id. ¶ 17. Bailey also showed her second- grade students slides providing class rules, rewards, and expectations for the year. Other teachers, administrators, and employees of Mansfield I.S.D. “who are heterosexual regularly mention their respective spouse[s] while in school, have photos of their famil[ies], fiancés and spouses in the work place, or reference their famil[ies], fiancés and spouse[s] as part of conversations with students, lessons, or other classroom-related interactions.” Id. ¶ 14.

         Later that week, the principal of Charlotte Anderson Elementary School informed Bailey that a parent complained to the school board and Superintendent Vaszauskas about her “promoting the ‘homosexual agenda' by discussing her ‘future wife.'” Id. ¶ 18. The principal stated, “I don't think you did anything wrong but I don't know what's going to happen.” Id. On or about August 25, 2017, Dr. Cantu met with Bailey to discuss the parent's complaint, stating, “You can't promote your lifestyle in the classroom.” Id. ¶ 19. Bailey responded, “We plan to get married. When I have a wife, I should be able to say this is my wife without fear of harassment. When I state that, it is a fact about my life, not a political statement.” Id. Dr. Cantu responded, “Well right now it kind of is (a political statement).” Id. When Bailey inquired about changing policy to keep this from happening again, Dr. Cantu said, “You are right. It is time to get the ball rolling on that. You need to realize this is Mansfield and there could be some pushback.” Id. ¶ 20. Dr. Cantu told Bailey she had done nothing wrong. That same evening, Bailey sent an e-mail to Mansfield I.S.D. requesting it enact a policy prohibiting discrimination against lesbians and gays.

         Bailey had “a []holistic approach to teaching about artists and relevant art history. [She] taught about artist Jasper Johns and mentioned he served in the Korean War and he had a partner named Robert Rauchenberg, who was also an artist.” Id. ¶ 24. This mirrored her lesson plan for the prior year and “reflects a basic historical fact that is reflected in encyclopedic sources and federal publications, such as a study by the U.S. Department of the Interior.” Id. Bailey also taught about other artists and their partners, including Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Id.

         On September 8, 2017, Dr. Cantu took Bailey out of her class for a meeting and informed her that another parent had complained. Id. ¶ 23. This complaint was from the same parent who made the previous complaint. Id. Dr. Cantu explained to Bailey that the complaining parent stated Bailey had shown sexually inappropriate images to children and asked her to sign a document acknowledging that she had. Id. ¶ 25. Bailey did not show sexually inappropriate images to children and refused to sign the document. Id. Bailey stated to Dr. Cantu, “This is discrimination. This is wrong and it might even be illegal. I'm not signing it.” Id.

         Since September 8, 2017, Mansfield I.S.D. has punished Bailey by placing her on administrative leave for over eight months. Id. ¶ 26. On October 30, 2017, Mansfield I.S.D. asked Bailey for her resignation, but she refused to resign. Id. ¶ 28. On January 9, 2018, Dr. Cantu and Mansfield I.S.D.'s attorney Mike Leasor met with Bailey and suggested she had an “agenda.” Bailey stated she had no agenda and was ready to go back to work at Charlotte Anderson Elementary. Id. ¶ 29. In late January 2018, Mansfield I.S.D. first indicated it might not renew Bailey's contract. Id. ¶ 30.

         Beginning in February 2018, parents began to attend meetings of Mansfield I.S.D.'s Board of Trustees asking that Bailey be returned to the classroom because she was an outstanding teacher. This was embarrassing for Mansfield I.S.D. and Superintendent Vaszauskas. Id. ¶ 31.

         On March 16, 2018, Bailey married her now-wife, Ms. Julie Vazquez. Id. ¶ 32. On March 27, 2018, Mansfield I.S.D., with the approval of its Board of Trustees and Superintendent Vaszauskas, issued an official statement for immediate release, id. ¶ 33, stating:

