A federal judge has dismissed a law suit filed by a teacher/county commissioner claiming retaliatory actions were taken against him by the DeKalb County Board of Education and former Director of Schools Mark Willoughby.
Bradley Hendrix, a teacher at Smithville Elementary and a 3rd district County Commissioner, filed the suit two years ago claiming a history of retaliatory action against him because of a vote he made as a county commissioner.
But in documents filed this week, U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp granted a motion by the defendants to issue a summary judgement in the case in favor of the school board and Willoughby.
At the heart of Hendrix’s claims was a March 11 vote by the county commission on the purchase of land for a new school. Hendrix voted against the purchase.
Court records indicated that in December that year, Hendrix left a field trip to a Chuck E. Cheese in Murfreesboro early to attend a basketball game in Smithville. Hendrix’s principal, Dr. Billy Tanner, claimed he left early without permission and recommended to Willoughby that Hendrix be suspended for one day without pay. Willoughby approved. Hendrix appealed to the school board and by the end of a hearing, the suspension was increased to three days.
On May 11, 2012, Hendrix received a letter of “reprimand and plan of corrective action,” signed by Willoughby, that said Hendrix had a history of leaving school and school activities early without permission and pointed to the Chuck E. Cheese incident as an example. The letter went on to say Hendrix attended an Autism program” in April, 2012 but left without good cause or permission.
Hendrix argued that when the Supervisor of Attendance position in the central office was posted in May 2013 he applied for the job but was not selected, even though he had an “administrator’s endorsement” and had filed for a “supervisor of attendance endorsement” by the time he had applied and received such endorsement a few days after his application was filed.
Willoughby chose Joey Reeder for the position, saying he was the most qualified and only one with prior experience in the position. Willoughby also claimed, according to court documents, had he not appointed Reeder, he would have chosen David Gash because he had prior experience as an administrator. Willoughby further stated had Hendrix been the only applicant, he would not have chosen him and would have reposted the job because of Hendrix’s history of leaving school without permission to attend to personal matters.
Judge Sharp wrote in his ruling that Hendrix “can identify no retaliatory actions that occurred between the letter of reprimand of May 11, 2012 and his failure to receive the Supervisor of Attendance position in June 2013.”
Hendrix filed the lawsuit in May 2014 claiming “that after he voted against the land purchase in March 2001, he was subjected to harassment and retaliation by Mr. Willoughby and Mr. Tanner in a myriad of ways.”
“The arguments he raises in support of his continuing violation theory are not supported by the record,” Judge Sharp wrote in his order granting summary judgment.
The judge went on to say, “The lack of factual support for a continuing violation theory aside, Plaintiff’s retaliation claims based on those alleged violations fail for lack of causation. The first allegedly retaliatory action after the vote on the land purchase that can be attributed to Defendant Willoughby was his approval of a one day suspension for the Chuck E. Cheese incident some nine months after the land purchase vote. The other two decisions that can be fairly attributed to Defendant Willoughby—the letter of reprimand and the refusal to hire Plaintiff as Director of Attendance—occurred some 14 and 26 months, respectively, after the vote. In the absence of anything more, the temporal proximity between those decisions and Plaintiff’s vote on the land purchase is too remote to show causation.”
In conclusion, Judge Sharp said “This Court has considered the entire record, including Plaintiff’s (Hendrix) deposition testimony, but finds insufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that Plaintiff was retaliated against because he voted against the land purchase in his role as a County Commissioner. In fact, on the only alleged retaliatory act which took place within the statute of limitations, the record reflects that Defendant (Willoughby) chose the individual who not only had the specific license for Supervisor of Attendance but who also had experience in that position.”