Judge rules against former SM East teacher who said she was transferred to SM West based on race

A federal judge on Wednesday ordered summary judgement in a case brought by former Shawnee Mission School District science teacher Rubye Davis, who said she was going to be transferred from SM East to SM West because she was black.

Rubye Davis filed the suit in 2015 after the district attempted to transfer her from SM East, where she had taught biology, human anatomy and physiology for eight years, to SM West. Davis, who is black, said she believed she was being transferred from SM East, which was 87 percent white during the 2015-16 school year, to SM West, which was 56 percent white during the 2015-16 school year, because white teachers did not want to work at the school.

When filed, the case named the district itself as the sole defendant, but former SM East principal John McKinney, who moved into a central administration role this year, and human resources official Ginny Lyon were later named as defendants in their capacity as individuals as well.

The case had initially been set to go to trail in federal court in May 2017, but was postponed multiple times. The most recent court calendar had opening statements in a planned five-day trial scheduled for Sept. 4. But judge Katherine Vratil on Wednesday issued a response to the defendants’ motion for summary judgement, essentially dismissing the case against the district as well as McKinney and Lyon.

Davis’s attorney, Charles Scott, Jr., said Thursday that he and his client were “disappointed” by Vratil’s decision, but that he had not had time to fully analyze the ruling.

In its pre-trial motions, the district had argued that it was transferring Davis to SM West because of a policy to place teachers who have coaching roles at the schools where they coach. Heidi Delaney, who had taught at SM West for two years, was reassigned to SM East for the 2015-16 school year and took Davis’s place in the science department. Delaney, the wife of former SM East football coach Dustin Delaney, served as an assistant basketball and track and field coach at SM East. Both Delaneys left SM East at the end of last school year to move to Colorado, where Dustin is coach at Eaglecrest High School in Centennial.

If she had accepted the transfer to SM West, Davis would have been assigned to teach more basic science classes than she had at SM East. Davis ended up resigning ahead of the 2015-16 school year instead of accepting the transfer.

“In plaintiff’s view, the reassignment was tantamount to reassigning a calculus teacher to teach basic math,” noted Vratil in her ruling this week. “…Plaintiff did not want to transfer to SMW because she wanted to continue to teach Anatomy/Physiology as she had for the past eight years at SME…In addition, due to documented disciplinary problems with students at SMW, plaintiff had a serious concern regarding whether she could teach effectively there.”

In her order for summary judgement, Vratil argues that for Davis’s claims of racial discrimination to be valid, she needed to demonstrate that a transfer from SM East to SM West was clearly understood by all involved as an “adverse employment action.” The judge said Davis and her attorney had not met that threshold.

“On this record, plaintiff has not shown that settled law clearly established that reassigning her to teach freshman biology at SMW constituted adverse employment action. Because the law did not establish ‘beyond debate’ that defendants’ actions were unlawful, McKinney and Lyon are entitled to qualified immunity on plaintiff’s claims,” Vratil wrote.

The district has not responded to a request for comment on the ruling.

Vratil’s full order is embedded below:

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