Facts: The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is allowing a former Frisco ISD teacher/coach to pursue race discrimination and retaliation claims stemming from his nonrenewal. After his nonrenewal, the African American teacher filed suit claiming that he was subjected to race discrimination, as well as retaliation for complaining about discriminatory treatment. Some months prior to his nonrenewal, the teacher had complained to an assistant principal and principal about perceived discriminatory treatment by another coach. Three weeks after the first complaint, the teacher received negative walk-through evaluations, below expectation appraisal ratings, and was placed on an intervention plan for Teachers in Need of Assistance (TINA). Meanwhile, the teacher alleged that no one investigated his discrimination complaints and, instead, he was discouraged from following through with the complaint process through the district’s human resources department. The board ultimately nonrenewed his contract. The trial court dismissed the suit, but the teacher appealed.
Holding: The Fifth Circuit held that genuine issues of material fact existed on the discrimination and retaliation claims. Therefore, the trial court erred when it dismissed the suit. The key evidence in favor of the teacher included proof that the district renewed the contract of a Caucasian teacher/coach with similarly poor ratings on his evaluations, while it chose to nonrenew the plaintiff for similar reasons. The teacher also persuaded the Fifth Circuit that discriminatory animus allegedly harbored by the assistant principal and principal influenced both the hearing examiner’s nonrenewal recommendation and, in turn, the board’s nonrenewal decision to such a degree that their animosity arguably could be imputed to the board.
This case is significant because, in most cases, plaintiffs are unable to show discriminatory or retaliatory animus by the ultimate decision-maker, which is usually the board of trustees. However, here the appellate court was willing to impute the alleged animosity of an assistant principal and principal to, not only the hearing examiner, but the board of trustees as well. The appeals court is saying here that there are disputed fact issues that a jury must decide.