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FRIEND v. LALLEY

April 9, 2002

CAROL FRIEND, PLAINTIFF,
V.
MARGARET LALLEY, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PRINCIPAL OF DAWES ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, DEFENDANT.[FN1]



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ruben Castillo, U.S.D.J.

    Plaintiff Carol Friend sues Defendant Margaret Lalley, principal of Dawes Elementary School ("Dawes"), under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Friend alleges that Lalley violated her First Amendment rights by terminating her employment at Dawes because Friend voiced concerns about mismanagement of student discipline and the general health and safety of the children at Dawes. Currently before the Court is Lalley's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the motion is granted. (R. 28-1.)

RELEVANT FACTS

Friend worked at Dawes as a Parent Volunteer Program ("PVP") participant from 1996 until May 13, 1999. At the time of the events giving rise to this controversy — the winter and spring of 1999 — Lalley was employed as the principal of Dawes, a Chicago public school. Also at this time, Friend's son was a student at Dawes.

Friend began working with the PVP in 1996 as an unpaid volunteer. During the following two school years, she was paid $10.00 a day for two hours of service. Friend contends that her motivation for becoming a parent volunteer was to be involved in her son's life, the school, the community and to be of assistance to teachers. (R. 28-3, Def's Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. B, Friend Dep. at 24.) Friend's duties included, but were not limited to, working on bulletin boards, assisting with grade books, taking students to the bathroom and lunchroom, grading papers and planning and supervising craft activities for the classrooms. (R. 31, Pl.'s Facts ¶ 9.) Friend also volunteered additional time at Dawes, performing activities similar to those above, as well as being in charge of the school laundry room. (Id. at ¶ 10.)

The PVP program was created to increase parent involvement in the school. Parent volunteers were asked to refrain, however, from involvement in any other areas of school life outside of their work responsibilities. Specifically, PVP participants were told that they should not involve themselves with their children while performing their assigned tasks, and they were forbidden from asking teachers or other staff for personal information about other children.

Friend's son, who is Caucasian, had problems with peer interpersonal relationships at Dawes. Friend alleges that many of these problems were attributable to race. Friend testified that from the time in which her son first enrolled at Dawes, the school had gone from being predominantly white to predominantly non-white. Friend contends that the "most serious incidents" involving her son and other school children occurred during the winter and spring of 1999. (Id. at ¶ 39.) On January 26, 1999, Friend's son was disciplined for calling another classmate "a stupid nigger." (R. 28-2, Def.'s Facts ¶ 22). Friend denies that her son made the racial slur. (R. 31, Pl.'s Facts ¶ 22.) On February 5, 1999, the student who allegedly was the target of the racial slur was disciplined for stabbing Friend's son with a pencil. On April 12, 1999, Friend's son was again disciplined for purportedly writing a racial slur and a classmate's telephone number on a piece of paper that he made into an airplane. (R. 28-2, Def's Facts ¶ 25.) Friend again denies that her son wrote the racial slur. (R. 31, Pl's Facts ¶ 25.)

When there are issues of student misconduct, Dawes officials follow the procedures set forth in the Chicago Public Schools' Uniform Discipline Code ("UDC"). The UDC is a system of progressive student discipline. Lalley maintains that the UDC provides for flexibility in the application of discipline. (R. 28-2, Def.'s Facts ¶ 30.) Friend maintains that no flexibility is allowed where a student uses a weapon, which is defined by the UDC as "any object that is capable of inflicting bodily harm, and/or an object that is used in a manner that threatens violence even though its normal use is not as a weapon." (R. 31, Pl.'s Facts ¶ 30.) Friend alleges that for such misconduct, the UDC provides minimum to maximum disciplinary action of "police notification and/or arrest, suspension for 10 days . . . ." (Id.) Friend maintains that the student who stabbed her son with a pencil should have been arrested and suspended for ten days. (Id. at ¶ 31.) Friend also testified that she believed the punishments that her son received were unfair and were motivated by Lalley's worry of upsetting parents of African-American students.

In May 1999, a series of events occurred ending with Friend's termination as a PVP participant. The student, who was the target of the purported racial slur and who previously stabbed Friend's son with a pencil, threatened to again stab Friend's son with a pencil or pen. In addition, two Dawes' students jumped Friend's son.*fn2 At Friend's request, Lalley handled the May 1999 incidents in collaboration with the Chicago Police Department. As Lalley explained in a letter to the Local School Council ("LSC"), she believed the incidents were properly resolved after she conducted meetings with police officers and the children involved and after she took appropriate disciplinary measures against the children. (R. 28-3, Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. M, Lalley's Letter to the LSC.) Friend believed that the punishment was "totally inappropriate." (R. 31, Pl.'s Facts ¶ 37.) Therefore, Friend filed a police report against the child who threatened to stab her son with a pen or pencil. (R. 31, Pl.'s Add'l Facts ¶ 1.) As a result, police officers came to Dawes on May 12, 1999 and arrested the children involved with making threats to and jumping Friend's son. Mary Dixon, the PVP Coordinator at Dawes, maintains that Friend came to watch the children being arrested, which Dixon thought would make it difficult for the students to respect Friend while she was working as a PVP participant. (R. 28-2, Def.'s Facts ¶ 51.) Friend maintains that she came to the school during the arrest because the police asked her to identify the students. (R. 31, Pl.'s Facts ¶ 51.) Friend testified that, at the police station, Lalley told the police, the parents of the children and others that Friend was "nuts." (R. 31, Pl.'s Add'l Facts ¶ 3.) Friend was terminated from her position on May 13, 1999.

Lalley alleges various concerns with Friend's job performance. As evidence, Lalley offers Dixon's statements that Friend often left her assigned duties to participate in deliberations regarding student discipline. (R. 28-2, Def's Facts ¶ 47.) Friend, in turn, alleges that she always received permission to leave her tasks and always made up the time. (R. 31, Pl.'s Facts ¶ 47.) The parties also dispute whether Friend asked school officials for personal information regarding the children involved in incidents with her son, which, if true, would violate a written prohibition for PVP workers. (R. 28-2, Def's Facts ¶ 48; R. 31, Pl.'s Facts ¶ 48.) Dixon recommended Friend's termination based upon her concern that it would be difficult for the children who watched Friend witness the arrest to maintain respect for her as a PVP participant. (R. 28-3, Def's Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. C. Dixon Aff. at 3.)

Since her termination from Dawes, Friend has not worked for or applied for employment with the Chicago Board of Education. (R. 31, Pl.'s Facts ¶ 54.) She has applied for one job since her termination and has turned down one job offer. (Id. ¶ 55-56.) Currently before the Court is Lalley's motion for summary judgment. For the following reasons, Lalley's motion is granted.

LEGAL STANDARDS

Summary judgment is appropriate if the record indicates that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A genuine issue of material fact exists if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). All reasonable inferences are to be made in favor of the nonmoving party. Id. at 255. In order to survive a motion for summary judgment, however, the non-moving party must "come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Gleason v. Mesirow Fin. Inc., 118 F.3d 1134, 1139 (7th Cir. 1997) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)). This must be done with reasonable particularity, since it is not the task of the Court to "scour the record in search of a genuine issue of triable fact." Richards v. Combined Ins. Co. of Am., 55 F.3d 247, 251 (7th Cir. 1995). The Court need not defeat a motion for summary judgment due to "the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties," Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 247, or the existence of "some metaphysical doubt as to the ...


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