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Bd. of Educ. v. Fair Emp. Practices Com.





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Du Page County; the Hon. JOHN S. TESCHNER, Judge, presiding.


The Fair Employment Practices Commission of the State of Illinois (FEPC) decided that the Board of Education, Downers Grove School District No. 99 (the Board), had discriminated against Ms. Nadja Nadea Ballinger (the complainant) on the basis of sex (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 48, par. 853(a)) in refusing to hire her for a radio and television teaching position at Downers Grove South High School. The circuit court reversed. The FEPC appeals, contending that its decision was not against the manifest weight of the evidence and should have been upheld.

The complainant had been employed since 1971 as a teacher by the Board, which operated a north and a south high school as separately administered facilities. She was at the North High School and primarily taught English and Speech courses including "skills" courses for "low-level" students, and also was a forensic coach. In 1973 she requested a transfer to a position at the South School which included courses in radio, television, and the management of the school's radio station.

W. Robert Foskett, a teacher at South High School, who had filled the position in question, unexpectedly resigned, and the complainant decided to apply for the position. Immediately prior to the Board's receipt of defendant's application on March 20, 1973, Foskett's teaching responsibilities had been divided and filled temporarily by substitute teachers Ms. Ringel and Mr. Holliday. Each of these persons was employed for the period from April 2, 1973, until the close of the 1972-1973 school year with each being assigned to two-fifths of Foskett's former teaching load and with Holliday being given charge of the radio station and the radio broadcasting course previously taught by Foskett.

During May and June, the Board engaged in the employment process for the 1973-1974 school year and interviewed various applicants, including the complainant. The complainant was given a 45-minute interview with Dr. Neumann, principal of the South High School, with the assistant principal Mr. Phillip Bowers and the chairperson of the speech department at South, Ms. Wood, participating in the interview. During the interview the complainant was informed by Dr. Neumann that Mr. Erickson, a substitute teacher at South, had been hired the day before to assume approximately two-fifths of Foskett's previous position but that she was being considered for a position consisting of the balance of Foskett's duties. Included was a partial position in radio and television with the rest of the class load consisting of English classes or classes in developmental education. At the end of the interview complainant was led by Ms. Wood on a tour of the South High School, including the radio station facilities.

Ms. Wood was asked whether she had formed any opinion as to the complainant's candidacy at that time. She said she didn't think she had arrived at the opinion stage but she had two concerns, one the applicant's "extreme concern with the radio station" and the other her "tendency to dominate the conversation."

Ms. Wood also referred to a conversation between the complainant and students at the radio station at the time of her visit. She related that the complainant asked the boys how they would feel about a "lady boss"; and that a student answered, "Well, lady, sex has nothing to do with this. But, we've had one difficult adjustment to make, and we would prefer not to make another" (referring to Foskett's recent departure). There was apparently no rejoinder by the complainant except to refer to some other matters which she observed.

Complainant was interviewed by Mr. Bowles on June 1, 1973. There was evidence that Bowles subsequently told Dr. Neumann that one of his reasons for not recommending the employment of complainant by South was that the interview focused primarily on her interest in radio and radio management as opposed to instructional aspects of the available positions. However, there was evidence that although the two positions were to deal with "low ability" students, Bowles did not inquire or discuss complainant's teaching experience or her philosophy of teaching.

After the interviews Dr. Neumann conferred with all the interviewers, Bowles, Bowers and Wood. He testified that they recommended that the complainant should not be employed at the school. He said that, based upon these recommendations and his own interview, Dr. Neumann determined that complainant should not be hired because she would not be compatible with the staff at South.

There was also evidence that prior to complainant's interviews, the assistant principal of North had telephoned Bowers with regard to complainant's application and told him that she had received a superior rating for 1972-73 and that they were "pleased with her work at North." There was further evidence that Bowers had received this information and also, in his opinion, that Freese was a good evaluator of teachers. However, testimony by Dr. Neumann was that he had not received the report concerning Freese's favorable statements until after the complainant was informed she would not be accepted for the position. Neither Dr. Neumann, Bowers nor Wood contacted anyone at North concerning complainant's performance as a teacher.

Ms. Cantrell, who was also one of complainant's evaluators at North, testified that complainant was a "superior" teacher; that she was "inventive and creative"; that she was "particularly patient" with the students, and "able to bring about the best kind of work that they were capable of doing"; she was "firm," but "in no way was she a dictatorial teacher"; and that she was "very good" at cooperating with other faculty members, "particularly because she listens to people and takes their opinion into account."

Both Mr. Holliday and Ms. Ringel were offered contracts for full time positions in the 1973-74 school year. Holliday's position included the supervision of the school's radio station. He accepted the offer but Ms. Ringel turned down the position for personal reasons. Additionally, Ms. Mahara and Mr. Erickson were offered positions. There was evidence that Mr. Erickson was interviewed by the chairman of the developmental education department during the week of June 1, 1973, and was offered a teaching contract on May 31, 1973, by the assistant superintendent for personnel. The complainant testified that at her first interview on May 31, 1973, Dr. Neumann informed her that Erickson had already been hired to assume part of Foskett's previous position. Dr. Neumann stated that the evaluations of Holliday received from Wood and Babich were a more important factor in his decision to employ Holliday than the interview conducted in March for the temporary assignment of nine weeks.

On June 6, 1973, Dr. Neumann wrote a memo to complainant thanking her for her visit in regard to "the radio job and a position in the Speech Department" and telling her that Holliday had been hired "for this position." Complainant met with Dr. Neumann on June 15, 1973, and was told that it had been determined to retain Holliday because he was more compatible with the staff at South even though she was well qualified and there was nothing wrong with her credentials or past teaching performance. Complainant asked Dr. Neumann to compose a letter stating the precise reason she was not hired for the position. In response, Dr. Neumann wrote to her on June 25, 1973, stating "Your credentials are fine and there is no question about your ability to perform as a teacher," but that a decision had to be made as to the candidate "who will best fit into the already existing structure and personalities" and "in the case of the radio station manager it was the opinion of a number of us * * * that we should employ Mr. Holliday over all the other candidates."

There was also evidence that the decision was based upon the performance of Holliday over the nine-week temporary period and that this decision was influenced by the fact that the complainant in the interviews displayed what was considered a tendency to dominate the interview. Additionally, based on the interview the educators felt that the complainant's overwhelming desire to manage the radio station might be symptomatic of a lack of motivation to teach other academic courses. They also ...

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