United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
Ulrey was an assistant principal in the Manchester Community
Schools. She resigned at the superintendent's suggestion
after a discrepancy came to light as to the validity of her
teaching license. After the school board accepted her
resignation, she had second thoughts, but the school did not
allow her to rescind her resignation. This suit followed. Ms.
Ulrey claims that the superintendent encouraged her to resign
not because of the discrepancy in her teaching license, but
because of a complaint she had made some months earlier to
the school board about the superintendent's decision to
allow a student to bring cigarettes to school. Ms. Ulrey
claims that she was retaliated against for exercising her
First Amendment rights, and that she was denied due process.
defendants-the school district and the superintendent-moved
for summary judgment. The Court grants the motion. Ms. Ulrey
cannot maintain a First Amendment retaliation claim since her
speech came as part of her employment and thus was not
protected by the First Amendment. Nor was she denied due
process, as she resigned instead of invoking the process that
was available to her.
recounting the relevant facts, the Court notes that the
defendants have filed two motions to strike. In the first
motion, the defendants seek to strike certain evidence Ms.
Ulrey submitted in response to the motion for summary
judgment. They focus primarily on statements in an affidavit
Ms. Ulrey submitted, and argue that the materials are
inadmissible for various reasons. However, none of the
evidence subject to the motion to strike would affect the
outcome of the issues upon which the Court resolves the
motion for summary judgment, so the Court need not reach the
admissibility of those materials. Second, the defendants
moved to strike a surreply that Ms. Ulrey filed without
having sought or received leave to do so. Ms. Ulrey's
failure to seek leave for that filing is unacceptable, and
there are no grounds for a surreply in the first place.
Again, however, that filing has no effect on the outcome of
the motion for summary judgment, so the Court need not strike
that filing either. With that understanding, the Court
proceeds to the facts.
Ulrey began teaching in the Manchester Community Schools in
2011. In the fall of 2013, the assistant principal at
Manchester Jr./Sr. High School resigned, and Ms. Ulrey was
offered and accepted that position. She served in an interim
capacity for the rest of that school year, and officially
assumed the position at the beginning of the 2014-15 school
year. The principal at that school-Ms. Ulrey's direct
supervisor-was Nancy Alspaugh, and the school district's
superintendent was William Reichhart. As assistant principal,
Ms. Ulrey's responsibilities included student discipline,
which entailed enforcing the rules in the student handbook.
[DE 47-6 p. 30, 150-51, 167; DE 50-10].
2014-15 school year, Manchester Community Schools began a new
program referred to as Squire Academy, which was an
alternative education program aimed at assisting at-risk
students to receive their high school diplomas. The program
was housed in a separate space of a building that also housed
the district's administrative offices and its
seventh-grade classrooms, so it fell within Ms. Ulrey's
area of responsibility. [DE 49 p. 8 n.1]. In August 2014,
Squire Academy's director, Dorey Mobley, contacted Dr.
Reichhart about a student who had brought cigarettes to
school in violation of the district's policy against
possessing tobacco on school grounds. She asked Dr. Reichhart
if he would approve an exception for that student, such that
if the student brought cigarettes to school, he could turn
them over to Ms. Mobley upon arriving and retrieve them when
he leaves. Dr. Reichhart later explained in a letter to the
school board that because the student was an at-risk student
who was already old enough to legally possess tobacco, he
believed that allowing this limited exception would be
preferable to enforcing a policy that might discourage the
student from attending school at all. Accordingly, he
approved of the arrangement under which the student would not
be punished for bringing cigarettes to school as long as he
turned them over to Ms. Mobley while he was there.
thereafter, that same student was arrested for unrelated
reasons at Heartland Career Center, a vocational school he
attended in the afternoons, and he was found in possession of
cigarettes. When confronted about the cigarettes, the student
said that his teacher had given him permission to possess
them. Heartland's principal thus called Ms. Alspaugh, who
in turn called Ms. Mobley. Ms. Mobley reported to Ms.
Alspaugh that Dr. Reichhart had given permission for the
student to bring tobacco products to school so long as he
turned them in when he arrived, and that she could return the
cigarettes when the student left. Ms. Alspaugh relayed that
news to Ms. Ulrey because Ms. Ulrey was responsible for
student discipline and enforcing the student handbook, which
included a prohibition on tobacco. [DE 47-6 p. 150-51].
