Did the Employees’ Emails Showing Hostility Toward the Teacher’s Disability Result in District Liability?

Mary Meyers, an English as a Second Language teacher, sued the Indianapolis school district for employment discrimination after the School Board voted to discharge her for insubordination and neglecting her teaching duties. Meyers claimed that the district discriminated against her based on her disability (ankle and back pain) in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Several employee email exchanges were front and center in the dispute:

1. When Meyers complained about supervising the cafeteria due to her “lack of endurance,” the principal responded skeptically about her limitations.

2. The ESL coordinator informed a human resources supervisor of the principal’s opinion that Meyers was “a pain to work with” and should be reassigned. The email apparently amused the human resources supervisor, who replied “your email was cracking me up.”

3. Meyers was transferred and the human resources supervisor allegedly forwarded to the principal an email from Meyers stating that her colleagues had retaliated against her for having disability accommodations.

Also, according to some ESL students, the principal criticized Meyers for not meeting her students to take them to their tutoring session, stating: “she should get off her butt and come down here to get these kids. I wish that I could just sit on my butt too, but I can’t, I have to work.”

Meanwhile, Meyers’ principal cited her for a variety of infractions that ultimately led to her termination for “insubordination” and “neglect of duty.”  Meyers was suspended for calling her students “lazy” and “stupid,” recording them on her cell phone during class, and describing the principal as a “b___” to another staff member. The principal also had disciplined Meyers for not requesting a substitute teacher to cover a day she took off, reporting late to work on eleven occasions, and not completing assigned paperwork on time.

Ultimately, despite the disparaging emails, the trial court and appeals court agreed that the emails did not prove that the School Board was motivated by discriminatory animus when it fired Meyers.  Because the principal, the human resources supervisor, and the ESL coordinator were not “decisionmakers” when it came to Meyers’s termination, their statements did not show discriminatory animus led to her termination.  Their emails were just “stray remarks” not probative of the reasons for the termination.

Nonetheless, this is a good lesson in email writing.  Emails are discoverable in litigation and are fair game when the district is sued.  Heed this warning so you don’t end up in court defending a snarky email you wrote years earlier.

Meyers v. Indianapolis Pub. Sch. Bd. of Sch. Commissioners of City of Indianapolis, No. 17-2446 (7th Cir. May 30, 2018)


Tomorrow:  A dad has a bad day.