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Flores v. Kleist

September 9, 2010

FRANCISCO FLORES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CHRIS VON KLEIST; JACK MARTIN; MARK HENDRY; LEIGH MCDANIELS; BEN W. KRAEMER; VANGIE PORRAS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Garland E. Burrell, Jr. United States District Judge

ORDER GRANTING AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Defendants Jack Martin, Mark Hendry, Leigh McDaniels, Ben Kraemer and Vangie Porras (collectively, the "School Board Defendants") filed a motion for summary judgment on April 16, 2010, on Plaintiff's federal and state claims alleged in his second amended complaint. (Docket No. 29.) Defendant Chris Von Kleist also filed a motion for summary judgment on April 16, 2010. (Docket No. 27.) Each Defendant's motion asserts the qualified immunity defense to certain of Plaintiff's federal claims. Plaintiff filed an opposition to each motion. Plaintiff alleges claims against Defendant Von Kleist, the Superintendent of the Orland Unified School District (the "School District"), and members of the School District's Board of Trustees, related to the termination of his employment as a school principal and classroom teacher. Argument on Defendants' summary judgment motions was heard on June 21, 2010.

I. LEGAL STANDARD

A party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact for trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If this burden is satisfied, "the non-moving party must set forth, by affidavit or as otherwise provided in [Federal] Rule [of Civil Procedure] 56, specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pacific Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987) (quotations and citation omitted) (emphasis in original). This requires that the non-moving party "come forward with facts, and not allegations, [that] controvert the moving party's case." Town House, Inc. v. Paulino, 381 F.2d 811, 814 (9th Cir. 1967) (citation omitted). The Eastern District's Local Rule 260(b) further requires that "[a]ny party opposing a motion for summary judgment... [must] reproduce the itemized facts in the [moving party's] Statement of Undisputed Facts and admit those facts that are undisputed and deny those that are disputed, including with each denial a citation to the particular portions of any pleading, affidavit, deposition, interrogatory answer, admission, or other document relied upon in support of that denial." E.D. Cal. R. 260(b). "If the moving party's statement of facts are not controverted in this manner, the Court may assume the facts as claimed by the moving party are admitted to exist without controversy." Farrakhan v. Gregoire, 590 F.3d 989, 1002 (9th Cir. 2010) (quoting Beard v. Banks, 548 U.S. 521, 527 (2006)) (finding that a party opposing summary judgment who "fail[s] [to] specifically challenge the facts identified in the [moving party's] statement of undisputed facts... is deemed to have admitted the validity of [those] facts....").

All reasonable inferences that can be drawn from the facts provided "must be drawn in favor of the non-moving party." Bryan v. McPherson, 590 F.3d 767, 772 (9th Cir. 2009). However, only admissible evidence may be considered. See Orr v. Bank of America, NT & SA, 285 F.3d 764, 773 (9th Cir. 2002) (stating that "[a] trial court can only consider admissible evidence in ruling on a motion for summary judgment") (citations omitted); Beyene v. Coleman Sec. Servs., Inc., 854 F.2d 1179, 1181 (9th Cir. 1988) (stating that "[i]t is well settled that only admissible evidence may be considered by the trial court in ruling on a motion for summary judgment").

II. STATEMENT OF UNCONTROVERTED FACTS

In his response to Von Kleist and the School Board Defendants' statements of undisputed facts, Plaintiff lists numerous facts as "disputed." However, except as discussed below, Plaintiff's evidentiary support does not controvert the evidence submitted by Defendants. See Town House, 381 F.3d at 814 (stating that the non-moving "party must come forward with facts... to controvert the moving party's case"). Where Plaintiff has failed to provide facts that specifically controvert Defendants' facts, Plaintiff is "deemed to have admitted the validity of the facts contained in [Defendants' statements of undisputed facts]." Farrakhan, 590 F.3d at 1002 (quoting Beard, 548 U.S. at 527). Accordingly, Defendants' many evidentiary objections are only addressed where necessary.

