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Kelly v. Richard Wright Public Charter School

United States District Court, District of Columbia

February 4, 2019




         Plaintiff Torrain Kelly was employed as a teacher and administrator at Richard Wright Public Charter School for four years. In February 2016, he suffered injuries from a car accident that left him unable to work for several months, during which time he took medical leave. He asserts that from the beginning of his leave, he had trouble communicating with the school and its Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Marco Clark, about the conditions and duration of his leave. In June 2016, Kelly was ready to return to work. But he struggled to get a straight answer from Clark about when he could resume his position. And on June 30, the school informed Kelly that they would not offer him a job for the following school year.

         Kelly brings claims under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., the District of Columbia Family and Medical Leave Act (DCFMLA), D.C. Code § 32-503 et seq., and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act (DCHRA), D.C. Code § 2-1401.01 et seq. He claims that the school and Clark (collectively, “Defendants”) interfered with his right to take FMLA leave in a variety of ways, [1] and, by eliminating his position shortly after his FMLA leave expired, both retaliated against him and discriminated against him on the basis of his sex. Both parties have moved for summary judgment. For the reasons explained below, the Court will grant Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 20, and deny Kelly's Corrected Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 67.[2]

I.Factual and Procedural Background

         In August 2012, Kelly was hired as a physical education and health teacher at the school. Pl. Facts ¶ 1. In June 2013, he left his teaching job when he was promoted to one of the school's “dean of students” positions. Id. ¶ 2. Throughout his tenure, he also was the school's football coach. Id. On February 20, 2016, Kelly was hospitalized after a car accident. Def Facts ¶¶ 3-4. He was discharged from the hospital the next day, but he remained under his doctor's supervision and was unable to work. Id. ¶ 14.

         Kelly texted Clark and other school employees about his predicament on the morning of February 21. Pl. Facts ¶ 5. After receiving no response from Clark, Kelly called and texted him again that evening. Id. Clark texted Kelly back, acknowledging Kelly's injuries and his need to take time off. Id. Earlier that same day, around 1:00 p.m., Clark had sent an email to all school administrators, including Kelly. ECF No. 67-2, Ex. 2. That email read, in part,

I sit in overall dismay that I have to write this letter to a group of professionals. . . . Unfortunately I am still addressing proper business attire, professional responsibilities/etiquette and meeting deadlines with leaders. . . . Over the next several months I will be closely evaluating the work of each of you. . . . Effective immediately! Any leader that needs to be off for any reason must be cleared by me. If you are AWOL without my clearance it will be non paid and subject to disciplinary action inclusive of termination.


         On March 7, 2016, with Kelly still unable to return to work, Clark discussed Kelly's accident with a human resources specialist. Def. Facts ¶ 7. The human resources specialist emailed the school's FMLA policy and request form to Kelly that day. Id. ¶ 8. Kelly tried several times to return the completed form to the school; the school acknowledged receiving it on March 28, 2016. Id. ¶¶ 11-12; Pl. Facts ¶ 11.

         Around the same time, Kelly sent multiple requests to the school to use his accrued paid leave while he was recovering. Def. Facts ¶ 15; Pl. Facts ¶ 15. His pay stub at the time indicated that he had accrued 546 hours of paid leave. Pl. Facts ¶ 66. By Defendants' account, Kelly's request to use this leave prompted the school to notice that the amount of accrued paid leave reflected on his pay stub-and that of every other non-teaching employee-was too high. Def. Facts ¶¶ 24-25. Although the school's leave policy imposed a cap on how many hours of paid leave could roll over from one academic year to the next, the non-teaching employees' pay stubs reflected hours well above what that cap allowed. Id. ¶¶ 26-32. Therefore, in April 2016, the school corrected the amount of paid leave reflected on Kelly's pay stub to 240 hours. Id. ¶¶ 33, 35. A few months later, in July 2016, the school similarly corrected the accrued leave amounts for the school's other non-teaching employees. Id. ¶ 34. Kelly denies that the downward adjustment of his paid leave was based on school policy, although he offers no specific facts that suggest another reason for the change. See Pl. Facts ¶¶ 24-34. Ultimately, according to Defendants, the school authorized Kelly to take the maximum amount of paid leave permitted by the policy, plus two weeks. Def. Facts ¶ 35; ECF No. 67-3, Ex. 12(j).

         Kelly remained on FMLA leave for the rest of the school year. Def. Facts ¶ 21. His FMLA leave expired on June 10, 2016. Def. Mot. at 11. On June 14, 2016, his doctor approved his return to work. Def. Facts ¶ 23. By Kelly's account, he emailed Clark and the human resources specialist on June 14 and again on June 24 about arranging his return to work, but received no response. Pl. Mot. at 14-15. He went to the school on June 27 and found his office emptied; he also learned that he had been replaced as the football coach. Id. at 15. He spoke with Clark on the phone while at school, and Clark told him to leave and to arrange a meeting to discuss his return to work. Id. at 16-17. Clark denied that he was terminating Kelly. Id. at 17.

         According to Defendants, the school began having financial trouble in 2015, which led Clark and other senior administrators to discuss cutbacks. Def. Facts ¶ 36. These discussions continued through the spring of 2016. Id. ¶ 37. Not wanting to eliminate any teaching positions, they decided to eliminate duplicative administrative positions. Id. ¶¶ 38-39. At the time, Kelly held one of two “dean of students” positions at the school. Id. ¶¶ 2, 42. The other “dean of students, ” a woman, had held that position at four different schools and had 30 years of experience. Id. ¶¶ 42-43. Because of her greater experience and lower salary, Defendants assert, they decided to eliminate Kelly's position instead of hers. Def. Mot. at 3. Kelly denies this account of the school's decision to eliminate his position, but points to no specific facts that call it into question. See Pl. Facts ¶¶ 36-43.

         On July 1, 2016, the school sent Kelly an email informing him that he would not be offered a position for the upcoming school year. ECF No. 67-3, Ex. 12(m). The email read, in part: “Due to staff consolidations because of budget restrictions, [the school] will no longer have two Deans on staff. Therefore, there is not a position to offer you for next year.” Id.

         On September 16, 2016, Kelly filed this lawsuit. ECF No. 1. Defendants moved for summary judgment, ECF No. 20, and Kelly cross-moved, ECF No. 27. Subsequently, Defendants moved to dismiss the Complaint on sovereign immunity grounds. ECF No. 40. The Court denied the motion to dismiss because Defendants had waived that affirmative defense by failing to raise it in ...

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