Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable Edward C. Hofert, Judge Presiding.
Released for Publication February 13, 1997.
The Honorable Justice Cerda delivered the opinion of the court. Tully, P.j., and Greiman, J., concur.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cerda
JUSTICE CERDA delivered the opinion of the court:
Plaintiffs, Edward Allen, Simeon T. Bamgbaiye, Elmer Busch, Jewel McLaurin, Charles E. Walton, and Robin E. Washington, Jr., appeal from the entry of summary judgment by the circuit court of Cook County in favor of defendants, the Board of Trustees of Community College District No. 508; Reynaldo Glover, chairman of the Board; Nelvia Brady, chancellor of the City Colleges of Chicago; and Cook County. Plaintiffs argue that their resignations as tenured city-college teachers were involuntary and that they were not afforded due process. We affirm.
Plaintiffs resigned after charges were made that they awarded grades to students who were registered but who never attended any classes. Plaintiffs' complaint alleged the violation of their constitutional rights, including wrongful discharge in violation of due process.
The following facts were established upon defendants filing a motion for summary judgment. In 1988, defendants received a letter from a Malcolm X College student charging that an instructor attempted to extort money from students. Defendants investigated whether instructors were properly adhering to the attendance and grading procedures; instructors were required to report which students were not in attendance. The report of the investigation revealed that some of the instructors, including three of the plaintiffs, were suspected of not reporting students who did not attend classes and were also awarding grades to them. Phantom students were enrolled in classes for the 1989 spring semester but never attended class. The college administrators approved the plan to enroll persons who agreed they would never attend classes at this college.
Of the 24 faculty teachers who had phantom students enrolled in their classes, 16 truthfully reported students not attending classes while all six plaintiffs awarded passing grades to the phantom students. If an instructor does not have a sufficient number of students to teach a class, the class is closed and the instructor is not paid for teaching that class.
On March 28, 1989, plaintiffs were served with written notice that the chancellor was considering a recommendation that they be dismissed for cause. The written notice advised plaintiffs that an informal hearing would be held on March 31, 1989. The proposed charges detailed violations of school policy, including plaintiffs' certifying the attendance of the phantom students and giving them midterm grades.
The chancellor directed that the findings about plaintiffs' conduct be reported to the United States Attorney. Defendants' representatives told plaintiffs' union representatives that plaintiffs faced indictments and probable convictions under federal law; that, if convicted, plaintiffs would forfeit all their pension rights; and that plaintiffs should be told to give up their right to a hearing on the charges, resign, and accept voluntary retirement, which defendants were willing to extend in exchange for prompt resignation and retirement. Dr. Judge Watkins, Jr., vice president of the Cook County College Teachers Union, repeated this information from defendants' representatives. Plaintiffs contend that defendants requested federal criminal action although defendants knew that plaintiffs did not commit any federal crimes because defendants were careful not to seek any federal funding based on the attendance of the sham students. Plaintiffs did not talk to defendants or to any member of the board of trustees of the college.
The union passed a resolution agreeing to provide plaintiffs legal representation for "due process purposes" only. Watkins advised plaintiffs that they should seek criminal attorneys. Watkins contacted a union attorney, Gilbert Feldman, who met with each plaintiff. Plaintiffs appeared at the scheduled hearings with Feldman and asked for rescheduling until April 4, 1989. The requests were granted.
On April 4, 1989, plaintiffs did not participate in the hearings but instead submitted letters of resignation. Plaintiffs contend that they resigned and retired as a result of the threat of federal prosecution, discharge, and loss of pensions.
The trial court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment. After the trial court denied plaintiffs' motion for reconsideration, ...