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Woman fired for ‘insubordinate and unprofessional behavior’

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//March 13, 2023

Woman fired for ‘insubordinate and unprofessional behavior’

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//March 13, 2023

Where the record showed a school board decided not to renew the contract of a bus driver because of her insubordinate and unprofessional behavior, it prevailed on her claims of race discrimination and retaliation.


Lillie M. Cook drove a school bus for the Prince George County School Board from 2013 until June 12, 2020, when the school board decided not to renew her contract for the 2020/2021 school year. Cook, an African American, alleges that the school board did not renew her contract because of her race or because she filed a report accusing the school board of discrimination and workplace harassment. The school board has filed a motion for summary judgment.

Race discrimination

A plaintiff must first establish her prima facie case by proving that (1) she is a member of a protected class; (2) she suffered an adverse employment action; (3) she was meeting the defendant’s legitimate expectations and (4) the circumstances surrounding the adverse employment action give rise to an inference of discrimination. The school board argues that plaintiff cannot establish a prima facie case because plaintiff cannot show she was performing at a level that met the school board’s legitimate expectations. The court agrees.

The school board offers uncontradicted evidence plaintiff’s supervisors thought she was not meeting their expectations. Plaintiff’s letter of reprimand, her supervisor’s verbal warnings or coachings and plaintiff’s performance evaluation all provide evidence that plaintiff was not meeting the school board’s legitimate expectations.

There is no evidence in the record that the school board’s expectations were a sham or not bona fide. While plaintiff argues that the incidents above gave rise to sham or illegitimate expectations, she fails to recognize that these incidents were also followed by incidents of her own insubordinate and unprofessional conduct.

Even if the court found that plaintiff established the third element of her prima facie case, she cannot establish the fourth element. While plaintiff contends that Elizabeth Dunlow, a Caucasian bus driver, is a proper comparator, plaintiff’s additional unprofessional and insubordinate actions do not make her and Dunlow similarly situated for purposes of inferring discrimination.

Even if plaintiff had established a prima facie case, plaintiff cannot show that the alleged legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for plaintiff’s nonrenewal is pretext for racial discrimination. Plaintiff’s mere disagreement with the facts supporting the school board’s decision to terminate her does not establish that the decision was pretext for racial discrimination.


The school board concedes that plaintiff’s nonrenewal was an adverse employment action and, for purposes of this motion, will not challenge that plaintiff’s filing of a “Report of Discrimination and Harassment” was protected activity. However, the school board argues that plaintiff cannot show a causal link between the protected activity and the adverse employment action, and that the school board’s articulated reasons for terminating plaintiff are not pretextual. The court finds that the record is sufficient to show that the school board’s decision to not renew plaintiff’s contract based on her insubordinate and unprofessional behavior was founded and not in retaliation for her report.

Defendant’s motion for summary judgment granted.

Cook v. Prince George County School Board, Case No. 3:22-cv-129, Feb. 27, 2023. EDVA at Richmond (Hudson). VLW 023-3-096. 26 pp.

VLW 023-3-096

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