United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS'
MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, (DOC. 16)
COHN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
an employment retaliation case. Ambrose Wilbanks, Jr.
(Wilbanks), a former special needs teacher at Ypsilanti
Middle School, is suing the school district, Ypsilanti
Community Schools, for wrongful termination.
also names as defendants the school board-Ypsilanti Community
Schools Board of Education-and school officials. They are:
(1) Aaron Rose, Principal of Ypsilanti Middle School; (2) Dr.
Benjamin Edmondson, the district's Superintendent; and
(3) Donald Wood, the district's Human Resources Director.
says defendants retaliated against him for complaining to
Rose and others at Ypsilanti Middle School of the
school's failure to provide mandated services to students
with disabilities. He claims retaliation under the Americans
with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et
seq., and Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 701
say Wilbanks was terminated for twice using physical force
against students, PH and DH. Rose referred the incidents to
Wood for investigation. Wood recommended termination to the
school board. After a meeting, the board accepted the
recommendation and terminated Wilbanks.
have filed a motion for summary judgment, (Doc. 16), to which
Wilbanks responded, (Doc. 20), and defendants replied, (Doc.
to the statements of fact are (1) e-mails from Wilbanks to
officials at Ypsilanti Middle School and to the school board
president, (Doc. 20-1 at 25-32, 35-36; Doc. 17-6 at 7, 12);
(2) videos of the two incidents, (Doc. 17-9); (3) an
affidavit of Wilbanks, (Doc. 20-1 at 63-65); (4) disciplinary
records of PH and DH, (Doc. 20-1 at 20-24); (5) district
policies on use of force, (Doc. 20-1 at 62, 109-10); (6)
documentation of Wood's investigation and termination
charges, (Docs. 17-11 to 17-14); (7) the school board's
findings and decision, (Docs. 17-15, 17-17); and (8)
depositions of Wilbanks, Rose, Edmondson and Wood, (Docs.
17-3, 23-3 to 23-5).
Motion Hearing and Supplementation of the Record
14, 2017, the Court held a hearing on the motion after which
the parties supplemented the record relating to the school
board meeting, (Docs. 24, 25). The attached exhibits include,
• correspondence between Wilbanks's counsel and
school district counsel in advance of the school board
meeting, (Doc. 24 at 6-7, 11, 16-18);
• an affidavit of Wilbanks's counsel regarding the
meeting, (id. at 8-10);
• an affidavit of Wilbanks regarding the meeting,
(id. at 12-15);
• an affidavit of Wood regarding the meeting, (Doc.
• an affidavit of the school board president regarding
the meeting, (Doc. 25-5)
school district may not terminate a teacher because the
teacher advocates for pupils with disabilities. If school
officials recommend termination with this motivation, and
succeed, the school district may be liable even if the school
board which accepted the recommendation acted unwittingly.
After accusing the administration of failing to follow the
law, Wilbanks was seen on video twice using force against a
student. The school board terminated him at a meeting days
after a recommendation by Wood, who investigated the matter
on the report of Rose on the incident.
question to be answered is cannot one reasonably infer that
Wilbanks was terminated because of his complaints, and that
his use of force was a pretext for retaliation? The Court
finds the answer is no.
motion for summary judgment, (Doc. 16), is GRANTED and the
case is DISMISSED.
Hiring and Promotion
was hired by the district in 2007 as a teacher's aide. In
2013, he was promoted to special needs teacher in a classroom
at Ypsilanti Middle School. He did not have tenure.
Complaint to Administration
began the 2015-2016 year complaining to administration
regarding the services available to his pupils and the state
of his classroom.
e-mail from Wilbanks dated September 8, 2015 to his
supervisor, a special education administrator, and an
executive secretary, Wilbanks accused the school district of
failing to provide “appropriate” education for
pupils by removing them from general education settings, and
of ignoring individualized education programs (IEPs) which
called for aides to assist Wilbanks (there were none). (Doc.
20-1 at 27).Wilbanks asserted this was a
“violation of . . . federal law.” (Id.).
met the next day with the special education director, who
temporarily reassigned an aide from another classroom to
address Wilbanks's concerns. (Id. at 28).
Wilbanks followed up with an e-mail that day confirming the
meeting and adding Rose to the e-mail chain. In his e-mail,
Wilbanks reiterated the “absence of any
[aides]” in his classroom and that this conflicted with
“[a]ny cursory review of the number of students on
[his] caseload or the needs contained in the IEP's of
these children.” (Id.).
same day, Rose responded to Wilbanks: “This is good
news regarding [the reassigned aide] Thanks for advocating
for your programs and students I support your efforts and
will push whenever possible.” (Doc. 17-16 at 7).
Incident 1 (PH) - September 14, 2015
September 14, 2015, PH had been sent into the hallway from
his art classroom for being disruptive. Wilbanks saw PH
roaming the hallway unattended.
against school policy for students to wander a hallway
unattended. (Doc. 20-1 at 61). Policy permits teachers to use
reasonable force to “remove a student who refuses to
comply with a request to behave or report to the
office.” (Id. at 62).
video depicts PH shouting in the direction of Wilbanks, his
hands animated. PH turned and walked to the classroom door
where others had congregated. Wilbanks approached from
behind. PH turned and walked up to Wilbanks.
deposition, Rose described the events leading to the
encounter, based on his conversations with Wilbanks and PH
and after reviewing the video (see below), as, (Doc.
23-4 at 48-49),
“Mr. Wilbanks described PH's behavior as loud,
inappropriate for the hallway and the learning environment.
Disrespectful may have been a term that described his
behavior, certainly his response to Mr. Wilbanks asking him
to be quiet and quiet down. Basically just shrugged him off
and kept doing what he wanted to do and PH acknowledged that
and owned that.
Mr. Wilbanks followed him, asking his name, what he was
doing, that sort of thing. To my knowledge PH didn't
respond as he should have to the adult . . . and they had
video depicts PH trying to sidestep Wilbanks. In response,
Wilbanks moved his body to block PH from getting by. Every
time PH attempted, Wilbanks repositioned and blocked him. PH
bolted. Wilbanks grabbed PH by the torso as he ran. The
inertia of the two led PH to crash into the wall, where
Wilbanks cornered PH.
to Rose after the incident and told him Wilbanks “put
his hands on me.” (Id. at 48). In a written
statement prepared as he viewed the video afterward, ...