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O'Shea v. Interboro School District

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

April 28, 2014

DOROTHY O'SHEA, Plaintiff,
v.
INTERBORO SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OF LAW RE: DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

MICHAEL M. BAYLSON, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Dorothy O'Shea brings this employment retaliation suit against Interboro School District and the District's Superintendent, Nancy Hacker (collectively, Defendants), alleging that Defendants violated Title V of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12203 (Count I), and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794 (Count II), by retaliating against O'Shea for making complaints and participating in investigations concerning the inadequacy of special needs services within the school district.[1] The Amended Complaint avers that, after almost three years of working in a hostile work environment, O'Shea felt compelled to terminate her employment with the school district on June 30, 2012. She initiated this suit on October 29, 2013.

Defendants now move to dismiss the Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim. ECF 7.

II. Facts[2]

The Amended Complaint alleges in over 140 paragraphs a litany of protected activity and retaliatory responses from February 2010 to June 2012. Because a great deal of this conduct is time barred, as discussed infra, the Court will recount the allegations in the Amended Complaint in summary fashion.

O'Shea was hired in September of 2009 as the Director of Student Services and Special Education for the Interboro School District. Amended Complaint, ECF 5 ¶ 9. She was responsible for budgeting district-wide special education services and overseeing the implementation of the district's special education plan. ECF 5 ¶ 9. As part of her oversight duties, O'Shea was responsible for supervising the Individual Education Programs ("IEPs") and the Special Education Program ("SAP"). ECF 5 ¶ 12. She also oversaw various staff and offices, including the district's Special Education Supervisor, school psychologists, and the Office of Pupil Services. ECF 5 ¶ 13. Additionally, O'Shea participated in administrative and organizational meetings regarding district-wide policies to locate, identify, evaluate, and educate children with disabilities. ECF 5 ¶ 11.

Beginning in February 2010, O'Shea brought numerous complaints to Superintendent Hacker, and other school officials, about various special education programs within the district and their failure to comply with federal law. ECF 5 ¶ 14. After making these complaints, the Superintendent and key administrators began to harass O'Shea, subject her to wrongful discipline, and interfere with her job duties. These actions eventually resulted in O'Shea suffering de facto demotions, loss of pay, and eventually constructive discharge. ECF 5 ¶ 16.

For example, O'Shea complained that the manner in which the district evaluated SAP students did not comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. ECF 5 ¶ 15. After making this complaint, she was excluded from e-mails and administrative meetings discussing special education services offered by the district. ECF 5 ¶ 17. In another example, on April 6, 2010, O'Shea informed Superintendent Hacker that the Pennsylvania Department of Education had concluded that the district's Drop Back in Alternative Education Program ("DBIA") did not comply with state alternative education standards. ECF 5 ¶ 19. When O'Shea presented Superintendent Hacker with this information, Hacker verbally reprimanded O'Shea for complaining to the state about the DBIA program. ECF 5 ¶ 20.

Following these and other complaints about the operation of various special education programs, in June 2010 O'Shea received a negative job evaluation from Superintendent Hacker. ECF 5 ¶ 23. O'Shea contends that, but for her complaints, she would not have received a negative evaluation. As a result of the evaluation, O'Shea was not eligible for an annual salary increase. After receiving the evaluation, in the spring of 2010, O'Shea experienced ongoing hostility and harassment from Superintendent Hacker, Business Director Ken King, and Interboro High School Principal Paul Gibson. ECF 5 ¶ 25.

On July 29, 2010, O'Shea filed thirteen specific charges of discrimination by Defendants with the United States Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights ("OCR") on behalf of disabled students in the school district. She also filed a charge of retaliatory conduct on her own behalf for her opposition to the school district's violations of federal law. ECF 5 ¶ 30. Shortly after filing these charges, [3] Superintendent Hacker removed one of O'Shea's core job duties: direct supervision of the district's special education staff. ECF 5 ¶ 33.

During the 2010-2011 school year, O'Shea made several other complaints about the inadequacies of special education programs in the district. ECF 5 ¶¶ 63-65. In addition to other retaliatory acts, O'Shea was verbally reprimanded by Superintendent Hacker and Principal Gibson for making these complaints. ECF 5 ¶¶ 63, 70. On November 4, 2010, O'Shea filed additional complaints of retaliation with OCR. ECF 5 ¶ 69.

Several instances of retaliatory conduct occurred through the summer of 2011, which culminated in O'Shea receiving another negative job evaluation. ECF 5-1 ¶¶ 71-93. In September 2011, O'Shea was interviewed by OCR staff in response to her complaints. ECF 5-1 ¶ 90. Superintendent Hacker was aware of O'Shea's participation in these interviews. A day after the interviews occurred, Superintendent Hacker threatened O'Shea with disciplinary action regarding her complaints about the special education programs in the district. ECF 5-1 ¶ 90.

In November 2011, O'Shea recommended to the School Board not to renew a contract with a provider of mental health services. ECF 5-1 ¶ 96. When Principal Gibson was made aware of O'Shea's recommendation, he informed her via e-mail that he was going to advise the parents of special education students that they would not receive sufficient mental health services. ECF 5-1 ¶ 97. Gibson's e-mail included the names of several students attending Interboro High School. ECF 5-1 ¶ 98. O'Shea replied to this e-mail and copied Superintendent Hacker and members of the School Board to her response. ECF 5-1 ¶ 98. As a result of her e-mail, O'Shea was made to attend a disciplinary meetings for releasing confidential student information to individuals not employed by the Interboro School District, namely members of the School Board. ECF 5-1 ¶¶ 100. At the conclusion of the last disciplinary meeting, on December 5, 2011, O'Shea was suspended for two days without pay and escorted out of the building by the Director of Human Resources in front of the entire faculty and staff. ECF 5-1 ¶¶ 98, 102. These acts of suspension and humiliation were in retaliation for her complaints and recommendations to the School Board. ECF 5-1 ¶ 103. O'Shea then filed another retaliation complaint with OCR. ECF 5-1 ¶ 105.

In April of 2012, O'Shea complained to Superintendent Hacker and the School Board that the Individual Education Plans for students receiving "instruction in the home" denied them equal protection. ECF 5-1 ¶ 107.

On April 27, 2012, OCR denied all of O'Shea's retaliation claims alleged in her December 2011 complaint. ECF 5-1 ¶ 108. On May 31, 2012, OCR denied all of O'Shea's retaliation claims alleged in her July 2010 and November 2010 complaints. ECF 5-1 ¶ 110. With regards to the discrimination complaints O'Shea filed on behalf of certain students in the school district, on September 20, 2012, OCR entered into a Voluntary Resolution Agreement for three of the five allegations raised in the complaint. ECF 5-1 ¶¶ 114, 116, 119.

On June 30, 2012, O'Shea was forced to terminate her employment with the school district in light of the retaliatory and hostile work environment created by Defendants. ECF 5-1 ¶ 128. ...


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