United States District Court, D. Arizona
LAWRENCE O. ANDERSON, Magistrate Judge.
This action arises on Defendant Coolidge Unified School District's ("School District") Motion for Summary Judgment, requesting summary judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiff Rebecca Garcia's ("Plaintiff") cause of action brought pursuant to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"). (Doc. 53) Plaintiff alleges the School District unlawfully discriminated against her because of her age when it did not re-offer her a teaching contract at a public elementary school for the 2011-2012 school year. The School District denies Plaintiff's claim and contends there were legitimate and nondiscriminatory reasons for not offering Plaintiff a teaching contract when a shrinking budget and falling student enrollment required mandatory reductions in teachers and their salaries.
After considering the parties' briefing, relevant law, and material facts, the Court concludes that the School District is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law as there is no genuine dispute of material fact on the only cause of action alleged in the Complaint. Judgment will be entered in favor of the School District and the Clerk of Court will be directed to terminate this action.
The District Court of Arizona has subject matter jurisdiction over this ADEA action under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332 and 1343. The parties have expressly consented in writing to a magistrate judge presiding over all proceedings pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Docs. 4, 9)
On August 29, 2012, Plaintiff filed this action, claiming the School District engaged in unlawful age discrimination when it did not re-offer Plaintiff a teaching contract for the 2011-2012 school year. (Docs. 1; 18 at 2) Plaintiff alleges that, at the time of her lay off, she was 45 years of age, was qualified to receive a teaching contract for the 2011-2012 school year, and, despite having 20 years of teaching experience with seven of those years as a School District elementary school teacher, she was wrongfully "[t]erminated and replaced by a younger teacher." (Doc. 18 at 2) Prior to her employment with the School District, Plaintiff was a certified teacher in the California public school system for about eight years before beginning her employment with the School District in 2004. (PSOF ¶ 85) The School District argues that the fiscal necessity to reduce teachers' salaries to achieve a balanced budget and downsizing the number of classes because of lower student enrollment were legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for its 2011 teacher layoffs. According to the School District, a reduction in force ("RIF") rubric was developed and applied equally to all teachers to fairly determine who would be laid off. When she received one of the two lowest scores compared to the other teachers at Plaintiff's school, Plaintiff was laid off without regard to her age. The School District argues there is no lawful basis for Plaintiff's age discrimination claim. (Docs. 14; 18 at 2)
It is undisputed that Plaintiff was hired in 2004 by the School District, was employed as a third grade teacher at the San Tan Heights Elementary School ("San Tan Heights") in Coolidge, Arizona through the 2010-11 school year, and was laid off in May 2011. (Doc. 54, Defendant's Statement of Facts ("DSOF") ¶¶ 1-2) Plaintiff's immediate supervisor from 2008 through May 2011 was Ms. Laurie Black, the principal at San Tan Heights. (DSOF ¶ 2) Plaintiff does not dispute the School District's contention that its student enrollment and State of Arizona funding fell during this period of time. According to the School District, its enrollment fell from 4, 306 students in May 2010 to 3, 975 in May 2011. (DSOF ¶¶ 3-4) Enrollment further declined to 3, 686 students by May 2012. (DSOF ¶ 5) Equalization payments from the State dropped from $16.4 million in 2009-10 to $16.0 million in 2010-11, and to $14.2 million in 2011-12. (DSOF ¶¶ 6-8)
Due to the confluence of a falling budget and student enrollment at the end of the 2009-10 school year, the School District laid off several teachers going forward to the next school year, but Plaintiff was not one of them. (DSOF ¶ 9) Principal Black did not recommend Plaintiff for layoff at that time. As the next school year progressed, student enrollment continued to decline and Principal Black was instructed to reduce more teachers at San Tan Heights by the end of the 2010-11 school year. (DSOF ¶¶ 10-11; doc. 56, Plaintiff's Statement of Facts ("PSOF") ¶ 10) Plaintiff was one of these casualties. Of the nine district-wide teachers laid off at the end of the 2010-11 school year ending in May 2011, four were younger than Plaintiff and four were older. (DSOF ¶¶ 2, 11; PSOF ¶ 11) As a result of the School District's second consecutive year of RIFs, Plaintiff and another San Tan Heights teacher lost their jobs and a computer lab teacher's employment was terminated because her position would no longer be financially supported. (DSOF ¶ 12; PSOF ¶ 12)
