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Waid v. Merrill Area Public Schools

July 29, 1996






Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. No. 94 C 485 John C. Shabaz, Chief Judge.

Before CUDAHY, KANNE and LAY, *fn* Circuit Judges.

CUDAHY, Circuit Judge.



This case requires us to determine how general principles of judicial economy and orderly procedure should govern the course of litigation involving overlapping sets of federal and state civil rights. Believing that a Wisconsin public school had denied her a job because of her sex, Tana Waid brought an employment discrimination claim with a state agency charged with the exclusive power to enforce Wisconsin's fair employment law. The agency ruled in her favor and granted her all of the remedies available under state law. These remedies are extensive, but they are not entirely coextensive with all of the remedies that federal law could theoretically have provided in her case. Seeking these additional remedies, she filed a lawsuit in the district court. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants, concluding that Waid's pursuit of administrative relief under state law prevented her from pursuing any of her federal claims. We affirm in part and reverse in part.


In the fall of 1990, Merrill Area Public Schools (MAPS) hired Tana Waid as a long-term substitute teacher for its junior high school. Within a few weeks of her appointment, a member of the junior high school faculty died, and Waid took over his duties for the remainder of the school year. During the summer of 1991, MAPS sought a permanent replacement for the deceased teacher. Dr. Strand Wedul, principal of the junior high school, and James Boettcher, director of curriculum for MAPS, interviewed candidates for the position, including Waid. Acting on their recommendation, MAPS' superintendent hired Richard Bonnell for the position despite the fact that Waid had earlier been selected over Bonnell for the substitute teacher position.

Wisconsin's Fair Employment Act prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of sex, and it provides that the victim of discrimination can be awarded a job, receive back pay, front pay and attorneys' fees. See Watkins v. Labor & Indus. Review Comm'n, 345 N.W.2d 482, 487 (Wis. 1984). The state's Department of Industry, Labor and Human Relations is charged with enforcing the Fair Employment Act, and it provides administrative adjudication to those with claims under the Act. See Wis. Stats. secs. 111.375, 111.39. In July 1991, Waid filed a claim with the Equal Rights Division of the Department, alleging that MAPS had denied her the full-time position because of her sex. In March 1994, after a full hearing in which both parties had legal representation, the agency issued a written finding that MAPS had discriminated against Waid. It ordered that MAPS give Waid the next available position for which she was qualified and that it pay her the sum that she would have earned as a full-time teacher between the beginning of the 1991-92 school year and the date of her eventual appointment, plus 12 percent interest and less actual earnings from other employment. It also ordered MAPS to pay Waid's attorneys' fees and costs of $12,327.73.

In June 1994, Waid filed a lawsuit in the district court. Her amended complaint alleged that MAPS had violated Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, 20 U.S.C. sec. 1681, et seq., which, among other things, prohibits schools that receive federal funds from engaging in intentional discrimination in employment. She also brought claims against Wedul and Boettcher as individuals, alleging that they had, under color of state law, deprived her of her rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by intentionally discriminating against her. As relief for both claims, she sought punitive damages and compensatory damages for pain and suffering. After some discovery, the school and the individual defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that the doctrines of issue and claim preclusion barred all of Waid's claims. At this point, Waid also moved for partial summary judgment on the issue of discrimination as to each claim. She contended that the judgment of the Equal Rights Division operated, under the doctrine of issue preclusion, to prevent relitigation of this factual question. The district court denied Waid's motion and entered summary judgment for MAPS, Wedul and Boettcher.


Our review of the district court's ruling is complicated by the fact that the legal grounds for that ruling, as stated in the district court's opinion, are not entirely clear. The essence of the holding seems to be that Waid's choice of a state administrative forum was, in effect, an election of remedies and that her success in that forum precluded her pursuit of compensatory and punitive damages under federal law in federal court. In one respect, the district court seemed to conclude that the availability of one remedy for employment discrimination may preempt or exclude the pursuit of others. But the district court described this holding in terms of issue preclusion doctrine, and its reasoning and case citations suggest that it may also have focused primarily on the doctrine of claim preclusion.

Regardless of the district court's own rationalization of its result, its decision relates primarily to the principles of preemption and preclusion. Although the parties have argued this case exclusively in terms of preclusion, we are compelled to address issues of preemption as well. We do this for two reasons. First, the district court's reasoning points to preemption, albeit indirectly. Second, and more importantly, the issue of preemption affects the subject matter jurisdiction of the district court, an issue that is always open to our consideration. Hawxhurst v. Pettibone Corp., 40 F.3d 175, 179 (7th Cir. 1994). All of these issues present legal questions that we review de novo. United Transp. Union v. Gateway Western Ry. Co., 78 F.3d 1208, 1212 (7th Cir. 1996).


Waid's case implicated a variety of different but closely related rights and remedial mechanisms, and the district court's opinion raises questions about the relationship among them. Each of these rights could conceivably serve as the foundation for a cause of action and a prayer for relief; but when rights and their attendant remedies overlap, a cause of action under one may preempt the pursuit of a cause of action under another. See Brown v. General Servs. Admin., 425 U.S. 820 (1976). We must therefore ...

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