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Jennings v. Tinley Park Community Consolidated School District No. 146

decided: December 30, 1988.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 80 C 2231--Charles R. Norgle, Sr., Judge.

Cummings and Cudahy, Circuit Judges, and Pell, Senior Circuit Judge.

Author: Cummings

CUMMINGS, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff Kathryn Jennings appeals the district court's denial of her claim of retaliatory discharge as proscribed by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000e et seq. Jennings originally brought suit alleging unlawful employment discrimination based upon sex as well as unlawful retaliatory discharge. The district court, Judge McMillen, held for the defendants on both counts. This Court affirmed the lower court with respect to the employment discrimination claim, but vacated judgment on the retaliatory discharge claim and remanded the case to the district court. Jennings v. Tinley Park Community Consolidated School District No. 146, 796 F.2d 962 (7th Cir. 1986), certiorari denied, 481 U.S. 1017, 107 S. Ct. 1895, 95 L. Ed. 2d 502 ("Jennings I"). On remand the district court, Judge Norgle, ruled in favor of the defendants on the retaliatory discharge claim. Jennings now appeals this ruling.


Jennings was employed by the Tinley Park (Illinois) Community Consolidated School District No. 146 from November 1973 until June 1979, serving as secretary to the Superintendent of the School District, Robert Procunier. Jennings' employment ended on June 15, 1979, when she was discharged by Procunier due to events and conduct surrounding a protest of alleged unlawful discrimination based upon sex.

The alleged sex discrimination concerned a disparity in pay between the School District's secretaries and custodians. During this period in issue, the School District designated the two groups of employees, secretaries and custodians, as "Class I" employees. Class I employees were full-time, salaried, non-certified employees.*fn1 All secretaries were female; all custodians were male. Custodians were paid one and one-half times their hourly rate for overtime work as approved by a supervisor. Secretaries were not paid for overtime work. Defendants argued that secretaries were not required to work overtime.

Beginning in February 1979, the secretaries as a group first voiced concern over the perceived disparity in compensation between themselves and the custodians. At this time the School Board rejected a proposal by Procunier which would have vested in him the discretion to determine which district employees would be required to work on days that the schools would not open due to inclement weather. The School Board instead adopted a policy whereby every employee was expected to report to work on such days, and those that failed to report would be docked a day's pay. At Procunier's direction Jennings convened a meeting of the secretaries to elicit their reaction to the School Board's new policy. The secretaries objected to the new policy and were particularly disturbed that while they could be docked a day's pay due to inclement weather, they were ineligible for overtime pay. The secretaries embodied their views in a letter to the School Board, which was given to Procunier to present.

The secretaries remained disillusioned with the compensation policies of the School District and requested permission from Procunier to meet on a bimonthly basis, beginning in March 1979. Procunier granted the secretaries' request but declined their invitation to attend, sending in his stead Noel Swinford, the Assistant Superintendent. The secretaries held the March meeting as scheduled and provided Procunier with the minutes of the meeting. Jennings also spoke to Procunier about the secretaries' concerns.

At the secretaries' next regularly scheduled meeting, on May 23, 1979, Swinford presented a salary schedule proposed by Procunier and to be presented to the School Board at its next meeting, which was on the following day. The secretaries had never before been presented with a salary schedule in advance. The proposed salary schedule was opposed by the secretaries, primarily because of the perceived continuation of pay disparities between them and the custodians. Consequently, the secretaries decided to form an ad hoc committee to attend the School Board meeting on the following day, May 24. Again, minutes of the secretaries' meeting were delivered to Procunier, and Jennings and he discussed the secretaries' concerns.

The following day during the School Board meeting Procunier proposed his salary schedule as planned. The secretaries' ad hoc committee was in attendance and, after Procunier presented his salary schedule, explained the secretaries' opposition thereto. The School Board passed the salary schedule despite the secretaries' opposition.

In response to the School Board action on the salary schedule proposed by Procunier, the secretaries decided to prepare their own salary schedule, one that would contradict Procunier's. Jennings was the principal draftsman. The final draft, entitled "P.S. Salary Study" and consisting of the secretaries' proposed salary schedule and the minutes of their March and May meetings, was set for distribution on June 1, 1979. The P.S. Salary Study was signed collectively by the Committee of Concerned Secretaries, and individually by, among others, Jennings. This action, in contrast to the other meetings and activities, was done without Procunier's knowledge.

Rather than deliver the P.S. Salary Study to Procunier and instruct him to present it to the School Board at the next meeting (apparently scheduled for June 19th), as they had done previously, the secretaries decided to deliver individually the P.S. Salary Study to each Board member on June 1. Jennings was responsible for delivering a copy to Procunier, who heretofore was unaware of the P.S. Salary Study. Although delivery of the P.S. Salary Study to School Board members began at 2:00 P.M., and despite seeing and speaking to Procunier throughout the day--in fact Procunier asked Jennings to arrange a meeting with the secretaries so that Procunier could address their concerns--she did not deliver a copy to Procunier, nor inform him of its existence, until 3:50 P.M. that same day. Because of the timing of the delivery, Procunier was unable to respond to individual School Board members' inquiries which began that same day.

Following receipt of the P.S. Salary Study, the working relationship between Procunier and Jennings deteriorated. Procunier distanced himself from Jennings. Whereas prior to June 1, the delivery date of the P.S. Salary Study, Procunier had Jennings open the mail and the two would then review it together, after June 1 Procunier instructed her to leave the unopened mail in his office. He also instructed her not to answer phone calls on his personal line, as she had done in the past. A chair was removed from Procunier's office, apparently so that Jennings would have no place to sit.

On June 13, Procunier met with Jennings to discuss the timing and direct delivery of the P.S. Salary Study to Board members. Procunier expressed his displeasure at not being informed of its preparation and especially at not receiving a copy sooner. Jennings responded that some of the secretaries did not trust Procunier to present the P.S. Salary Study to the School Board, and thus the reason for the extraordinary delivery to Board members. Procunier replied that if such was the case, he expected Jennings to stand up and vouch for his trustworthiness, and if Jennings was unable to do this, then he could not in turn trust her.

On June 15, Procunier again met with Jennings and informed her that because she had not been loyal and supportive, he would recommend to the School Board that she be terminated. The reasons for her discharge were set forth in a letter of that same day, reciting in pertinent part:

It is with considerable reluctance that I terminate your employment as my secretary. Although your technical and professional competence have been outstanding throughout the period of your employment, events of the past 2-3 weeks have generated serious questions relative to your ability to serve me or the Board of Education in an effective manner as required.

The very important element of mutual trust and support which is so essential in the relationship of a personal secretary to the administrator responsible for an operation similar to this school district, has been seriously undermined. As a result of your reluctance to inform me [in advance] of actions which you and other secretaries took relative to communication with the Board of Education, you have created a situation which is antagonistic to the close, confidential working ...

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