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Hatch v. Brillion School District

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

July 9, 2018

ANN HATCH, Plaintiff,
v.
BRILLION SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER GRANTING-IN-PART AND DENYING-IN-PART SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          William C. Griesbach, United States District Court Chief Judge

         Plaintiff Ann Hatch filed this action alleging that Defendant Brillion School District (the “District”) discriminated against her based on her sex and age and retaliated against her for engaging in protected conduct, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. (“Title VII”) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq. (“ADEA”). Formerly a Middle School Principal, School Psychologist, and Special Education Coordinator in the District, Hatch has asserted claims arising out of her interactions with the District's Superintendent, Dr. Dominick P. Madison, in the years preceding the nonrenewal of her employment contract. The case is before the court on the District's motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 31. Also before the court is Hatch's motion for leave to file a memorandum of law in response to the District's reply brief in support of its motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 56. The court heard oral argument on both motions on June 7, 2018. For the reasons set forth below, Hatch's motion will be granted, and the District's motion for summary judgment will be granted-in-part and denied-in-part.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment should be granted when the moving party 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(a). In other words, the time and expense of the parties and the court should not be wasted on a trial when there are no material facts in dispute, one party is entitled to judgment on those facts, and thus there is nothing to try. In deciding a motion for summary judgment, all reasonable inferences are construed in favor of the nonmoving party. Foley v. City of Lafayette, 359 F.3d 925, 928 (7th Cir. 2004). The party opposing the motion for summary judgment must “submit evidentiary materials that set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Siegel v. Shell Oil Co., 612 F.3d 932, 937 (7th Cir. 2010) (quoted source and internal quotation marks omitted). “The nonmoving party must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Id. Summary judgment is properly entered against a party “who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to the party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Parent v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc., 694 F.3d 919, 922 (7th Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)). In this case, the plaintiff bears the burden of proof on each essential element of her claims; the plaintiff must therefore show that there is evidence on which a reasonable jury could find in her favor.

         With these standards in mind, what follows is the court's attempt to set out, in the light most favorable to Hatch as the nonmoving party, the undisputed material facts as gleaned from the properly submitted evidentiary materials of the parties. It is important to emphasize this is not a final or conclusive determination of the facts of the case; these are the facts if all of the plaintiff's evidence is believed.

         FACTS IN LIGHT MOST FAVORABLE TO PLAINTIFF

         The District operates three public schools in the City of Brillion, Wisconsin: Brillion High School (grades 9-12), Brillion Middle School (grades 6-8), and Brillion Elementary School (early childhood and grades 1-5). Def.'s Proposed Findings of Fact (“DPFOF”), ECF No. 33 ¶ 1. The District's governing body is the School Board (the “Board”), which consists of seven members and is led by a President. Id. ¶ 2. As the body responsible for all employment decisions involving District administrators, the Board has final authority regarding matters such as offers of employment, salary and wage determination, and the renewal or non-renewal of employment contracts. Id. ¶ 3. During 2011, Brian Horn served as President of the Board, and Renee Maeder served as Vice President. Id. ¶¶ 4, 6. Horn has served as a member of the Board since 2003, and Maeder served as a member from 2007 to 2013. Id. Madison became the District's Superintendent in July 2005. Id. ¶ 11.

         The events that form the basis of Hatch's claims began in 2011 and culminated in Hatch's resignation from her employment with the District in August 2012. Id. ¶ 8. Her resignation followed the Board's June 18, 2012 decision not to renew her employment contract beyond the 2012-2013 school year. Id. ¶¶ 8, 137. At the time of her resignation, Hatch had been employed by the District since 1987. Id. ¶ 8. For the majority of that time, she held the positions of School Psychologist and Special Education Coordinator while also serving as the boys' varsity golf coach. Id. ¶ 10.

