United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin
OPINION AND ORDER
WILLIAM M. CONLEY District Judge
Plaintiff Susanne Ripple Welke, a white female born in the United States, claims that defendant Madison Metropolitan School District (the “District”) discriminated against her on the basis of race and national origin by favoring native Spanish speakers for positions assisting students and their parents who are principally Spanish speakers in violation of Title VI, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq., and Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Before the court is defendant’s motion for summary judgment (dkt. #8), which will be granted in its entirety because there is essentially no evidence that Ripple Welke was discriminated against and terminated either because of her race or place of birth.
A. Ripple Welke’s Hiring and Part-Time Employment at Toki Middle and Chávez Elementary Schools
Plaintiff Susanne Ripple Welke is a white female, who was born in the United States and spoke English as her first language. She began her employment with the District as a Spanish-speaking, Bilingual Resource Specialist (“BRS”) on a part-time basis in 2007, before becoming a full-time BRS in 2008. Her language background before employment with the District included studying at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in Spanish, travelling and living abroad in Spanish-speaking countries, and teaching Spanish classes.
Ripple Welke applied for a BRS position with the District in 2007. Spanish BRSs are not teachers, but rather are tasked with facilitating communication between English-speaking teachers and administrators on one hand and Spanish-speaking students and their families on the other. Accordingly, among the central responsibilities of a BRS is translating oral and written communications in and outside the classroom to facilitate learning and successful outcomes. Once contacted by the District, applicants for a BRS position must complete a written translation test, which is then graded and scored. Provided they exceed a certain score or have other characteristics qualifying them as potential candidates for the position, applicants then proceed to an interview conducted in both English and Spanish.
Ripple Welke scored well enough on the written translation test to be referred for an interview, but the District did not select her for the position after her interview. Amy Christianson, who was the Assistant Director of English as a Second Language (“ESL”) and Bilingual Education within the District during the time period relevant to this lawsuit, marked on Ripple Welke’s “Unsuccessful Candidate Form” that she was not hired because “other candidates had higher Spanish proficiency.” (Decl. of Amy Christianson Ex. E (dkt. #16-5).) Christianson, however, noted on the form that Ripple Welke may be a good candidate for limited-term BRS positions.
Around a month after her interview with the District, a position suddenly opened up for a part-time BRS, who would split time between Toki Middle School and Chávez Elementary School. Christianson emailed the principals of those schools to inform them that they could schedule an interview for that position with Ripple Welke or one other candidate the District had previously interviewed. Two weeks later, the principals informed Christianson that they desired to offer Ripple Welke the position.
As a part-time BRS at the two schools during the 2007-2008 school year, Ripple Welke worked in several different classrooms for several different teachers. Her responsibilities included assisting students with understanding classroom lessons, conversing with Spanish-speaking family members on the phone, translating comments made on report cards and interpreting for the school nurse.
B. Ripple Welke’s Transfer from Toki to Midvale Elementary School
At some point during that same school year, the District notified Ripple Welke that it was going to cut her position at Toki Middle School for the following year. When a full-time BRS position later became available at Midvale Elementary School, Ripple Welke submitted a transfer request, as did one other internal candidate. For whatever reason, Midvale’s then principal, John Burkholder, was never able to schedule an interview with the other candidate. As the only internal applicant who was interviewed, therefore, the District was required to approve Ripple Welke’s transfer request under the terms of its collective bargaining agreement.
C. Concerns about Ripple Welke’s Spanish Speaking Ability
As opposed to Toki and Chávez, which only had ESL programs, Midvale had both ESL and Bilingual programs. The parties disagree about the difference in the amount of instruction provided in English (instead of Spanish) between ESL and Bilingual programs, but agree that ESL teachers are not required to speak Spanish, while BRSs generally speak some Spanish in both ESL and Bilingual classrooms. Moreover, in at least some Bilingual classrooms -- those with students having an English proficiency level of four or above -- teachers conduct class primarily in English. The parties also agree that Midvale’s bilingual program demanded several bilingual staff members, including two other full-time BRSs (referred to here as “N.G.” and “D. J.”).