Plaintiff was first employed by the School District during the 2003 to 2004 school year as a teacher at North Valley High School. (Pl.'s Response to Von Kleist's Statement of Undisputed Facts ("SUF") ¶ 4.) During the summer of 2004, Plaintiff was employed as the summer school principal at North Valley High School. (Id.) Plaintiff was rehired by the School District for the 2004 to 2005 school year as a special needs program teacher and the alternative education principal. (Id. ¶ 5.) During the 2004 to 2005 school year, Plaintiff allocated eighty percent of his time to his position as the special needs program teacher and twenty percent of his time to his position as the alternative education principal. (Id.) Plaintiff's employment with the School District, however, was interrupted during the 2004 to 2005 school year in October 2004, when Plaintiff was deployed to active duty with the Army National Guard. (Id.) Plaintiff was on military leave from October 15, 2004 to February 8, 2006. (Id.; Von Kleist Apr. 8, 2010 Decl. ¶ 5.)

Upon his return from active duty, Plaintiff was rehired by the School District on February 9, 2006, as a special needs assessment teacher and alternative education principal. (Id. ¶ 6.) Plaintiff was to allocate forty percent of his time to his role as a special needs assessment teacher and sixty percent of his time to his role as the alternative education principal. (Id.) However, on March 21, 2006, Plaintiff was promoted to fill-in as the principal at the Mill Street School under an internship administrative credential. (Id. ¶ 7.) The Mill Street School is a grade school that teaches kindergarten through second grade. (Id. ¶ 8.) Plaintiff was rehired to be the principal at the Mill Street School for the subsequent 2006 to 2007 and then 2007 to 2008 school years. (Id. ¶¶ 8, 9.) For each of these school years, Plaintiff was employed under a one-year employment contract and an internship administrative credential. (Id.)

Plaintiff's employment contract for the 2007 to 2008 school year includes the following "termination clause":

The Principal's status as Principal and all of the Principal's rights under this Agreement may be terminated at any time for, but not limited to, breach of contract, and grounds enumerated in the Education Code; or the Principal's failure to perform his/her responsibilities as set forth in this Agreement, as defined by law, or as specified in the Principal's job description, if any. The [School] District shall not terminate this Agreement pursuant to this paragraph... until a written statement of the grounds for termination has first been served upon the Principal. The Principal shall then be entitled to a conference with the Superintendent at which time the Principal shall be given a reasonable opportunity to address his concerns. The Principal shall have a right to have a representative of his/her choice at the conference. The conference with the Board shall be the Principal's exclusive right to any hearing otherwise required by law.

(Pl.'s Ex. 3) (emphasis added.)

Von Kleist, the Superintendent for the School District, declares that during the 2006 to 2007 school year, he "started receiving complaints about [Plaintiff,]... includ[ing] a grievance by teacher Victoria Haro, several complaints by teacher Carol Raner, a parent's written complaint, Union representative complaints reiterating [the] teachers' complaints about staff meetings..., and [a complaint from] teacher Laura Bryan...." (Von Kleist Apr. 8, 2010 Decl. ¶ 8.) Bryan declares that she "thought many of [Plaintiff's] actions and comments to [her were] inappropriate and offensive" and "[Plaintiff's] language and suggestive references at staff meetings [were]... inappropriate." (Bryan Decl. ¶ 2.) In addition, Bryan declares that "[o]f most concern to [her]... was [her] delayed 2006/2007 evaluation" which was provided by Plaintiff over three months late and included "low marks." (Id.) Von Kleist discussed with Plaintiff in March 2007 "Bryan's complaints, the need for timely evaluations, and the administrative policy in evaluations of teachers...." (Pl.'s Response to Von Kleist's SUF ¶ 12.)

Bryan informed her union representative, John Seid, of her complaints about Plaintiff on May 21, 2007. (Von Kleist SUF ¶ 13.) Seid then informed Von Kleist of these complaints, and in August 2007, Bryan met with Von Kleist to discuss her concerns. (Id.; Von Kleist Apr. 8, 2010 Decl. ¶ 11.)

In September 2007, Plaintiff was called to Von Kleist's office for a meeting with Seid and Christine Sickles, the President of the Orland Unified School District Teachers Association. (Flores Decl. ¶ 12.) The parties dispute what transpired at the September 2007 meeting. Von Kleist declares that:

At this meeting the allegations [concerning Plaintiff's interactions with Bryan] were presented to [Plaintiff] and he denied some and admitted others. At the conclusion, I made certain orders to [Plaintiff] as follows: (a) that there were to be no reprisals against Laura Bryan or any other complainant, (b) to not invade her personal space, (c) to stay out of Laura Bryan's classroom, (d) stay away from her unless another adult was present, (e) to treat her as if she was his grandmother, (f) to cease any sexual innuendoes, (g) to follow the proper evaluation procedure, (h) not to do anything that would create a hostile work environment between teachers, and (i) to treat all teachers equally. I advised [Plaintiff] that any violation of these orders could lead to discipline.

