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Baker v. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Diego

United States District Court, S.D. California

June 23, 2016

MICHELE BAKER, Plaintiff,
v.
ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHDIOCESE OF SAN DIEGO; ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHDIOCESE OF SAN DIEGO dba CATHEDRAL CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL; CATHEDRAL CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT IN FAVOR OF DEFENDANTS AND AGAINST PLAINTIFF

          Hon. Jeffrey T. Miller United States District Judge

         Defendant The Roman Catholic Bishop of San Diego ("RCBSD"), erroneously sued as Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Diego, Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Diego, dba Cathedral Catholic High School and Cathedral Catholic High School, moves for summary judgment on Plaintiff Michele Baker's remaining claim for violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). Plaintiff opposes the motion. For the reasons set forth below, the court grants the motion for summary judgment in favor of RCBSD and against Plaintiff. The Clerk of Court is instructed to enter judgment accordingly and to close the file.

         BACKGROUND

         On April 4, 2014, RCBSD removed this action from the Superior Court for the State of California, County of San Diego, based upon federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§1331, 1441, and 1446. The operative Second Amended Complaint ("SAC") alleges three claims for relief: (1) disability discrimination in violation of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. §12112 et seq.; (2) retaliation and wrongful termination in violation of California public policy; and (3) declaratory and injunctive relief. (Ct. Dkt. 22). Following entry of this court's March 23, 2015 Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, the only remaining claim is the ADA claim.

         The parties have now completed discovery and Defendant moves for summary judgment on the remaining ADA claim. The following evidentiary record is largely undisputed. Plaintiff, a 68 year old mathematics teacher, commenced her employment with RCBSD in 2000. Plaintiff was employed via an annual employment contract that would be renewed annually from 2000 through August 2013. The employment contract contained the following provision:

The term of this EMPLOYMENT AGREEMENT shall be for one (1) academic year commencing on September 1, 2000 and terminating on June 30, 2001. . . . It is understood that . . . there is no obligation to offer TEACHER another contract at the end of that term, notwithstanding the fact that the contract may have been renewed in previous years. . . .
Teacher is familiar with and understands the importance of the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church and agrees to give Christian witness in his/her personal and professional life. By accepting this term of the Agreement, Teacher agrees to respect and implement the policies and regulations regarding Catholic Schools and Catholic education as issued by the Holy See, the Bishop of San Diego, and his delegates, including the Office of Schools, the President and the Principal of the School.

         Pursuant to RCBSD's policies, Plaintiff's performance was formally evaluated annually during the first three years of employment and subsequent teacher evaluations were performed as needed. Consistent with the policy, six performance evaluations were conducted throughout Plaintiff's employment with RCBSD. The evaluations each identify from 3 to 17 different areas in Plaintiff's performance that needed improvement. The evaluations noted several areas for improvement: For example, "Need to clearly identify purpose, goals of each day's lesson;" "Inadequate time for homework assignment;" "Work more effectively with administrators;" "Prepare lessons which reflect a strong understanding of the content;" and "Adhere to all school policies, procedures and regulation."

         The school principal, Principal Deely since 2006, would determine which employment contracts would be renewed. Principal Deely testified that he had received both positive and negative comments concerning Plaintiff. While some people at the school considered Plaintiff to be very nice and supportive of students, Principal Deely also testified that he received concerns about Plaintiff's effectiveness in teaching mathematics, managing her classroom, and whether the students received the kind of instruction needed. (Deely Decl. ¶¶9-10). These concerns were voiced by school counselors and several administrative personnel. Assistant Principal Mauro also testified that she received several complaints, or concerns, from teachers and parents concerning Plaintiff's performance.

         On August 23, 2012, Plaintiff suffered a fall in the stairwell at work, and struck her head on the concrete. Plaintiff was initially unable to get up and sat on the ground for about ten minutes. Plaintiff then walked to her car, informed the school nurse of the fall, drove home, spoke with Principal Deely, and then drove herself to the emergency room at Sharp's Hospital. Plaintiff underwent a CT scan of her head and neck. She was diagnosed with a concussion. She received an anti-nausea medication and stayed out of work for ten days.

         On August 27, 2012, by email, Plaintiff informed Principal Deely that she suffered a concussion and felt dizzy. Subsequently, Principal Deely "asked me periodically if I - - how I was, and I always told him that I had headaches and dizziness, and that was about the extent of it." (AS 296:5-8). In their conversations, Principal Deely expressed concern for her well-being and told Plaintiff to follow her doctor's advice. On September 3, 2012, Plaintiff was medically cleared to return to work. Without providing necessary context as to frequency, severity, or duration, Plaintiff represents that she suffers from double vision, blurred vision, memory issues, hearing issues, dizziness, and nightmares. (AS 193:2012; Oppo. at p.9:6-7). Following the incident, Plaintiff testified that she was able to competently carry out the duties of her teaching position. (Exh. 1 338:1-342-19). At no time did a medical provider inform her that she could not perform her duties as a teacher.

         Shortly after returning to work, Plaintiff filed a worker's compensation claim. From September 2012 through the spring of 2013, Plaintiff was seen by medical personnel on multiple occasions (about once per month) concerning her complaints of headaches and dizziness. Plaintiff requested, and received, time off from her employer to attend doctor appointments. After each medical appointment, Plaintiff was cleared for full duty without any limitations. During this time, Plaintiff was able continue teaching without any accommodation or limitation.

         During the first semester of the 2012-13 academic year, Principal Deely received concerns about students and classroom management issues related to Plaintiff's classes. Principal Deely observed Plaintiff on two or three occasions in January and February 2013. Principal Deely observed that Plaintiff did not begin class with a prayer as required, incorrectly solved a math problem on the board and failed to correct the answer when a student pointed out the problem, and did not manage her class well. (Deely Decl. ¶18-19).

         Based upon his observations, as well as input from students, parents, and administrators, Principal Deely decided not to offer Plaintiff a new contract for the 2013-2014 academic year. On February 28, 2013, Plaintiff met with Principal Deely and Vice Principal Mauro to discuss the evaluation. Principal Deely discussed the performance evaluation and modified one of the comments in the evaluation. Plaintiff signed the evaluation but disputed the motivation and content of the evaluation. (Exh. 19). Principal Deely informed Plaintiff at the February 28, 2013 meeting that she would not receive a new contract for the upcoming academic year.

         On March 18, 2013, Plaintiff contacted her physician and informed her of the following:

. . . . I fell in August and continued to work. Although I have dizziness, double-vision, and headaches, I felt I was doing a good job. I was told last week that my contract would not be renewed. I am devastated and feel unworthy at school. I cannot stop crying. Is it possible to get a note from you to get the rest of the year off, so I can pull myself together and move forward? Please help me. Sincerely, Michele Baker

         The physician complied and provided her with a note excusing her from work from April 8, 2013, to June 15, 2013, due to "medical illness." Plaintiff's request for leave was approved and Plaintiff was paid ...


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