It is the responsibility of Mansfield ISD to protect the learning environment of our students. We also believe it is paramount to partner with our parents in the education of their children. Therefore, parents have the right to control the conversation with their children as it relates to religion, politics, sex/sexual orientation, etc.
Further, it is the District's general rule not to comment on employee personnel matters. This protects both the employee and the District. However, with regard to elementary school art teacher Stacy Bailey, the District now finds itself in a situation in which misinformation about her personnel matter and the resulting disruption of the campus educational environment leads the District to comment.
The District's concerns regarding Ms. Bailey are not about her request to have our nondiscrimination policies reviewed and/or revised with regard to LGBTQ rights. Mansfield ISD welcomes that discussion through the District's established policy review committee. Rather, the District's concern is that Ms. Bailey insists that it is her right and that it is age appropriate for her to have ongoing discussions with elementary-aged students about her own sexual orientation, the sexual orientation of artists, and their relationships with other gay artists.
Mansfield ISD received complaints from parents about Ms. Bailey discussing her sexual orientation with elementary-aged students. After receiving the complaints, administration met with the teacher more than once regarding the concerns. However, Ms. Bailey refused to follow administration's directions regarding age-appropriate conversations with students.
Again, this situation is not about Ms. Bailey's inquiries regarding the District's nondiscrimination policies. Rather, it is a matter of parents having certain rights pertaining to the topics to which their children are exposed and the District's right and responsibility to ensure age-appropriate instruction.

Defs.' Rule 12(b)(6) Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. A (Doc. 14) (“Mansfield I.S.D. Press Release”).[1]

         The Mansfield I.S.D. Press Release generated significant public outcry and press about Bailey's employment situation, including public discussions about her sexual orientation and employment status, as well as criticism of Mansfield I.S.D. Am. Compl. ¶ 41. It also coincided with a meeting of the Board of Trustees on March 27, 2018. Id. ¶ 42. At the board meeting, a number of parents and students stressed that Bailey was a good teacher and should be brought back to the classroom. Id. ¶ 43. Mansfield I.S.D.'s Board of Trustees was taken aback by the public response in support of Bailey and responded by withdrawing plans to end Bailey's employment and instead began taking steps to make her employment intolerable in hopes that she would quit, which she did not. Id. ¶ 44. By letter dated April 4, 2018, Bailey requested that she be allowed to return to Charlotte Anderson Elementary School, which never occurred. Id. ¶ 45. On April 24, 2018, Mansfield I.S.D. voted to renew Bailey's contract, although it did not allow her to return to Charlotte Anderson Elementary School. Id. ¶ 46.

         While on administrative leave, Bailey's career was damaged by limiting her advancement, eligibility for promotions, and pay raises. Id. ¶ 47. Defendants' actions have damaged Bailey's career and imposed a stigma on her, making it more difficult to obtain future employment in other school districts, especially as an elementary school teacher. Id. ¶ 48.

         By letter dated May 29, 2018, Mansfield I.S.D. assigned Bailey to teach art at Lake Ridge High School despite her lack of experience teaching in a secondary school. Id. ¶ 49. This position was more onerous and damaged Bailey's career as an educator. Id. Bailey went from teaching classes of 18 to 21 students at Charlotte Anderson Elementary School to teaching classes of 38 to 40 students at Lake Ridge High School, which significantly increased her workload. Id. She was required to develop an entirely new curriculum for class suitable for high school students. Id.

         After May 29, 2018, Bailey applied with several school districts in Texas for teaching positions. Id. ¶ 50. Other school districts, in Texas and beyond, regularly ask job applicants whether they have previously been placed on administrative leave and use this information to disqualify applicants. Id. In response to questions on these applications asking for disclosure of any situations in which the applicant has been placed on administrative leave, Bailey disclosed that Mansfield I.S.D. had placed her on administrative leave. She was not offered any positions by these school districts. Id.

         As a result of Defendants' actions, Bailey began to experience emotional distress, extreme sadness, mental anguish, and depression, for which she sought treatment. Id. ¶ 51. In order to combat such emotional and mental harms, she began performing music by playing several different musical instruments for patients in hospice facilities. Id. Such activities somewhat lessened her emotional distress, but such feelings continue. Id.

         Although Mansfield I.S.D. has enacted policies prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, and sex, it has refused to enact a policy prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and status as gay or lesbian. Id. ¶ 52. The Texas Association of School Boards (“TASB”) promulgates model policies for school districts to use when enacting policies, including a model policy prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination. Id. ¶ 53. Mansfield I.S.D. is a member of TASB and routinely has enacted TASB's model policies as its own. Id. Mansfield I.S.D., however, has refused to enact TASB's model policy that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and status as gay and lesbian. Id.