Ulrey and Ms. Alspaugh were each surprised at and disapproved
of that decision by Dr. Reichhart. Ms. Alspaugh thus placed a
call to Dr. Reichhart on speakerphone while Ms. Ulrey was in
her office. Ms. Alspaugh asked Dr. Reichhart if he had given
this permission, and Dr. Reichhart confirmed that he had.
Upon hearing that, Ms. Ulrey became angry, and without
awaiting any explanation from Dr. Reichhart and without
telling him about her disagreement, Ms. Ulrey took Ms.
Alspaugh's phone off of her desk, left the room, looked
up the number for the president of the school board, Sally
Krouse, and called her.
Ulrey reported to Ms. Krouse the decision that Dr. Reichhart
had made. She indicated that she thought the decision was
wrong and that it was against the student handbook. Ms.
Krouse agreed to follow up with Dr. Reichhart. She sent him
an email the next day indicating that she had learned that a
student had been caught with cigarettes and claimed that he
had been given permission to have them. Ms. Krouse indicated
that she would be very concerned if anyone in authority had
given such permission. Dr. Reichhart responded to Ms. Krouse
and the rest of the school board and explained the situation.
By that time he had also learned that Ms. Ulrey was the one
who reported the information to Ms. Krouse, and he expressed
his displeasure that Ms. Ulrey had taken the matter straight
to Ms. Krouse without first expressing her concerns to him
and attempting to resolve them within the administration. Ms.
Krouse and another board member each responded to Dr.
Reichhart's email by indicating their own disapproval
that Ms. Ulrey had come to Ms. Krouse without first working
through the chain of command.
next day, Dr. Reichhart called Ms. Ulrey into his office and
chastised her for going to Ms. Krouse without notifying him
of her concerns. Dr. Reichhart had drafted a letter of
reprimand for Ms. Ulrey prior to the meeting, but he did not
issue the reprimand. Instead, Ms. Ulrey apologized to him and
agreed that she would not go to the board in the future
without first discussing it with him. After that, the
incident was not discussed again.
months later, in late October 2014, Ms. Ulrey learned that
there was a problem with her administrator's license. She
had renewed her license two years earlier with the help of a
friend who was also the licensing advisor at Manchester
University, where she had completed some coursework. While it
would have been possible for Ms. Ulrey to properly renew her
license at that time, the license that she actually applied
for and received was one for which she was not eligible,
meaning her license was invalid. Two other teachers who had
been assisted by that licensing advisor (who was by then
under suspicion for misconduct) discovered around the same
time that their licenses were invalid, which prompted Ms.
Ulrey to review her own license and discover the error. Ms.
Ulrey promptly informed Dr. Reichhart of the problem, and
began working with state officials to correct her license.
Dr. Reichhart met with Ms. Ulrey on multiple occasions to
discuss the problem and learn how it had occurred. As
assistant principal, Ms. Ulrey's duties included
evaluating other teachers and participating in disciplinary
proceedings, both of which required a valid
administrator's license. That prevented her from acting
as assistant principal until her license was corrected, and
Dr. Reichhart was also concerned that it could have called
into question the validity of any matters she had worked on
while her license was invalid. Dr. Reichhart also expressed
disbelief at how Ms. Ulrey, an administrator whose
responsibilities included evaluating other teachers, could
have failed to ensure that her own license was valid.
November 4, 2014, Dr. Reichhart met again with Ms. Ulrey to
discuss her license. Dr. Reichhart indicated the he did not
believe her explanation of how she came to get her license
renewed and that he could not trust her. Sensing that Dr.
Reichhart wanted to get rid of her, Ms. Ulrey asked if he was
asking her to resign. Dr. Reichhart said yes. Ms. Ulrey said
that she would type up a letter of resignation, at which
point Dr. Reichhart produced a letter that he had drafted for
Ms. Ulrey in preparation for the meeting. Ms. Ulrey signed
the letter and left. At the next school board meeting, the
board accepted her resignation.
Ulrey later retained an attorney and asked to rescind her
resignation, but the school did not agree to do so.
Accordingly, she filed this suit against Dr. Reichhart and
the School Board of Manchester Community Schools. Discovery
has now ...