Please E-mail suggested additions, comments and/or corrections to Kent@MoreLaw.Com.

Help support the publication of case reports on MoreLaw

Date: 05-05-2023

Case Style:

Amy Rae v. Woburn Public Schools

Case Number: 1:22-cv-11961

Judge: Allison D. Burroughs

Court: United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts (Suffolk, County)

Plaintiff's Attorney:

Click Here For The Best Boston Civil Rights Lawyer Directory

Defendant's Attorney: Alexandra Milan Gill, Douglas I. Louison, Joseph Anthony Mongiardo

Description: Boston, Massachusetts civil rights lawyer represented Plaintiff who sued Defendants on Americans with Disabilities Act violation theories.

Plaintiff Amy Rae filed suit against Defendants Woburn Public Schools, the City of Woburn, Superintendent Matthew Crowley, and Principal Carl Nelson (collectively, “Defendants”) bringing counts for retaliatory harassment pursuant to the Rehabilitation Act (Count I) and under the Americans with Disabilities Act (Count II), violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151B (Count III), and intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count IV). Before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint.

A. Factual Allegations[2]

The following relevant facts are taken primarily from the complaint, which the Court assumes to be true when considering a motion to dismiss. Ruivo v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 766 F.3d 87, 90 (1st Cir. 2014).

Plaintiff claims that in the course of her employment as a nurse in the Woburn Public Schools she “has been the subject of an ongoing campaign of bullying, harassment, intimidation and retaliation because she advocated for disabled students with special education needs and because she spoke out about major deficiencies in the special education program.” [ECF No. 1 (“Compl.”) ¶ 8]. The “main aggressor” was Defendant Nelson, who is the Principal of Kennedy Middle School, where Plaintiff works. [Id. ¶¶ 5, 11, 10].

Plaintiff has been with the Woburn Public Schools (“WPS”) since 2005. [Compl. ¶ 11]. In October 2011, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (“DESE”) Executive Office of Health and Human Services published guidelines for Massachusetts school districts on managing students with diabetes and “encouraged all schools to create policies in accordance with the guidelines.” [Id. ¶ 12]. Plaintiff “realized that WPS lacked a comprehensive policy and began advocating for the implementation of a diabetes policy.” [Id.]. In response, Nelson insisted that students with disabilities “should not be treated any differently than other students” or receive accommodations or services related to their conditions. [Id.]. Nelson referred to diabetic students as “lazy,” and “complained that they used their medical condition to get out of work.” [Id. ¶ 13]. Additionally, he often “refused to [sic] students' Section 504 plan, which denied students of needed services.” [Id.].

Plaintiff “began speaking out to members of the administration” about her belief that student needs were not being met. [Compl. ¶ 14]. Nelson then “started harassing [her] in an attempt to discourage her advocacy.” [Id. ¶ 15]. This harassment included Nelson standing over Plaintiff when she sat at her desk, yelling and demeaning her. [Id.]. On one occasion, when Plaintiff asked Nelson about annual staff training on EpiPen administration and diabetes management, Nelson had “an explosive reaction” which included him yelling and berating her. [Id. ¶ 16]. Nelson further “tried to intimidate her into discontinuing these necessary trainings.” [Id.]. In addition, one special education teacher told Plaintiff that she should “beware” because Nelson “has it sort of . . . in for you.” [Id. ¶ 17].

Also in 2011, when WPS had an “unusually large number of students with diabetes but no official diabetes policy, Plaintiff asked Nurse Leader Marcia Skeffington to hire additional staff. [Compl. ¶ 18]. No additional staff member was hired and Skeffington “mocked” and “scolded” Plaintiff for “rocking the boat” by asking for more money. [Id.]. Nelson and Crowley knew about Skeffington's comments.

Skeffington, at some point, told Nelson that Plaintiff had erred in one of the reports she prepared. Skeffington knew it was “only a scrivener's error” but, because Skeffington reported the error to Nelson, Nelson disciplined Plaintiff for it. [Compl. ¶ 20]. In December 2011, Plaintiff contacted her union president about a grievance, which the union tried, but failed, to resolve. [Id. ¶ 21].

