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Employment Defense Team Gets a “Win” for School District

Messer Caparello’s employment defense team of Bob Harris, Jim Dean and Cameron Carstens recently scored a big win for a School District client in an employment discrimination and whistleblower case in federal court in North Florida.

The Plaintiffs, a Husband and Wife, alleged that the School District discriminated against them based on the Wife’s medical conditions (spinal injuries, hypertension and tachycardia) and that the District then retaliated against them because the Wife requested accommodations for her medical conditions. The Plaintiffs also alleged that they were both whistleblowers who made complaints to the Department of Education claiming that the District was neglecting its students, improperly changing students’ grades and attendance records and failing to comply with state standardized testing requirements. The Plaintiffs claimed that the District retaliated against the Husband by withdrawing an offer to hire him as an administrator and that the District retaliated against the Wife by declining to renew her annual contract as a teacher.

The Plaintiffs sought hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages and attorney’s fees, alleging claims of wrongful termination and failure to hire. The School District denied any wrongdoing, and Messer Caparello successfully defended the District in the case. Uncontroverted evidence was provided to the Court which demonstrated that the Wife had engaged in conduct that supported the decision to not renew her contract and that there was no discrimination or retaliation against the Wife or the Husband. Rather, the District consistently applied its performance and conduct policies to its employees, including the Plaintiffs. As the federal court stated in its Order, “there is no basis from which a jury could find that [the Wife] was subject to disparate treatment because of her disability.”  Based on the evidence presented by the School District, the Court concluded the Wife “has not shown that any similarly situated employees have engaged in similar degrees of misconduct.”

In regards to the Wife’s claim of retaliation for being required to attend a school meeting, the Court confirmed several prior decisions by granting summary judgment on the retaliation claim. The Court held, “The Wife cannot establish a prima facie case of retaliation because the claim is based on the School District’s alleged failure to accommodate her by requiring her to attend [a meeting] and it is well established that a retaliation claim cannot be based on a mere failure-to-accommodate.”

In dismissing the Plaintiffs’ FWA retaliation claims, the Court held, “It is undisputed that the [School District] has an administrative grievance procedure for handling FWA complaints and that it also has contracted with DOAH to conduct hearings. Thus, Plaintiffs had to file a complaint under one of those procedures before filing suit, and because it is undisputed that they failed to do so, their FWA claims must be dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.”

Our employment defense team persuaded the federal district court Judge to grant a summary judgment in favor of the School District before the case went to trial. As a result, the federal court dismissed all of Plaintiffs’ claims, and the Plaintiffs later dropped their appeal at the Eleventh Circuit.

Messer Caparello, P.A., Announces New Shareholders

Tallahassee law firm, Messer Caparello, P.A., established in 1970, is pleased to announce that retired circuit judge Thomas H. Bateman III, Monica Freeland and Cameron Carstens have been named as shareholders with the firm.

Thomas H. Bateman III joined the firm following his retirement from Leon County Circuit Court and offers mediation, arbitration, special magistrate, appraisal umpire and other alternative dispute resolution services.

Monica Freeland has a broad range of experience representing various institutional lenders, businesses and individuals in real estate transactions, including purchase and sale, construction, financing and leasing.   Ms. Freeland is also well versed in ad valorem taxation and advises businesses and county property appraisers across the state concerning taxation matters.

Cameron Carstens focuses his practice on civil litigation in state and federal court, with an emphasis on employment and tort defense, as well as breach of contract and other business disputes. Mr. Carstens also advises public K-12 educational institutions on a wide range of risk management issues and represents clients before state and administrative agencies in licensure matters, disciplinary proceedings and administrative litigation.

IMMIGRATION NEWS FLASH: U.S. Supreme Court Lifts Injunction on President Trump’s Travel Ban 2.0, Executive Order 13780

On Monday, June 26, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision on the two infamous “Travel Ban” cases, each of which involve challenges to President Trump’s Executive Order No. 13780, Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorists Entry into the United States.Continue Reading IMMIGRATION NEWS FLASH: U.S. Supreme Court Lifts Injunction on President Trump’s Travel Ban 2.0, Executive Order 13780