“You are only a substitute…”

Can a person who is “only a substitute” tie your district up in federal court litigation?  Yes.  And the statement allegedly made by the district’s “substitute teacher specialist,” informing Ms. Silva that she was “only a substitute” probably provided fuel to the fire.

The court ultimately dismissed this case in its entirety.  The court, at that point, was as frustrated with Ms. Silva as Spring Branch ISD was in the first place. But the case illustrates how a single non-contract, “at-will” employee can bring a lawsuit that causes the district to expend resources, both financial and human.

Ms. Silva, without the assistance of a lawyer, filed suit in federal court against the district, three district administrators, a secretary and the school district’s outside legal counsel.  The suit alleged discrimination based on national origin, race, and age, along with allegations of a hostile work environment and retaliation.

What prompted all this was the district’s decision to terminate the substitute teacher based on a complaint from a parent that the sub had forced a second grader to spend a considerable amount of time on her knees in the classroom.  In fact, the district’s investigation produced written statements to the effect that Ms. Silva had “made all of the students stand and kneel all day.”

You would think that would be sufficient to justify the termination of a substitute teacher without much hoo hah.  But this is America, where anyone can sue anyone over anything for any amount at any time. Sure, the district prevailed in the lawsuit, but look at the effort it took.   The magistrate judge wrote an opinion that runs for more than 12 pages, accompanied by 214 footnotes.  214!!

The magistrate judge concluded that Ms. Silva may have been offended, and perhaps she even had reason to feel offended. But there was nothing in the case to indicate that she was treated rudely because of her age, national origin or race.  Often in a case like this, the court will allow the plaintiff to amend the pleadings to state things in a better way. But not in this case.  The plaintiff had exhausted the judge’s patience:

The court finds that Plaintiff has engaged in a pattern of contumacious and obstructionist behavior that has prejudiced Defendants’ ability to defend this lawsuit and has multiplied their legal expenses.  Plaintiff’s willful misconduct began prior to her non-attendance at the scheduled deposition date and continues to this date. The court find that its efforts to accommodate Plaintiff, to explain the legal process to her, and to warn her of the consequences of her failure to obey court orders have been utterly unsuccessful.  The more effort expended by the court and Defendants, the more Plaintiff became disruptive and disengaged. Therefore, the court finds no lesser sanction to be better suited.

Plaintiff’s entire lawsuit should be dismissed on this basis.

The case of Silva v. Spring Branch ISD was decided by the federal court for the Southern District of Texas on March 1, 2017.  The judge’s order can be found at 2017 WL 823584, approving and adopting a Recommendation from the magistrate that is at 2017 WL 818593.


 File this one under: LIABILITY

Tomorrow: Toolbox Tuesday!!