         Hatch became the Middle School Principal in July 2006. Id. ¶ 16. The promotion occurred as part of a plan that Madison began developing during 2005 and 2006 to restructure the District's administration by splitting the single, K-8 principal position into separate principal positions for the elementary and middle schools. Id. ¶¶ 11, 13. Hatch had told Madison that she no longer wanted to focus exclusively on special education, and Madison ultimately recommended that the Board hire her for the new Middle School Principal position. Id. ¶¶ 14-15. The Board accepted Madison's recommendation. Id. ¶¶ 15-16. Hatch characterized her interactions with Madison as “professional” and his behavior as “good” during 2005 and 2006, before her promotion. Id. ¶ 19. The Middle School Principal role was not a standalone, full-time position, so Hatch continued to perform her duties as School Psychologist and, in a reduced capacity, Special Education Coordinator. Id. ¶¶ 16-18, 20. Together, those three roles comprised Hatch's full-time position as a District administrator. Id. ¶ 24.

         Because Madison oversaw all District operations and supervised the District's administrators, including the school principals, he was Hatch's direct supervisor following her promotion to Middle School Principal. Id. ¶¶ 11, 57-58. Madison was thus responsible for providing an annual written evaluation of her performance, as required by her employment contract. Id. ¶¶ 54-55; ECF No. 41-4 at 3; see, e.g., ECF No. 35-2. When conducting an annual evaluation of a District principal, Madison asked the principal to create a list of proposed goals for the upcoming year and to complete a self-assessment regarding achievement of the previous year's goals. DPFOF ¶ 55. Madison then reviewed those materials, prepared a written performance review, and finalized the principal's goals for the upcoming year. Id. In January 2011, Madison prepared Hatch's annual written evaluation assessing whether she achieved her 2010 goals and establishing new goals for 2011. Id. ¶ 59; see also ECF No. 35-2. As part of that process, Madison also met with Hatch to discuss her 2011 goals. DPFOF ¶ 59.

         Madison's discussions with Hatch in early 2011 resulted in the delineation of three goals for her that year: (1) “To develop practices and programs that promote diminishing separate building and subject manner”; (2) “To work with the elementary principal to have RtI [Response to Intervention] implemented in grades 1-8”; (3) and “Completion of assessment procedures in the middle school.” ECF No. 35-2 at 3-4. The purpose of Hatch's first goal was to reduce the physical and functional boundaries between the middle school and the elementary school, which were housed in different buildings. DPFOF ¶ 62. As possible evidence of progress toward achieving this goal, the review suggested the establishment of a “literacy block” in the middle school, planning for multi-aged classrooms, adjustments to the 8-period daily class schedule, subject specialties done collaboratively, and team teaching of subjects between both specialists and classroom teachers. Id. ¶ 66. Hatch's second goal pertained to the implementation of “Response to Intervention” (“RtI”), a program for identifying children with learning and behavioral problems and providing them with early, effective learning interventions across several “Tiers” of increasingly intensive assistance, potentially culminating in a referral to special education programs. Id. ¶ 63. Potential evidence of progress towards achievement of this goal included every teacher being able to implement Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions, special education teachers being assigned as intervention coaches to assist with intervention application, and significant diminishment of referrals for learning disabilities. Id. ¶ 67. Finally, Hatch's third goal pertained to implementing assessments or other means of measuring student performance in all courses offered as part of the middle school's curriculum. Id. ¶ 64. Hatch acknowledges that all of her 2011 goals were attainable, with the exception of implementation of a literacy block in the eighth grade, which did not have appropriate teaching staff available for such a program. Id. ¶ 68.

         A series of interactions between Hatch and Madison during summer 2011 are central to this dispute. At some point in June 2011, Hatch communicated to Madison her desire to take Friday, September 2, 2011-the second day of the upcoming school year-off of work because she planned to attend a Wisconsin Badgers football game in Madison the night before to celebrate her fiftieth birthday with family and friends visiting from out of town. Id. ¶¶ 84, 88. After Madison denied Hatch's request to take the day off, Hatch complained to Renee Maeder in her capacity as the Board's Vice President. Id. ¶ 84. Maeder counseled Hatch to meet with Madison in person to discuss the request and explain her reasons for it. Id. ¶ 87.

