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Estate of Bassatt v. School District No. 1

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

December 31, 2014

THE ESTATE OF CARLOS BASSATT, by CARLOS BASSATT JR., Personal Representative, Plaintiff - Appellant,
v.
SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 1 IN THE CITY AND COUNTY OF DENVER; PATRICK SANCHEZ, Defendants - Appellees

Page 1234

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLORADO. (D.C. No. 1:11-CV-01761-RPM-BNB).

For THE ESTATE OF CARLOS BASSATT, by Carlos Bassatt Jr., Personal Representative, Plaintiff - Appellant: Richard C. LaFond, Richard C. LaFond, P.C., Boulder, CO.

For SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 1 IN THE CITY AND COUNTY OF DENVER, PATRICK SANCHEZ, Defendants - Appellees: Michael Brent Case, Holly E. Ortiz, Esq., Semple, Farrington & Everall, Denver, CO.

Before KELLY, BACHARACH, and PHILLIPS, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 1235

PHILLIPS, Circuit Judge.

In 2007, Carlos Bassatt was accused by a school district employee of masturbating in the parking lot of West High School (" West" ) in Denver during school hours. Consequently, he was terminated from his student teaching placement with School District No. 1 of the City and County of Denver (" District" ) for misconduct. Although the Denver District Attorney's Office chose not to prosecute Bassatt, West's principal terminated him from his student teaching placement with the District out of concern for student safety. Bassatt filed a discrimination complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission (" CCRC" ). Bassatt later filed a lawsuit alleging retaliatory discharge in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado. Bassatt died during district court proceedings, and his estate (" Estate" ) was substituted as the plaintiff. The district court granted summary judgment for the District, finding that the Estate failed to show that the principal's reason for firing Bassatt was pretextual.

The Estate appeals the district court's finding that it failed to show pretext, which is required in a Title VII retaliation claim. It contends that there are sufficient facts on the issue of pretext to create a triable issue of material fact, thus precluding summary judgment. Since this is an appeal from a final decision of the district court, we exercise jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. We AFFIRM the district court.

FACTS

A. General Background

Carlos Bassatt, a Puerto Rican man, was working toward his Masters of Education degree at Regis University. Beginning in September 2007, Bassatt began student teaching and substitute teaching at West. Student teachers are not employed by the district.

On September 14, 2007, Bassatt left the school building, got into his Ford Focus, and reclined his seat. Maria Iams, a District employee, arrived shortly thereafter in her car and parked in the space next to him. Her bag fell between the passenger's seat and the door. As she propped herself up on the center console to retrieve it, she saw a man masturbating in the Ford Focus. She had never seen the man before and did not know that he worked at West. She reported the incident to a colleague, explaining that she had seen a Hispanic man masturbating in a car parked next to her car. Her colleague reported the incident to Denver Police Officer Vincente Damian, West's resource officer.[1] Damian questioned Iams and reviewed surveillance video of the parking area. He also asked Iams to review it. She was able to identify the car in the video as the Ford Focus that had been parked next to her in the lot, but she was unable to identify the man walking to and entering the car as the man whom she saw masturbating. However, the Dean of Students at West, Dan Trujillo, was able to identify the man in the video as Bassatt after he reviewed it. The video reflects that the man walking to his car, identified as Bassatt, was wearing a dark polo shirt. Iams provided Damian with a written statement about the events in question.

Page 1236

Damian prepared a written statement and an incident report.

Patrick Sanchez, West's principal, was notified of the incident that same day. Sanchez is Latino and is an advocate for Latino educators. He founded the Mentoring Institute for Latino Educators (" MILES" ). On September 17, 2007, Sanchez and Damian met with Bassatt and informed him that he had been accused of masturbating in his car in the West parking lot. Bassatt denied the allegations. Sanchez informed Bassatt that he was being placed on administrative leave pending further investigation. After speaking with Iams and Bassatt, Damian believed that Iams was telling the truth.

At their initial meeting, Damian gave Bassatt a summons to appear at the Denver Police Department the next day. Although Bassatt went to the Police Department immediately after the meeting, the police were not yet prepared to talk to him. Bassatt called a lawyer later that day, who advised him not to speak with the police until the lawyer could be present with him. The following day, Bassatt appeared at the Denver Police Department to tell the detective that he would not interview until his lawyer could be present. He then left. Although the Denver District Attorney's Office considered charging Bassatt, it ultimately declined to prosecute the case.

Upon learning that no charges were being filed against Bassatt, Sanchez sent Bassatt an email on September 19, 2007, stating, " We have the all clear for you to return to West in good standing[; ] the investigation did not determine that the allegations were founded." J.A. vol. IV at 1463. After sending the email, Sanchez spoke with Bart Muller, the District's Director of Labor Relations, who told Sanchez that the District Attorney's decision not to prosecute did not prevent the District from taking action against Bassett for his alleged misconduct. Muller also stressed to Sanchez the importance of student safety. Muller reported that Iams, the accuser, was an exemplary employee.

Sanchez and Muller decided to meet with Bassatt again. On September 26, 2007, they met with Bassatt and his wife, who was a teacher at West. Bassatt admitted that he had been reclining in his car in the parking space next to Iams, but he denied that he had been masturbating. Bassatt then declared that the accusation was racially motivated and that the District's decision to end Bassatt's placement at West was discriminatory. On September 27, 2007, the District advised Bassatt that he was terminated from his student teaching placement.

B. The Legal Proceedings

Following this sequence of events, Bassatt filed charges against the District claiming race discrimination and retaliation with the CCRC under Colorado Revised Statute § 24-34-402(1)(a), (1)(e) (2012). A two-day hearing was held before a state Administrative Law Judge (" ALJ" ) of the CCRC. On October 15, 2009, the ALJ issued her initial decision in Case No. 2009-007 (" Initial Decision" ), concluding that Bassatt had established neither discrimination nor retaliation because he had failed to: (1) establish the existence of circumstances giving rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination, and (2) establish a prima facie case of retaliation.

Bassatt appealed the ALJ's finding regarding his retaliation claim to the CCRC under Colorado Revised Statute ยง ...


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