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Houston v. Yoncalla School District No. 32

United States District Court, D. Oregon

July 11, 2014

JAMES M. HOUSTON, Plaintiff,
YONCALLA SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 32, a political subdivision of the State of Oregon, et al., Defendants.


ANN AIKEN, District Judge.

Plaintiff filed suit alleging gender and age discrimination, violations of his constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and various state law claims. Defendants move to dismiss plaintiff's claims for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12 (b) (6). In response, plaintiff opposes the motion and seeks to amend his complaint a second time.


The following facts are taken from plaintiff's complaint, though the court clarifies certain allegations that contradict documents submitted by plaintiff.[1]

Plaintiff is a substitute teacher and receives teaching assignments through the Douglas Education Service District (DESD). Plaintiff's claims generally arise from a four-week period of employment as a substitute teacher for the Yoncalla School District (YSD), during which time he developed and taught a class for students with emotional, social, and/or behavioral difficulties (the Opportunity Classroom) at Yoncalla Elementary/Middle School in Yoncalla, Oregon.

On or about August 29, 2012, former Yoncalla Elementary/Middle School principal Jerry Fauci recruited plaintiff to develop and teach the Opportunity Classroom. Fauci represented that the position was budgeted up to $50, 000 in salary and benefits and involved a six-hour work day.

On August 31, 2012, Fauci, YSD Human Resources Director Andrew Boe, DESD Special Education Specialist Nancy Vogel, and a DESD Therapeutic Learning Center teacher interviewed plaintiff. Shortly thereafter, Fauci offered and plaintiff accepted the Opportunity Classroom position. Fauci stated that plaintiff's contract would be finalized in one week and that plaintiff would be hired and paid as a substitute teacher in the meantime. At plaintiff's request, Fauci agreed to pay plaintiff the equivalent of long-term substitute teacher wages until his contract was finalized. Fauci allegedly represented that Boe would have a contract ready by September 7, 2012.

Plaintiff began developing the curriculum and program for the Opportunity Classroom. During his first week, plaintiff worked an excess of six hours a day after Boe stated that he was allowed to work eight hours a day while receiving long-term substitute teacher wages.

Plaintiff did not receive a finalized contract by September 7, 2012. Fauci told plaintiff that he would look into the finalization of plaintiff's contract.

On September 11, 2012, the YSD posted a job announcement for a position in the Opportunity Classroom on the Oregon Department of Employment website. The job posting was not disclosed to plaintiff.

On September 14, 2012, plaintiff met with Boe regarding his contract. Boe informed plaintiff that he could not give plaintiff "credit" for his experience as a special education teacher in a private school, or for his work as a counselor and social worker. Boe indicated that the teacher's union would file a grievance if he did so. Boe offered plaintiff a contract with a yearly salary of $24, 000 and stated that plaintiff would earn higher wages as a long-term substitute teacher. However, plaintiff knew that he would essentially be an "at will" employee, without benefits, as a substitute teacher. Plaintiff did not accept Boe's offer.

Plaintiff obtained the collective bargaining agreement between YSD and the Yoncalla Education Association (YEA). According to plaintiff, the agreement provided that a newly-hired teacher must be given credit for private-school teaching experience and other experiences that affected proficiency in teaching. Plaintiff also met with YEA union president, Lisa Champoux, who similarly indicated that plaintiff should be given credit for his teaching experience at a private school.

On September 28, 2012, plaintiff again met with Boe to share the information he had obtained from YEA and Champoux. Boe indicated that the position in the Opportunity Classroom had changed from a contractual position to a long-term substitute position. Plaintiff alleges that Boe stated he could find a replacement teacher, but that plaintiff would have a "hard time" finding a job at his age. Boe also stated he might reconsider the nature of the position if plaintiff accepted the $24, 000 salary offer; Boe informed plaintiff he could then file a grievance with the union and seek additional compensation. Plaintiff responded that he would not accept the salary and that he likely would leave the position before winter break.

In addition to salary issues, plaintiff alleges that he and Boe discussed safety concerns at the school, including several student threats that plaintiff learned of in September 2012.

Later on September 28, 2012, plaintiff discovered that Boe had assigned him as a long-term substitute through December 2012; plaintiff rejected the assignment through, the computerized assignment system. Plaintiff then contacted Fauci and informed him that he would no longer be working as a substitute teacher in the Opportunity Classroom.

At some unspecified time, plaintiff alleges that he filed a tort claim notice against the YSD and gave it to the YSD School Board during a November 2012 Board meeting. Afterward, plaintiff alleges that he was told that he was excluded from meetings generally open to the public, including the parent advisory board meetings.

On December 14, 2012, plaintiff - under the alias "John Holiday" - wrote letters to the editor of the Douglas County News and to Yoncalla community leaders regarding threats to student safety in the YSD. Plaintiff also hung fliers around the community relaying the same information. Plaintiff contends he concealed his identity due to fear or retaliation by other schools in which he worked as a substitute teacher.

Plaintiff alleges that on the next day, December 15, 2012, Boe filed a complaint against plaintiff with the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission (TSPC) and asserted that plaintiff had failed to report threats to students as he is required to do. Plaintiff apparently received notice of Boe's complaint - and another complaint by a "patron of Yoncalla School District" - in November 2013, a full eleven months after Boe allegedly filed the complaint. Houston Aff. Ex. 3 (doc. 56-1).

