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Termonia v. Brandywine School District

Superior Court of Delaware, New Castle

April 16, 2014


Submitted: April 2, 2014

Upon Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment GRANTED

Raeann Warner, Esquire, of JACOBS & CRUMPLAR, P.A., attorney for Plaintiff.

James H. McMackin, III, Esquire, of MORRIS JAMES LLP, attorney for Defendant.

The Honorable Andrea L. Rocanelli J.,

Plaintiff, Corine Termonia, was a French teacher in the Brandywine School District ("BSD") from 1991-2001. In this action, Plaintiff claims retaliation and discrimination due to age, sex, and national origin.

Plaintiff was born February 26, 1953 in Algeria and was hired by BSD as a French teacher on August 31, 1991. Beginning in 2003, Plaintiff applied for numerous administrative positions and was not chosen. She filed suit in federal district court against BSD on May 4, 2006 alleging national origin discrimination and that lawsuit was settled in October 21, 2009 ("2006 Discrimination Lawsuit").

While the 2006 Discrimination Lawsuit was pending, Plaintiff alleges that she was "passed over" for a position as the head of the world languages department in late August 2009. There was only one other applicant for the position and Plaintiff's application was not forwarded to principal Dr. Al Thompson. As a result, the position was offered to another employee, Ms. Lopez, who was younger than Plaintiff and of Hispanic descent. However, Plaintiff was eventually offered the department head position. The parties agree that Plaintiff was either awarded this position as part of the mediation, or that the mediator suggested that Plaintiff be awarded the world languages department head position.

Plaintiff alleges that she was bullied thereafter by co-workers, including Ms. Lopez, when she was department head during the 2009-2010 school year. Plaintiff complained of the bullying to Dr. Thompson on May 19, 2010. Plaintiff alleges that Dr. Thompson failed to investigate and report the bullying to the human resources department as required by school guidelines. BHS alleges that Dr. Thompson directed an assistant principal to meet with Plaintiff and the bully and that the bullying stopped.

In 2009, Plaintiff applied for one open assistant principal position at Mount Pleasant High School and two open assistant principal positions at Brandywine High School. Each of the positions required two years of demonstrated and effective leadership experience in an educational environment, background in curriculum instruction, building operations experience and effective community relations. The positions were posted on September 29, 2009 for Mount Pleasant High School and November 12, 2009 for Brandywine High School. Plaintiff was not selected to interview for any of these positions. Plaintiff claims that those who were hired for the positions were younger, American, and had not filed previous lawsuits. Defendant claims that Plaintiff was not qualified for the positions because she had no leadership or managerial experience outside of the classroom and no experience with building operations.

Plaintiff filed her first charge of discrimination with the Delaware Department of Labor ("DDOL") on February 1, 2010 alleging discrimination for BSD's failure to consider Plaintiff for the assistant principal openings at Mount Pleasant High School and Brandywine High School.

In March 2010, students in Plaintiff's French class performed a skit based on the reality television show "Jersey Shore." A news reporter was present for the classroom skit. An article about the skit was published by the reporter in a newspaper on March 3, 2010. The article stated that the students were inappropriately dressed and Plaintiff "looked the other way" when the topics became sexual. Dr. Thompson issued Plaintiff a disciplinary letter on March 31, 2010. Defendant argues that Plaintiff was disciplined as a result of the public outcry that occurred after the news article was published and because students were inappropriately dressed and discussed sexual topics in the skit. Defendant argues that the discipline of a reprimand was not an adverse employment action because it had no effect on Plaintiff's ultimate employment. Plaintiff claims that the reprimand was an action taken in retaliation for the filing of the 2006 Discrimination Lawsuit.

On December 12, 2010, a student left Plaintiff's French class as a result of Plaintiff's discipline of the student. Thereafter, the student was returned to class by Dr. Thompson. Plaintiff alleges that Dr. Thompson brought the student back into the classroom and berated Plaintiff in front of the class, thus usurping her authority as a teacher. Plaintiff filed a grievance on December 22, 2010 alleging that Dr. Thompson violated the Collective Bargaining Agreement by verbally disciplining Plaintiff in front of the class. The hearing officer, Doherty, found that there was no evidence of a violation after a hearing took place.

On December 20, 2010, Plaintiff filed the discrimination and retaliation lawsuit now before the Court ("2010 Lawsuit").

On or about April 7, 2011, Plaintiff removed the same student from another teacher's math class for the purpose of asking the student to prepare a written statement of what occurred when the student was removed from Plaintiff's French class. (Hereafter, this incident is referenced as the "Student Incident.") The student was kept from a core curriculum class for approximately one hour. On April 13, 2011, BSD's superintendant's office was contacted by the student's mother who was very upset that the student was removed by Plaintiff from a "core" class for reasons unrelated to the student's own needs. On April 15, 2011, the superintendant Mark Holodick, Kim Doherty, the student and the student's mother met to discuss the Student Incident. During this time, the student alleged that Plaintiff directed the student to lie in her statement and that Plaintiff made inappropriate comments to the student regarding Dr. Thompson's genitals.

BSD determined Plaintiff should be placed on paid leave while BSD investigated the Student Incident. When Kim Doherty and her assistant tried to locate Plaintiff in the school building to inform her she was being placed on paid leave, Plaintiff was not in the building. This was during the school day. Plaintiff had not signed out. Doherty located Plaintiff at her home and informed her of the investigation and paid leave.

A notice of recommendation of termination was issued by BSD on April 21, 2011. Thereafter, Plaintiff first went out on medical leave and subsequently on disability from April 2011 to August 2011. Plaintiff claims that the disability was caused by headaches and other physical symptoms she suffered as a result of the stress of her suspension.

On August 17, 2011, Plaintiff wrote to human resources informing the district that she would return to work at BSD.

Plaintiff filed a second charge of discrimination on August 23, 2011 alleging the following discriminatory acts by the school (1) her classroom status was improperly changed to unassigned; (2) the class numbers were manipulated to drive Plaintiff out of the school; (3) when Plaintiff went out on disability, her position was advertised; (4) Plaintiff was not interviewed for two positions, but two newer teachers were interviewed; (5) Plaintiff was scheduled to return to work in October, 2011, but there was no vacant position for her; (6) Plaintiff was bullied; (7) Plaintiff has been passed over by BSD for administrative positions since 2003; (8) Plaintiff received unjust reprimands for dress code violations; (9) Plaintiff was not contacted about a vacancy position while out on disability; ...

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