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Doe v. Los Angeles Unified School District

United States District Court, C.D. California

August 8, 2016


          Present: The Honorable CHRISTINA A. SNYDER


          Honorable CHRISTINA A. SNYDER


         On January 14, 2016, plaintiff Jane Doe, a minor, by and through her parental Guardian Ad Litem, John Doe (collectively, “plaintiff”), filed the instant action against defendants: the Los Angeles Unified School District (“LAUSD”); Paul Revere Middle School and Magnet Center (“Paul Revere”); Steven Carnine (“Carnine”), a teacher at Paul Revere; Thomas Iannuci (“Iannucci”), the assistant principal of Paul Revere; Christopher Perdigao (“Perdigao”), the principal of Paul Revere; and Michelle King (“King”), the superintendent of LAUSD (collectively, “defendants”). Dkt. 1. On March 17, 2016, all of the defendants, with the exception of defendant Carnine, filed a motion to dismiss portions of plaintiff’s complaint. Dkt. 38. On May 16, 2016, the Court granted in part and denied in part defendants’ motion. Dkt. 47.

         On June 14, 2016, plaintiff filed the operative First Amended Complaint (“FAC”). Dkt. 50. In the FAC, plaintiff asserts claims against defendants for: (1) Violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d-Hostile Racial Educational Environment; (2) Violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d-Intentional Discrimination on the Basis of Race; (3) Violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d-Intentional Discrimination on the Basis of Race by Failure to Provide Adequate Sensitivity Training; (4) Violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983-Freedom of Speech; and (5) Violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983-Equal Protection. In brief, plaintiff alleges that defendant Carnine, a teacher at plaintiff’s former middle school, Paul Revere Middle School, made racially offensive comments to her and that the remaining defendants failed to take adequate steps to protect plaintiff from the hostile educational environment that erupted after she complained about Carnine’s comments.

         On July 1, 2016, defendants filed a motion to dismiss portions of plaintiff’s complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).[1] Dkt. 58. Specifically, defendants move to dismiss plaintiff’s Third, Fourth, and Fifth claims for relief. Id. On July 11, 2016, plaintiff filed an opposition, Dkt. 62, and on August 1, 2016, defendants filed a reply, Dkt. 64. Having carefully considered the parties’ arguments, the Court finds and concludes as follows.


         Plaintiff alleges the following facts in her FAC: Plaintiff is a fourteen year old African-American female, who formerly attended Paul Revere Middle School, a charter school within LAUSD. FAC ¶¶ 3-4. In January of 2015, during the second semester of her 8th grade year, plaintiff was promoted to an honors level History course taught by defendant Carnine. Id. ¶¶ 22-23. On her first day of class, plaintiff entered Carnine’s classroom and handed him her transfer slip. Id. ¶ 23. Carnine read the slip, looked at plaintiff, and asked: “Why are you in my class?” Id. Plaintiff explained that her former teacher had recommended that she be promoted to Carnine’s honors level course. Id. Carnine then proceeded to look plaintiff from head to toe and said “you can sit over there”-placing emphasis on the word “you” and pointing to a seat in the front corner of the classroom several empty seats removed from the other students seated in the classroom at that time. Id. During the entire time plaintiff was a student in Carnine’s class, she was the only African-American student in the class. Id. ¶ 24.

         On or around January 16, 2015, and the Friday before Martin Luther King Day, Carnine gave a lesson on what he termed “racial tolerance.” Id. ¶ 26. As part of this lesson, Carnine handed out questionaires to his students. Id. This questionnaire contained the following prompts: “What races do you feel get stereotyped the most?”; “What do you think of racism today?”; “List some stereotypes.” Id. Carnine instructed the students to fill out the questionnaire and then asked volunteers to read their answers aloud. Id. One white student volunteered and provided the following example of a stereotype: “African Americans are judged based upon athletic abilities and considered to be less intelligent or smart.” Id. According to plaintiff, at this point Carnine interjected and said “Oh yeah. That is a good example. Black people are judged for not being smart because they are not smart. A lot of them are just athletes.” Id. Carnine then provided his own example of a stereotype: “[I]f I am walking by myself at night, and there are two black guys following behind me, I am immediately going to get scared and think they are going to rob or hurt me.” Id. Plaintiff alleges that while Carnine made these comments he stared at plaintiff. Id. Carnine ended the lesson by discussing the, then recent, incident in Ferguson, Missouri, in which a Caucasion police officer, Darren Wilson, shot and killed an African-American man, Michael Brown. Id. ¶ 28. Plaintiff states that Carnine opined, “the guy [Brown] was a thug and got what he deserved.” Id. Plaintiff, who was at that time thirteen years old, avers that she felt hurt by Carnine’s comments. Id. ¶ 34. Moreover, plaintiff states that at no point during the lesson did Carnine explicitly disavow or condemn any of the stereotypes. Id. ¶ 33.

