Where Richmond Public Schools failed to renew the probationary contract of an elementary school teacher because of her aggressive and argumentative conduct toward her superiors, her coworkers and patrons of the Richmond schools, it prevailed on her race discrimination claim.
In this lawsuit, Sherie Ashanti alleges that Richmond Public Schools, or RPS, did not renew her probationary teaching contract beyond June 2021 due to race discrimination. Ashanti brings a Title VII claim under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. RPS has filed a motion for summary judgment.
Ashanti argues that two alleged comments made by Kelly Tobe, a Caucasian and the principal at her school, constitute direct evidence of discrimination. These comments were: “it must have been so hard for you to get [a master’s degree]” and “[y]our people have done well.”
“Ashanti understood [Tobe] to mean that it was hard for” Ashanti to get a master’s degree “because she is African-American.” Ashanti “understood [Tobe’s] use of the words ‘your people’ to be referring to African-Americans.” Similarly, Ashanti alleges, without evidence to support her claim, that “Ms. Tobe treat[ed] white and black teachers differently while she was employed at Summer Hill.”
While racist statements or remarks can constitute direct evidence of discrimination if related to an employment decision, Fourth Circuit precedent remains clear that “a stray or isolated remark is not sufficient” to establish direct evidence of discrimination “and ‘[u]nless the remarks upon which plaintiff relies were related to the employment decision in question, they cannot be evidence of [discrimination].’” Ashanti does not argue that Tobe made these remarks in relation to the employment decision.
In fact, Ashanti does not even allege that Tobe made the comments around the time of the adverse employment action. Perhaps they might show discrimination if Ashanti could show a temporal nexus between the comments and the adverse employment action. But Ashanti’s failure to establish the timing of these comments precludes such a finding. The court finds no direct evidence of discrimination.
To establish a prima facie case of wrongful termination under Title VII, a plaintiff must show that “he is a member of a protected class; (2) he suffered adverse employment action; (3) he was performing his job duties at a level that met his employer’s legitimate expectations at the time of the adverse employment action; and (4) the position remained open or was filled by similarly qualified applicants outside the protected class.” RPS contests the third and four elements.
Ashanti received a letter of reprimand on Feb. 3, 2021. This letter clearly communicated to Ashanti that she did not meet RPS’s legitimate expectations for employees. Ashanti’s objection that Tobe had not reprimanded her before Feb. 3, 2021, misses the mark. RPS showed a great deal of patience in dealing with Ashanti, despite her constant complaints and continuous picking at fellow employees. At the time RPS decided to suspend Ashanti, she had not met RPS’s legitimate expectations and she knew this.
After Ashanti’s suspension, RPS divided her students among the other Summer Hill preschool classrooms. Due to enrollment decreases, RPS reduced the number of Summer Hill classrooms in the 2021-22 school year and eliminated the open position. Ashanti does not argue otherwise and does not present any facts to show that the position remained open or that RPS filled it with someone outside the protected class. Accordingly, the court finds no genuine dispute of material fact as to the fourth prong.
Finally, even assuming that Ashanti could establish a prima facie case of race discrimination, the court finds that RPS presents a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for not renewing Ashanti’s probationary contract. The record shows that Ashanti lost her job because of her aggressive and argumentative conduct toward her superiors, her coworkers and patrons of the Richmond schools. Ashanti fails to establish RPS manufactured this reason as a pretext.
Defendant’s motion for summary judgment granted.
Ashanti v. City of Richmond School Board, Case No. 3:21-cv-494, Jan. 30, 2023. EDVA at Richmond (Gibney). VLW 023-3-038. 20 pp.