I had previously assigned Principal Linda Porter to thereafter do the evaluation for teacher Laura Bryan. (Von Kleist Apr. 8, 2010 Decl. ¶ 14.) Plaintiff, however, declares:

Von Kleist told me that Laura Bryan had complained to him that I had not followed the contractual time line for the previous year's evaluation, that her evaluation was not fair, that she was intimidated by me, and that I had made two comments that she did not feel were professional. Von Kleist completed his comments by stating that I had committed sexual harassment against Ms. Bryan. I was shocked and totally taken aback by those comments. I requested an immediate investigation be conducted to protect me and the District from the sexual harassment allegations.... Von Kleist told me, "Do not worry about it, these things happen all the time, it will all blow over." Von Kleist told me that I should be polite, professional, give Ms. Bryan lots of space, and not to be alone with her.... I was never told by Von Kleist to "cease all sexual innuendoes" nor was I told that any violation could lead to discipline. (Flores Decl. ¶ 12.)

On September 14, 2007, Von Kleist had a meeting with Laurel Hill-Ward, the individual in charge of placing student teachers with the School District. (Von Kleist's SUF ¶ 16.) At this meeting, Hill-Ward informed Von Kleist that she was going to pull two student teachers from the Mill Street School due to Plaintiff's conduct. (Id.)

In November 2007, Von Kleist received a complaint from teacher Carol Raner, in which she stated Plaintiff had engaged in a pattern of harassment and had created an intimidatory environment towards her and some other female teachers. (Von Kleist's SUF ¶ 19.) Plaintiff met with Raner and Von Kleist on November 17, 2007, and Plaintiff apologized to Raner. (Id.)

In February 2008, Plaintiff entered Bryan's classroom while she was teaching. (Id.) Bryan declares that Plaintiff "sat down and stared at her for several minutes" and she "became very concerned and eventually terrified." (Bryan Decl. ¶ 4.) Plaintiff, however, declares that he entered Bryan's classroom and "sat down behind the class"; he "did not sit... and stare at [Bryan]" but instead, "observed the students...." (Flores Decl. ¶ 15.)

After this incident, on February 8, 2008, Von Kleist met with Bryan. (Von Kleist SUF ¶ 20.) Bryan told Von Kleist that Plaintiff had entered her classroom and remained there for some time. (Id.; Von Kleist Apr. 8, 2010 Decl. ¶ 17.) Von Kleist then directed Paul Boylan, the School District's attorney, to investigate Plaintiff's employment history. (Id.; Von Kleist Apr. 8, 2010 Decl. ¶ 17; Boylan Decl. ¶ 3.)

On February 11, 2008, Von Kleist served Plaintiff in person with a Notice of Immediate Administrative Leave. (Pl.'s Response to Von Kleist's SUF ¶ 21; Von Kleist Ex. E.) The Notice of Immediate Administrative Leave placed Plaintiff on "paid administrative leave, effective immediately, while [Von Kleist] decide[d] whether to terminate [Plaintiff] for insubordination associated with what appear[ed] to be a continuing and pernicious pattern of harassment." (Von Kleist Ex. E.)

Boylan conducted an investigation into Plaintiff's employment history and described his investigation as follows in his declaration:

My investigation included interviews with two former superintendents from Hamilton Elementary School District (prior employment as a teacher), Kevin Donnelley (former Glenn County Sheriff) and Dewey Anderson (former Glenn County undersheriff and CHP Officer) (Employment application for a position with the Glenn County undersheriff and CHP Officer) (Employment application for a position with the Glenn County Sheriff Department), and the head of Chico State Student Teaching Program. I was informed by Mike Thomas and John Kissam (former Hamilton Elementary School District Superintendents) that [Plaintiff] was forced to resign from employment with the CHP due to allegations of traffic stops and sexual favors..... Mr. Thomas stated that while working as a teacher at Hamilton Elementary School District, [Plaintiff] had a very close personal relationship with a substitute teacher while he was living at the same time with another woman. Kevin Donnelley and Dewey Anderson confirmed that in their checking on [Plaintiff's] background he had been terminated by the CHP due to inappropriate sexual offers in traffic stops. The head of the Chico State Student Teacher Program indicated that she would not place student teachers in [Plaintiff's] classroom because of a history of problems with student teachers and she further stated that he is a sexual predator. I also reviewed all the complaints about [Plaintiff] while he was Principal at Mill Street School.