Plaintiff alleges that “[t]he bullying continued,” which prompted her to contact Superintendent Mark Donovan on March 17, 2012 for help. [Compl. ¶ 22]. Donovan “sided against the disciplinary action,” but nothing changed with the bullying. [Id.].

In May 2012, the union president drafted a proposed agreement to be signed by Plaintiff and the administration “to put an end to the bullying,” but Donovan never signed it. [Compl. ¶ 23]. In August 2012, Plaintiff hired an attorney who began corresponding with the administration to seek a resolution, but again, nothing changed and Skeffington and Nelson “continued to harass and berate” Plaintiff. [Id. ¶¶ 24-25].

During November and December 2012, an issue arose involving a diabetic student who refused “to cooperate in self-care.” [Compl. ¶ 26]. Plaintiff tried to help the student but was “thwarted by [] Nelson.” [Id.]. “Instead of allowing [Plaintiff] to handle the medical situation, [] Nelson retaliated against the student by filing a complaint against the student's family with the Department of Child Welfare . . . .” [Id.]. The child's parents thought Plaintiff had filed the complaint, and responded by “verbally attacking her.” [Id. ¶ 27]. Nelson did not defend Plaintiff or “t[ake] responsibility for his actions.” [Id.]. This caused Plaintiff “extreme distress” because, in her view, she was being used as a “fall guy” for the district's “misdeeds.” [Id.]. At that time, Plaintiff “went back to her attorney but was so distraught and feared further retaliation” that she instructed the attorney not to take further action. [Id. ¶ 28]. A month or two later, in February 2013, after the bullying got worse, Plaintiff changed her mind and told her attorney to re-engage with the district. [Id. ¶ 29].

Also in February 2013, a diabetic student was struggling to manage his condition and Nelson made the student “sit in the guidance office unsupervised for four weeks as the district decided about a new placement for the student.” [Compl. ¶ 30]. Plaintiff, who was concerned that the student's rights were being violated, as he had refused tutoring and was therefore not receiving an appropriate education, contacted the chair of the special education department, which angered Nelson, “and his harassment intensified.” [Id.]. Nelson thereafter required the student to be accompanied by a special education paraprofessional when he went to the nurse's office. [Id. ¶ 32]. The paraprofessionals resented having to accompany the student and took this frustration out on Plaintiff, yelling at her and complaining that she was causing them to miss their lunch time. [Id.]. Nelson never stopped the harassment. [Id.].

At some point between February and April 2013, Plaintiff contacted Ann Sheetz, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Director of School Health Services to report that Nelson was “refusing to add additional medical related services for diabetic students” who could not control their conditions. [Compl. ¶ 33]. Sheetz told Plaintiff that WPS was “failing in its standard of care for students with advanced medical needs . . . .” [Id. ¶ 34]. In response, Plaintiff “sent a formal request to the administration for additional nursing hours to be assigned to assist her with the care, education, and medical tasks needed to care for students with special medical needs.” [Id. ¶ 35].

On April 1, 2013, Plaintiff attended a meeting with Nelson and her union president, regarding her “current working conditions” where she was berated and dismissed. [Compl. ¶ 36]. She was not allowed to have legal counsel present. [Id.]. Afterwards, Superintendent Donovan reprimanded her via email. [Id. ¶ 37].

Plaintiff told her primary care physician, Dr. Dickenson, that Nelson's actions were intimidating and causing her anxiety and that she was having bouts of depression and not sleeping well. [Compl. ¶ 38]. He recommended that she see a social worker to help her address her “internal struggles with workplace hostility.” [Id.]. He also wrote a letter to the administration expressing concern about Plaintiff having health problems as a result of working in a hostile environment. [Id.]. According to Plaintiff, the administration dismissed the letter. [Id.].

