Pickford v. Taylor County School Disctrict

First DCA (FL)

Pickford v. Taylor County School District

2024 WL 612782. 1st DCA, 2/14/24

Judge B.L. Thomas

Topics: Florida Civil Rights Act, Summary Judgment Standard

Quick Take: In unusually harsh language, the First DCA reversed Circuit Judge Darren K. Jackson of Taylor County for granting summary judgment in favor of the Taylor County School District on a claim of racial discrimination. The court said that all of the reasons given by the trial court for rejecting the plaintiff’s allegations of discrimination were legally or factually incorrect.

Full Take: The elements of a race discrimination claim under the Florida Civil Rights Act are that the plaintiff is (1) a member of a protected class; (2) that he was qualified for the position; (3) that he suffered an adverse employment action; and that (4) similarly situated employees outside the protected class were treated more favorably.

Mr. Pickford is a black man who alleged that he was qualified for his teaching position at the

elementary school, but was replaced by a less-qualified white male. The District offered conflicting explanations and justifications for Pickford’s termination, only offering alleged performance deficiencies after the commencement of this litigation. In addition to his replacement, Pickford identified another substitute teacher who allegedly was treated more favorably.

Back in 2020, the DCA reversed and remanded this case after the same judge struck Mr. Pickford’s affidavit and granted summary judgment to the school district. But on remand, the trial court did the same thing all over again, and the DCA was not pleased. The trial judge struck the affidavit by finding Mr. Pickford’s allegations consist of “conclusory, vague, and speculative allegations as well as lacking specific details.” Additionally, the trial court found that each of the above-listed paragraphs was “inadmissible as they are not based on personal knowledge.” The trial court additionally found various paragraphs were irrelevant, mere assertions, conclusory, self-serving, misrepresentations, refuted by sworn testimony, moot, or referenced statements made by employees that were outside the scope of employment and did not have authority to bind defendant. Without rebutting them one by one, the DCA simply stated that “[a]ll of the reasons given by the trial court are factually or legally incorrect.” The DCA stated that the affidavit alleged facts that, if accepted by a jury, would prove all four elements.

And then the DCA seemed to signal that not only were the material facts disputed, but, also, the school district seemed to be lying. The Court wrote that the “District’s ever-evolving reason for terminating Pickford is evidence that the proffered reason is pretextual,” citing three federal decisions that stand for the proposition that shifts in a claimed basis for adverse employment action indicate that it is a pretext for discrimination.


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