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Szajner v. Rochester Public Schools

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

February 13, 2015

Janet Szajner, Plaintiff,
Rochester Public Schools, Independent School District #535, a Minnesota Municipality; and Judy McDonald, an individual, Defendants.

Mark G. Stephenson, Esq., Stephenson & Sutcliffe, PA, attorney for Plaintiff.

John P. Edison, Esq., and Scott T. Anderson, Esq., Rupp, Anderson, Squires & Waldspurger, attorneys for Defendants.


DONOVAN W. FRANK, District Judge.


This matter is before the Court on Defendants Rochester Public Schools, Independent School District #535 ("the District"), and Judy McDonald's ("McDonald") (together, "Defendants") Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 12.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendants' Motion.


I. Plaintiff's Employment

Plaintiff Janet Szajner ("Szajner" or "Plaintiff") began working for the District in 1990 as a "Teens N Topics" coordinator for the Community Education program. (Doc. No. 25 ("Szajner Aff.") ¶ 2; Doc. No. 15 ("Bass Aff.") ¶ 8, Ex. 1.) Plaintiff's "Teens N Topics Coordinator" position later became known as a "Youth Enrichment Coordinator" position (both referred to here as "Coordinator"). ( See Szajner Aff. ¶ 15, Ex. G.) Plaintiff's work with Community Education evolved over time, but her primary responsibilities involved coordinating and planning Community Education classes, trips, enrichment programs, and other activities for youth living in the Rochester area. ( See Doc. No. 17 ("Edison Aff.") ¶ 7, Ex. 63 ("Szajner Dep.") at 15; see also Szajner Aff. ¶¶ 26, 27, Ex. L (detailing the duties associated with the Coordinator position in 1997).) The Coordinator duties included acting as the District's Summer of Service ("SOS") coordinator. ( See Szajner Dep. at 66, 71.) Plaintiff's SOS duties included "setting up service projects, ... hiring staff, training staff, supervising staff, coordinating all aspects of it" and "managing operations or issues that came up." (Id. at 67-68.) The program ran at Century High School between the 7:30 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. and from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and the SOS students were generally off-site. (Doc. No. 20 ("Fredin Aff.") ¶¶ 3, 17, Ex. 49 at 10; Szajner Aff. ¶ 26.)

In 1992, Plaintiff signed an agreement entitled "Individual Employment Agreement Nonlicensed Administrative Position, " for the Coordinator position ("1992 Agreement"). (Szajner Aff. ¶ 3, Ex. A.) The 1992 Agreement includes provisions relating to the following: (1) the number of days to be worked ("167... duty days per fiscal year for the duration of this Agreement"); (2) the fixed duration of the agreement ("a fixed term of employment commencing on the 1st day of July, 1992, and ending on June 30, 1993, without further notice to either party or any right for continued employment thereafter"); (3) renewal ("The District and the Employee many renew or renegotiate an Individual Employment Agreement for a period following the duration of this Agreement by mutual consent."); and (4) compensation and personnel policies (compensation and personnel policies to be "in accordance with the Statement of Understanding for Off-Schedule employees" and listing the salary for the 1992 to 1993 period). (Id. ) Each year, until 2011, Plaintiff continued working in the Coordinator position; Plaintiff understood her position to be renewed each year on July 1. (Szajner Aff. ¶¶ 12, 14-16.) Generally, the salary was adjusted either annually or biannually, and Plaintiff signed updated salary "worksheets" when the salary changed. ( See id. ¶¶ 10, 15, Exs. B-G.)

Plaintiff's position was an hourly, time-sheeted position until 2003 when she became an "Off-Schedule" salaried employee. (Bass Aff. ¶¶ 4, 9, Ex. 2.) The terms and conditions of employment for "Off-Schedule" employees are outlined in a "Statement of Understanding" ("SOU") that is generally issued every two years. ( See Bass Aff. ¶¶ 2, 10, 11, Exs. 3, 4.) Off-Schedule employee salaries are based on the salary schedule attached to the SOU. ( See id. ¶ 11, Ex. 4.) In 2011, the governing SOU was effective from July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2012 (the "2010-11 SOU"). ( See id. )

As an "Off-Schedule" employee, Plaintiff generally worked on a 7.5 hour per day, 192 day-per-year basis, with the annual work year starting on July 1 and ending on June 30. ( See, e.g., id. ) As Coordinator, Plaintiff did not have set hours and did not formally report her hours; instead, she typically set her schedule annually with her supervisor and made sure to meet the required hours for the year. ( See Szajner Aff. ¶ 11; Fredin Aff. ¶ 10; see also Szajner Dep. at 92.) As Coordinator, Plaintiff was allowed to "flex" her hours to reflect the additional time worked outside of the workday and accommodate scheduling needs. (Fredin Aff. ¶ 8; Doc. No. 18 ("Novotny Aff.") ¶ 7; Doc. No. 19 ("Holm Aff.") ¶ 9.)

For a period, the District allowed Plaintiff, and other employees, to work beyond the hours permitted for her "Off-Schedule" position and to report the additional hours on a time sheet. (Fredin Aff. ¶ 12.) In 2009, the District informed Plaintiff that she could no longer work additional hours for the Coordinator position. (Id. ¶¶ 12-13, Ex. 45.) Plaintiff indicated that she would have to pursue a second job. (Bass Aff. ¶ 41, Ex. 34 at Attach. 14; Fredin Aff. ¶ 15, Ex. 47.) Plaintiff's direct supervisor, Melissa Fredin ("Fredin") responded that Plaintiff was "welcome to get another job of course, none of my business." (Fredin Aff. ¶ 15, Ex. 47.)

