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Charlton v. Paramus Bd. of Educ.

filed: June 1, 1994.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. (D.C. Civil Action No. 92-01906).

Present: Stapleton, Hutchinson and Roth, Circuit Judges.

Author: Hutchinson


HUTCHINSON, Circuit Judge.

Pro se appellant, Ann Mery Charlton ("Charlton"), appeals an order of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey granting summary judgment to appellees, the Paramus Board of Education ("school board") and various officials within the Paramus School District ("school district"). The district court held that Charlton had not shown any genuine disputes of material fact on her claims of discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation and so could not legally recover. Charlton argues on appeal that the evidence she pointed to in opposition to the school's motion for summary judgment did raise a genuine issue of triable fact on her claims for discrimination. She also contends that the district court erred as a matter of law in dismissing her retaliation claim because she was no longer an employee of the school district at the time the allegedly retaliatory conduct occurred. While we agree with the district court's Disposition of her discrimination and hostile work environment claims, we conclude the district court erred in holding that Charlton had to be an employee at the time of the allegedly retaliatory conduct. Accordingly, we will reverse the district court's order granting summary judgment on the retaliation claim and remand for its consideration on the merits.


Ann Mery Charlton taught in the Paramus School District for seventeen years, rising to the level of tenured music supervisor in September of 1988. Charlton alleges that the school district ultimately terminated her employment because her supervisor, the Assistant Superintendent of Schools for the Paramus School District, Janice Dime ("Dime"), made unwanted sexual advances that Charlton rebuffed. Charlton claims Dime "then conspired with others [lesbian teachers] to embarrass, discredit and punish Appellant for her rejection of Dime." Brief of Appellant at 11 (alteration in original). This campaign, Charlton claims, led to the school district's initiating tenure revocation proceedings against her. The tenure proceedings eventually resulted in Charlton losing her job.

The school board claims it took adverse employment action against Charlton because she had spread "vicious and false rumors about the sexual preferences and sexual activities of Paramus administrators and employees, and falsely implied that the district's hiring practices were influenced by the sexual persuasion of the people to be hired or promoted or the sexual relationship administrators had with these people." Brief of Appellees at 10. Moreover, the school officials claim that Charlton used malicious and inappropriate language when referring to Paramus administrators or other teachers on numerous occasions. They also contend Charlton "created and implemented a plan to gather information about [Dime's] personal life in order to discredit her and prevent her from becoming the next Superintendent." Id. at 11. Charlton's activities in this regard supposedly included the creation of a dossier on Dime containing Dime's divorce decree, mortgage, and title papers relating to her car.

Charlton challenged the school's decision to terminate her before a state administrative board. It ruled against her and the New Jersey Superior Court affirmed the decision. Charlton filed this Title VII discrimination action while her petition to the New Jersey Supreme Court to certify an appeal from the Superior Court's order was pending. The school officials filed a motion for a stay of the federal proceedings while Charlton's petition for certification was pending. The district court granted the stay.

After the New Jersey Supreme Court's denial of certification, Charlton recommenced the pursuit of her discrimination action. She alleges the administrators in the Paramus School District then triggered proceedings to revoke her teaching certificate ("revocation proceeding") in retaliation for her Title VII suit with the goal of insuring that she would be unable to teach again in New Jersey.*fn1

Charlton alleges that the Paramus School Board initiated the revocation proceeding "in retaliation for filing my complaint of sexual harassment and sexual discrimination against Janice Dime, 'assistant superintendent' of schools and the Board in Federal Court." Appellant's Appendix ("App.") at A-29.*fn2 In support of her position that summary judgment on the retaliation claim was inappropriate, Charlton proffered a letter indicating that the school board, through its attorney Lester Aron, contacted the State Board of Examiners ("state board") on November 11, 1992, about three weeks after Charlton had reinstituted her Title VII action, to inquire about the status of revocation proceedings. Charlton's employment by the school district had ended almost two years earlier on December 17, 1990. Charlton also proffered a statement from her former attorney. She alleges he told her, in January 1991, that the school district would not seek revocation of her teaching license if she did not appeal the Commissioner of Education's decision sustaining the tenure charges to the state board.

The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the school board and its officials on Charlton's discrimination and retaliation claims. It held that a number of the defendants were improperly named because the claims against them were outside the scope of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") charges Charlton had filed or, alternately, that the authority they had over Charlton was insufficient to meet Title VII's definition of employer. App. at 16-17, 19-21. For those defendants that remained properly named, the district court held that Charlton was precluded from relitigating her qualifications for the position because the state agency's administrative law Judge ("ALJ") had supported the termination, and thus she could not make out a prima facie Title VII case. Id. at 24. In addition, the district court held Charlton could not relitigate the harassment issue after the state courts had resolved it against her. Id. Finally, the court dismissed Charlton's hostile work environment claim because her allegations did not set forth a prima facie case. Id. at 27.

The district court dismissed the retaliation claim arising out of the revocation proceeding "for the simple reason that the Board was not plaintiff's employer at the time of these events. Thus, its actions did not constitute an 'unlawful employment practice' proscribed by Title VII." Id. at 25-26 (citing Ferguson v. Mobil Oil Corp., 443 F. Supp. 1334 (S.D.N.Y. 1978), aff'd without opinion, 607 F.2d 995 (2d Cir. 1979)).


We have jurisdiction over the district court's final order granting summary judgment pursuant to 28 U.S.C.A. § 1291 (West 1993). Summary judgment is appropriate if the motion, supported by the proper material, "shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). "Facts that could alter the outcome are 'material facts,' see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986), and disputes are 'genuine' if evidence exists" to support them. Clark v. Modern Group Ltd., 9 F.3d 321, 326 (3d Cir. 1993) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986)). The defendant meets the test where there exists an absence of evidence to support the plaintiff's case. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. ...

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