Administrator Failed To Show Termination Was Result Of Reverse Sex Discrimination

CATEGORY: Private Education Matters
CLIENT TYPE: Private Education
DATE: Apr 28, 2023

The Orchard School is a non-profit and independent school in Indianapolis, Indiana. James Napier was hired by the School as a middle school teacher in 1996. Napier left for other employment in 2003 and returned to the School in 2016, taking the position of Middle School Director. As the Middle School Director, Napier supervised middle school teachers and the Middle School Coordinator.

Napier alleges that prior to his re-hiring, the Middle School Coordinator told him there was an internal debate over whether to re-hire him because he was one more white male coming into the School. Prior to 2018, the entire Senior Administration Team was made up of white males, and allegedly during Senior Administration Team meetings with the previous Head of School, the group occasionally expressed that there were too many white males in senior leadership positions. In mid-2017, the previous Head of School was notified that his contract would not be extended and the School undertook a search for the new Head of School. During this time, there were conversations about hiring a female head of school to increase diversity. Board members confirmed that the “white male issue” was discussed when searching for a new Head of School. In July 2018, Dr. Sherri Helvie became the Head of School.

After Dr. Helvie was hired as the new Head of School, Napier’s position and job responsibilities remained the same, but he was shifted from the Senior Administrative Team to the Academic Leadership Team. Napier perceived this shift as a demotion since he was no longer “in the know” on school decisions and had less access to the Head of School.

In October 2018, the School was informed that a Middle School English teacher intended to retire at the end of the school year. Napier began focusing on hiring to replace her and specifically sought to hire a teacher then employed by another school. Napier discussed this candidate with Dr. Helvie, and Dr. Helvie instructed Napier to not post the position until she had a chance to speak with the head of the other school. After some time, Napier did not hear from Dr. Helvie one way or another and posted the vacancy. Upon learning of this, Dr. Helvie instructed for the post to be taken down.

Early in Dr. Helvie’s tenure as Head of School, she also undertook discussions with Napier regarding the Middle School Coordinator position and the Early Childhood/Elementary School Coordinator position. Dr. Helvie was reviewing these positions for possible elimination. Napier told the Middle School Coordinator that her job may be in jeopardy, despite Dr. Helvie’s instruction that their meetings on the topic remain confidential.

In March 2019, Napier was informed that his contract would not be renewed because Dr. Helvie had lost trust in him. Napier sued the School in August 2019 for sex discrimination. In December 2019, Napier filed a new application to return to his prior Middle School Director position. After that application was rejected, Napier filed a second lawsuit, alleging he was retaliated against for engaging in protected activity. The School moved for summary judgment.

To survive summary judgment in a reverse discrimination case, Napier must establish the following four elements to constitute a prima facie case: (1) background circumstances that demonstrate that a particular employer has reason or inclination to discriminate invidiously against men or evidence that there is something “fishy” about the facts at hand; (2) he was performing his job up to his employer’s legitimate expectations; (3) he suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) he was treated less favorably than similarly-situated individuals who are not men. If Napier establishes a case, the School then must show that the explanation was pretextual.

The Court concluded that Napier provided no evidence to show that Napier’s termination was a “fishy” circumstance. He was fired nine months after Dr. Helvie was hired, which is too remote to be suspicious since she had sufficient time to work with and interact with Napier. Napier failed to provide evidence of reductions in job responsibilities for positions occupied by males at the School. Napier failed to show evidence that Dr. Helvie did not honestly believe her stated reasons for discharging Napier, namely his breach of her trust and confidence. Napier violated Dr. Helvie’s instructions when he posted the position and he failed to maintain the confidences she entrusted to him about the Coordinator positions. Finally, the Court concluded that Napier did not provide similarly situated individuals who were not men and treated more favorably than Napier.

The Court determined that Napier failed to establish a prima facie case of sex discrimination.

In regard to Napier’s retaliation claim, the Court concluded that there was a great deal of evidence supporting the decision to not rehire Napier, in particular, that Napier had previously held the same position and had been let go because he did not perform up to the level expected by Dr. Helvie.

The Court granted summary judgment for the School and dismissed the case.

Napier v. Orchard School Foundation (S.D. Ind., Mar. 7, 2023) 2023 WL 2388715.

Note: Although this employee felt the School was taking steps to eliminate white men from working at the School, this was not enough to establish that his termination was due to his sex, as the School was able to provide evidence to support the reasons for his termination, such as the Head of School’s loss of trust in the employee.

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