At a later point in either 2014 or early 2015, Nelson “purposefully mischaracterized two school-sponsored field trips as not being sponsored by the school so he could deny medically disabled students access to these field trips.” [Compl. ¶ 42]. He was overheard by a fellow teacher saying that he had “pulled a fast one” and did not have to provide a “useless nurse” on the field trip. [Id. ¶ 43]. He also was overheard telling jokes about Plaintiff, “insinuating she was excessively vigilant and rigid about student safety.” [Id. ¶ 44]. Upon hearing this, Plaintiff was “outraged” and filed a formal complaint with the nurse leader and the union. [Id. ¶ 45]. In the complaint she alleged that Nelson was “abusing his power and overriding her medical decisions.” [Id.]. Her concerns were again not acted on and “the bullying and hostile work environment continued unabated.” [Id. ¶ 47].

On October 5, 2015, Plaintiff sent a letter to the union titled “No More Bullying I Want a Transfer,” but she was not transferred. [Compl. ¶¶ 52-53]. Thereafter, she became distraught and started to have anxiety episodes during the day. [Id. ¶ 54].

During the summer of 2016, Plaintiff applied for an open Nurse Leader position, but was not selected for the position. [Compl. ¶ 55]. After she was passed over for this job, Nelson's behavior escalated in that he would get angry more quickly. [Id. ¶ 56]. He berated Plaintiff in front of other staff, entered her office unannounced, and stood over her and yelled, all of which frightened Plaintiff. [Id. ¶¶ 56-57].

At a later point in 2016, Plaintiff told Nelson that she planned to send an email to parents who had not satisfied their children's vaccination requirements to inform them of their obligation to have their children vaccinated. [Compl. ¶ 60]. Nelson refused to send the email, but Plaintiff nonetheless took it upon herself to draft and send the email. [Id. ¶ 61]. In response, Nelson sent Plaintiff an email scheduling a meeting for September 8, 2016. [Id. ¶ 63]. Around this same time, Plaintiff filed a complaint about the continuing lack of an official diabetes policy. [Id. ¶ 62]. Upon receiving Nelson's email about the meeting, Plaintiff reached out to the union about filing a grievance regarding the meeting, even before it occurred. [Id. ¶¶ 65-66].

On October 7, 2016, Plaintiff was formally disciplined for sending the vaccine email to parents and suspended by Nelson for a day without pay. [Compl. ¶ 68]. Later in October, Nelson sent “an almost identical letter” regarding vaccination requirements to parents.” [Id. ¶ 71].

Following the suspension, Plaintiff was “increasingly afraid” of Nelson, and began experiencing emotional distress and continued having trouble sleeping. [Compl. ¶ 74]. She again reached out to the union for help, which offered emotional support. [Id. ¶ 76]. In or around the week of October 20, 2016, she contacted union grievance officer, Brian Gilbertie, and the Massachusetts Teacher's Association (“MTA”) to complain about the discipline she had received. [Id. ¶ 77]. In an email from Gilbertie to the MTA, he stated that he believed that Plaintiff's suspension was unfair. [Id.]. The MTA confirmed that Nelson had violated Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 42D by not allowing Plaintiff to have legal counsel before the decision was implemented. [Id. ¶ 78]. Plaintiff then sent Nelson a “formal rebuttal letter” on October 29, 2016, which was ignored. [Id. ¶ 79].

The situation continued to deteriorate, and on March 29, 2017, union leaders and Plaintiff requested a meeting with school committee member Joe Demers and newly appointed Superintendent Matthew Crowley to discuss the situation. [Compl. ¶ 80]. During the meeting, held on April 4, 2017, Plaintiff “provided her 2016 formal complaint,” noted the district's ongoing “failure to fund nursing services for diabetic students” and voiced her opinion that the
students were being denied a free and appropriate public education (“FAPE”). [Id. ¶ 81]. Nothing came of the meeting. [Id.].