         After Hatch's conversation with Maeder, Madison and Hatch exchanged emails about Hatch's request on June 21, 2011. Madison initiated the conversation: “In looking at your calendar, we obviously did not communicate regarding time off on September 2nd. As it is the 2nd day of school, I see it as important that you are here and not off due to a Badger game the night before.” ECF No. 35-5 at 2. Hatch responded:

I did miss understand as you indicated to me while we were discussing this in Tiffanie's office that you did not tell me I could not have this day off but it was your preference I not take it off. I was also not clear in communicating with you that my birthday celebration begins with the game but other activities have been planned in my honor on Friday as well. I have family coming from DC and KC for this celebration. I am aware you set my working days, but I do want my communications with you to be clear.

Id. Madison replied: “Fine. Take the fucking day off.” Id. Hatch ultimately did take September 2, 2011, off of work. Id. ¶ 107.

         On June 29, 2011, Hatch called Maeder at work to report the language in Madison's reply email, characterizing it as rude and harassing. DPFOF ¶¶ 91. Maeder later went to the middle school and spoke with Hatch, who gave her a copy of the email exchange. Id. ¶ 93. After receiving a copy of the emails from Hatch, Maeder called Board President Brian Horn to notify him about the emails. Id. ¶ 94. Horn called Hatch to apologize for Madison's conduct and informed her that he would investigate the matter. Id. ¶ 95. In reporting Madison's conduct to Horn and Maeder, Hatch also alleged that Madison had acted inappropriately towards other District employees, specifically Tiffanie Nigbor and Margie Bauknecht. Id. ¶ 96. Horn contacted both, and Maeder also contacted Nigbor to follow up on Hatch's insinuation that Nigbor left her position as Elementary School Principal not for family reasons, as she told the Board, but because of Madison's inappropriate behavior. Id. ¶¶ 97-98, 101. After inquiring into Hatch's complaint, Horn and Maeder met with Madison at the District office on July 12, 2011, to discuss his profane email to Hatch. Id. ¶ 102. They directed him to refrain from using profanity in his email communications and instructed him to apologize to Hatch, which he did on July 18, 2011, although Hatch felt it was disingenuous and forced. Id. ¶¶ 105-06; ECF No. 34-6 at 26; ECF No. 34-2 at 19.

         In the meantime, while Horn and Maeder were following up on Hatch's complaint over Madison's email but before they met with Madison about it, Madison met with Hatch on July 11, 2011, ostensibly as part of a mid-year review of her progress toward achieving her 2011 goals. DPFOF ¶ 77. Madison had never given an administrator a mid-year review, and Hatch had never received one throughout twenty-four years in the District. Pl.'s Proposed Additional Facts (“PPAF”), ECF No. 40 ¶ 43. Treating the mid-year review as confidential, Madison neither shared it with the Board nor placed a copy in Hatch's personnel file at that time. DPFOF ¶ 74.

         Hatch asserts that Madison began the July 11 meeting by telling her that complaints to Board members would not be tolerated and that she had to make him look good in front of the Board. PPAF ¶ 42. Madison also told her during the meeting that she would never coach golf in the district again, an activity that Madison knew was a source of pride and enjoyment for Hatch. Id. ¶ 15, 42.

         Although all of Madison's evaluations of Hatch were positive prior to 2011, the mid-year review listed several deficiencies that Madison observed in Hatch's progress towards achieving her annual goals. DPFOF ¶ 34; ECF No. 35-4. Expressing “major concern” about her progress on her first goal, Madison observed that Hatch had “done very little to diminish . . . separation, ” noting that she had not visited a school with a 5th/6th grade multi-age classroom, had not utilized existing multi-age teachers in the District, and had told parents that the Superintendent (rather than the principal) was responsible for removing students from multi-age classrooms. ECF No. 35-4 at 2. Madison also observed that Hatch had made only “minimal” progress towards assigning Middle School teachers as intervention coaches. Id. at 3. The review concluded with a summary of Madison's concerns:

During the course of the first six months of this calendar year review cycle, Ms. Hatch has demonstrated inadequate progress toward the goals set out for her. She has had several avenues to achieving her goals presented to her and she has not responded positively to these opportunities. Ms. Hatch needs to take the next six month [sic] and refocus on her goals. Effort needs to be made to develop systematic approaches to address student learning issues in her building including means to promote collaboration toward student learning, breaking down of barriers between subjects and grade levels, more teamwork between regular and special education, and clear means of leading how to identify learning goals and measures of those goals.

