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McDonald v. School District No. 1 in County of Denver

United States District Court, D. Colorado

March 30, 2016

JOHN M. McDONALD, Plaintiff,
v.
SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 1 IN THE COUNTY OF DENVER AND STATE OF COLORADO, ELDRIDGE GREER, and NORMA GIRON, Defendants.

ORDER

PHILIP A. BRIMMER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

This matter is before the Court on defendants’ Motion for Attorneys’ Fees [Docket No. 75] and plaintiff’s Motion to Stay Consideration of Any Attorneys’ Fees Awarded to Defendants Against John McDonald [Docket No. 82].

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff John McDonald asserted a race and sex discrimination claim against School District No. 1, in the City and County of Denver, State of Colorado (the “District”) pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, an age discrimination claim against the District pursuant to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), a First Amendment retaliation claim against defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a state law interference with contract and/or prospective business advantage claim against Eldridge Greer and Norma Giron, and a state law breach of contract claim against the District. Docket No. 1 at 17-20.

On March 17, 2014, defendants filed a motion to dismiss, arguing, in part, that portions of plaintiff’s Title VII, ADEA, and First Amendment claims were barred either because they fell outside the 300-day window of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1) or because of the statute of limitations. Docket No. 25 at 6, 8-9. On November 10, 2014, defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. Docket No. 58. On March 17, 2015, the Court granted in part and denied in part defendants’ motions and dismissed the case in its entirety. Docket No. 69 at 30.

Regarding the motion to dismiss, the Court rejected plaintiff’s assertion of the continuing violation doctrine and dismissed plaintiff’s Title VII and ADEA claims based upon actions that fell outside the 300-day window. Id. at 8. The Court granted defendants’ motion to dismiss regarding plaintiff’s First Amendment claim, finding that the only adverse employment action falling within the statute of limitations was the termination of plaintiff’s employment. Docket No. 69 at 10. The Court denied the remainder of defendants’ motion to dismiss as moot due to the Court’s ruling on defendants’ summary judgment motion.

Regarding the motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s discrimination claims, the Court assumed without deciding that plaintiff established a prima facie case of discrimination. Docket No. 69 at 20. The Court found that the District produced “a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its termination of plaintiff’s employment, namely, instances of ‘insubordination, neglect of duty, unsatisfactory performance, and other good and just cause’ identified in the [independent hearing officer’s] decision.” Id. The Court found that plaintiff failed to carry his burden of showing that defendants’ proffered reasons were pretextual. Id. at 22-24. Plaintiff “[did] not produce any evidence upon which to conclude that Dr. Greer, Ms. Giron, or any of the other District employees plaintiff accuses of mistreatment were school board members or played a role in the school board’s decision to terminate plaintiff.” Id. at 22. Plaintiff admitted that he could not recall any school board member or the independent hearing officer engaging in discriminatory conduct towards him. Id. The Court found that plaintiff did not “identify evidence suggesting that the School Board lacked an honest belief in the accuracy of the [independent hearing officer’s] findings or that the School Board failed to act in good faith when it reviewed and adopted the [independent hearing officer’s] findings.” Docket No. 69 at 23-24. Because plaintiff failed to produce evidence to support his pretext theory, the Court granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s Title VII and ADEA claims. Id.

Regarding plaintiff’s First Amendment retaliation claims, the Court noted that it was unclear from the record the dates upon which plaintiff engaged in protected speech and which District employees had knowledge of what speech, and found that plaintiff had failed to establish “any basis upon which to conclude that the School Board was aware of plaintiff’s protected conduct or that his protected conduct was a causal factor in his termination.” Id. at 26-27. The Court also found that there was no evidence in the record to support a claim that Ms. Giron or Dr. Greer personally participated in the allegedly retaliatory actions that occurred within the statute of limitations. Docket No. 69 at 28. Accordingly, the Court granted summary judgment for defendants on plaintiff’s First Amendment claims. Id. at 29.

Having dismissed plaintiff’s claims arising under federal law, the Court dismissed without prejudice plaintiff’s state law claims. Id. at 29-30.

On April 15, 2015, defendants filed the instant motion for attorneys’ fees. Docket No. 75. Defendants request $55, 706.50 from plaintiff pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988 and $47, 257.00 jointly and severally from plaintiff’s counsel pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1927. Docket No. 75 at 13; Docket No. 86 at 9. Defendants seek from plaintiff’s counsel only those fees incurred after the filing of their motion to dismiss. Id.

II. ANALYSIS

“‘Our basic point of reference’ when considering the award of attorney’s fees is the bedrock principle known as the ‘American Rule’: Each litigant pays his own attorney’s fees, win or lose, unless a statute or other contract provides otherwise.” Hardt v. Reliance Standard Life Ins. Co., 560 U.S. 242, 252-53 (2010).

A. Motion to Stay Consideration of Fees

Plaintiff filed his motion to stay consideration of fees on June 1, 2015, seeking a four-week stay in order to address potential conflicts between plaintiff and plaintiff’s counsel. Docket No. 82 at 2. More than four weeks have passed since plaintiff filed his request. ...


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