In April 2017, Nelson “belittled” her during an Individualized Education Plan (“IEP”) meeting in front of a special education staff member after she requested protections and helped draft the IEP for a student with chronic health issues. [Compl. ¶ 83].

On June 2, 2017, Plaintiff filed a grievance with the union regarding her concerns about how she had been treated, but nothing came of it. [Compl. ¶ 86]. On June 4, 2017, Nelson again “belittled” Plaintiff, this time in front of a student. [Id. ¶ 87].

Over a year later, on September 8, 2018, Plaintiff sent two letters to school committee member Demers describing all she had been through, but Demers failed to take action for several months until, on December 28, 2018, he emailed Plaintiff that the district had hired a human resources director and that Plaintiff could file a complaint with them. [Compl. ¶¶ 89-90]. Plaintiff “was not convinced that the HR office could help her” and retained another lawyer to represent her in July 2019. [Id. ¶ 91].

On September 17, 2019, after a woman picking up a student “became abusive” with Plaintiff, she called Nelson “to defuse the situation,” [Compl. ¶ 92], but he allowed the woman to continue to “berate” Plaintiff and also verbally “attack[ed]” her himself. [Id. ¶¶ 94-95].

Weeks later, Nelson again berated Plaintiff and “falsely accused [her] of having stolen a sweatshirt that she had given to a student.” [Compl. ¶ 97]. The incident caused Plaintiff “great distress . . . .” [Id.].

In November 2019,[3] Plaintiff filed a formal complaint with the HR department. [Compl. ¶ 98]. On the same day that Plaintiff was scheduled to meet with the HR Director, Nelson summoned her to a disciplinary hearing about an unrelated parent complaint. [Id. ¶ 99]. Nelson ultimately canceled the hearing but the experience nonetheless caused Plaintiff distress and “placed her in a constant state of fear that she could face discipline on a whim, with no justification.” [Id. ¶ 101].

With regard to the HR complaint, Plaintiff requested that the investigator be someone with “no local ties” so that they would be “unbiased” and someone to whom she could “speak freely ....” [Compl. ¶ 102]. The district said that were looking for an external investigator, but instead hired Kate Clark, an attorney from a Boston law firm, who was already serving as legal counsel to the district. [Id. ¶ 104]. Plaintiff alleges that Clark conducted a “sham investigation” and “did not allow Plaintiff to present evidence or witnesses in her defense.” [Id. ¶ 105]. The investigation determined that Plaintiff's claims could not be substantiated. [Id. ¶ 106]. Plaintiff requested a copy of the report, but was never provided it. [Id. ¶ 107].

In June 2020,[4] after the school district closed in March because of Covid, Plaintiff and the union president reached out to the HR director to request a meeting regarding the investigation into Plaintiff's complaint. [Compl. ¶ 109]. The meeting with the HR director did not resolve the situation, so the union president drafted a letter to Superintendent Crowley expressing the union's concerns about the investigation. [Id. ¶ 110].

Between March and June 2021, Plaintiff and the union “worked toward a partial resolution,” with the union drafting a letter to Crowley and the assistant superintendent that included an agreement that Plaintiff would no longer have to report to Nelson and that Assistant Principal Kevin Battle would be her “primary evaluator[.]” [Compl. ¶ 113; ECF No. 1-1 at 80]. Crowley refused to sign the agreement, but said that he “agree[d] with [her] primary evaluator being switched to Mr. Kevin Battle[,]” but that he “c[ould not] agree to the other terms that you listed in your draft agreement.” [ECF No. 1-1 at 80]. The computer program used for the review process documented that Nelson participated in Plaintiff's yearly review. [Compl. ¶ 115].

Approximately a year later, on April 10, 2022, Plaintiff filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (“MCAD”), which named Crowley and Nelson as responsible for retaliation and a hostile work environment. [Compl. ¶ 116].