Id. at 3-4. Madison also contends that to increase the time available for Hatch to focus on her administrative duties, he relieved her of responsibility for implementing changes in the middle school Language Arts curriculum and of her duties as the boys' varsity golf coach. Id. at 3; DPFOF ¶ 79.

         On August 30, 2011, Hatch's former attorney sent Horn a letter alleging that Madison violated Hatch's First Amendment rights by issuing the negative mid-year review in retaliation for Hatch's complaint to Horn and Maeder regarding the email. Id. ¶ 108; ECF No. 34-7. The letter made no claim that Madison's actions reflected retaliation based on her gender or sex, nor did the letter recount Hatch's claim that Madison started off the meeting by warning her that complaints to the Board would not be tolerated and telling her she would never coach golf in the district again. DPFOF ¶ 109; ECF No. 34-7. In response, Horn issued a memorandum on behalf of the Board on September 21, 2011, stating that the Board had reviewed the letter from Hatch's attorney and determined that no further action was necessary because Madison had already apologized for his inappropriate email. Id. ¶ 110; ECF No. 34-6.

         By all accounts, these events during summer 2011 led to a breakdown in trust and communication between Madison and Hatch and limited the effectiveness and cooperation of the administrative team as a whole. DPFOF ¶ 126 (no dispute). By January 2012, Hatch and Madison sharply diverged in their assessment of whether Hatch achieved her 2011 goals. In her self-assessment, Hatch listed eleven actions (and three ideas discussed) that she thought reflected evidence of progress towards achieving her first goal, seven actions reflecting progress towards her second goal, and one action reflecting progress toward her third. ECF No. 34-6 at 24-25. But in his written evaluation dated January 26, 2012, Madison concluded that Hatch “did not reflect on her goal achievement in a manner that was authentic or accurate” and therefore had “not shown evidence that she is able [to] critically assess her own performance.” ECF No. 42-10 at 2. Listing shortcomings in Hatch's progress toward achieving each of the three goals, Madison concluded that she met neither her first nor her second goal and made only partial progress towards meeting the third. Id. at 2-3. Although Hatch had suggested goals in two new categories for 2012, Madison reassigned her first and second goals from the previous year on the ground that they “are still critical and attention must be given to them.” Id. at 4. Madison did assign a new third goal: “Mathematic Differentiation instruction is implemented in grades 5-8.” Id. Overall, Madison concluded that “[t]he evidence is clear that Ms. Hatch has not been successful as an innovative, educational leader in her current position.” Id. at 2.

         Madison brought his concerns about Hatch's performance to the Board in May 2012. DPFOF ¶ 127. He presented the Board with information regarding Hatch's performance reviews, as well as deficiencies in her effort and progress towards completing her goals. Id. At a closed session of the Board on May 14, 2012, Madison then recommended nonrenewal of Hatch's employment contract as a District administrator. Id. ¶ 128. The nonrenewal of an educational contract is a serious, adverse employment action. PPAF ¶ 51. Wisconsin law affords a person whose contract is recommended for nonrenewal the right to a full hearing before the district board. Wis.Stat. 118.24. During his time as Superintendent in Brillion, for example, Madison has never hired anyone whose contract was previously nonrenewed. Id.Based on Madison's recommendation, the Board directed him to deliver Hatch a preliminary notice of consideration of nonrenewal of her contract. DPFOF ¶ 130.

         Madison gave Hatch notice of the Board's decision by letter dated May 16, 2012. The letter advised Hatch that pursuant to Section 118.24(7) of the Wisconsin Statutes, she had the right to request either a public or private hearing before the Board on the decision. The letter explained that she would be provided the reasons for the nonrenewal decision prior to the hearing and would have the right to representation by counsel of her choice. The letter also ...


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