         On May 8, 2018, Bailey filed Plaintiff's Original Complaint (“Original Complaint”), which Defendants moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim. On August 28, 2018, the court granted Bailey's motion for leave to file an amended complaint to address various pleading deficiencies Defendants had raised in their motion to dismiss, and, therefore, denied as moot Defendants' motion to dismiss the Original Complaint. On September 18, 2018, Bailey filed her First Amended Complaint (“Amended Complaint”) against Superintendent Vaszauskas and Dr. Cantu, in their respective individual and official capacities, [2] and against Mansfield I.S.D., alleging Defendants violated: (1) the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by unlawfully discriminating against her because of her sexual orientation and status as a lesbian; (2) the Equal Protection Clause and Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by burdening her constitutionally protected right to marry; (3) the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by derogating authority over gay and lesbian employees to individual parents who complain or seek to exercise a de facto veto power over their job and equal dignity (against Mansfield I.S.D. only); and (4) the Equal Protection Clause of the Texas Constitution, Article I, § 3, and the Texas Equal Rights Amendment, Article I, § 3a. She seeks a declaratory judgment that Defendants illegally discriminated against her because of her sexual orientation, monetary damages, punitive damages, reinstatement to her position at Charlotte Anderson Elementary School, and attorney's fees.

         On October 2, 2018, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See Doc. 14. As a threshold matter, Defendants argue jointly that Bailey's claims must be dismissed because her allegations are too speculative and conclusory, and that she resorts to group pleading. Mansfield I.S.D. argues that Bailey's section 1983 claims must be dismissed because she fails to adequately plead municipal liability. Superintendent Vaszauskas and Dr. Cantu, sued in their respective individual capacities, contend that Bailey's section 1983 claims must be dismissed because they are entitled to qualified immunity. The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for adjudication.

         II. Legal Standard - Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)

         To defeat a motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a plaintiff must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); Reliable Consultants, Inc. v. Earle, 517 F.3d 738, 742 (5th Cir. 2008); Guidry v. American Pub. Life Ins. Co., 512 F.3d 177, 180 (5th Cir. 2007). A claim meets the plausibility test “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. 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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal citations omitted). While a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, it must set forth “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation omitted). The “[f]actual allegations of [a complaint] must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Id. (quotation marks, citations, and footnote omitted). When the allegations of the pleading do not allow the court to infer more than the mere possibility of wrongdoing, they fall short of showing that the pleader is entitled to relief. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

         In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court must accept all well-pleaded facts in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Sonnier, 509 F.3d at 675; Martin K. Eby Constr. Co. v. Dallas Area Rapid Transit, 369 F.3d 464, 467 (5th Cir. 2004); Baker v. Putnal, 75 F.3d 190, 196 (5th Cir. 1996). In ruling on such a motion, the court cannot look beyond the pleadings. Id.; Spivey v. Robertson, 197 F.3d 772, 774 (5th Cir. 1999). The pleadings include the complaint and any documents attached to it. Collins v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, 224 F.3d 496, 498-99 (5th Cir. 2000). Likewise, “‘[d]ocuments that a defendant attaches to a motion to dismiss are considered part of the pleadings if they are referred to in the plaintiff's complaint and are central to [the plaintiff's] claims.'” Id. (quoting Venture Assocs. Corp. v. Zenith Data Sys. Corp., 987 F.2d 429, 431 (7th Cir. 1993)). In this regard, a document that is part of the record but not referred to in a plaintiff's complaint and not attached to a motion to dismiss may not be considered by the court in ruling on a 12(b)(6) motion. Gines v. D.R. Horton, Inc., 699 F.3d 812, 820 & n.9 (5th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted). Further, it is well-established and ‘“clearly proper in deciding a 12(b)(6) motion [that a court may] take judicial notice of matters of public record.”' Funk v. Stryker Corp., 631 F.3d 777, 783 (5th Cir. 2011) (quoting Norris v. Hearst Trust, 500 F.3d 454, 461 n.9 (5th Cir. 2007) (citing Cinel v. Connick, 15 F.3d 1338, 1343 n.6 (5th Cir. 1994)).