In February 2011, in addition to her Coordinator duties, Szajner accepted two part-time positions (0.4 full-time equivalent ("FTE") total) at John Adams Middle School ("JAMS") teaching two to three days a week from February 2011 to early June 2011. (Bass Aff. ¶¶ 14-15, Exs. 7, 8; Fredin Aff. ¶ 16, Ex. 48.) Fredin did not object to Plaintiff taking another position within the District. ( See Fredin Aff. ¶ 16, Ex. 48.)

II. Plaintiff's Summer 2011 Employment

In July 2011, Szajner testifies that she told Fredin she planned to complete forty internship hours for a master's program by teaching summer school. (Szajner Dep. at 83-84.) On April 13, 2011, Plaintiff e-mailed Fredin her tentative calendar for the upcoming year, and, in that e-mail, Plaintiff stated that she would need to do field work in July in the mornings while the SOS students were out at sites. (Bass Aff. ¶¶ 18, Ex. 11.) Plaintiff testified that she had three or four discussions with Fredin about having multiple positions and about her schedule for the summer; Plaintiff states that she obtained Fredin's verbal approval to do so. (Szajner Dep. at 84-86.)

Between July 5, 2011 and July 28, 2011, Plaintiff taught summer school on Monday through Thursday from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. ( See Bass Aff. ¶ 16, Ex. 9.) Plaintiff testified that she performed her SOS and other Community Education duties after hours to make up for the time she spent teaching summer school. (Szajner Dep. at 96-99; Szajner Aff. ¶ 28.) Plaintiff states that no one complained or expressed concern that her work as Coordinator for the SOS program was not getting done. ( See Szajner Aff. ¶ 28; see also Bass Aff. ¶ 41, Ex. 34.)

At an August 2011 Community Education coordinators meeting, Kerry Novotny, a Youth Enrichment Coordinator, told Silver, Executive Director of Community Education, and Fredin that Szajner was being paid to work two District jobs at the same time. (Novotny Aff. ¶ 3; Doc. No. 16 ("Silver Aff.") ¶ 7; Fredin Aff. ¶ 6.) Silver then notified McDonald, Executive Director of Human Resources for the District, about Plaintiff's two positions. (Silver Aff. ¶ 9.) Silver and Fredin state that Szajner never sought their approval to work both jobs. ( See Silver Aff. ¶¶ 6-7; see also Fredin Aff. ¶ 19, Ex. 51.)

III. Plaintiff's 2011-12 Proposed Employment

On August 4, 2011, Plaintiff e-mailed Fredin with a proposal to reduce her Community Education hours in order to teach twenty-four hours a week (0.6 FTE) at JAMS during the 2011-12 school year. (Fredin Aff. ¶ 20, Ex. 52.) In August 2011, Silver e-mailed a response proposal to Plaintiff that provided that Plaintiff could teach at JAMS and work limited hours as a part-time, hourly employee at Community Education. (Id. ¶ 21, Ex. 53; see also id. ¶ 22, Ex. 54.) Plaintiff would be required to report her Community Education hours on a time sheet under this proposal. ( See id. ) In September, Silver and Fredin discussed this proposal further with Plaintiff. ( See Silver Aff. ¶¶ 11-17.) On September 14, 2011, Tammy Barrett, from Human Resources, e-mailed Plaintiff informing Plaintiff that she needed a final decision on the proposal, which required Plaintiff to resign from her Coordinator position with Community Education; Plaintiff could not keep both positions as they were. (Bass Aff. ¶ 22, Ex. 15; Edison Aff. ¶ 11, Ex. 67 ("McDonald Dep.") at 65-68.) Plaintiff responded: "I will definitely be continuing at John Adams and working part-time on a time card at [Community Education]." (Bass Aff. ¶ 22, Ex. 15.)

Plaintiff accepted the 0.6 FT teaching position at JAMS on August 26, 2011. (Bass Aff. ¶ 20, Ex. 13.) The arrangement for continuing Community Education work was not finalized at this time. ( See Szajner Dep. at 114.) Plaintiff began reporting her Community Education hours on a time sheet in September 2011. (Bass Aff. ¶ 21, Ex. 14.)

On September 15, 2011, Silver and Fredin again met with Plaintiff to discuss her Community Education employment. ( See Edison Aff. ¶ 3, Ex. 59.) When discussing the arrangements, Plaintiff stated that she worked 221 hours in July and August 2011, but did not tell Silver or Fredin at this time that she had worked as a teacher during the summer or that she was not always present at the SOS program between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. ( See id. at 7-8, 11.)

On September 17, 2011, Plaintiff followed-up on the meeting by e-mailing McDonald; in her e-mail, Plaintiff discussed being able to teach without resigning from the Community Education position. (Bass Aff. ¶ 23, Ex. 16.) Silver and McDonald set up a meeting to discuss Plaintiff's employment issues. ( See id. )

IV. Plaintiff's Termination

On September 21, 2011, Plaintiff met with McDonald and Silver to discuss possible avenues for Plaintiff to continue to work for Community Education. (Edison Aff. ¶ 5, Ex. 61 at 14.) During this meeting, Plaintiff mentioned that she had taught summer school in July 2011. (Id. at 14.) Upon hearing this, McDonald called for a break in the meeting. (Id. at 15.) When the meeting resumed, McDonald notified Plaintiff that she was the subject of allegations related to claiming payment for working two District jobs at the same time; McDonald then began to interview Plaintiff as part of a formal investigation. ( See generally id. ) At the conclusion of that meeting, McDonald placed Plaintiff on paid administrative leave ...

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