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Teacher terminated for ‘profane, inappropriate comments’

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//February 8, 2022

Teacher terminated for ‘profane, inappropriate comments’

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//February 8, 2022

Where a former Smyth County teacher twice posted profane and inappropriate comments about a student and a parent on social media, which resulted in complaints from parents, that behavior was the basis not to renew her contract, not her pregnancy.


Jeri N. Davidson asserts claims against her former employer, the Smyth County School Board under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, or PDA, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA. The school board has moved for summary judgment.

Pregnancy discrimination

I will assume, without deciding, that Davidson has produced evidence sufficient to establish her prima facie case of discrimination under the PDA. The defendant has produced numerous declarations and documents that show Davidson’s contract was not renewed because they believed that she lacked professional judgment and the proper temperament to be a teacher, as well as the fact that her supervisors had lost confidence in her ability to do her job.

Davidson’s theory of pretext is basically that she was suspended the day after she informed her supervisors that she might need additional leave in the fall, given her risk of developing hypertension. She claims that the defendant wanted to avoid the expense of hiring a substitute or dealing with a potentially lengthy absence. As further evidence of pretext, she contends that she received only exemplary performance reviews during her tenure and that the defendant did not terminate similarly situated employees who also sent inappropriate messages but who were not pregnant.

First of all, “temporal proximity, without more, does not support a finding of pretext.” This is particularly true here, given that the school authorities also received the complaints about Davidson’s social media posts the very same week; in fact, the second complaint was received on May 16, 2019, which is also the day before she was suspended. Davidson does not rebut this timeline. She also does not produce any evidence to support her claim that the school would incur substantial costs to hire a substitute or address other staffing complications.

Davidson’s claim of pretext based on her past performance reviews is not persuasive to create a genuine dispute of material fact. Davidson has not put forth circumstantial evidence to show that she was meeting her employer’s expectations at the time her contract was not renewed, or to cast sufficient doubt on the defendant’s claim she was not performing satisfactorily.

It is undisputed that Davidson twice posted profane and inappropriate comments about a student and a parent on social media, and that some parents made complaints about her — both legitimate bases for not renewing her contract. It is also undisputed that Davidson missed several yearbook deadlines and that she never completed her work, forcing her supervisors to re-assign the project and delaying its completion. The defendant’s stated justifications are further supported by undisputed and consistent contemporaneous records.

Finally, Davidson argues that because two other teachers, Jill Eddy and Brandon Hutton, who also sent inappropriate messages about students were not fired, she is being “singled-out.” But Davidson has not shown that Eddy or Hutton were similarly employed on a probationary contract, or that their five-year probationary term was ending at the same time as Davidson’s contract. She has not shown that the school board was also deciding at this time whether to grant Hutton or Eddy continuing contract status. The defendant is therefore entitled to summary judgment on the PDA claim.

Disability discrimination

Davidson’s second claim is that the school board discriminated against her on the basis of disability — preeclampsia — in violation of the ADA. However, the undisputed evidence shows that Davidson was not diagnosed with preeclampsia or hypertension until after the defendant decided not to renew her contract.

Even if Davidson were diagnosed with hypertension or preeclampsia before her termination, or the court were to conclude that mere tiredness and swelling are pregnancy-related complications that qualify as physical impairments under the ADA, it is undisputed that Davidson was never limited in her ability to work or perform a major life activity. Thus, Davidson has failed to create a dispute of material fact that she was disabled under the “actual-disability” prong of the ADA. Davidson also failed to show that she is disabled under the “regarded-as” prong of the ADA.

Defendant’s motion for summary judgment granted.

Davidson v. Smyth County School Board, Case No. 1:20-cv-00007, Jan. 20, 2022. WDVA at Abingdon (Jones). VLW 022-3-027. 29 pp.

VLW 022-3-027

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