In Gates v. Gadsden County School Board (.pdf), Florida’s First District Court of Appeals has allowed a former teacher’s retaliation claim to proceed where she was prohibited from continuing as a volunteer mentor, which she had done since her resignation.
Teacher Martha Gates filed a Title VII discrimination suit against the Gadsden County School Board in 2004 and resigned from her teaching position. Even though she resigned, she continued to participate in the school district’s volunteer mentoring program. Six months after her resignation, the School Board prohibited her from continuing to volunteer, and she filed a Title VII retaliation claim. The trial court entered summary judgment against Gates, concluding that a volunteer could not maintain a Title VII retaliation claim and, further, that she could demonstrate no materially adverse employment action.
In a case of first impression in Florida, the appellate court reversed, concluding that Gates’ volunteer status was irrelevant because former employees enjoy Title VII protections. The court relied on Robinson v. Shell Oil Co., 519 U.S. 337 (1997), in which the Supreme Court allowed a former employee to pursue a retaliation claim where he claimed Shell Oil gave him a negative employment reference due to his EEOC charge against the company.
The court also gave short shrift to the School Board’s argument that prohibiting Gates’ volunteer work was not an “employment action”:
[W]e find [Gates] met the very low burden to survive summary judgment by demonstrating a dispute of material fact regarding whether the School Board took “materially adverse employment action” against her.
Whether Gates can convince a jury that termination of her volunteer status was materially adverse to her remains an open question.