(Boylan Decl. ¶ 3.)

After Plaintiff received the Notice of Immediate Administrative Leave, he attended a meeting with Von Kleist, Boylan, and Seid. (Pl.'s Response to Von Kleist's SUF ¶ 22.) The exact date of this meeting is disputed, as is what transpired. Von Kleist declares that at this meeting, which he calls a "pre-termination conference," Plaintiff "did not deny that he had gone into Laura Bryan's classroom" and "Boylan confronted [Plaintiff] about prior employment incidents involving females that he had discovered in his investigation." (Von Kleist Apr. 8, 2010 Decl. ¶ 22.) Von Kleist further declares Plaintiff "made no denials"; instead, Plaintiff "requested to be put into a teaching position at the [School] District's Fairview School." (Id.) In contrast, Plaintiff declares that at the meeting "Boylan accused [him] of 'being alone' with Laura Bryan when [he] was monitoring her classroom" and "Von Kleist stated that he was going to move [him] into a teaching position and [he] agreed with that decision." (Flores Decl. ¶ 16.) Plaintiff further declares that "Von Kleist also stated that he had been in contact with the Orland Teachers Union and California Association, discussing 'what to do with [Plaintiff].'" (Id.) Further, Plaintiff declares that several days after this meeting, at a meeting with Union Representatives, Von Kleist referred to him as a "serial sexual harasser" and stated that Plaintiff had "harassed a female" while teaching at Hamilton Elementary School. (Flores Decl. ¶ 17.)

After this meeting with Plaintiff, Von Kleist, Boylan and Seid, the School District's Board of Trustees held a regularly scheduled meeting on February 21, 2008. (Pl.'s Response to Von Kleist's SUF ¶ 23; Von Kleist Ex. F.) At the February 21 Board of Trustees meeting, Von Kleist requested and received authorization to take disciplinary action against Plaintiff. (Id.) Boylan then prepared and served a Notice of Termination on Plaintiff on February 22, 2008. (Id. ¶ 24; Von Kleist Ex. G.) The Notice of Termination lists "insubordination" and "history of harassment" as the "grounds for [Plaintiff's] termination." Specifically, the Notice of Termination provides:

Grounds for Termination:

Insubordination: You have demonstrated the inability or unwillingness to follow the Superintendent's directives. Despite repeated warnings and efforts to assist you to improve your performance, you have been chronically insubordinate, willfully violating the Superintendent's direct instructions to you. Instances of insubordination include but are not limited to: C Failure to follow instructions not to be with C Laura Bryan without another adult present.

Repeated undermining of the Superintendent's authority, despite instructions to stop doing C so.

Failure to immediately turn in your keys as instructed in the Superintendent's letter hand delivered to you on February 11, 2008. History of Harassment: Investigation has revealed that you are a serial harasser with a long history of harassing women and employment related difficulties involving women.

(Von Kleist Ex. G.)

After Plaintiff was served with the Notice of Termination, Boylan received a letter from Plaintiff's counsel dated February 25, 2008, in which Plaintiff's counsel demanded that Plaintiff be paid for the entire term of his contract. (Von Kleist Ex. H.) The letter further states that Plaintiff "is entitled to due process under Skelly and hereby makes demand for a hearing." (Id.) Plaintiff ultimately was paid the full amount due under his contract for the 2007/2008 school year in monthly installments. (Pl.'s Response to Von Kleist's SUF ¶ 29.)

Von Kleist called a special meeting of the School District's Board of Trustees for March 7, 2008, at which the Board of Trustees passed Resolution 09-07/08 which ratified Plaintiff's termination. (Id. ΒΆ 26; Von Kleist Ex. I.) The Resolution does not identify Plaintiff or his position by name but merely states that the "Board ratifies the Superintendent's decision to dismiss the administrator, effective immediately, from all employment with the ...


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