A. The San Tan Heights Rubric
During the 2010-11 school year, and before Plaintiff's teaching contract was not renewed, the School District created a RIF committee, composed of teachers and administrators from throughout the District. (DSOF ¶ 13) While this committee ultimately drafted a scoring rubric to assist the School District's governing board in carrying out future RIFs, the rubric was not finalized until after the May 2011 RIF decisions were made. Therefore, a district-wide rubric was not available to Principal Black when she made her layoff recommendations, which included Plaintiff, to the School District's governing board. (DSOF ¶¶ 14-16) Consequently, Principal Black formed a three-person committee, consisting of Principal Black, her leadership coach, and Art Moncibaez, Jr., San Tan Heights' Assistant Principal, to create a rubric to use for the year-end 2010-2011 RIFs at the San Tan Heights Elementary School, referred to herein as the "San Tan Heights Rubric." (DSOF ¶ 16)
According to Principal Black, the San Tan Heights Rubric was intended to be objective, not subjective; was based on seminars that the School District's RIF committee held for creating a district-wide rubric the following year; and was formed after consulting the School District's then-current RIF policy. (DSOF ¶¶ 16-18) "I wanted it to be not personal[, ]" testified Principal Black. (Doc. 54-1, Exh. C, Black Deposition, at p. 6 of 17:1-3) Assistant Principal Moncibaez testified that because neither the School District's RIF committee had yet developed a rubric nor had its governing board approved a rubric for district-wide application, "[w]e kind of had to create our own, to be equitable amongst all the teachers at San Tan Heights." (DSOF, ¶ 19, Exh. D, Moncibaez Deposition at p. 14) Mr. Moncibaez testified that he had "very little" involvement with the development of the San Tan Heights Rubric and credited Principal Black for its development, including its categories. (Doc. 54-1, Exh. D, Moncibaez Deposition at p. 33 of 90:1-19) Mr. Moncibaez acknowledged that when Principal Black asked him to review a draft of the San Tan Heights Rubric, Moncibaez responded that "[i]t looked fair and equitable and we should use it." (Doc. 54-1, Exh. D, Moncibaez Deposition at p. 34 of 90:20-25)
The San Tan Heights Rubric scored teachers based on the following categories: Endorsements, Years Teaching in AZ, Attendance, Contributions, Parent/Student Satisfaction, Academic Progress of Students, and Evaluations/Walk Throughs. (DSOF ¶ 20; doc. 54-1, Exh. A at 3-4; PSOF ¶ 20) A grade and points were assigned as a score in each category. Plaintiff does not dispute that when the final scores were calculated, Plaintiff received one of the two lowest scores of all San Tan Heights teachers - 15 out of a possible 42 points, or 36 percent. (DSOF ¶ 21; PSOF ¶ 21) 54. The other teacher who received the other low score, 38 percent, was also terminated as part of the RIF. (DSOF ¶ 54) Principal Black recommended that Plaintiff and the other teacher be laid off for the 2011-2012 school year, and the School District adopted her recommendations. As of August 1, 2011, there were 35 teachers at San Tan Heights; eight were older than Plaintiff, two were Plaintiff's age (45), six were between 40 and 44, and the remaining 19 were younger than 40. (DSOF ¶ 60) Besides Plaintiff, the other teacher who was laid off from San Tan Heights at the end of the 2010-2011 school year was also in the protected class. (PSOF ¶ 86)
When Plaintiff was scored on the San Tan Heights Rubric, Plaintiff did not receive any points in the Endorsements Category. (DSOF ¶ 22; PSOF ¶ 22) Plaintiff, however, received the maximum points for her number of years teaching in Arizona in the Years-Teaching-in-AZ Category. (DSOF ¶ 24) Plaintiff's attendance score was third best, missing only 2.5 days, which tied for the highest score in the Attendance Category. (DSOF ¶ 25) In the Contributions Category (volunteer committee work and mentoring), Plaintiff received a score of "fair" for her service on the RIF Committee in the 2010-11 school year as Plaintiff attended three of the four 2010-11 RIF Committee meetings. (DSOF ¶¶ 26-27; PSOF ¶ 26-27) Plaintiff was graded "poor-fair" for her activities on the Character Counts Committee, "fair" for mentoring, and "fair" for her contributions. Principal Black gave Plaintiff a "poor to fair" rating as a Character Counts Committee member because Principal Black believed Plaintiff was not an active Committee member, did not assist in planning the Committee's activities, and failed to put in as much time and effort into it as other members did. (DSOF ¶ 28) Principal Black asked Plaintiff to mentor a student-teacher in an attempt to get Plaintiff "up and ...