Byline: Eric T. Berkman
A school principal who received a negative evaluation and was reassigned to what she deemed a lesser position could not bring claims for retaliation and hostile work environment, a U.S. magistrate judge has ruled.
Plaintiff Nadine Lima, an African-American woman, had previously sued the defendant East Providence School Department for race discrimination in a case that resulted in a 2015 settlement in which the district agreed not to retaliate against her and to create an affirmative action officer position.
In her more recent suit, she alleged that after she returned from a leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, the district's new leadership team nonetheless retaliated against her with a substandard performance review later that year and by transferring her from her position as an elementary school principal to a newly created position as principal of a soon-to-be-launched pre-kindergarten program.
Lima, who then took another FMLA leave before resigning, asserted that those actions, which she claimed were motivated by her previous lawsuit, by her FMLA leaves, and by her race, created a hostile environment that amounted to a constructive discharge.
But Magistrate Judge Patricia A. Sullivan disagreed, finding that the plaintiff failed to show the district's proffered non-discriminatory reasons for its actions were a pretext for discrimination.
"Plaintiff has presented nothing more than the undisputed fact that a person less qualified than Plaintiff was chosen to launch the Pre-K program after Plaintiff resigned. This is not even enough to suggest that reasonable people could differ on the appropriateness of [the superintendent's] selection of Plaintiff for the Pre-K principal," Sullivan wrote, granting summary judgment to the defendants.
"[I]n any event, evidence that the employer could have made a wiser choice is not enough to establish pretext," Sullivan continued. "Similarly, Plaintiff points to nothing to establish that the content of her substandard review was based on race or retaliation."
Kathleen M. Daniels, Marc DeSisto and Kathleen A. Hilton, of DeSisto Law in Providence, represented the defendants. Sonja L. Deyoe of Providence was counsel for the plaintiff. Neither party's attorneys could be reached for comment prior to deadline.
[box type="shadow" align="alignright" width="325px"]CASE:Lima v. City of East Providence, et al., Lawyers Weekly No. 54-094-19 (28 pages)
COURT:U.S. District Court