Judge allows fired junior high teacher's age discrimination case to proceed

By Sam Knef | Nov 4, 2018

CAPE GIRARDEAU — A federal judge is allowing a former Delta School District junior high teacher's lawsuit against a superintendent and school board to move forward.

U.S. District Judge Abbie Crites-Leoni issued a mixed ruling on Oct. 26 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri limiting one of the claims brought by teacher Carl D. Ritter, Jr. against superintendent Melissa Heath and school board members Ken Cook, David Coomer, Scott Bond, Matt Huffman, Alan Ikerman, Meredith Scherer and Troy Smith.

Before the case was moved to the federal court, Ritter alleged age discrimination in the Cape Girardeau Circuit Court in violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and claims of failure to train and supervise.

According to background in Crites-Leoni's ruling, in early 2017 superintendent Heath told faculty at a meeting that their contracts would be renewed. Subsequently, Ritter applied to be principal at Delta R-V Schools, but was not chosen.

In his lawsuit, Ritter claims that Heath told "select staff" that Ritter would not get the principal job before he was told. After others were told, Ritter claims, he was asked to attend a meeting with Heath, who told him he would not be getting the principal job.

"At that meeting, Ritter expressed disappointment that other staff were informed of the hiring decision of the Board before Ritter was informed of such," the court document states.

A day after his meeting with Heath, Ritter was placed on administrative leave "and escorted off campus in the presence of faculty and students," the order states.

In February this year, Ritter received a right to sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

It wasn't until July 19 that defendants filed a motion to dismiss, arguing Ritter's first two claims should be dismissed because he failed to exhaust administrative remedies under the MHRA. They further argued that state law claims are preempted by the MHRA, and further claimed that individual defendants are not liable under the ADEA.

On July 27, Ritter filed a motion to file a first amended complaint, stating that fewer than 21 days had elapsed since both the removal of the case and the defendants' motion to dismiss was filed.

"As an initial matter, the Court will grant Ritter’s Motion to Amend Complaint under Rule 15(a)(1)(B), as less than 21 days elapsed since both the removal of this action to Federal Court and the filing of Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss," Crites-Leoni ruled.

While Crites-Leoni is allowing Ritter's claim to move forward, she held that Ritter did not obtain a right to sue letter from the Missouri Commission on Human Rights and "it appears that he is unable to do so." She dismissed Ritter's MHRA claims. 

The ruling does not state Ritter's age.

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Organizations in this Story

Missouri Commission on Human Rights U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

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