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Hatcher v. Gary Community School Corp.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

June 11, 2014

RAGEN H. HATCHER, Plaintiff,
v.
GARY COMMUNITY SCHOOL CORP. and BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE GARY COMMUNITY SCHOOL CORP., Defendants.

OPINION and ORDER

ROBERT L. MILLER, Jr., District Judge.

This cause comes before the court on a motion to dismiss filed by defendants Gary Community School Corporation and the Board of Trustees of the Gary Community School Corporation (collectively "School defendants") and the School defendants' motion to strike plaintiff's Exhibit 2 attached to the complaint. Ragen Hatcher filed her objections to both motions, and the School defendants their replies. Having considered the parties' submissions, the court denies the motion to strike and grants the motion to dismiss in part and denies it in part.

FACTS

The Gary Community School Corporation employed Ragen Hatcher as inhouse counsel from June 2006 through October 1, 2011. She says her term of employment with the School Corporation involved two contracts: upon her initial employment, she entered into a contract with the Board of Trustees for a probationary period of 180 days, see Compl., Exh. 1 ("Attorney Employment Agreement"), and at the end of that period, she entered into a second contract with the Board of Trustees for her full-time in-house counsel position, see Compl., Exh. 2 ("Regular Teacher's Contract"). The School Corporation's school year runs from July 1 of one calendar year through June 30 of the next calendar year.

Ms. Hatcher reports that in January 2010, she received a "Notice of Possible Non-Renewal" from the Board of Trustees telling her that the Board couldn't guarantee that she would be retained in her position for the 2010/2011 school year "because, at this point in time, the District is uncertain as to the impact which imposed budgetary cuts will have on the district. This action in no way reflects upon the quality of your performance." Compl., ¶ 24. Ms. Hatcher continued in her position for the 2010/2011 school year.

In October 2010, Ms. Hatcher announced her candidacy for Mayor of the City of Gary. She says that in November 2010, February 2011, and again after a mayoral debate, Darren Washington, an elected member of the Board of Trustees, asked her to name him Deputy Mayor if she won the election. She says each time she told him that if she won the election, she would consider appointing him to that position. Ms. Hatcher asserts that her conversations with Mr. Washington on each occasion involved "constitutionally protected speech." Compl., ¶ 65.

Ms. Hatcher alleges that in June 2011 she began "hearing rumors" that Mr. Washington was lobbying the other members of the Board of Trustees to eliminate her position as in-house counsel. She says that during that same month, Mr. Washington "reduced [her] job responsibilities by instructing her not to attend executive sessions of the [Board of Trustees]." Compl., ¶ 35. Mr. Washington became president of the Board of Trustees in July 2011.

Ms. Hatcher says that on August 29, 2011, after the start of the 2011/2012 school year, the Board of Trustees notified her that her position as in-house counsel was being eliminated October 1, 2011 because of financial constraints. According to Ms. Hatcher, the Board of Trustees' decision to eliminate her position was made during a closed door session on August 23, 2011 in violation of Indiana's Open Door Law. Compl., ¶ 42. She also claims that the Board of Trustees' explanation for eliminating her position was "a pretext for retaliation against [her] for not agreeing to appoint [Darren] Washington deputy mayor if she were elected Mayor of the City of Gary." Compl., ¶ 45. Ms. Hatcher asserts that the Board of Trustees "conspired to violate [her] constitutional rights under the First Amendment by agreeing to commit an illegal act." Compl., ¶ 41. Ms. Hatcher claims Mr. Washington retaliated against her for not agreeing to appoint him deputy mayor, tortiously interfered with her contractual relationship with the School Corporation, and intentionally induced the Board of Trustees to eliminate her position without justification. Compl., ¶¶ 55-59.

Ms. Hatcher filed her complaint in this court in September 2013 pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for deprivation of her rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Ms. Hatcher alleges, in Count 1, that the Board of Trustees unlawfully deprived her of her constitutional and civil rights to due process and equal protection in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, and, in Count 2, that the Board of Trustees deprived her of her constitutionally protected interest in freedom of expression in violation of the First Amendment. Ms. Hatcher seeks compensatory damages, including back and front pay, punitive damages, attorney fees, costs, and "an injunction enjoining the [Board of Trustees] to comply with the Indiana Open Door Law."

MOTION TO STRIKE

The School defendants have moved to strike Exhibit 2 to Ms. Hatcher's complaint, an unsigned copy of a document entitled "Regular Teachers Contract" for the school year beginning July 1, 2007 and ending June 30, 2008. The School defendants say the document is misleading and should be stricken because Ms. Hatcher hasn't alleged that she is a licensed teacher who would be entitled to the collective bargaining rights afforded to teachers in the School Corporation.

Ms. Hatcher hasn't alleged that she is a licensed teacher, but she alleges in paragraphs 9 and 10 of her complaint that after her probationary period she and the Board of Trustees "entered into a Regular Teacher's Contract beginning July 1, 2007 and continuing under June 30, 2008 for the same services and benefits provided under the Probationary contract, " which is attached to her complaint as Exhibit 1. Ms. Hatcher claims in response to the motion to strike that the "Regular Teacher's Contract" was used by administrators, as well as teachers, and she explains further that she couldn't attach a signed copy of the contract because it wasn't part of her personnel file kept by the School Corporation.

Because further fact-finding would be needed for the court to determine whether the contract attached as Exhibit 2 is misleading, the court denies the School ...


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