On May 11, 2022, Nelson asked Plaintiff to attend a meeting with him on May 16, 2022 “to discuss a student's t-shirt.” [Compl ¶ 117; ECF No. 1-1 at 84]. Plaintiff had union president Barbara Locke accompany her to the meeting. [Compl. ¶ 119]. The meeting concerned a student who “needed a replacement t-shirt” and had taken one from the donation pile in the nurse's office that bore a reference to alcohol. [Id. ¶¶ 120-21]. Nelson blamed Plaintiff for the incident, but no discipline resulted. [Id. ¶¶ 123-24].

On September 28, 2022, Plaintiff went to her car to search for her inhaler and left a note on her door stating she would be right back. [Compl. ¶ 130]. She could not find the inhaler, and stayed in the car, trying to figure out how to get one. [Id. ¶ 131]. When she tried to re-enter the school, her ID card would not work, leaving her effectively locked out, which required her to use her cell phone to call the front desk to regain entry. [Id. ¶ 132]. While she was out of the building, Nelson “paged Plaintiff seven times over the school's internal public address system,” which Plaintiff did not hear because she was outside. [Id. ¶ 133]. When Plaintiff got back inside, Nelson met her with a “very angry response” and asked her why she did not respond to the pages. [Id. ¶ 135]. Although she explained the situation, he nonetheless berated her in front of her colleagues at the front desk. [Id.]. Because Nelson had paged her so many times, throughout the day, other employees asked her what had happened, which caused Plaintiff to feel that she had to tell them that she had a medical problem and was trying to get her inhaler. [Id. ¶ 137].

Nelson later “summoned [Plaintiff] to a disciplinary hearing and advised her to have union representation.” [Compl. ¶ 138]. The hearing took place on October 5, 2022, and was attended, among others, union representatives, Assistant Principal Kevin Battle, Plaintiff, and Nelson. [Id. ¶ 139]. Nelson scolded Plaintiff and asked her why she took so long outside the building. [Id. ¶ 140]. During the meeting, Nelson “angrily raised his voice,” “repeatedly interrupted Plaintiff,” and, at one point, said “I don't want to be in a room with you.” [Id. ¶ 141]. Nelson also read aloud a “confidential email” Plaintiff had sent to him explaining what had happened, her medical issue, “and the severe emotional distress his actions had caused her.” [Id. ¶ 142].

"The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. The law applies to all public and private places that are open to the general public, including businesses, schools, and government agencies. The ADA also applies to transportation, telecommunications, and all other areas of public life.

The ADA was passed in 1990 and has been amended several times since then. The most recent amendments were made in 2008. The ADA has made a significant difference in the lives of people with disabilities. It has helped to ensure that people with disabilities have access to the same opportunities as everyone else.

The ADA is enforced by the U.S. Department of Justice. If you believe that you have been discriminated against because of a disability, you can file a complaint with the Department of Justice. You can also file a complaint with your state or local civil rights agency.

The ADA is a complex law, but it is important to understand your rights if you have a disability. The law can help you to live a full and independent life.

Here are some specific examples of how the ADA can help people with disabilities:

The ADA requires businesses to provide accessible entrances and restrooms for people with disabilities.
The ADA requires schools to provide accommodations for students with disabilities, such as sign language interpreters or wheelchair ramps.
The ADA requires government agencies to provide accessible services to people with disabilities, such as Braille voting ballots or accessible websites.

The ADA has made a real difference in the lives of people with disabilities. It has helped to ensure that people with disabilities have access to the same opportunities as everyone else. If you have a disability, you should know your rights under the ADA."
Google Bard

Outcome: Defendants' motion to dismiss is GRANTED.

\05/12/2023 38 Certified and Transmitted Abbreviated Electronic Record on Appeal to US Court of Appeals re 36 Notice of Appeal. (Paine, Matthew) (Entered: 05/12/2023)
05/12/2023 39 USCA Case Number 23-1432 for 36 Notice of Appeal, filed by Amy Rae. (Paine, Matthew) (Entered: 05/12/2023)

Plaintiff's Experts:

Defendant's Experts:


Find a Lawyer


Find a Case