After publication of plaintiff's December 14 letters, YSD defendants allegedly held an emergency meeting to address the safety issues raised by plaintiff and made statements to the press, allegedly defaming plaintiff.

In March 2013, plaintiff again wrote a letter to the editor under the same alias, urging voters to reject a school bond levy for Roseburg public schools. Plaintiff alleges that immediately after the letter was published, an "unknown individual" excluded plaintiff from the computer system that assigns substitute teachers in Roseburg schools. Second Am. Compl. ¶ 65. Plaintiff further alleges that defendant Parsons, the Superintendent of Roseburg Public Schools, "issued this directive." Id.

Plaintiff also alleges that unidentified defendants contacted other schools in the area and, as a result, plaintiff has been unable to secure employment as a substitute teacher.

On April 8, 2013 plaintiff filed an EEOC complaint and alleged claims of age and equal pay discrimination against YSD. On May 3, 2013, the EEOC issued plaintiff a "Right to Sue" letter.

On July 31, 2013, plaintiff filed his complaint, and on October 21, 2013, plaintiff filed an amended complaint.

At some point, plaintiff alleges that defendants offered to write him a favorable letter of recommendation if he dropped his claims, and they refused to provide such a letter if he did not.

Defendants now move to dismiss plaintiff's claims for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b) (6). Plaintiff opposes the motion in its entirety and seeks leave to file a second amended complaint.


When resolving a motion to dismiss under Rule 12 (b) (6), a complaint is construed in favor of the plaintiff, and its factual allegations are taken as true. Daniels-Hall v. Nat'l Educ. Ass'n , 629 F.3d 992, 998 (9th Cir. 2010). However, the court need not accept as true "allegations that are merely conclusory, unwarranted deductions of fact, or unreasonable inferences." Id . Rather, "for a complaint to survive a motion to dismiss, the non-conclusory 'factual content, ' and reasonable inferences from that content, must be plausibly suggestive of a claim entitling the plaintiff to relief." Moss v. U.S. Secret Serv. , 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). "[O]nce a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 563 (2007).

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a), leave to amend pleadings should be given "freely" "when justice so requires." Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a) (2). When considering a motion to amend, the court should consider factors including bad faith, undue delay, prejudice to the opposing party, futility of the amendment, and whether previous amendments have been allowed. United States v. Corinthian Call. , 655 F.3d 984, 995 (9th Cir. 2011); Nunes v. Ashcroft , 375 F.3d 805, 808 (9th Cir. 2004).


Plaintiff appears in this action pro se. Given his status and the liberal pleading standard under Rule 15, I am inclined to allow his proposed Second Amended Complaint. I therefore consider defendants' motion to dismiss as applied to plaintiff's newly amended claims. If a previously-alleged claim is not included in his Second Amended Complaint, I consider the claim withdrawn.

A. Title VII and Age Discrimination

1. Title VII Discrimination and Retaliation

In Count I of his Second Amended Complaint, plaintiff alleges that defendants discriminated against him because of his age and denied him equal pay in violation of Title VII. However, Title VII does not redress age discrimination. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a) (1) (prohibiting employment discrimination based on "race, color, religion, sex, or national origin"). Instead, plaintiff's age discrimination claim is correctly brought under the Age Discrimination and Employment Act (ADEA) as discussed below.

To the extent plaintiff's "equal pay" claim can be construed as gender discrimination, plaintiff sets forth insufficient facts to support such a claim. Under Title VII, plaintiff must allege that he was offered a lower salary or paid differently from similarly-situated teachers based on his gender, i.e., because he is male. Hawn v. Executive Jet Mgmt., Inc. , 615 F.3d 1151, 1156 (9th Cir. 2010). To support this claim, plaintiff alleges only that a female teacher was given "credit" for her teaching experience in private schools, while he was not. Second Am. Compl. ¶ 92. However, plaintiff does not allege that this teacher was similarly situated; that she taught special education classes or was given credit for special education experience in a private school setting. Further, plaintiff alleges that this female teacher - like plaintiff - also was denied credit for her private school experience until she threatened to quit. Id . ¶ 48.

Moreover, plaintiff repeatedly alleges that the Opportunity Classroom position was changed to a long-term substitute position in order to save YSD money, not because of plaintiff's gender. Id . ¶¶ 48, 122. pLAINTIFF MAKES NO ALLEGATION THAT ANY DEFENDANT referenced his gender or otherwise treated him differently because he was male. Thus, plaintiff does not allege sufficient facts to support the inference that he was offered a lower salary because he is male. Plaintiff's Title VII discrimination claim is therefore dismissed.

Plaintiff also purports to allege a claim for Title VII retaliation. See Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 82, 109-110; 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3 (a) (prohibiting retaliation if an employee or applicant "has opposed any practice" unlawful under Title VII). To assert a prima facie case of retaliation, plaintiff allege that: 1) he engaged in activity protected under Title VII; 2) he was subjected to an adverse employment action; and 3) a causal link exists between the protected activity and the adverse employment action. Brooks v. City of San Mateo , 229 F.3d 917, 928 (9th Cir. 2000).

Plaintiff's alleged protected activity consists of his EEOC complaint filed in April 2013 and this litigation filed in July 2013.[2] Plaintiff contends that various defendants retaliated against him by filing a false complaint with the TSPC, banning him from YSD Board meetings, conspiring to deny him employment as a ...

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