Make sure you know who you are talking to.

You are the principal of a middle school.  You get a phone call from “Mr. Jones” who says he is the principal at a school in a neighboring district.  He’s calling to inquire about one of your former employees.  Would you rehire this person?  You give your honest response: Nope.  “She’s a troublemaker.”  Mr. Jones thanks you for your candor.

Later you learn that “Mr. Jones” is not a principal and is not even Mr. Jones. He is a friend of the woman you just labeled a “troublemaker.”  Yikes.

This is the background for the court’s decision in Aldine ISD v. Massey.  Ms. Massey claimed that the district retaliated against her for making an ADA claim and taking it to the EEOC.  But the court concluded that she produced no evidence that the principal’s negative evaluation actually caused her to lose a job opportunity:

In this case, Massey has not adduced evidence that the school district gave a negative reference to a prospective employer.  Massey points to the school principal’s response to the phone call made by Massey’s friend, in which the friend pretended to be seeking a reference for Massey. Massey argued that a factfinder could reasonably infer that the principal would have made a similar response to an actual inquiry for an employment reference. Massey, however, adduced no evidence to allow for that inference.

I guess there are two lessons here.  First, when you are the plaintiff, you cannot take anything for granted. You have to come forth with the evidence to carry the burden of proof.  Second, make sure you know who you are speaking to before offering personnel evaluations.  It might be good practice to call back to the school’s official phone line, rather than somebody’s cell.  It might also be good to refer all personnel inquiries to the HR department.

This case was decided by the Court of Appeals in Houston on June 26, 2018. We found it at 2018 WL 3117831.


Tomorrow: Can we have a committee of the board hear the grievance?