When Ripple Welke first arrived at Midvale toward the end of the 2007-2008 school year, she primarily translated report cards. The following school year, however, Ripple Welke was assigned to several classrooms, all of which, she asserts, had students with an English proficiency level of four or above and received instruction primarily in English. Because of their capacity to speak English, Ripple Welke believed that there was no need for her to use Spanish to help students learn in these classrooms, so she did not do so. In the one bilingual kindergarten classroom for “specials” (meaning subjects such as art and music) to which she was assigned in particular, Principal Burkholder told Ripple Welke to use as much English as possible to expose students to more English. In contrast, Ripple Welke used Spanish in the hallways, cafeteria and playground, as well as when speaking to parents on the phone.
Not long after Ripple Welke first began working at Midvale, Principal Burkholder told Assistant Director Christianson that other bilingual staff members at Midvale had expressed concerns to him about Ripple Welke’s reluctance to engage in conversations in Spanish, although no one ever conveyed this concern to Ripple Welke. In July 2008, between the school year in which Ripple Welke first started at Midvale and the following school year, the District assigned Pam Wilson to replace Burkholder as the principal of Midvale. Before Wilson had even assumed her duties as principal, Burkholder apparently advised her that some of Midvale’s bilingual staff members were questioning whether Ripple Welke was fluent enough to be a BRS, although again Burkholder apparently chose not to tell Ripple Welke of these concerns.
Soon after the 2008-2009 school year began, bilingual staff members at Midvale informed Principal Wilson directly that Ripple Welke seemed hesitant to converse with them in Spanish or to call Spanish-speaking parents on the phone. Wilson relayed these renewed concerns to Assistant Director Christianson, who replied that she would have Silvia Romero-Johnson, the District’s Coordinator of Bilingual Education, evaluate some of Ripple Welke’s written translations.
Ripple Welke denies that there was any basis for her colleagues’ expressed concerns and denies being hesitant to call parents. Instead, she avers that “[n]one of the Midvale staff began conversations with me in Spanish or continued to use Spanish when I would attempt to speak with them.” (Decl. of Susanne Ripple Welke (dkt. #23) ¶ 22.)
In September 2008, Wilson was also informed that a Spanish-speaking parent wrote a letter to a teacher at Midvale to explain that she had called to report her child’s absence on an earlier date. In her letter, that parent complained of being referred to someone who did not speak Spanish well. Upon receiving a copy of the letter, Wilson directed staff members to investigate who spoke to the parent on the phone. After learning that Ripple Welke was the BRS the parent referenced in the letter, Wilson again contacted Christianson. They then decided to schedule a meeting with Ripple Welke to discuss her job performance.
D. First Meeting
Ripple Welke, Wilson, Christianson, Romero-Johnson, Heidi Tepp, a labor relations attorney for the District, and Ken Volante, a union representative, attended the first meeting, which was held on October 14, 2008. Like Ripple Welke, Wilson and Christianson are both white females born in the United States, whose native language is English. (Decl. of Pamela Wilson (dkt. #12) ¶ 2; decl. of Amy Christianson (dkt. #16) ¶ 2.) Romero-Johnson was born in Argentina and learned Spanish as her native language. (Decl. of Silvia Romero-Johnson (dkt. #15) ¶ 3.) The District represents that she is Hispanic. (Def.’s Opening Br. (dkt. #9) 29.)
During the meeting, Wilson commented that Ripple Welke appeared to be more comfortable using English than Spanish. The District contends that Wilson made this remark in reference to the concern voiced by other Midvale staff members that Ripple Welke would respond in English even when they addressed her in Spanish, as well as Wilson’s own observations of Ripple Welke in the classroom as part of her normal duties as Midvale’s principal. Ripple Welke, on the other hand, contends that Wilson would not have held that same belief if she were Latina, had a Latina name or spoke Spanish as her native language.
Also during the October 14 meeting with Ripple Welke, Romero-Johnson reviewed errors in some of her written translations. Specifically, Romero-Johnson identified errors in grammatical structure, verb tense, and the writer’s intended meaning. Ripple Welke acknowledged making mistakes in her written translations, explaining that she did not use ...