Court Denies District’s Motion to Dismiss in Lawsuit over Coach’s Firing

May 25, 2007

A former coach’s claim against a school board that approved her reassignment is still going strong after a federal judge denied the board’s motion to dismiss on two counts and allowed the plaintiff to refile on another.
Plaintiff Lori Eaton was initially hired by the defendant School Board of Palm Beach County in 1986 to be a teacher and the girl’s volleyball coach at Spanish River High School. The plaintiff alleged that several years ago she made a claim against the school board for its failure to protect her from a student’s assault.
The court noted that “in 2004, the position of assistant athletic director became available. Typically, the District posts open positions, but this opening was never posted. Austin Lindley, a 35-year old white male, had recently been hired at Spanish River and was given the position along with being named the head volleyball coach. Plaintiff spoke with the athletic director, Bill Massey, and told him that she was interested in the position and that she was disappointed that she had not been considered. Massey stated that the position was beneath her qualifications.” She alleged that Lindley “was not qualified for the position since he had just been hired by the district and that he was not as experienced as Plaintiff.
Later in 2004, the AD position became available. The plaintiff indicated her interest in the position but Kevin McEnroe was hired. McEnroe was a 46-year old male who was hired at Spanish River in 1990, four years after the plaintiff was hired. At some point after he became the AD, Plaintiff approached McEnroe about her interest in become an Assistant AD. McEnroe told her that she was over qualified and that it was a “grunt worker” job.
In early 2006, Lindley told the plaintiff that he wanted to coach volleyball alone. Shortly thereafter, Lindley hired a younger white male as an assistant coach. “He had about twenty years less experience than the plaintiff. Thus, (the plaintiff) alleges that she was replaced by a younger person with less experience. She also argues that (the defendant’s) terms and conditions of employment created a hostile work environment and her working conditions were so intolerable that a reasonable person would have resigned. (The plaintiff) did not resign, however, and so she was placed in a position outside of the athletic department; it was the athletic department where (the plaintiff) had expertise, experience, education and interest. (The plaintiff) alleges that she was discriminated against because of her gender and her age.”
Specifically, the plaintiff alleged seven causes of action under both state and federal law: age discrimination (Counts I and IV); gender discrimination (Counts II and V); retaliation (Count III and VI) and per se defamation (Count VII). The defendant countered with a motion to dismiss the retaliation and defamation claims (Counts III, VI, and VII). As the following analysis explains, this Court holds that Plaintiff’s complaint is sufficient as to Counts III and VI and fails as to Count VII.
The court noted that in Count III, the plaintiff alleged that she had participated in a protected activity because she “made a claim against Defendant for failing to protect her from an assault by a student.”
The court held, however, that the allegation “is sufficient to withstand the motion to dismiss. See Olmsted v. Defosset, 205 F. Supp.2d 1316, 1321 (M.D. Fla. 2002)(holding that an allegation indicating the protected activity was sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss). (The plaintiff) is not required to state each fact supporting her claim; rather, she need only set out those facts necessary to notice the defendant of the facts supporting her claim.”
Turning to the plaintiff’s Claim VI, which relies upon the state retaliation statute, the court restated the defendant’s argument that the plaintiff had failed to exhaust her administrative remedies before filing this claim. Specifically, the defendant had cited the Florida whistle blower statute, § 112.3187, which requires certain administrative action before a plaintiff can file a complaint. However, the court held that since the plaintiff “made this claim under a different statute that does not have the same administrative prerequisites as the whistle blower statute, the claim is sufficiently pled.”
The last allegation in question was the plaintiff’s claim for defamation against a public entity. “Plaintiff must abide by § 768.28, which waives the government’s sovereign immunity in certain causes of action and sets out mandatory procedures one must follow in order to sue pursuant to that waiver,” wrote the court. “One such requirement is that a Plaintiff must notify the agency, in writing, of its claim within three years of the incident before filing suit. § 768.28(6). Plaintiff argues that in filing this suit, she has provided the required written notice. Since the statute clearly forbids the institution of an action without prior notice, Plaintiff’s contention is clearly incorrect. See Hazel v. School Bd. Of Dade County, 7 F.Supp.2d 1349, 1356 (S.D.Fla. 1998)(dismissing claim for failure to provide notice); Hattaway v. McMillian, 903 F.2d 1440, 1445-49 (11th Cir. 1990)(holding that although the statute requires that a Plaintiff give the agency six months from the date of notice before filing a claim, a suit is properly filed so long as the six month period has expired before trial). Moreover, Plaintiff has failed to allege any date for the alleged protected activity, complaining about the school board’s alleged failure to protect her from a student attack, and thus, is unable to prove that her notice would fall within the three year limitations period to provide notice. As such, the complaint is insufficient to state a claim as to this Count and must be dismissed without prejudice with leave to file an amended complaint.”
Lori Eaton v. The School Board Of Palm Beach County, Florida; S.D.Fla.; Case No. 06-81123-CIV-RYSKAMP/VITUNAC, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13372; 2/26/07
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiff) Barry Morris Silver, LEAD ATTORNEY, Barry M Silver PA, Boca Raton, FL. (for defendant) Vicki Lynne Evans, LEAD ATTORNEY, School District of Palm Beach County, West Palm Beach, FL.


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