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Chavez v. Martinez

United States District Court, D. Colorado

September 5, 2017



          Wiley Y. Daniel Senior United States District Judge


         THIS MATTER is before the Court on both Defendant Jerry Martinez's Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) and Defendants Tony Smith and Denver Public Schools' Motion to Dismiss. (ECF Nos. 17 and 18).

         On February 3, 2017, Plaintiff filed his Complaint in the District Court for the City and County of Denver, Colorado, alleging a First Amendment retaliation claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and a state law claim for intentional interference with contract.[1] On March 2, 2017, the Defendants removed the action to this Court based on federal question jurisdiction. Plaintiff's claims arise from his employment as an Assistant Principal with the Denver Public School District (“District”) and are asserted against Jerry Martinez, a Principal at the Noel Community Arts School (“Noel”); Tony Smith, a deputy instructional superintendent for the District; and the District itself.

         Plaintiff, a former Assistant Principal for grades 6-12 at Noel, alleges that he was terminated from his employment after speaking out on matters of public concern. Specifically, in August 2015, the school was conducting a teacher survey of the two Noel school Principals, Jerry Martinez and Suzanne Morey. At all relevant times, Martinez was Noel's Chief Operating Officer while Morey was the Chief Academic Officer. On August 28, 2015, Martinez informed Plaintiff that Martinez and an intern had “intentionally falsified several [teacher] surveys to lower the evaluation of Ms. Morey.” (Compl. ¶¶ 1-6). Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Smith was aware of Martinez's survey-falsification plan (“Plan”) and had given his approval. (Compl. ¶ 5). The Plan apparently worked because “Ms. Morey was demoted and moved to a different position in December, 2015, and told to resign, in March, 2016.” (Compl. ¶ 6).

         Since Smith was involved in the Plan, Plaintiff “went above Mr. Smith's head to Mr. Johnson, the instructional supervisor, and, on September 17, 2015, reported the fraud to him.” (Compl. ¶ 7). Johnson reported Plaintiff's concerns about the surveys to Martinez. (Compl. ¶¶ 7-8). Also, at Johnson's direction, Plaintiff reported the Plan to Noel's human resources department. Martinez ultimately “admitted that he had taken the survey intended solely for the teachers, but, in spite of this admission, human resources came to no conclusion regarding the existence of the fraud.” (Compl. ¶ 8).

         Plaintiff alleges that following his report to Johnson, Martinez began to retaliate against him. Plaintiff had hired a dean, Charles Jones, for his middle school. Martinez “told this dean that [Plaintiff] had told the dean's principal, Ms. Morey, that the dean was not doing his job, that he needed to be replaced, and that he was incompetent. This tension became so bad that the dean would not even talk to [Plaintiff]. [Plaintiff] determined what had happened and took the dean to Mr. Martinez, who admitted to the dean that he had not been telling the truth.” (Compl. ¶¶ 9-10).

         Additionally, in October 2015, Plaintiff drafted “on the computer a few pages of responses to questions from Mr. Smith. To sabotage [Plaintiff], Mr. Martinez deleted [Plaintiff's] written responses to these questions while not touching the written responses of other people that were in the computer.” (Compl. ¶ 11). In November 2015, Martinez “publicly blamed” Plaintiff for decisions Martinez had made about recess duties. Also, in November 2015, Noel's high school administratively separated from the middle school, and Plaintiff and Morey “were demoted and assigned to the middle school.” (Compl. ¶¶ 12-13).

         Plaintiff also alleges that Smith began to retaliate against him after he reported the Plan to Johnson. In November 2015, Smith directed Plaintiff to cease speaking with human resources or Johnson about any subject. “In February, 2016, Mr. Smith began telling the teaching staff that the building culture was toxic because [Plaintiff and] Ms. Morey had created a culture of jumping the chain of command.” (Compl. ¶¶ 15-16). Smith further made the decision to remove the dean Plaintiff had hired. (Compl. ¶ 19).

         Plaintiff further alleges that Smith impeded his ability to remain in his position at Noel when a new principal was hired and vetoed Plaintiff's attempts to secure a job with another school in the District. Plaintiff “was not even told of the interview process for his own position until after the finalists were selected.” (Compl. ¶ 20). “On April 11, 2016, [Plaintiff] interviewed with the Collegiate Prep Academy, another high school in the Denver public school system. The interview went well and the principal in charge of the interview team said that the team was impressed with [Plaintiff]. However, after the interview, Mr. Smith spoke with the team and told the team that [Plaintiff] lacked the skill set needed for the job. The team disagreed but eventually capitulated because it knew that it could not hire [Plaintiff] if Mr. Smith disapproved.” (Compl. ¶ 21).

         On June 3, 2016, the District asked Plaintiff for his resignation. Plaintiff refused, and his contract expired by its own terms on August 1, 2016.


         A. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6)

         Defendants seek dismissal of Plaintiff's First Amendment retaliation claim and state law claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A defendant may move to dismiss a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) where the plaintiff has failed “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The Court's inquiry is “whether the complaint contains ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ridge at Red Hawk, LLC v. Schneider, 493 F.3d 1174, 1177 (10th Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007)). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). When analyzing a 12(b)(6) motion, “all well-pleaded factual allegations ... are accepted as true and viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Sutto ...

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