The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in Jaramillo v. Adams County School Dist. 14 on Tuesday, June 12, 2012.
The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. Petitioner, a Hispanic female, was employed as principal of Hanson PreK-8 school. “More than 70% of the students attending Hanson are Hispanic, and [Petitioner] was the only Hispanic principal in the District. In the fall of 2008, the District administration contemplated policy changes, including implementing an English Language Learners policy (“ELL policy”), which stresses English immersion (rather than teaching subjects in Spanish as well as English), and operating Hanson on the same academic year as other schools in the District. These proposals were controversial in the Hispanic community and apparently with some of the teachers at Hanson. The ELL policy was the topic of a Board of Education public study session. The interim superintendent of the District received a copy of an e-mail about a planned teachers’ meeting before the public study session which contained false and inaccurate information. This misinformation suggested that the ELL policy was going to eradicate any Spanish instruction in the district. [The superintendent] met with [Petitioner] to ask for the name of the person who had misinformed her as to the specifics of the policy. [Petitioner] refused to give the name. They met again later in the afternoon . . . about [Petitioner's] lack of support for the administration’s policy,” and Petitioner again refused to provide the requested name after being told that failure to disclose would result in disciplinary action.
Petitioner was placed on paid administrative leave and was recommended for termination shortly after. Petitioner “sought review, pursuant to the Administrator’s Meet and Confer Handbook, by a three-member panel, one of which was chosen by Petitioner. The panel unanimously agreed . . . to recommend that the Superintendent recommend termination to the Board. The Board accepted the Superintendent’s recommendation.” Petitioner filed suit, alleging race discrimination.
On appeal, Petitioner “argues that she satisfied her burden under the Supreme Court’s McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), framework, and that a reasonable jury could find that the District’s motives for termination were pretextual. The district court assumed, without deciding, that [Petitioner] made a prima facie case based on her positive performance for nearly nine years, her membership in a protected class, and her termination and replacement by a non- Hispanic person. The District also proffered a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse action—insubordination. While considering pretext, the district court stated that ‘[t]he charge of insubordination for failure to give [the superintendent] the name of the informant . . . appears to be unfair and unreasonable, given [Petitioner's] years of performance as the principal of Hanson. Continuing, the court explained, however, that ‘[a] violation of that statute [§ 1981] depends upon a showing that the termination was made because of the plaintiff’s race’ and not whether the decision was ‘reasonable.’ The court held that there was no evidence of racial bias or pretext in this case. The Tenth Circuit agreed, and was unconvinced by Petitioner’s proffered evidence of pretext.