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Williams v. Alhambra School District No. 68

United States District Court, D. Arizona

June 29, 2018

Karen Williams, Plaintiff,
Alhambra School District No. 68, et al., Defendants.


          Honorable G. Murray Snow United States District Judge.

         Pending before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment of Defendants Alhambra School District No. 68, Robert Zamora, Ray Martinez, and Mari Alvarado. (Doc. 72). For the following reasons, the Court grants the motion in part and denies the motion in part.


         Plaintiff Karen Williams was employed by the Alhambra Elementary School District No. 68 as Superintendent, with her initial contract running from July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2013. (Doc. 73, Ex. 3). At this time, the Alhambra School Board consisted of Elizabeth Sanchez, Robert Zamora, Mari Alvarado, Paul Enniss, and Adam Lopez Falk. Id. Her contract was for $151, 000 base pay with yearly increases. Id. In 2012, Dr. Williams and the Alhambra School Board negotiated a new contract for the period of July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2015. Id. at Ex. 4. Billie Foltz had replaced Mr. Enniss on the Board. Id. Under this contract, Dr. Williams's base salary was $185, 000. Id. A May 2013 addendum increased Dr. Williams's salary for the 2013-2014 year to $191, 475; a similar addendum from May 2014 increased the salary for the 2014-2015 year to $198, 176. Id. at Exs. 5, 6. In November of 2014, elections for the Board were held and resulted in two new board members. Ms. Foltz and Ms. Sanchez were replaced by Ray Martinez and Cathleen O'Neil Frantz. With the new members seated, the Board, on January 22, 2015, unanimously authorized an additional one-year contract with an increase of 5% to the performance-based pay. Id. at Ex. 13. A contract was drafted, but it was not signed by any of the parties. Id. at Ex. 14.

         After the Board authorized the contract, the parties continued to discuss specific terms. Dr. Williams sought to be employed through Educational Services Incorporate (“ESI”), a third-party contractor. In this arrangement, Dr. Williams could retire from the District but continue to work in her role as Superintendent. A February 19, 2015 Board meeting contained two contract proposals for Dr. Williams: (1) a one-year contract through ESI, or (2) a traditional one-year contract, the same as the one agreed to at the January 22, 2015 Board meeting. Id. at Ex. 17. Ms. O'Neil Frantz moved for the Board to approve the ESI contract, but no Board Member seconded the motion. Id. Ms. O'Neil Frantz then moved for the Board to approve the traditional contract, and again, there was no second. Id. Both motions failed. On March 26, 2015, Dr. Williams was placed on non-disciplinary paid leave. This vote was supported by Mr. Zamora, Mr. Martinez, and Ms. Alvarado and opposed by Ms. O'Neil Frantz and Mr. Lopez Falk. (Doc. 83, Ex. 19). The Board voted not to renew Dr. Williams's contract on April 2, 2015. (Doc. 73, Ex. 18). The Board selected a firm to conduct a search for a new Superintendent. Mr. Zamora, Mr. Martinez, and Ms. Alvarado voted in favor of selecting a search firm, while Ms. O'Neil Frantz voted against and Mr. Lopez Falk abstained. Id. at Ex. 19. The Board offered interviews to four candidates, comprised of two Caucasians, one Hispanic, and one African American. Id. at Ex. 10. Two candidates, Mark Yslas, an Hispanic, and Michael Robert, an African-American, were given second interviews. Id. at Ex. 21. Mr. Zamora was absent from the May 12, 2015 meeting where the final two candidates were selected. The Board eventually hired Mr. Yslas, whose contract provided for a $150, 000 base salary. Mr. Zamora, Mr. Martinez, and Ms. Alvarado voted in favor of hiring Mr. Yslas, and Ms. O'Neil Frantz and Mr. Lopez Falk voted against the motion. (Doc. 83, Ex. 21).

         Dr. Williams, an African-American, filed this suit alleging discrimination on the basis of race. Dr. Williams alleges that Mr. Martinez, Mr. Zamora, and Ms. Alvarado made various statements revealing that they disapproved of Dr. Williams because she was not Hispanic. Id. at Exs. 3, 9, 15, 18, 22. The School District serves a predominantly Hispanic population. Id. at Ex. 3.


         I. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate if the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, demonstrates “that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Substantive law determines which facts are material and “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). “A fact issue is genuine ‘if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'” Villiarimo v. Aloha Island Air, Inc., 281 F.3d 1054, 1061 (9th Cir. 2002) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248). When the nonmoving party “bear[s] the burden of proof at trial as to an element essential to its case, and that party fails to make a showing sufficient to establish a genuine dispute of fact with respect to the existence of that element, then summary judgment is appropriate.” Cal. Architectural Bldg. Prods., Inc. v. Franciscan Ceramics, Inc., 818 F.2d 1466, 1468 (9th Cir. 1987) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986)).

         II. Analysis

         A. Race and National Origin Discrimination

         Dr. Williams alleges that her contract was not renewed due to her status as an African American, because the Board sought to have a Hispanic Superintendent to reflect the population of the area. Dr. Williams bring four counts containing allegations of racial or national origin discrimination: Count I, race discrimination under Title VII; Count II, national origin discrimination under Title VII; Count IV, a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim for violations of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; and Count V, a § 1981 claim for racial discrimination in contracting. Defendants seek summary judgment on all four counts, arguing that Plaintiff has not established racial discrimination was the cause of her termination.

         1. Title VII

         An employer may not “discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race . . . or national origin.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). A plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of discrimination, offering proof that: (1) “the plaintiff belongs to a class of persons protected by Title VII;” (2) “the plaintiff performed his or her job satisfactorily;” (3) “the plaintiff suffered an adverse employment action;” and (4) “the plaintiff's employer treated the plaintiff differently than a similarly situated employee who does not belong to the same protected class as the plaintiff.” Cornwell v. Electra Central Credit Union, 439 F.3d 1018, 1028 (9th Cir. 2006) (citing McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973)). Once the plaintiff has established a prima facie case, the defendant must rebut the presumption of discrimination by “articulat[ing] some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the employee's rejection.” McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802. If the defendant provides such evidence, the McDonnell Douglas presumption “simply drops out of the picture” and “the trier of fact proceeds to decide the ultimate question: whether plaintiff has proven ‘that the defendant intentionally discriminated against [him]' because of his race.” St. Mary's Honor Center v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 511 (1993) (quoting Texas Dept. of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253 (1981)). At this point, plaintiffs must “be afforded a fair opportunity to show that the [defendant's] stated reason for [plaintiff's] rejection was in fact pretext.” McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 804. A plaintiff may respond to a summary judgment motion by “using the McDonnell Douglas framework, or alternatively, may simply produce direct or circumstantial evidence demonstrating that a discriminatory reason more likely than not motivated [the defendant].” McGinest v. GTE ...

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