         The ultimate question in a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is whether the complaint states a valid claim when it is viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Great Plains Trust Co. v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, 313 F.3d 305, 312 (5th Cir. 2002). While well-pleaded facts of a complaint are to be accepted as true, legal conclusions are not “entitled to the assumption of truth.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (citation omitted). Further, a court is not to strain to find inferences favorable to the plaintiff and is not to accept conclusory allegations, unwarranted deductions, or legal conclusions. R2 Invs. LDC v. Phillips, 401 F.3d 638, 642 (5th Cir. 2005) (citations omitted). The court does not evaluate the plaintiff's likelihood of success; instead, it only determines whether the plaintiff has pleaded a legally cognizable claim. United States ex rel. Riley v. St. Luke's Episcopal Hosp., 355 F.3d 370, 376 (5th Cir. 2004). Stated another way, when a court deals with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, its task is to test the sufficiency of the allegations contained in the pleadings to determine whether they are adequate enough to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Mann v. Adams Realty Co., 556 F.2d 288, 293 (5th Cir. 1977); Doe v. Hillsboro Indep. Sch. Dist., 81 F.3d 1395, 1401 (5th Cir. 1996), rev'd on other grounds, 113 F.3d 1412 (5th Cir. 1997) (en banc). Accordingly, denial of a 12(b)(6) motion has no bearing on whether a plaintiff ultimately establishes the necessary proof to prevail on a claim that withstands a 12(b)(6) challenge. Adams, 556 F.2d at 293.

         III. Analysis

         Bailey sues Mansfield I.S.D. pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, [3] alleging it has an official policy of discriminating based on sexual orientation in violation of her rights to equal protection of the laws, to marry, and to procedural due process. Bailey sues Superintendent Vaszauskas and Dr. Cantu, in their respective individual capacities, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. She alleges they discriminated against her based on her sexual orientation and status as a lesbian in violation of her right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as her constitutionally protected right to marry.

         After considering arguments made jointly by Defendants, the court will address Mansfield I.S.D.'s motion to dismiss for failure to allege adequately municipal liability under section 1983, followed by Superintendent Vaszauskas's and Dr. Cantu's respective arguments related to qualified immunity.

         A. Specificity of Pleadings

         As a threshold matter, Defendants urge the court to dismiss the Amended Complaint because it “fails to rise above conclusory and speculative allegations against Defendants.” Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss 4 (Doc. 14). Relatedly, Defendants assert that Bailey directs her allegations against Defendants as a group, and that her allegations of collective wrongdoing are insufficient to state a plausible claim against a specific defendant, requiring dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6). See Id. (“Conclusory and vague allegations and references to ‘Defendants' in general are not sufficient to support a claim.”).

         The court rejects Defendants' argument. As can be discerned from the court's recitation of the factual allegations, supra, and accepting all well-pleaded facts as true, the Amended Complaint is sufficiently detailed. Although Defendants correctly note that Bailey, at times, lumps Defendants together as a group, read in the context of her other allegations, the instances of group pleading have not prevented the court from discerning which defendants are allegedly responsible for which allegedly unlawful acts. Accordingly, the court will deny Defendants' motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint based on group pleading or as too speculative or conclusory to state a claim.

         B. Section 1983 Claims Against Mansfield I.S.D.

         A governmental entity, such as Mansfield I.S.D., can be sued and subjected to monetary damages and injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 only if its official policy or custom causes a person to be deprived of a federally protected right. Board of the Cty. Comm'rs of Bryan Cty. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 403 (1997); Monell v. New York City Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978). “Parties can sue a municipality that has violated their constitutional rights ‘under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage.'” Advanced Tech. Bldg. Solutions, L.L.C. v. City of Jackson, 817 F.3d 163, 165 (5th Cir. 2016) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and citing Monell, 436 U.S. at 690). As a governmental entity, Mansfield I.S.D. cannot be liable for civil rights violations under a theory of respondeat superior or vicarious liability. Monell, 436 U.S. at 691; see also Barrow v. Greenville Indep. Sch. Dist., 480 F.3d 377, 380 (5th Cir. 2007) (“A school district has no vicarious liability under § 1983.”); Baskin v. Parker, 602 F.2d 1205, 1208 (5th Cir. 1979) (recognizing that “state vicarious liability doctrines are inapplicable in [section] 1983 suits.”).

         Official policy is defined as:

1. A policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision that is officially adopted and promulgated by the [school district] lawmaking officers or by an official to whom the lawmakers have delegated policy-making authority; or
2. A persistent, widespread practice of [school district] officials or employees which, although not authorized by officially adopted and promulgated policy, is so common and well-settled as to constitute a custom that fairly represents [school district] policy. Actual or constructive knowledge of such custom must be attributable to the governing body of the ...

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