         According to plaintiff, Carnine’s lesson was adapted from an “Anti-Bias Study Guide” published in 2000 by the New York branch of the Anti-Defamation League (“ADL”). Id. ¶ 27. In the ADL version of the lesson plan, teachers are instructed to offer the following examples of stereotypes: “all teenagers shoplift” and “third graders are babies.” Id. The ADL version also does not instruct teachers to mention specific races, or to ask students to generate and read aloud common stereotypes of races they are not members of. Id.

         After Carnines’ “racial tolerance” lesson was over, several of plaintiff’s classmates came up to her to ask if she felt okay about what had happened in class. Id. ¶ 35. Plaintiff returned home that evening in tears and told her parents about the stereotypes she was told were commonly attributed to people like her and her family. Id. ¶ 36. Plaintiff was out sick the following week. Id. ¶ 37. On January 27, 2015, plaintiff’s parents attempted to contact Carnine regarding an upcoming test in his class. Id. ¶ 38. Pursuant to a school policy, plaintiff was entitled to a one day extension on assignments for every day she was out sick. Id. Plaintiff’s parents left several voice messages for Carnine, whose only reply was a single voice message in which he mistook plaintiff for another student and said nothing about the extension. Id.

         On January 28, 2015, plaintiff’s mother contacted a school administrator, who told plaintiff’s mother that she needed to write a note on plaintiff’s behalf and that the administrator would personally deliver it to Carnine. Id. ¶ 39. Later that day, plaintiff returned to Carnine’s classroom. Id. ¶ 40. When plaintiff arrived in Carnine’s classroom he approached her holding the note her mother had written. Id. Carnine again asked plaintiff why she was in his class and she responded that she had “switched to honors.” Id. According to plaintiff, Carnine then threw the note in her face. Id. Carnine then proceeded to address the whole class and stated: “You will not be getting your tests back on time because there are students who felt they needed more time to study so they did not take the test.” Id.

         Shortly thereafter, Carnine gave a lesson on the Civil War that plaintiff attended. Id. ¶ 45. In the course of this lesson, Carnine used the phrase “n-i-g-g-e-r lover.” Id. Carnine explained that this word had been used as a negative term for President Abraham Lincoln. Id. Carnine did not actually speak this phrase, but rather spelled it aloud for the class. Id. Plaintiff contends that this phrase was not contained in any of the teaching materials or lesson plans provided or approved by LAUSD. Id. Nor did it appear in any of the required reading for Carnine’s course. Id.

         Following this incident, defendant Iannucci assured plaintiff’s father that her complaints would be investigated. Id. ¶ 59. To this end, Iannucci selected seven students from Carnine’s class and asked them to describe anything unusual that had happened in the last two weeks. Id. ¶ 63. Six out of the seven students mentioned Carnine’s use of the “N-word.” Id. ¶ 64. Iannucci was apparently satisfied by these responses and concluded that Carnine’s conduct had been appropriate. Id. ¶ 68.

         On March 18, 2015, plaintif filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court alleging violations of the Unruh Civil Rights Act based on intentional discrimination by Carnine, Paul Revere, and LAUSD. Id. ¶ 78. Immediately after plaintiff filed her state court action, supervisors at Paul Revere removed Carnine from the classroom and ordered a more in-depth investigation into the propriety of his actions. Id. ¶¶ 79-80. Plaintiff alleges that, in response to her lawsuit, a large group of parents and student began pressuring Paul Revere to reinstate Carnine. Id. ¶ 81. According to plaintiff, these individuals viewed Carnine as the aggrieved party and believed his actions toward plaintiff had been appropriate. Id. Plaintiff further alleges that local parents and students started a Facebook page titled “Save Carnine” and began distributing an online petition demanding that Carnine be reinstated. Id. ¶ 83. Plaintiff alleges that posts on this site questioned her motives, dismissed her allegations, and threatened her safety. Id. Examples of these posts include: “Plaintiff must pay for lying”; plaintiff is “an attention whore”; plaintiff should be “home schooled”; “Kids are not being very nice to [plaintiff] at school but who could ...

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