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Dwyer v. Kansas City Missouri School District

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Second Division

September 16, 2014

DAVID DWYER, Appellant,
v.
KANSAS CITY MISSOURI SCHOOL DISTRICT, Respondent

Page 705

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri. The Honorable Patrick William Campbell, Judge.

Martin Meyers, Kansas City, MO, Counsel for Appellant.

Leonard Stephens, Kansas City, MO, Co-Counsel for Appellant.

Lynn Hursh, Kansas City, MO, Counsel for Respondent.

Tyson Ketchum, Kansas City, MO, Co-Counsel for Respondent.

Shana Long, Kansas City, MO, Co-Counsel for Respondent.

Before: Victor C. Howard, P.J., James Edward Welsh, and Anthony Rex Gabbert, JJ. All concur.

OPINION

James Edward Welsh, Judge

Page 706

David Dwyer filed a lawsuit against the Kansas City Missouri School District for wrongful termination and age discrimination after being notified that his teaching position was being eliminated due to a " reduction in force." Dwyer appeals the circuit court's grant of a directed verdict for the District on the wrongful termination claim and the jury's verdict in favor of the District on the age discrimination claim. We affirm.

Background

David Dwyer began teaching agricultural education for the Kansas City Missouri School District in August 1991. During the 2009-2010 school year, he was one of three agricultural education teachers with the District. In order of seniority, those teachers were Charles Foreman, Dwyer, and Thomas Riley.[1] In June 2010, due to a decline in student enrollment in the agricultural program, the District placed Riley on an indefinite leave of absence.

In May 2011, Dwyer signed a renewal of his teaching contract with the District for the upcoming 2011-2012 school year. Dwyer thereafter received a letter from the District, dated June 28, 2011, informing him that, due to a " reduction in force," his position teaching agricultural education was being " eliminated" effective June 30, 2011. The letter was signed by Anthony L. Moore, Assistant Superintendent, Human Capital Management & Support Services. It was prepared by Robert Wilcox, Director of Capital Management, who reported to Moore.

Having taught for the District for twenty years, Dwyer qualified as a " permanent teacher" whose employment was governed by the Teacher Tenure Act, § § 168.102-.130, RSMo.[2] As such, the District could terminate his teaching contract " only for statutory cause and subject to statutory due process." See Hifiker v Gideon Sch. Dist. No. 37, 403 S.W.3d 667, 669 (Mo. App. 2012)

Page 707

(citing § § 168.106, .114-.120). Section 168.124 of the Act, however, permits the District to place a tenured teacher, such as Dwyer, on a leave of absence under certain conditions.

In July 2012, Dwyer filed his lawsuit against the District alleging that the District had violated both the Teacher Tenure Act and the Missouri Human Rights Act, § § 213.010-.137. Dwyer alleged in Count II of his petition[3] that, as a permanent teacher, he " was entitled to an indefinite contract to continue for an indefinite period," under section 168.106 of the Teacher Tenure Act. He further alleged that the elimination of his position for the 2011-2012 school year constituted a " wrongful termination," in that a " reduction in force" is not a reason for which the District could lawfully terminate his contract under section 168.114 of the Act.[4] Dwyer alleged in Count III that the District had discriminated against him based on his age (forty-nine), by eliminating his teaching position, replacing him with a younger, less-qualified teacher, and denying him the opportunity to receive temporary certification in other subjects.

Wilcox testified at trial that he hand-delivered the June 28th letter to Dwyer at a face-to-face meeting with him. Dwyer testified that Wilcox confirmed to him that his position was being eliminated under a " reduction in force" and that Wilcox used the word " furlough." Wilcox told Dwyer that the reduction in force was instituted due to decreased student enrollment in the agriculture program and associated financial considerations. According to Dwyer, Wilcox explained that, as a tenured teacher, Dwyer had precedence over any probationary teacher for any open position for which he held a teaching certificate while on furlough. Wilcox encouraged Dwyer to become certified in another area in order to be placed in an available teaching position, and he referred Dwyer to the District's certification specialist. Dwyer thereafter took a " Praxis" examination[5] and received additional certification in technology and engineering, but the District offered no courses requiring that certification. Dwyer failed to pass the Praxis exams in general science and exceptional education. He was not called back to teach but remained on furlough because there were no positions available for which he was certified.

The District presented evidence that the District was faced with a significant budget deficit during the 2009-2010 school year, and the Board of Directors (" Board" ...


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