Appeal from Circuit Court of Sangamon County No. 98MR195 Honorable Donald M. Cadagin, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McCULLOUGH
Plaintiff Ronnie O. Shreve appeals from the order of the circuit court of Sangamon County reversing on administrative review the decision of a hearing officer of the Illinois State Board of Education (Board) that overturned plaintiff's dismissal as a teacher by the Board of Education of Mt. Vernon High School District No. 201 (District). The individual defendants include the hearing officer David A. Loebach, members of the District's board, and members of the Board. Plaintiff's complaint for administrative review (105 ILCS 5/24-12 (West 1996); 735 ILCS 5/3-101 through 3-113 (West 1996)) sought an order (1) directing the District to reinstate him in time for the 1998-99 school term and (2) remanding the cause to the hearing officer to address the question of damages. The District filed a counterclaim asking the circuit court to review the decision of the hearing officer as being against the manifest weight of the evidence and to reinstate the District's decision to dismiss plaintiff.
The issues on appeal are whether (1) the circuit court used the wrong standard of review; (2) the hearing officer's decision can be sustained because (a) he exceeded his authority by ordering lesser discipline; (b) the decision was against the manifest weight of the evidence because (i) the District failed to meet the standard for proving sexual harassment and did not sustain its burden of proof as to charge Nos. 1 and 2, or (ii) the hearing officer improperly admitted into evidence documents from 1989; (c) the portion of charge Nos. 1 and 2 found sustained by the hearing officer constituted irremediable conduct; (3) plaintiff's rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) (42 U.S.C. §12101 et seq. (1994 & Supp. III 1997)) were violated; and (4) this cause should be remanded for determination of damages for which the District is liable. We reverse the circuit court, reinstate the hearing officer's decision, and remand to the circuit court with directions.
The record in this case is voluminous. Because the parties and this court are familiar with the record, only those facts necessary for an understanding of this court's disposition will be discussed.
On December 19, 1994, the District acted to dismiss plaintiff from his contractual continued-service (tenured) teaching position at Mt. Vernon High School. Plaintiff requested a hearing pursuant to section 24-12 of the School Code (105 ILCS 5/24-12 (West 1994)). Pursuant to the procedures set forth in section 24-12, the parties selected and the Board appointed the hearing officer.
The District brought nine charges against plaintiff. The hearing officer found some of the allegations in charge Nos. 1 and 2, involving sexual harassment, proved. The District did not seek administrative review of the hearing officer's ruling as to the other charges, but challenged the hearing officer's finding as to remediability.
The hearing officer made the following findings of fact:
"1. [Plaintiff] did playfully and intentionally bump hips with a female student JF in the hallway while in route from the classroom, to a routinely used math computer lab.
2. [Plaintiff] did have a mandatory seating chart policy and did regularly mandatorily seat selected pretty girls in the front row, or within direct view of his desk.
3. [Plaintiff] does only have one natural eye, and the other, the left eye is a prosthetic glass eye.
4. [Plaintiff] did not ever discuss sex in a quid pro quo offer to any of the complaining female students. He did by action give students answers to gradable quiz and test questions. No evidence of explicit quid pro quo was substantiated in evidence.
5. Immoral allegations were not included in the manifest weight of the evidence against the [plaintiff]. They simply are not substantiated. Any implicit action in evidence originated and remained strong perceptions of the females self reporting victimization.
6. The [plaintiff] did have a pattern over the years of setting female students in front row and in the line of vision from the [plaintiff] teachers desk.
7. The [plaintiff] did touch hair and arm and the back of hands female students that he helped with math problem either at his desk or at the teachers desk.
8. The 'hostile environment' is a fact of perception testified to by the complaining female students, and does meet the standard of manifest weight of the evidence to establish that this perception existed in 93-94 and 94-95 School years these female students were in the [plaintiff's] classroom.
9. Some teaching methods do advocate touching as an effective method of 'getting students attention.'
10. [Plaintiff's] personnel file has neither a 'Notice to Remedy' relevant to the particulars charged, nor is there a notation in the [plaintiff's] personnel record and annual evaluations.
11. [Plaintiff] was never given a Notice to Remedy with respect to any of the type of matters contained in the charges and bill of particulars included by the School District #201 Board in its dismissal of the [plaintiff] on December 14, 1994, or thereafter by the Mt. Vernon Township High School Board Seconded [sic] Amended Charges or Bill of Particulars.
12. The School District has not shown that before it acted to dismiss the [plaintiff], it conducted an investigation nor has it shown it gathered information, nor presented a preponderance of evidence that the conduct of the dismissed handicapped certified school teacher [plaintiff] conduct could not have been corrected with the issuance of a proper 'Notice of Remedy.'"
The hearing officer concluded that a gender-hostile environment existed in plaintiff's math classes in school years 1993-94 and 1994-95, but the District did not dismiss plaintiff in accordance with the procedure of the School Code because, in the hearing officer's determination, no notice to remedy, summative evaluation warning of the problem, or "appropriate finding of irremediable conduct of a handicapped Illinois Certified School Teacher" was appropriately ...