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Blackman v. Omak School District

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

June 6, 2019

CHRIS NEESE BLACKMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
OMAK SCHOOL DISTRICT, and KENNETH ERIK SWANSON, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT SWANSON'S MOTION TO DISMISS

          THOMAS O. RICE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         BEFORE THE COURT is Defendant Erik Swanson's Motion to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(6) (ECF No. 12). This matter was submitted without oral argument. The Court has reviewed the record and files herein, and is fully informed. For the reasons discussed below, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 12) is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         BACKGROUND

         On October 29, 2018, Plaintiff Chris Neese Blackman filed this Complaint against Defendants Omak School District (“District”) and Dr. Kenneth Erik Swanson (“Defendant Swanson”). ECF No. 1. Plaintiff alleges she was wrongfully terminated in violation of state and federal law. Id. at ¶ 25. As compensation for her injuries, Plaintiff seeks economic and non-economic damages, as well as exemplary damages, punitive damages and general damages relating to emotional distress and mental anguish. Id. at 24.

         In the instant motion, Defendant Swanson moves to dismiss several of Plaintiffs' claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). ECF No. 12. Plaintiff filed a response to Defendant Swanson's motion to dismiss. ECF No. 13.

         FACTS

         The following facts are drawn from Plaintiff's Complaint and are accepted as true for purposes of the instant motion only. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007). On April 27, 2016, Plaintiff entered into a certificated employee contract with the District. ECF No. 1 at 3, ¶ 13. The District hired Plaintiff for the position of Principal of Omak Middle School, commencing July 1, 2016. Id. This action revolves around events that occurred during the 2017-2018 school year, which ultimately resulted in Plaintiff being terminated from her position as Principal of Omak Middle School on November 30, 2017. Id. at ¶ 25.

         On or about October 26, 2017, Plaintiff informed Defendant Swanson that the District was illegally utilizing its ASB funds. Id. at ¶ 19. Upon hearing this information, Defendant Swanson allegedly responded, “Oh shit. That's going to be a mess.” Id. Then, in early November 2017, an administrative team meeting was held with Plaintiff, Defendant Swanson, and several other district leaders. Id. at ¶ 20. At the meeting, Plaintiff led a discussion and informed everyone at the meeting that the District had failed to pay certain classified staff overtime wages and that many classified staff were working in excess of forty hours per week without overtime compensation. Id. at ¶ 21. Defendant Swanson allegedly responded that the District could not afford to pay the classified staff overtime. Id. at ¶ 22. Plaintiff objected to Defendant Swanson's position, again reiterated that the District was violating the wage law, and told Defendant Swanson that she could not stand by while the District did so. Id. at ¶ 23. Additionally, Plaintiff and other building leaders were advised by the District and Defendant Swanson of their intent to keep ASB auditors away from the building and the District Office. Id. at ¶ 24. Plaintiff also objected to this scheme. Id.

         On November 30, 2017, the District and Defendant Swanson terminated Plaintiff allegedly without cause from her position as Principal of Omak Middle School. Id. at ¶¶ 25-26. Plaintiff asserts that her performance at the time of her termination was satisfactory, and she was well respected by her peers, teachers, staff and the students at Omak Middle School. Id. at ¶¶ 14-15. However, prior to her termination, Plaintiff disclosed to the District and Defendant Swanson that she was experiencing mental health problems relating to her job as principal and was under a doctor's care. Id. at ¶ 25. According to Plaintiff, armed with knowledge of her disability and whistleblowing conduct, the District and Defendant Swanson proceeded to terminate her from her position as Principal of Omak Middle School. Id. at ¶ 26.

         Following Plaintiff's termination, Defendant Swanson announced to District employees, students, parents and the community “at a public (staff) meeting” that Plaintiff had resigned due to medical reasons. Id. at ¶ 27. Shortly thereafter, the District and Defendant Swanson informed the Omak Chronicle and the Wenatchee World Newspaper about Plaintiff's alleged resignation. Id. at ¶ 28. The Defendants also issued additional notifications to District employees and the school community that Plaintiff had resigned for medical reasons. Id. Plaintiff maintains that she did not voluntarily resign, nor did she authorize the District or Defendant Swanson to disclose health related information about Plaintiff to anyone. Id. at ¶ 29.

         On or about April 9, 2018, Plaintiff applied and interviewed for an elementary school principal position with the Pendleton School District. Id. at ¶ 30. Plaintiff alleges that Omak School District staff disclosed prejudicial information about Plaintiff regarding her employment with the District, which resulted in Plaintiff not getting the job. Id. at ¶ 31. Plaintiff claims she was ranked first out of the three candidates but was not selected for the position as a result of the District's negative portrayal of her employment. Id. at ¶ 32.

         On March 10, 2018, the District sent a letter to Plaintiff in which it offered Plaintiff a lower paying job. Id. at ¶ 33. Plaintiff maintains that the job offer was a sham, as Defendants knew Plaintiff had moved out of the Omak area and made the offer only after learning that Plaintiff had retained counsel and would be making claims against the District. Id. at ¶¶ 33-34.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Motion to Dismiss

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a complaint must contain only “a short and plain statement of relief showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides that a defendant may move to dismiss the complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). When evaluating a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), courts must “accept the allegations in the complaint as true, and draw all reasonable factual inferences in favor of the plaintiff.” Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). And, notwithstanding Rule 8(a)(2), the Supreme Court has specified that pleadings which merely offer “labels and conclusions, ” “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, ” or “naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancements” are not sufficient. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-57 (2007)). Thus, while “detailed factual allegations” are not required, “to survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

         In her Complaint, Plaintiff asserts the following eleven claims against the District and Defendant Swanson: (1) Wrongful Discharge in Violation of Public Policy; (2) Washington RCW 49.46.100 and FLSA Retaliation; (3) Wrongful Discharge Based Upon Breach of Promise; (4) Violation Procedural Due Process Section 1983; (5) Violation of First Amendment Rights; (6) Breach of Contract; (7) Disability Discrimination under RCW 49.60 et seq.; and the ...


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