Submitted: August 20, 2014
Timothy J. Wilson, Esquire (Argued), The Wilson Firm, LLC, Attorney for Plaintiff
Marc S. Casarino, Esquire (Argued), Sean A. Meluney, Esquire, White and Williams LLP, Attorneys for Defendant
The Honorable Mary M. Johnston J.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL CONTEXT
For the purposes of this Motion for Summary Judgment, the Court will set forth the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, in this case the plaintiff.
Plaintiff Pauline Addison ("Addison") filed this lawsuit against Defendant East Side Charter School of Wilmington ("East Side") on May 29, 2013. Addison alleges that her employment with East Side was terminated as a result of her refusal to cover up sexual misconduct that occurred between students. Addison claims her termination violates the Delaware Whistleblowers' Protection Act, 19 Del. C. §§ 1701 et seq. ("Whistleblowers' Act"), and that her termination also gives rise to a claim for Breach of the Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing. Discovery was completed on April 17, 2014. On May 8, 2014, East Side filed this Motion for Summary Judgment. Oral argument was heard on August 20, 2014.
Since its inception in 1997, East Side has operated as a charter school for inner city students within the City of Wilmington. Also in 1997, Addison began her employment with East Side. Addison has served East Side in several different capacities. At the time of the alleged cover up and termination, Addison was working at East Side as a para-educator. As a para-educator, Addison's responsibilities were to assist Patricia King ("King"), a teacher, in the care for and instruction of a classroom of students. During this time East Side was led by Principal Dr. Lamont Browne ("Browne"), Assistant Principal Latesha Laws ("Laws), and Dean of Discipline Andre Chin ("Chin") (collectively "East Side Leadership").
On April 20, 2012, Addison was assisting King in the classroom. At some point King was required to leave the classroom. Addison was left alone to read a book to the students. During this reading time an underage male student ("ZZ") put his hands down the pants of an underage female student ("AA"). AA informed Addison about ZZ's actions and Addison immediately separated the two. As Addison was escorting ZZ out of the classroom, Addison encountered Chin in the hallway. Addison informed Chin about the situation and Chin took control of ZZ. Chin then instructed Addison to go to the office to write a report about the incident and to call the children's parents.
After completing the written report, Addison gave it to Chin. Upon King's return to the classroom, Addison informed King about the incident. Addison then called AA's mother and left her a message about the incident. Days later AA's mother spoke with Addison to confirm that the incident had occurred the way the mother understood it. At this point, no one from the East Side Leadership had spoken to AA's mother. Additionally, Addison had not told anyone on East Side Leadership that she had spoken to AA's mother. The incident was not reported to the police or the Delaware Department of Education.
Eventually AA's mother came to the school to discuss the incident. AA's mother was upset that she had only been in contact with Addison, and not any members of East Side Leadership. During this meeting East Side Leadership told AA's mother that they attempted to call her several times on the day of the incident and that King even sent a note home with AA. AA's mother informed the administration that she had not received any calls, messages, or notes. King was present during this meeting, Addison was not.
Immediately following the meeting with AA's mother, East Side Leadership brought Addison in for a meeting. Laws questioned Addison about whether she had filled out a report. Chin explained that Addison had given the report to him as requested. During this meeting East Side Leadership expressed its dismay with Addison that she had spoken with AA's mother but did not disclose it to anyone in East Side Leadership.
Prior to the incident with ZZ and AA, on March 29, 2012, Addison completed an intent to return to work form for East Side. This form expressed Addison's intent to return to the same position in King's class for the next school year. On May 15, 2012, Addison amended her intent to return to work form. Addison indicated that she would prefer a different assignment if available, but if not, then she would stay with King.
On June 5, 2012, Addison had a meeting with Browne regarding her amended intent to return to work form. Addison and Browne discussed Addison's poor working relationship with King. The incident between ZZ and AA was not discussed. At the end of the meeting Addison placed her work badge on Browne's desk and walked out of the office. Addison did not return to work for the remainder of the school year.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Summary judgment is granted only if the moving party establishes that there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute and judgment may be granted as a matter of law. All facts are viewed in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. Summary judgment may not be granted if the record indicates that a material fact is in dispute, or if there is a need to clarify the application of law to the specific circumstances. When the facts permit a reasonable person to draw only one inference, the question becomes one for decision as a matter of law.
The Court will not draw unreasonable inferences in the favor of the non-moving party. Courts are permitted to consider a plaintiff's testimony to be self-contradictory and not supported by other evidence in the record, such that no rational juror could find in the plaintiff's favor. Therefore, a plaintiff's testimony must be substantiated by direct evidence found in the record. Testimony that is "replete with inconsistencies and improbabilities that no reasonable juror would undertake the suspension of belief necessary to credit the plaintiff's allegations, " will not survive summary judgment. As a result, if the non-moving party bears the burden of proof at trial, yet "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, " then summary judgment may be granted against that party.
Whistleblowers' Act Claim
The Whistleblowers' Act was enacted to protect employees who report violations of law for the benefit of the public. Under this statute, an employer is prevented from discharging, threatening, or otherwise discriminating against an employee regarding the employee's compensation, terms, conditions, ...